A worthy competitor but still not the best

When you think of a solid pair of wireless ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) headphones, two names immediately come to mind because of their successful initiatives in this segment – Bose and Sony with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH 1000XM3. However, this year Jabra Wireless has treated us with ANC-capable Jabra Elite 85H for its own presentation of this class of products. This unlikely competitor is priced at Rs 28,999 and at first glance, there seems to be a lot of promise in terms of design, features and potential sound quality. Let’s find out if Jabra’s pitch is really worth listening to here.

In the box

  • Jabra Elite 85H Headphones
  • Carrying the case
  • 3.5 mm wire
  • USB-C charging cable
  • Two-prong airline adapter

Construction and design

The Jabra Elite 85H headphones evoke a sense of quality from the moment you look at the carrying case, which is made of imitation leather with a soft fabric interior. The pair of headphones themselves are made of plastic and the exterior is made of fabric cover and imitation leather, again under the headband and earcup. The earplugs are exceptionally soft and foam-cushioned for extra comfort. The Elite 85H’s headband is pre-tensioned, allowing you to wear them for longer periods of time without feeling too much pressure on your ears and the side of your head. Jabra claims that these headphones are splash resistant because they have added a nano coating to the interior components. It’s a nice little touch and it was especially useful for us during the test as it matches the Mumbai rains.

The earcaps of the headphones can be rotated around. Jabra has used this special feature in contrast to any other headphones before and has completely removed the power button from the equation. Instead, the cans will turn on automatically when the earpacks rotate facing each other, while turning off the other side will turn them off. The compatible arms of the Jabra Elite 85H are friction-based, like the Sennheiser HD1 or Beoplay H9i headphones. Adjusting these friction-based weapons is a real hassle when they are in your head, they definitely give the device a more premium look.

Controls

The Jabra Elite 85H devices have quite a wide range of controls, however, they blend in with the design to such an extent that it’s easy to miss them unless you look closely at the headphones. In the right ear cup, you will find three touch buttons. The large, finger-shaped button in the middle will allow you to manually pause and play music, and you can answer the call by clicking this button. The small dots above and below these buttons allow you to control the volume with a small press, a long press on these buttons will allow you to skip the tracks or go back to the previous one.

At the bottom of the right earcup, which has a charging port and a 3.5mm jack, you’ll find a button that lets you mute your voice when you press it. Additionally, this button allows you to access your phone’s default voice assistant (Google Assistant or Siri) or, if you prefer, Alexa. The left earcap keeps things simple, dedicating just one button to allow users to cycle through ANC modes – turn on, listen or turn off the ANC instead of turning off your phone every time to change these settings.

Features

In the previous section, you noticed that there was absolutely no mention of a power button. As mentioned earlier, these headphones rely entirely on turning the ear cups in the ‘listening position’ and stopping them from flattening. We can’t stress enough how much we like this feature, and going back to the standard power button on headphones seems a bit old now. In addition, when you turn on the Jabra Elite 85H by turning the earcaps facing each other, the can will be turned on and immediately connected to the paired Bluetooth device. You only need to manually pair your phone or any other device with headphones for the first time, then the process should be much smoother. We did not experience any problems when connecting and connecting our testing device (Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus) with the headphones. Jabra has also implemented a very convenient pause and play feature, where the music or media will be automatically turned off when the headphones are turned on and turned on when they are turned on again.

In terms of ANC functionality, headphones offer an array of modes, called ‘moments’. Users can use four moments interchangeably at that time according to their needs, including Commute, In Private, In Public and ANC Off. These moments can only be accessed from the app, Jabra Sound +. The earcap button on the left side of the headphones will allow you to cycle through ANC settings such as ANC On, Hear Through and ANC Off, and not Moments. For each moment, you can manually set an ANC profile. For example, we use Hair Through for public mode so that we can hear traffic and announcements on the road at the train station, ANC off in private mode and ANC on for commuting. You can also set your own custom ANC profile known as ‘My Moment’ which allows users to manually adjust their EQ settings as well as ANC profiles. While this feature is quite useful for users who want to get their headset extra thumping bus or more trouble, we didn’t use this feature too much as we wanted to test the default sound quality of the Elite 85H.

Jabra has taken things a step further and implemented an “intelligent adaptive technology”, basically an AI, which automatically adjusts to ANC modes depending on your surroundings. Jabra calls this feature SmartSound and users may forget to turn it on and manually toggle the ANC mode. This mode, although useful, has some issues at the present stage, which can be improved by updating the app. SmartSound does not get the environment right. We’ve seen that headphones have changed quite reliably in travel mode and public mode through repeated testing. However, when we were personally testing SmartSound, even the sound of our mechanical keyboard was enough to put it in ‘in public’ mode and turn on the listening, which would be quite annoying. The only solution was to turn off SmartSound in this setting and turn on the ANC manually (since we sometimes didn’t want to hear such noise in the test center).

The Hear Through mode on the Jabra Elite 85H is quite subtle and it doesn’t add much to the surroundings, which seems like a good thing. However, if you like your music a little louder and keep the volume above 70-80 percent, all in all, you will not be able to hear your surroundings as clearly as you would like. As soon as the car hooks and railway announcements are turned on, listening to music can drown out, which is embarrassing.

We once had a problem with the Jabra Sound + app. The app has stopped loading completely despite having a functional internet connection. Since the app wasn’t working, SmartSound wasn’t working either, which is one of the initial selling points of this device. The only way to get the app to work again is to uninstall and reinstall it.

Performance

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at what might be most important for a good pair of headphones – sound quality and overall performance. We tested headphones on a Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus, listened to music, TV shows and movies as well as made calls. In the case of songs, let’s first bring the sound quality. The headphones play a good base which is slightly above neutral. However, you’ll find similar or slightly higher priced ANC headphones, such as the Sony WH 1000MX3, which builds a deeper and more punctual base that may seem more satisfying to some. Of course, you can change the EQ settings to your liking in the app, which will give you more base thumps if you need to. The Jabra Elite 85H doesn’t overdo the base like some bit headphones that appeal to bassheads.

Inside Pull me under the Dream TheaterWhen you play the drums at the very beginning of the song, you hit a good amount of bass without sacrificing the clarity and audibility of the array of other instruments you play along with. The instruments sound sharp, clear and well-defined. The mid and high frequency sounds great on the Jabra Elite 85H and the vocals are exceptionally crisp. Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. The audio signature is usually brighter than the Bose QC 35 II and Sony WH 1000MX3, however, not something that will make you tired easily after a few hours of listening. We checked the headphones for hours without any fatigue. So, appreciate Jabra here. Headphones are especially good for high frequencies. Listening time Something from Nothing by The Fu Fighters, The audience is the subject of the high-pitched screams of the lead singer, Dave Grohl, at the last moment of the song, which gets louder and louder as you go. However, high volumes of audio don’t seem to get even screchy.

The audio separation between left and right in these cans is also great. The soundstage, however, is not perfect. There is, of course, room for improvement. Very good on ANC devices but does not throw its competitors out of the water. It manages to suppress a lot of ambient air. It blocks a good amount of voice chatter, movement and background noise. The sound signature of the Jabra Elite 85H matches our audio taste (which is a little brighter and less heavy in the pit). However, many consumers prefer to have a great sounding base on their headphones. The Jabra has a good, punchy base, but no exceptions, especially when compared to the Bose QC 35 II, Audio Technica ATH-M50xBT and Sony WH 1000XM3. If shafting is something that is extremely important to you, then buying another capable can be the right decision for you. However, if you are fascinated by Jabra’s features and design, you can always use the EQ controller to change the sound settings.

The Elite 85H can connect with the voice assistant of your choice, be it Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa. This feature works well even on a station when there was a lot of background noise. The call quality in the headphones is also great, as expected from the Jabra products Six of the eight microphones work simultaneously to improve call quality and you will definitely see results. With Bluetooth 5.0, both devices can be connected to the Jabra Elite 85H at the same time, and the audio signal is quite good, as well as passing through several walls without any problems.

Listening to the media on these headphones was also an enjoyable experience, and the media playing on Netflix and YouTube was in perfect sync with our Android devices. Explosions, shots, and the like were well-represented in TV shows and movies, and the overall sound was clear and concise.

The term Jabra Elite 85H is exceptionally good, although it takes a more subtle approach to the pit. However, some audio purists may be concerned about the fact that these headphones do not support high-performance audio codecs, such as AAC, aptX, or LDAC, which help deliver quality music almost like CDs. When you listen to FLAC audio tracks, the lack of these codecs will cause some lack of reliability. Let’s hope a firmware update solves this problem.

Last but not least, the battery life of these headphones is probably the best of the best, especially in the wireless, ANC headphones section. The cans give you 36 hours of battery life with the ANC turned on and 41 hours with the ANC turned on is amazing, which is really ridiculous. In our experiment, at about 50% volume, we got about 34 hours and 20 minutes on time. According to Jabra, 15 minutes of charging will give you 5 hours of play time, which our tests have proven to be quite accurate.

The last row

The Jabra Elite 85H is a worthy competitor in the category of exceptional battery life, great design and wireless ANC headphones. Features such as auto-pause and play, turning headphones on using earcaps, custom EQ mode, and splash resistance set these cans apart from their competition. However, competitors from other companies like Sony and Bose provide a more satisfying experience, especially when it comes to the trenches. Some audio purists may also be shut down because of the lack of support for high-performance codecs in this pair of cans. However, if you are looking for a good pair of wireless ANC headphones, you can’t go wrong with the Jabra Elite 85H, especially since its price is a bit lower than its competitors.

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