When picking out earbuds, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by analysis paralysis—especially if you own an Android phone. Unlike iPhone owners, Android users don’t have a go-to set of earbuds to pair with their smartphones. Instead, your Android phone affords the freedom of choice. We present to you the Jabra Elite 85t, a great option for listeners in search of compact noise cancelling earbuds. They can turn down the volume on your surroundings, and just as quickly amplify background noise to keep you safe. Let’s see if Elite 85t merit their cost.
Editor’s note: this Jabra Elite 85t review was updated on February 3, 2021, to address a software version 1.38.0, which adds a handful of new features.
Who should get the Jabra Elite 85t?
- Commuters should get these earphones for their exceptional noise cancelling performance, comfortable fit, and compact design.
- Students can benefit from these earbuds because they take up very little room in a bag and can be used anywhere.
- Frequent flyers will enjoy these earbuds for the same reason as commuters: they’re small, cancel out background noise, and support fast charging to get you through long plane rides.
What’s it like to use the Jabra Elite 85t?
The Jabra Elite 85t earbuds distinguish themselves from the competition because of their ergonomic design, effective noise cancelling, and grade-A microphone array. Rather than circular ear tips of previous generations, the Elite 85t includes oblong ear tips which fit more comfortably with the ear canal. The silicone sleeves include an earwax guard which prevents debris from gunking up the speaker grill.
The Jabra logo adorns each earbud and you can control playback commands by clicking either panel. These controls can be reconfigured in the Jabra Sound+ app so each user experience is different. A cluster of tiny holes gather at the tip of the earbud housings, these are for the six-microphone array. We’ll get into more of this later, but some of those microphones are for calls and others are for noise canceling.
Every pair of true wireless earbuds includes a charging case but this one is more versatile than most. It supports wireless charging by default and if you don’t care for Qi charging mats, you can top up via the included USB-C cable instead. The case feels familiar, as its made of plastic like nearly all other cases, and snaps shut with the help of a magnet. It’s easy enough to open with just one hand, yet the magnets are strong enough to secure the case if you drop it.
The Elite 85t support auto-pause and auto-resume playback.
If you want to remain aware of your surroundings, you can click the left earbud to enable HearThru, which is Jabra’s take on passthrough technology. This is by far the best implementation of the technology I’ve tested: it relays environmental sounds without introducing a bunch of static/white noise. If you want to run outside with these, you can get away with HearThru enabled instead of mono mode.
Are the earbuds good for working out?
Jabra’s earbuds are very good for standard workouts like running and weightlifting. Stability is great: the grippy underbelly kept the earbuds in place as I cycled and skateboarded. Unlike the Jabra Elite Active 75t, these earbuds can’t be submerged for any amount of time, nor can they be exposed to dust without possible damage to the internal components. Rock climbers and beach runners: don’t bring the Elite 85t. The IPX4 rating doesn’t merit any kind of dust resistance, so the buds won’t be covered under warranty if climbing chalk mucks up the internals.
Do the Jabra Elite 85t have good noise cancelling?
In a word, yes; the Jabra Elite 85t feature very good noise cancelling technology that effectively quiets ambient noises like running faucets. It uses feedforward and feedback noise cancelling, similar to the highly effective Panasonic RZ-S500W. In fact, I found the Jabra Elite 85t ANC was so effective that it caused me to feel disoriented, and the Panasonic RZ-S500W had the same effect.
Become an expert: How do noise cancelling headphones work?
During my testing period, it was hard to understand my friend as he spoke 10 meters away. I could still hear his voice but had trouble discerning the content of his words. Although you’re supposed to be able to choose between 11 levels of ANC, the Jabra Sound+ app (version 188.8.131.52.4422.4a4ad203f) only permits five levels of adjustment. Regardless, you may select whichever level best suits your needs.
You decide how much of the world to tune out, and tune in, with the Jabra Elite 85t.
All you need to know is that the Jabra Elite 85t noise cancelling works very well, but requires you to get a proper fit. The more noise you can block out by creating a physical barrier between your ear canals and the outside world, the easier it is for the ANC technology to block out other noises like engines and refrigerator hums.
Hold up! Something’s missing:
This section is typically where we display a noise cancelling chart to show you exactly where the ANC shines and where its deficiencies lie. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a technical snag in our testing. To combat this, we’ve purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to reach our office in Canada, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious by an announcement explaining the change, and a new chart aesthetic.
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Should you get the Jabra Sound+ app?
If you want to take complete control of your noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, you need to download the free Jabra Sound+ app. You can select your preferred level of noise cancelling, enable HearThru mode, remap the controls, and locate your earbuds. Other more hands-on features include the EQ module: you can create a five-band custom EQ, which is saved and applied to the headset, or choose from six premade sound profiles to suit your needs.
Another option is “Moments,” which presents three instances when you may use the headset (My Moment, Commute, and Focus). Each option presents a level of active noise cancelling or HearThru, depending on which is chosen. This is a nice feature, because you can customize each of the three slots to your liking and tap on them as needed. This is much faster than if you were to make granular adjustments to ANC or HearThru intensity each time you used the earbuds.
On February 1, 2021, Jabra released software version 1.38.0, which provided three major features to the Elite 85t. You may now take a fit test to make sure you’re using the best ear tip to maximize isolation, and thereby ANC, performance. You can also rename the headset now, which is great if you own multiple Jabra headsets, and want an easy way to differentiate between them in your device’s Bluetooth menu. You can also disable both ANC and HearThrough directly from the earbuds, whereas before you could only use the onboard controls to toggle between ANC and HearThrough.
On November 23, 2020, Jabra released the Elite 85t’s first significant firmware update which upgrades Bluetooth 5.0 firmware to Bluetooth 5.1 firmware. The update also reduces total charging time from approximately four hours to 3.5 hours. Other user-reported issues that have been resolved with the update include music streaming stability, and the company has fixed call quality issues like crackling audio during a call. Bluetooth multipoint switching has improved too.
What Bluetooth codecs does Jabra Elite 85t support?
The Jabra Elite 85t support two Bluetooth codecs: SBC, and AAC for high-quality streaming on iOS devices. AAC can sometimes perform inconsistently across Android devices, but it’s definitely the best choice available here for streaming video and other applications that require low latency. On the other hand, everyone benefits from the Bluetooth 5.1 firmware; this promotes greater power efficiency than Bluetooth 4.0 devices.
You can use the Elite 85t to connect to two devices at once via Bluetooth multipoint, which is great for multitasking. Jabra’s multipoint works well, but the experience isn’t quite as seamless as it is with the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2. You still have to pause playback on the primary device, before you can play media on the secondary device. Audio visual lag was only an issue when the Elite 85t were connected to two devices simultaneously. When I used the earbuds with just my phone, or just my computer, playback synchronization was a non-issue.
You might like: Best noise cancelling true wireless earbuds
Despite all of this advanced technology, the Jabra Elite 85t still struggle with connection stability. When I took a call on my Samsung Galaxy S10e, the earbud disconnected from my phone. The same thing happened when I was on a conference call from a Macbook Pro, so the issue is platform agnostic. Although this was annoying, it’s something that can be remedied with a small firmware update, so it shouldn’t cause too much worry.
How is the battery life?
The Jabra Elite 85t lasted 5 hours, 41 minutes before the batteries depleted, which fares better than both the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM3. Of course, if you turn the ANC feature off, you might be able to squeeze more life out of them, so be sure to experiment with the app to see how the earphones work best in your personal use.
Learn more: How we test
Unlike the Jabra Elite 75t series, the Jabra Elite 85t case supports Qi wireless charging. It takes 3.5 hours to completely charge the case wirelessly, and just two hours and thirty minutes to charge it via USB-C. You can fast charge the earbuds: place them in the case for 15 minutes for an hour of playtime. Although this isn’t the most efficient quick charging around, it remains a great feature for intercontinental flights, or cross country road trips.
How do the Jabra Elite 85t sound?
The 12mm dynamic drivers pump out a consumer-friendly frequency response, which means bass notes are two times louder than midrange notes. This is good for general listening purposes, because the bass emphasis allows you to feel that oomph from your beloved basslines. Although it’s enjoyable, this isn’t an accurate frequency response by any means.
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If you use the Elite 85t, you may have trouble discerning high-pitched vocal frequencies, which is a consequence of auditory masking. Our brains only have so much bandwidth to process auditory stimuli, so a loud sound is prioritized over a relatively quiet sound. This had its place in the early days of survival, but isn’t great when you’re just trying to perceive detail from your favorite songs. To get a better idea of how a song is intended to sound, you have to cut bass notes by roughly 6dB, amplify mids by 3dB, and de-emphasize certain treble ranges by 6-10dB in the Jabra Sound+ app equalizer.
You can always change the sound profile in the Jabra Sound+ app.
Passive isolation is quite good: sounds higher than 1kHz are rendered up to eight times quieter when wearing the earbuds then without wearing them, and midrange notes (e.g., human voices) sound nearly half as loud with buds inserted. The oblong ear tips help create a secure seal to the ear canal, but you must take a few minutes to find the right set for your ears.
Lows, mids, and highs
The song Broken Bones by Wingtip sounds great through the Jabra Elite 85t: the guitar picking is relayed clearly, and doesn’t make it difficult to hear Nick Perloff-Giles’ vocals as he sings the first verse. Even when the kickdrum enters at 0:27, Perloff-Giles’ voice is audible as he says the word, “different,” which is hard to hear with Jabra Elite 75t frequency response. Treble notes are relayed clearly too and can be heard in the first chorus as a tambourine shakes back and forth. Auditory masking presents itself as the chorus coalesces into the energetic interlude at 1:10. The bass drop is so loud that it’s hard to discern any midrange or treble notes.
Again, this frequency response is great for general listening purposes: it makes your favorite tunes seem a bit more lively, but it isn’t an accurate representation of how the music is intended to sound.
Can you use the Jabra Elite 85t for phone calls?
The Jabra Elite 85t are great earbuds for conference calls, if you can get them to stay connected. Between the two earbuds, the Elite 85t boasts a six microphone array, four of which are used for noise cancellation. The microphones de-emphasize sounds lower than 500Hz, which is a way to combat the proximity effect: when bass notes are amplified as a speaker gets too close to the microphone.
Some microphone systems take bass attenuation to the extreme, making speakers with particularly low voices sound “off”, but that’s not the case with the Elite 85t. My voice is transmitted accurately, and it does a fairly good job of rejecting distracting sounds as you can hear in the microphone sample below.
Jabra Elite 85t microphone demo:
Jabra Elite 85t vs. Jabra Elite 75t: which is better?
The Jabra Elite 85t has much more effective noise cancelling than the Jabra Elite 75t, because the 85t features a dedicated processor just for noise cancellation. This is different form the Elite 75t, which integrates it into the Qualcomm SoC. This is neat because it lets pre-existing Jabra Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t owners test out noise cancelling, but it does Jabra a disservice. The Elite 85t noise cancelling is far superior to the Elite 75t series. Jabra’s Elite 85t earbuds also boast more advanced hardware than the Elite 75t buds: the former houses three mics in each earbud, while the latter has just two mics in each earbud. Both are good, but the Elite 85t is the clear winner.
Microphone quality is good with the Jabra Elite 75t series, but it’s been improved with the Jabra Elite 85t. We used the Elite Active 75t microphone demo instead of the Elite 75t demo, because the Elite 75t series share the same mic system. Lily is the speaker in this demo, so it makes the comparison more accurate. Sound quality is more accurate right out of the box too, with the Jabra Elite 85t. This means you don’t have to spend as much time tinkering in the Sound+ app to get your music how you want it to sound. Although the form factors are similar, the Elite 75t earbuds are slightly more compact and have circular ear tips. Some users may prefer the standard ear tip shape, but Jabra is wagering that most will fall in love with the oblong design.
Jabra Elite Active 75t microphone demo:
If you want something for excruciating workouts of all kinds, we recommend the Jabra Elite Active 75t: its IP57-rated to resist both dust and water, and has better battery life than the newer headset. If you commute by plane or train, we highly recommend giving the Jabra Elite 85t a try. Yes, they’re very expensive earbuds, but when it comes to ANC technology, you really do get what you pay for.
Should you buy the Jabra Elite 85t?
The Jabra Elite 85t live up to the name; these are elite earbuds that can handle pretty much anything. If you want some of the best noise cancelling earbuds money can buy, you should pinch your pennies for the Elite 85t.
Other listeners may not find the noise cancelling technology to be worth the shortened battery life. After all, you get nearly two more hours of playtime with the previous generation earbuds, and save a significant chunk of change. No matter which Jabra Elite series of earphones you buy, you’ll be happy with them. Jabra’s been leading the true wireless pack since its Elite 65t earbuds, and it clearly has no intention of slowing down.
Jabra expanded the Elite 85t’s color options, and added Gold/Beige, Copper/Black, Black and Grey, in addition to the existing Titanium Black option. Be sure to research the best headphone seller for you before buying, because some vendors have great warranty coverage while others leave plenty to be desired. It takes just a few moments, and many retailers even have a live chat that you can use to contact customer service about further inquiries. We recommend a little reading for the full rundown on where to buy headphones.
Editor’s note: this Jabra Elite 85t review was written with firmware version 1.16.0 (1033).