If I were to speak my mind freely, I’d say that I’ve missed this category of headphones on our test bench.
Something you can simply plonk on your mug or leave it around your neck all day instead of worrying about the perfect fit or embarrassing ear goop when someone wants to listen to your tunes. On-ears are hugely practical for everyday use but we’re increasingly being spoilt by active noise cancelling, true wireless in-ears and for good reason. Those are both qualities that have become a travel essential but the Jabra Elite 45h doesn’t fall into either, yet is hugely appealing. They’re light, compact, flexible enough to be wrung by their neck and come with just enough tech to keep you coming back for more.
Light n’ easy
There’s no avoiding the plasticky build or even writing about it. But that isn’t the same as poorly built. In fact, the Elite 45h feel built to last with sturdy materials where it counts and enough memory foam padding on the headband and earcups to make it wearable for extended periods of time. The design is such that there’s enough air passing through your tresses so you never feel bogged down by the weight of the Jabra. One thing to note though is that even though they’re supposed to be just worn straight up, the ear-cup design has enough flex to make the sound leak way from your ears. So, to direct all the sound straight into your ears, you’ll have to take a moment to re-adjust the fit so the earcups sit parallel to your ears. The headband size is easily adjustable through a well-damped mechanism which doesn’t have indents but gets the job done. No touch controls here, just physical buttons on the right earcup that control volume (or track change), voice assistant (Siri or Google) and power on/off/pairing toggle. All very simple and straightforward, taking all guesswork out of listening to music, or making calls.
The companion app is a well-designed affair that prompts you to take a short listening test, sending bursts of various frequencies into your ears and making you answer yes/no type questions on whether or not you could hear those frequencies. This allegedly helps the app tune the sound to the exact amount of hearing loss you may have, depending on age, exposure to loud sounds etc. I presume if tailors the EQ to a particular curve to compensate for losses in low or high frequencies, but the final result isn’t very distinguishable from the non-tailored sound. Manual control of the EQ yielded much better results and can be saved with a custom name. Fun. If you wish to be lulled into sleep or just want to stare out of your office window thinking you’re near a waterfall, buil-in ambient sounds in the app can help with that too and it’s a nice touch, inspired by Bose.
Perforations on the earcup pads let you know the L/R orientation easily and once I got some tunes on, the first thing I realised is how balanced the Elite 45h sounds. Comfortable to wear and listen, they don’t attack your ears like a Beats on-ear would, instead they caress like a Koss and sound like an affordable Grado. Fell in Love with the City by Another Sky has a lightness to its feet that does justice to the soaring vocals and the shuffling on the skins yet it stays just clear of sounding sibilant or top-heavy. Via the EQ, just a tap on the upper-bass sorts things out into an enjoyable rhythm that highlights the resolution capabilities of the 40mm driver. Norah Jones smoky crooning on Nightingale is rendered with all the weight and gravitas I’ve heard from a ₹9k pair of cans. There isn’t a deep soundstage that you get from the best in-ears or over-ears but there’s honesty, clarity and directness to its presentation that does justice to the recording. Instruments are transparent, vocals clear and the bass has just the right amount of heft that doesn’t leave you with a heavy head after a few hours of listening to Metronomy. Electronic and dance music does well with the Elite 45h’s sonic signature too, keeping pace with the beats and your feet.
Call quality, thanks to the dual microphone set-up is great and I had no complaints from callers, wanted or otherwise. There is a strange micro-amplification of certain frequencies which is audible when the music goes quiet though and it’s evident that the Elite 45h picks up ambient sounds but doesn’t have the sophistication to separate and remove them from the music. It’s not something that you may even notice, depending on where and how you wear these headphones but it does get your attention if you want to listen for it. Also, unlike Koss’ Porta Pro which has all-foam earpads, the memory foam installation here does add to a little heat build-up so while they’re light and comfy, you may want to let your ears breathe every so often. Not a lot of music leaks outside of the cans though so that’s a good thing, although without ANC and with their relaxed fit, they also let a fair bit of ambient noise seep in, not the best for commuting unless you’re in an AC cab. In fact, the fit is so easy that there’s a serious risk of the headphones coming off your head if you’re startled or if you’re listening to Rammstein enthusiastically.
What does win the Elite 45h extra points is the massive 50hr battery that can even be replenished for another 10hr stint with just 15mins of charge! In my week of reviewing, I just let them stay on and would forget about them. The auto turn-off feature helps to conserve battery life and I never needed to charge them for the whole duration of my test. Range is acceptable with up to 10mts even through room walls and doors, thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 and it’ll connect to two devices simultaneously, adding to the convenience.
As far as simple, no-nonsense headphones go, the Jabra Elite 45h is a refreshing take on wireless. It doesn’t make you spend your money on fancy touch controls or exquisite materials. Instead, what you spend on is honest sound quality with great comfort and massive battery life - all the essentials that make for a five-star budget on-ear wireless headphone!