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 noise cancelling headphones make it easier to be alone when surrounded.
Editor’s note: this Jabra Elite 85h review was updated on December 29, 2020, to add context to the sound quality section.
Who is the Elite 85h for?
- Anyone greatly benefit listeners who study in coffee shops, use public transportation, or find themselves perpetually accruing frequent flyer miles. Although the headphones don’t outperform the Sony WH-1000XM3, 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 cups 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 the automatic ear detection. While this is a seemingly popular inclusion for true wireless earbuds, it’s a rarity in wireless headphones. 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. While I wouldn’t work out with these—mainly due to their size and weight—it’s a comfort to know they won’t melt like the Wicked Witch of the West if briefly exposed to light rain.
Is the noise cancelling any good?
Noise cancelling is impressive but it’s not the best that we’ve tested. It reduces midrange frequencies quite a bit, and can even make some midrange sounds four-times quieter than they’d sound without ANC enabled. While that’s impressive, the fact remains that the noise cancelling doesn’t touch bass frequencies, which is where most jet engines and car train rumbles fall. Still, passive isolation is excellent as depicted by how far the line extends along the Y-axis beyond 1kHz. This means that unpredictable, high-pitched sounds the clicking of a keyboard and clang of washing machines will be significantly hushed.
How long does the battery last?
The Jabra Elite 85h’s battery lasts a very, very long time. Our testing yielded 34.58 hours 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 2.5 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 allows for roughly five hours of playback.
How do you connect the Jabra Elite 85h to your phone?
The headphones use Bluetooth 5.0, which allows for a 10-meter wireless connectivity range. Anyone running firmware version 1.4.1 or later benefits from AAC support for high-quality, 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 it’s not too much of a surprise seeing as the Jabra Elite Active 75t earbuds don’t either. Of course, 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.
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 greatly appreciate the convenience. It’s also great if you share headphones with roommates or family as they can just play from their phones without pestering you for yours.
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How to the Jabra Elite 85h sound?
Despite the lack of high-quality codec support, these headphones sound fantastic. If you want an relatively accurate reproduction of sound that matches the depth and spatial awareness we naturally experience, you’ll enjoy the Elite 85h. Clarity is very good, and the de-emphasized bass notes make it easy to perceive vocal detail.
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This kind of frequency response can easily be altered in the Jabra Sound+ app, which is free on iOS and Android. The app even allows 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 toned-down 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 Creative Outlier Gold makes a bit difficult to hear Sigrid sing the lyrics, “I just want to be…”
These headphones produce very clear audio.
The song clearly demonstrates the headphones’ ability to distinguish frequencies along the spectrum. Skip ahead to 1:59. This is when Sigrid vocalizes controlled “Ohs” amidst the steady keying of a piano and predictable bass thumps. All of the instruments have their place within the listener’s perception of auditory space. While much of this is attributed to adroit audio engineering, the headphones are able to properly reproduce how the track was intended to be heard.
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. Just like with the audio frequency response chart, the microphone response would ideally be a flat line along the 0-mark. However, the ideal is a rarity at best and an abstract in actuality. 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.
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 have 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.
Let’s dig into sound quality; the Sony WH-1000XM4 reproduce sound a lot more accurately than the Jabra Elite 85h, but both headphones’ sound signatures can be equalized in their respective mobile apps. Sony’s sound signature is objectively better because it reproduces audio how the engineers and artists intended, however, some may prefer Jabra’s tuning.
Microphone quality is slightly better with the Sony WH-1000XM4 than it is wtih the Jabra Elite 85h, but Jabra’s holds its own, espeically for its sub-$200 price. Both mic systems can handle conference and personal calls alike.
Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone demo:
If you have the extra cash lying around, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are 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 an exceptional 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.
If you’re an Android user, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are the best portable noise cancelling earbuds. These attenuate low-end noises (e.g. an airplane’s engine) like a pro. In fact, they made my cross-country flights from Atlanta to San Francisco nearly enjoyable. Battery life falls a bit short of the AirPods Pro, but they support quick charging and supremely comfortable fit.
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.
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.