Jabra Elite 85t review: Terrific ANC performance that comes at a price

Today, choosing a pair of truly wireless earbuds can be a challenge given that the market is flooded by so many models and brands. While Apple users may have an easy choice with the AirPods and AirPods Pro; Android users don’t really have a pair of go-to earbuds to choose from. Instead, they are presented with a dizzying array of brands and models to choose from.

But Jabra wants to change that. With their latest product, the Jabra Elite 85t, they want to be the default pair of TWS in-ear headphones. The Danish company introduced the Elite 85t back in November 2020, and at RM1,049 they are the company’s most premium pair earbuds to date.

As far as features and price go, it definitely looks like the Elite 85t has the potential. But high-end headphones are more than just what’s written on paper. Does the Elite 85t have what it takes? Let’s find out.

What are the significant changes?

Upon first inspection, the Elite 85t looks similar to the Elite 75t. But once you get a closer look you will start to notice some differences from its predecessor. For starters, the Elite 85t has oblong-shaped ear tips that resemble the AirPods Pro’s. 

Now, it is worth noting that these are “semi-open” earbuds due to their oval shape. This is said to provide a better fit while enhancing comfort and relieving pressure in the ear, avoiding the uncomfortable “earplug effect” you get from certain models. I did find them comfortable and could wear them for hours without any hint of discomfort. 

Another notable change is the Elite 85t’s charging case now supports wireless charging. This was a feature that was sorely missing in the previous generation and is a welcomed addition, providing another method to recharge the case. Besides that, the case is slightly bigger though you can still comfortably fit it in your pants pocket. 

Adding to that, there are three microphones on each earbud. That is one additional compared to the older Elite Active 75t had two. Some of these microphones are dedicated to ANC, cancelling out distracting ambient noise. At the same time, there are another set of microphones that are used to pick up your voice during phone calls.

Is the Active Noise-Cancelling good?

The headline feature of the Elite 85t has to be its ANC capabilities. Simply put, the ANC on the Elite 85t works as advertised. They sound a lot better and work better than the ANC capabilities that were “added to” the Elite 75t series via an over-the-air (OTA) firmware update. 

Putting on the earbuds with ANC turned on, it’s quite striking how effective it is at eliminating much of the rumble and tuning out virtually all forms of sound. The low humming noise of an air condition unit or fan is completely tuned out. I tried listening to someone talk with the earbuds on, and I noticed how soft and distanced they sounded even when they were speaking at arm’s length.

But, I was also curious to find out how the Elite 85t stacks up against two other great ANC earbuds: the WF-1000XM3 and Airpods Pro. Testing them side-by-side with no music turned on I have to say that the Elite 85t beats the Airpods Pro hands down. However, it is neck and neck with the WF-1000XM3 when it comes to effective noise-cancelling. But if I have to pick a winner, I would give the edge to the Elite 85t because it is actually quieter than the Sony’s.  

That being said, ANC does not completely block out all sound. I could still hear the clacking of my mechanical keyboard as I write this review. Even a nearby dog barking or sound of a baby crying can still be heard even with ANC cranked to up to 11.

Similar to the AirPods Pro and WF-1000XM3, the Elite 85t has a transparency mode, called HearThrough. This lets ambient sound in while you have the earbuds on, so you can be aware of your surroundings. 

Though the Elite 85t’s ambient mode isn’t as natural sounding as the AirPods Pro, it is more customisable. Using the Jabra Sound+ app (Android, iOS) users can the level of ANC or HearThrough. For example, you may increase sensitivity to the max when you are on a train and need to hear the announcement. Alternatively, you may want to lower the level of ambient sound when in a busy environment like an office (remember those?).

In my opinion, the Elite 85t offers some of the best ANC I’ve ever heard. I can see myself using it more than the WF-1000XM3 because it is more comfortable to wear, and it’s not so bulky. Often times, I find myself gravitating towards it whether it is getting some quiet them in the middle of the night or to cancel the sound of the outside world when I need to focus on work.

How is the audio quality?

Sound is undoubtedly the single most crucial aspect that makes or breaks a pair of headphones. Each of the Elite 85t’s earbuds is fitted with 12mm full-range drivers, which is rather big for this class of TWS.

When it comes to sound quality, the Elite 85t can hold their own against the competition. Generally, I preferred the sound profile of the Elite 85t over Jabra’s previous models. They offer a rich, highly detailed and balanced sound with great dynamic range. There is a definite emphasis on bass though it doesn’t overpower the mids and highs.

I tried several songs with the Elite 85t beginning with some heavy metal music to see how far I could push it and whether they would break. My song of choice was System of a Down’s Chop Suey! I was quite surprised at how clear it sounded during the quieter parts of the song, emphasizing the guitar riff and vocals before it snaps back to the intense portions of the song.

I proceeded to switch things up with Michael Jackson’s Beat It, which sounded phenomenal on the Elite 85t. It was clear that the bigger drivers delivered a wider sound stage, giving the impression the King of Pop was belting this classic tune once again. Everything from the vocals to the instruments sounded crystal clear throughout and these earbuds even gave mainstays like the AirPods Pro a run for their money.

For something slightly more contemporary I tried Post Malone’s Sunflower. This Hip-hop/ rap track from 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse clearly demonstrated the powerful bass ability of the Elite 85t. I dare say I enjoyed this track better on the Jabra rather than the AirPods Pro.

Comparing the sound quality against other earbuds, I still found that they fell short of the audio quality of WF-1000XM3, which I regard as the gold standard. Regardless, the Elite 85t are pleasant to listen to, and they can handle most music genres well.

One thing to note, when playing games on my PC I noticed there was a little bit of audio latency that occurs every now and again. While it isn’t extremely distracting, but it does take me out of the experience a little.

Can you make and receive phone calls with them?

I have always found Jabra’s Elite series of TWS to offer great call quality and always use them to take phone calls. Furthermore, I was curious to hear how the Elite 85t stacked up against the older Elite Active 75t, which I thought were excellent. 

Fortunately, Jabra’s latest earbuds did not disappoint me as call quality was good overall with no distortion and featured improved noise reduction, allowing the person on the other side of the call to hear my voice better.

I decided to put the Elite 85t to the test by making some phone calls with it and the AirPods Pro. Generally, people I spoke to liked the sound profile of the Elite 85t. Voice clarity on the Jabra solutions was  good and even better than the AirPods Pro.

Though I was told that the Elite 85t can sometimes sound muffled, my voice still came through sounding natural and the earbuds did a good job of filtering out distracting sounds.

Side note, I love how the Elite 85t’s Bluetooth multipoint feature allowed me to connect to two devices at once. This made it great for multitasking as I could listen to music on my laptop and switch over to my phone to receive a call.

It even automatically switches to the device that is playing the audio, so if you were to start listening to a song on your phone and hit play on YouTube on your computer, it will automatically switch over and vice versa.

Are they suitable for workouts?

While I was a big fan of the Elite Active 75t, the Elite 85t didn’t quite live up to my expectations as a pair of workout earbuds. The biggest issue for me is they didn’t have a very secure fit in my ear.

I tried all the different ear tips that came with the earbuds, but none fit my ears perfectly. Though the smallest were probably the best as I could comfortably jog with them, and they stayed in place. However, when performing more vigorous activities like jumping, I found the earbuds loosen a little though they didn’t fall out of my ears.

Still, the thought of losing one of the earbuds during a workout did leave me constantly worried. As such, I opted to use them at home instead of taking them out and about. Adding to that, the IPX4 rating a step-down from the Elite 75t’s IP55 rating. That being said, this IP rating puts the Elite 85t on par with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and AirPods Pro.

Simply put, the IPX4 rating denotes that the Elite 85t are rated to resist water and sweat from any direction. This means you need not worry about them being ruined from a little sweat or a light drizzle. However, do take care as the earbuds cannot be submerged in water for any amount of time.

How is the battery life?

A good pair of TWS earbuds needs to last you through the day at least. From my experience using the Elite 85t it had a decent run time of about 5 hours 40 minutes on a single charge with ANC turned on. Paired that with the charging case, and you are looking at up to 25 hours of use which is very respectable. 

Without ANC enabled, I found that the Elite 85t offers approximately 7.5hours of use. But really, since these earbuds feature some pretty good quality ANC you will probably want to keep them on at all times. 

Comparing the Elite 85t’s battery stamina against its peers, it easily beats the AirPods Pro which only offer 4.5 hours of battery with ANC turned on. Though it comes pretty close to the WF-1000XM3’s 6 hours with ANC activated. Overall, it’s a decent amount of stamina for a modern wireless earbud. 

When it comes to charging, the Elite 85t offers two methods: your standard wired charging via USB-C. The second is wireless charging, a feature that was highly requested in the previous version. Now, you can just place the charging case on a compatible Qi wireless charging pad to begin charging it. 

Though this is convenient, I honestly found the 3.5 hours it took to fully charge the earbuds too long. Compared to charging directly via a USB-C cable, you save a whole hour, so I would recommend you use a charging cable instead if you’re looking for speed.

It is also worth mentioning that the earbuds can be fast-charged. Simply placing them in the case for 15 minutes when they are almost empty will net you an hour of playtime back.

Should you buy the Elite 85t?

So, it comes down to this, can Elite 85t become the default ANC earbuds of choice for Android users? After spending a few weeks using them as my daily driver, the Elite 85t has become my go-to pair of earbuds whenever I want to listen to music.

Simply put, the Elite 85t’s sound quality is great. With bigger 12mm drivers, it offers more detailed sound and a fuller mid-range. Even though it can’t beat the WF-1000XM3, the Elite 85t sounds better than the Airpods Pro in my opinion. 

I can confidently say the ANC on the Elite 85t are hands down the best I’ve experienced. You really feel like the whole world has been tuned out, leaving you with your music. Even when compared against Apple and Sony’s ANC earbuds, Jabra’s performs the best.

I also loved the convenience Elite 85t’s Bluetooth multipoint feature brings as it made pairing with my two frequently used devices: my laptop and phone, a breeze. With the Elite 85t, I could easily switch listening to the different audio sources without needing to reconnect my devices to the earbuds.

That being said, I still disliked the semi-open design and oblong shape of the ear tips as I simply didn’t feel I had a secure fit with them. It is for this very reason that I don’t find the Elite 85t well suited for workouts.

To be honest there are plenty of good ANC models you can get at a cheaper price. For example, there is the Sony WF-1000XM3 that are priced at RM949 (Lazada/Shopee). This model is sometimes available sometimes below RM700 during sales promotions. Even if you are to compare it to the Apple AirPods Pro at RM1,099 (Lazada/Shopee), you can find these earbuds often discounted at prices below RM1,000 

All things considered, the Elite 85t sounds pretty attractive save for its steep retail price of RM1,049 (Lazada/Shopee). Because of this, I would rather recommend the Elite Active 75t for someone on the look for a pair of Jabra wireless earbuds. Though it lacks ANC, it is cheaper and offers a similar experience to the Elite 85t. That’s not to mention they make for a great pair of workout earbuds. 

Photography by Jinn Xiung with Sony RX100 Mk V.