It’s 6 a.m. and your back’s against the wall of an overcrowded train car. You left your coffee on the counter and the last thing you want is to hear is the mouth-breathing stranger next to you drone on about how his kid is a spoiled brat. In most instances, you’d just have to endure this situation, but the Jabra Elite 85h is a pair of noise cancelling headphones that makes it easier to be alone when surrounded.
Editor’s note: this Jabra Elite 85h review was updated on July 1, 2021, to add the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 as an alternative and to update the Sony WH-1000XM4 noise cancelling chart.
Who is the Elite 85h for?
- Anyone can benefit from these comfortable, noise cancelling headphones. Although the headphones don’t outperform the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, they’re more affordable and effective enough.
What’s it like to use the Jabra Elite 85h?
These headphones are extremely comfortable, even with glasses. The ear pads are plush and leave plenty of wiggle room for even the most outward-facing ears. While the ear cups are rather bulky (a necessity for the 40mm drivers), they fold flat and rotate up toward the headband. Plus, you can keep everything organized in its included carrying case. Sure, it’s not as travel-friendly as a pair of true wireless earbuds but it makes a significant difference.
The Jabra Elite 85h is remarkably comfortable, making it easy to wear them all day long without fatigue.
Jabra’s smart noise cancelling uses four of the Elite 85h’s eight microphones to filter out ambient sound. When these mics register unwanted noise, they automatically switch ANC on. What constitutes distracting noise can be customized via the Jabra Sound+ app. Conversely, HearThru settings can also be managed. HearThru amplifies your surroundings, which is helpful when walking outside or during subway rides when you need to hear the upcoming stops.
Another nifty feature is automatic ear detection. While this is a seemingly popular inclusion for true wireless earbuds, it’s a rarity in wireless headphones—unless you spring for the most premium offerings. By removing the headphones, playback automatically pauses. Thusly, placing them back on resumes playback. This works quickly and flawlessly.
Instead of incorporating touch controls, Jabra’s headphones make use of the right panel with nearly undetectable playback, volume, and call controls. Upon pressing the controls, a wheezing sound escapes from the ear pad. Initially, this was comical but became increasingly annoying as time went on.
The edges of both ear cups also have buttons: a noise cancelling toggle button is on the left side, while the right side has a mic mute/voice assistant button just above the 3.5mm and USB-C charging ports. You may access Siri, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant via the voice assistant button. While the buttons are responsive, I wish they were slightly larger.
One of the more unique features of these premium noise cancelling headphones is the water-resistant nano-coating protecting the headphone’s internal components. It’s a comfort to know they won’t melt like the Wicked Witch of the West if briefly exposed to light rain, and hey, you can even use this as a set of workout headphones.
Is the noise cancelling any good?
Noise cancelling is okay, but passive isolation is where the Elite 85h really shines. While noise cancelling does affect high-frequency sounds above 1kHz, most of the heavy lifting comes from the headset’s ability to passively block out environmental noise in this frequency range. If you want to get the most out of the active noise cancelling, you have to make sure you get the right fit with these headphones. That means there can’t be any gaps betwen the ear pads and your head or glasses.
Related: Best noise cancelling headphones
How long does the battery last?
The Jabra Elite 85h battery lasts a very, very long time. Our testing yielded 34 hours, 35 minutes of playback with noise cancelling on. Jabra claims up to 41 hours with noise cancelling switched off and a year of standby time, but your results will likely vary from factors like listening volume, codec selection, and so on.
When the battery does eventually die, it takes two and a half hours to complete a full charge cycle via the included USB-C cable. If the battery dies and you’re crunched for time, 15 minutes of charging provides five hours of playback.
Does the Jabra Elite 85h stay connected?
The Elite 85h uses Bluetooth 5.0 and stays connected within the 10-meter wireless range. Anyone running firmware version 1.4.1 or later benefits from AAC support for high-quality, which provides reliable streaming on iOS devices. Android users can still use this codec but its performance is volatile. This can be updated through the Jabra Sound+ app.
Unfortunately, the headset still doesn’t support aptX but if you want the best audio quality, wired is the way to go. However, this limited high-quality codec support may be the Achilles’ heel in an otherwise standout product.
Learn more: Understanding Bluetooth codecs
Bluetooth multipoint serves as a compensatory feature, allowing you to pair up to eight devices to the headset and connect two simultaneously. I frequently alternate from speakers to headphones when working and appreciate the convenience.
How does the Jabra Elite 85h sound?
Despite the lack of high-quality codec support, the Jabra Elite 85h has a pleasing frequency response. The slightly de-emphasized bass notes make it easy to hear vocals and important instrumental notes, though bassheads may need to amplify the bass response in the app’s equalizer.
Related: How to read charts
The Jabra Sound+ app is free on iOS and Android and makes it easy for you to create “Moments,” which are different EQ presets that you can switch to, depending on your listening environment. This allows you to dial in the sound that suits your musical tastes, wherever you may be.
Lows, mids, and highs
In Sigrid’s song Raw, the bass drop at 0:33 can sound overpowering with the wrong headphones, but the quieted bass response from the Elite 85h avoids any auditory masking that could occur here. On the other hand, listening to the same part of Raw with the Anker Soundcore Life Q35 makes it a bit difficult to hear Sigrid sing the lyrics, “I just want to be…”
Is the Jabra Elite 85h good for phone calls?
How well it performs depends on your vocal range, but generally speaking, it’s fine, not great. The Elite 85h microphone handles low voices differently than higher-pitched ones. If you have a lower voice like fellow SoundGuy Chris Thomas, you’ll sound half as loud as I do in the below example.
Jabra Elite 85h microphone demo:
As far as technical specs go, six of the eight microphones are used during voice transmission to isolate the voice from background noise. This works fairly well as given by the demonstration. When I turn the background music on it’s much less audible than it sounds in real life. What’s more, the microphones actively work to combat wind noise, which works rather well when walking around.
As of July 1, 2021, 1,002 readers have rated the above mic sample as somewhere between “okay” and “good.” This is a pretty typical result for headphone mics, and at the upper end of what you should expect to get out of any products of this type.
Jabra Elite 85h vs Sony WH-1000XM4
Every flagship noise cancelling headset gets compared to the king, and we make no exception for the Jabra Elite 85h. There’s no way around it: the Sony WH-1000XM4 has markedly better noise cancelling than the Elite 85h, but Sony’s headphones should have better ANC: they’re almost double what the Elite 85h cost.
Other features include a bevy of software tricks like speak-to-chat, which automatically pauses playback when the headset senses that you’re speaking. You can also take advantage of Sony 360 Reality Audio and Bluetooth multipoint (over AAC).
If you have the extra cash lying around, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is about as good as noise cancelling headphones get—yes, even better than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700—but if you want something very good at a great price, get Jabra’s headphones.
Should you buy the Jabra Elite 85h?
Yes, the Jabra Elite 85h is a solid pair of headphones with an attractive price and design. However, if you’re not one to pick apart sound quality, the Jabra Elite 85h is your best feature-packed option. On the other hand, if you want a slightly more accurate bass response from your headphones with significantly better microphone quality, look into the cheaper Sony WH-CH710N, or the on-ear Jabra Elite 45h.
If you need something more portable
There are a handful of great noise cancelling true wireless earbuds available, with more to flood the market in the coming years. While ANC earbuds aren’t as effective as their larger, over-ear counterparts, they’re better than nothing. If you have an iPhone, the Apple AirPods Pro are the earbuds to get. These integrate the company’s H1 chip for streamlined usage across OS devices and hands-free Siri access. What’s more, the chipset affords solid battery life for this category of true wireless earbuds, and the included charger is Qi wireless-certified. Don’t have an iPhone? Spring for the Sony WF-1000XM4 or get the budget-friendly Amazon Echo Buds (2nd Gen) which boasts beyond-good ANC.
If you don’t care for the AirPods Pro, you have plenty of options to choose from and if you want to stay within the Jabra family, get the Jabra Elite 85t. These compact, ergonomic earbuds have excellent active noise cancelling performance and feature an IPX4 rating. The frequency response is quite bass-heavy, but you can EQ it in the free mobile app which is available on Android and iOS.
If your bag can fit headphones but you still want something a bit more compact, the Beats Solo Pro ANC on-ear headphones work rather well to combat external noise. They happen to be Beats‘ best noise cancelling headphones to date, which is greatly attributed to the tight fit. Another great, fairly compact option is the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2. This headset includes a tactile mic mute button, sleek onboard controls, and a substantial carrying case.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, the Jabra Elite 85h does not have an IP rating. The headphone is designed with a water-resistant coating meant to protect internal components from light rain, however it doesn't meet the dust and water resistance standards prescribed by the IP rating. For a more in-depth explanation, be sure to check out our full article on how to decode IP ratings.
The Jabra Elite 85h is protected under the company's warranty from water damage, if said damage is a result from regular exposure to dust and water—rain and very light splashes. Water damage as a result from sweat void the product's warranty, since it wasn't designed for use during workouts.
Yes, the Jabra Sound+ App includes EQ controls for fine-tuning your sound. However, for a more personalized listening experience, the app also includes a feature called MySound: an in-app listening test that helps calibrate your headphones to your own ears.
SmartSound is a feature in the Jabra Sound+ app that analyzes your listening environment and changes your headphone settings accordingly—including choosing the optimal level of noise cancellation. This feature can be enabled within the app under the Moments tab.
Yes, the Jabra Elite 85h are one of a small selection of water-resistant headphones. To be clear, these aren't impervious to water damage: they're merely treated with a water-resistant nano-coating. This, however, should protect the internals from short rain showers, and some sweat from a light jog. If you want something a bit more durable, look into the Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100 and our comprehensive list of workout headphones.