Price (RRP): $499
The Jabra Elite 85h Bluetooth Adaptive Noise Cancelling headphones mark the company’s entry into the premium BT ANC ‘travellers’ market. To do that they have to be better than the big three – Sony, Sennheiser and Bose. Did they do it?
The Jabra Elite 85h has an RRP of $499. The tough competition includes Bose QC35II $499, Sennheiser PCX 550 $499 and Sony WH-1000XM3 $549.95 – of course; astute shoppers will find some of them online for less. After a week’s intensive use, we can say the Jabra Elite 85h is right up there with the big boys.
Who is Jabra?
The brand is not all that well known in the consumer space. But, in the Unified Communications and enterprise space it is top-of-mind along with Plantronics/Polycom (now Poly). Its gear constantly wins awards for reliability, build/lasting ability and sound quality.
Jabra is part of the GN Group, established 150 years ago and creates consumer headphones, professional headsets and hearing aids (ReSound). It invented the world’s first ultra-noise-cancelling microphone, the world’s first Bluetooth headset and the world’s first sports headphones with integrated heart rate monitor. If any company can say that it understands sound; it is Jabra.
All we are saying is don’t be a brand snob when Jabra offers some of the most technologically advanced audio gear on the planet.
Review: Jabra Elite 85h
This is a premium ‘travellers’ adaptive noise cancelling (ANC) headset. Our primary review paradigms include
- Sound quality
- ANC effectiveness
- Battery life
- Wear, comfort and style
- Ease of use and app
NC and ANC noise cancelling effectiveness
At the base level, all NC headphones use external mics to generate ‘anti-noise’ to remove it. The ‘A’ stands for adaptive, and this means it offers various levels of NC to suit your environment.
The Jabra Elite 85h has eight mics (four for ANC) and SmartSound that uses AI technology to analyse ambient sound – In Public, Commute and In Private. SmartSound automatically changes modes (it calls these ‘moments’), and it is great for active types in different environments. It uses audEERING’s context intelligence technology that can detect more than 6000 typical sounds.
‘Commute’ lets more of the ‘announcement’ noises in. In Private means, your surrounds are already quiet, and it can turn down ANC and HearThrough for more natural sound. In public means you need awareness of your surrounds, or you may get hit by a bus!
Turning SmartSound off reveals a choice of ‘moments’ (music pre-sets) – default, speech, bass boost, treble boost, smooth and energise. You can also create a custom My Moment using an equaliser (EQ).
While this sounds complex, and you can also press a button on the left ear cup for ANC, HearThrough or Off – I suspect that most will be very happy to let SmartSound think for you.
ANC Summary: Overall SmartSound works well, but it needs a little more polish (via firmware updates) to become the ‘must have’ feature. Sony ANC is almost perfect. Bose offers two modes, and it is very effective. Jabra and Sennheiser are very close.
We test with ANC on, ANC off and via 3.5mm audio.
While it was not conclusive (as our frequency response metre is for speakers, not headphones), we noticed (ANC off)
- Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – none
- Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – creeping in at 60Hz
- High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – building up
- Low-mids: 200-400Hz – good and building
- Mids: 400-1000Hz – flat (good)
- High-mids: 1-2kHz – flat (good)
- Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat (good peak)
- Treble:4-6kHz – flat (good)
- High Treble: 6-10kHz – declining
- Dog whistle: 10-20kHz – none
The native sound is a little more of a mid-emphasis signature. With pre-sets/EQ you can get it close to warm and sweet (best for movies or music) or Bright vocal (for clear voice and handsfree phone).
It has 10Hz to 20kHz frequency response. It handles middle bass (drums) well, mids are clear peaking at 2kHz (vocals and voice), and it can reach treble levels needed for trumpets.
We were impressed with the huge Left/Right separation. With most headphones you generally hear distinct left and right sounds ‘in the ear cups’, but these seemed to be coming from well outside the cups.
Volume was excellent – as an estimate, it was well over 90dB max, and I found about 75% of the volume was all I needed for 60-70dB listening.
All ANC tends to mute the sound and flatten the frequencies.
The L/R separation came back a bit, and a little of the crispness came off.
Sound and volume results were similar to ANC off – courtesy of the 40mm speakers. You can also use 3.5mm and turn ANC on.
It also auto-mutes if notifications come through.
Sound summary: Using the Bluetooth SBC codec, there is very little between all comers. Overall in both quality and volume, it is right up there with the ‘big boys’.
Jabra claims up to 41 hours (ANC off) and 36 hours (ANC on). I tried to flatten the battery, but after a week’s use (about 14 hours) I still have 60% available.
With ANC it uses about 10% of the battery every three hours, so Jabra’s claims are correct. When you turn them on (by rotating the ear cups), it will announce the battery level – low, medium and high.
Jabra says the battery charges in 2.5hours with a 5V/500mA charger. But it is USB-C and can fast charge – 15 minutes for 5 hours use, so I suspect using a USB-PD compatible charger will reduce charge time significantly.
Battery summary: The longest lasting of all and with USB-C (like Sony) it has fast charging that Sennheiser and Bose don’t.
Wear, comfort and style
To achieve enough passive sound isolation for ANC to work, these are a reasonably tight fit over the ears with enough headband pressure to achieve that.
The longest I have continuously worn them is two and a half hours. At the end, I did not feel the need to take them off for a breather! I suspect these are good for several hours straight use.
At 269g they are
- heavier than the Sennheiser and Bose at 235g
- lighter than the Sony at 277g
- heavier than the Plantronics at 190g
The pads and headband use PU (leatherette) that does not breathe as well as full leather but wears well. To turn them on you twist the cups from storage position (flat) to wearing position (same as Sennheiser.
On the looks side from they are stylish enough. They come in Black/Titanium, Gold/Beige and Navy Blue. The Gold looks the best.
The left pad has one button for ANC or cycling through moments, the right has one button for mic/voice assistant, and the right cup has a multi-purpose button and volume up/down.
I particularly like the Auto pause for music – just remove the headphones or place them around your neck (on-ear detection).
In summary – easy to use, good to wear and almost as stylish as the big three.
This is the latest standard and supports multipoint (concurrent connection to two sound sources), can be paired with up to eight devices, and can operate up to 10 metres from a smartphone.
It uses the standard Bluetooth SBC codec that is fine for CD quality sound.
Google Assistant ‘one-touch access’ is out of the box (with an Android smartphone and the Google Assist app – tested). Alexa requires a skill to be loaded. Only the Sony Wh-1000XM3 supports voice at this time. Siri may be supported.
I did not compare all the other headsets for hands-free calls, but I can say that this is one of the clearest and loudest I have heard with full voice feedback.
It comes with a hard travel case, 3.5-53.5mm audio cable, a short USB-A to USB-C charge cable and airline adapter.
IP rating and warranty
Weather/rain resistant and 2-year warranty
GadgetGuy’s take – decisions, decisions
After a week of use, I can see that there are some benefits and no deal breakers.
I recommend these for the user that wants a good all-rounder – on the train, in the coffee shop, at work, wearing while walking, listening to music or movies etc.
Earlier we mentioned the competition, and I think the end game should be to point out what each offer that is different to the others
The Sony WH-1000XM3 has altitude aware ANC and on a plane, well anywhere really, it can’t be beaten. It is also the sweetest sounding with full high-res audio LDAC codec support. Audiophiles will buy these if only for the deep, rich bass. Although when using the standard Bluetooth SBC codec there is not much difference to the Jabra Elite 85h sound quality that has the later BT 5.0.
The Sennheiser PXC 550 is a few years old now but have one feature the others don’t – a USB DAC that means you can plug them into a PC or Mac, and they are seen as a USB sound device and can charge at the same time. Sound-wise both use the SBC codec, and there is not a lot of difference.
The Bose QC II set the standard for ANC and have a cult-like following. I think the Jabra sound is just as good. The Bose ANC (in standard all-out, noise cancelling mode) is better, but the Jabra SmartSound ANC is superior in functionality and will continue to learn. SmartSound is most useful because it does not need any thought – it just happens.
The Jabra have BT 5.0 (and those advantages), long battery life, Voice assistance, and excellent audio quality. After reviewing these, I can only repeat – don’t be a brand snob.
New at $499, so you won’t find a bargain online for some time. That is a bummer because Sennheiser sells online at around $348, Sony WH-1000XM3 is around $379, and Bose QC 35 II is around $350.
While the recommended retail is comparable with the rest if you are not in a hurry, wait a few months to let the market set the price.