Jabra’s most ambitious hi-fi product till date is an overachiever of sorts. But can it score at the basics too?
Let’s accept it - there’s no real alternative to Bose or Sony if you want a high-end active noise-cancelling headphone. Sure, you can rummage around for B&W or B&O but we’re talking true innovation more than style here and Jabra has succeeded at getting a true contender in the ring. Thanks to their solid experience in professional headsets, they know a or thing or two about ambient noise rejection so it comes as no surprise that they chose to mate their deep knowledge of Active Noise Cancellation with the market demand for a well-equipped music headphone.
Jabra Elite 85H: build and design
While not as solidly built as the Sony or as light as the Bose, the Jabra is sturdy with its fabric-clad earcups and headband, metal hinges and leatherette cushions. The fabric on the right earcup also conceals physical buttons for the myriad of controls ranging from track play/pause to track changes to summoning any of your preferred virtual assistants. There is a bit of flex but overall it sits comfortably over the ears without generating too much heat. Put them on and the feeling is comforting and premium. The grip on the ears, firm but not skull-crushing. The hinge design that flares outwards just above the earcups also lends it some air so you never feel like a prisoner of your own device.
Jabra Elite 85H: Sound quality
Sound quality is entertaining, not accurate. There is an audible bump in the bass and brightness in the treble but the equalizer through the app can tame it. Floated by Peter Cat Recording Co. sounds airy and light footed but the stand-up bass isn’t as well defined as on the Sony WH-1000X M3. In isolation, it’s a very likeable sound with enough punch and detail but in comparison to the current benchmark, it lacks a bit of depth and the imaging is less dramatic.
For most people who are into casual listening and are more concerned about the efficacy of its noise cancellation, the Jabra is a fantastic piece of kit and it’s only the die-hard audiophiles who will notice the difference.
Moments is Jabra’s way of using 4 of the 8 built-in microphones to monitor ambient noise and decide which mode to playback in. You can also manually select between Commute, Private, Public or even customise your own under My Moment. The effects may be subtle, depending on how noisy or silent your ambient surroundings are. HearThrough allows precise control of how much ambient sound you want bleeding in but doesn’t amplify it like some other options out there.
Jabra Elite 85H: Fingertip control
The comprehensive Sound+ app gives you control over every aspect of the cans and then some. You can also play from a library of soothing sounds if music isn’t your thing. All of them are well recorded sounds that lull you into sleep or a state of calmness. White noise, pink noise, ocean waves, waterfall, chirping birds and many more…they make for great companion sounds while reading a book or just having coffee by the window lost in your own thoughts instead of drowning them under the sounds of Metallica. Definitely the best of the breed currently.
Jabra Elite 85H: Verdict
Six of the eight microphones are used for answering calls and it does the job beautifully. Like the AirPods, the on-ear detection also pauses and plays music when you put them on or take them off and that’s a trick none of its competitors pull off yet. Add water/dust resistance and it’s a heavyweight to be reckoned with.
So what keeps the Elite 85H from being the best? It has it all, dedicated voice assistant button for summoning your AI secretary of choice, USB-C fast charging, around 30hrs of playback, 3.5mm jack, 40mm drivers and more settings than most users will ever explore. What it lacks is just the last bit of refinement in the tonal balance which seems to be tuned to excite the frequency extremes, robbing the music of its true timbre.