As a subsidiary of Danish hearing aid manufacturer GN, Danish Jabra has had an easy access to knowledge about miniature electronics for the ear. This may be the reason why they have been quick to come up with completely wireless earplugs, which they now put out in a breathtaking number of models.
We have recently tested the Jabra Elite 75t and the sports version Jabra Elite Active 75t. Both were excellent and have since been upgraded with automatic noise reduction (ANC) downloadable via the app.
Now we are looking at the brand new top model Jabra Elite 85t, which is equipped with Jabra’s strongest noise reduction, called Jabra Advanced Active Noise Cancellation. And of course completely wireless.
Fit and soundproofing are critical factors on earplugs. If they do not fit completely, you lose both the bass and sound insulation from the surroundings. And if they are completely tight, it can give a “goldfish bowl”. Elite 85t has a semi-open design with ventilation openings that should prevent overpressure in the ear from building up. This actually works, and it does not feel as intrusive to plug them into the ear canals as I have experienced with several other completely tight fitting in-ear headphones.
The driver elements are 12 mm in diameter. This is not large, but in relation to the size of the earplugs, they are huge. It is not uncommon to see 6 mm drivers in fully wireless earplugs. There are six microphones in each capsule. Two are used for speech and the other four for noise reduction.
The capsules have a battery life of five hours with the ANC turned on, and the charging case can charge them four times, thus adding 20 hours to the service life. The case can be charged with USB-C cable and wirelessly via Qi.
The sound quality
Fortunately, the Jabra Elite 85t is pleasantly free of “signature sound”. No tonal ranges are particularly catered for or overlooked.
With the noise reduction set at the lowest level, the difference in sound with and without ANC is minimal. Already at the next lowest step you can feel that some of the airiness disappears. Voices become less free and high hats seem to be coated with a thin layer of felt. It also affects the experience of room acoustics.
This may sound like a serious degradation of the sound, but is actually not that problematic. Firstly, almost all ANC headphones have similar limitations, and secondly, one has to look at the circumstances in which the earplugs are used – namely noisy environments. Noisy plains and noisy train cars are already not places where one would expect to be able to listen critically to hi-fi. The details that become the prey of the noise reduction would in any case be drowned in the noise without the ANC.
On the other hand, there is good reason to lower the noise reduction to the lowest level when you arrive. The music sounds best there. Funnily enough, better than with the ANC turned off completely, because then the sound appears thin.
Successful control app
The Jabra Sound + control app is an indispensable accessory for the earplugs. Not only do all the adjustments take place here, the app is also used to tune the sound to your hearing when they are first used. No whimsical measurements are included here; the setting is made by responding to sounds in the same way as with the ear doctor. As in the Voight-Kampff test, time is a parameter – so pay attention!
The app is one of the most comprehensive I’ve encountered for a set of headphones. First of all, one can choose the degree of noise reduction. Jabra says on its website that they work with 11 levels of noise reduction, with approx. 3 dB difference between each step. In the app, however, you can only set the ANC function in five steps. But as the Hear Through feature, which shuts in sound from the surroundings, also works in five steps, the math adds up. The eleventh step is when everything is turned off.
You can then model your sound with a five-band equalizer and save your settings as presets, side by side with the six defined presets.
Finally, you can save your sound and ANC setting as a so-called “Moment”, so you can get your favorite setting with one touch. There are already moments for travel and office work
And should the noise reduction not be enough, or the silence become too oppressive, you can add background sound in the form of 11 “soundscapes”, ranging from the sound of a ceiling fan over birdsong and rippling streams to the sound of standing in the middle of a crowd. The latter could be a mental break from the corona isolation.
The Jabra Elite 85t supports the SBC and AAC audio protocols, but unfortunately neither aptX nor aptX HD. It could have given an extra hi-fi boost to the sound, but would also have made the product more expensive.
Voice control is easiest
The operation is, as with completely wireless earplugs in general, a compromise. You can turn noise reduction and hear thorugh on and off, pick up the phone and switch between tracks by pressing each of the two capsules a number of times. Here, voice control with Siri and Google Assistant comes into its own.
Even though it is far from the mouth to the ear, the four microphones pick up the voice well and the speech intelligibility is good. However, the microphones are somewhat sensitive to ambient noise, such as creaking floors or rattling papers that are amplified.
The Jabra Elite 85t’s main attraction is the noise reduction, which can be set step by step as described. At the top step, car noise, talk and clattering keyboards are sorted out. However, not quite as effective as on the best full-size headphones with the Sony WH-1000XM4 in the front. As the noise reduction is turned down, more of reality penetrates. You also get a lot more openness and airiness in the music. Like most headphones with electronic noise reduction, the Elite 85t affects the sound, but the impact is relatively mild.
The competition for completely wireless headphones has intensified over the past year. If noise reduction is not a crucial requirement, the JBL Live 300TWS is almost as good-sounding at a lower price. Upwards, the closest competitor is the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which sounds freer and has a somewhat longer battery life – but also a somewhat higher price.
Jabra Elite 85t are really successful completely wireless ANC earbuds at a really reasonable price. This year I have tested several true wireless headphones at similar prices – but without ANC. The fact that Jabra has succeeded in including the noise reduction in the price makes the offer really attractive. And Jabra’s control app is a learning example of useful features.
The battery life of five hours is too short for a flight across the Atlantic, but since you can not connect them by cable to the aircraft’s entertainment system, this is of less relevance. Elite 85t has its use in everyday tasks – and they perform flawlessly.