Jabra spent the last few years carving a niche as a great manufacturer of wireless earphones for sport.
The Jabra Elite Sport were a good start a couple of years ago, and the Jabra Elite Active 65t built on them by adding Alexa in to the mix. If you’re doing something active and want to listen to music, podcasts or audiobooks at the same time, Jabra's earphones are definitely worth your cash.
However, perhaps because of this, Jabra’s been absent from the noise cancelling headphone game, which is a market that’s now saturated with great headsets like the Bose QC35 and the Sony WH-1000XM3.
At CES 2019 though, Jabra has announced that it’s going to be taking on these wireless kings with a $300 pair of its own: the Jabra Elite 85h.
We managed to go hands on them at a pre-CES preview, and while it’s too early to say whether they’ll beat the Sonys, they do have a lot going for them.
The Jabra Elite 85h will come in Black, Gold Beige and Navy , plus a “Titanium Black” model that’s exclusive to the Best Buy in the US. The standard models all have slightly different colour accents — the white has a gold finish on the arms — whereas the Best Buy model will be totally black throughout.
The build quality is good — the leatherette finish on the ear cups feels soft, and the headphones don’t exert too much pressure when worn. We weren’t able to ascertain the weight of the device at this stage, but having been using the Sony WH-1000XM3 for the duration of our trip, the Jabras did feel slightly heavier.
We really like that the headphones employ USB-C connectivity, however, and that they have a 3.5mm wired input if need be. With Nintendo's Switch steadfastly refusing to support Bluetooth audio, this is a good thing for fans of the console.
The big headline feature of the Elite 85h is a marathon battery life of 32 hours. That’s with active noise cancellation engaged, although it is possible to turn noise cancelling off via a button on the rear of the left earcup.
Jabra was also touting the 85h’s ability to switch between three different noise cancelling modes automatically using technology from a specialist firm called audEERING. It does this by sampling noises from the outside world to try and guess where you are and then adjust the noise cancelling automatically.
These three modes are called “commute”, “in public” and “in private”, and they’ll be able to be tweaked even further from within the Jabra smartphone app. Based on our limited experience with the Elite 85h on the show floor of CES, the noise cancelling worked well and blocked out most of the ambient noise for a pure musical experience.
One of the most interesting features of the Jabra Elite 85h is that it supports wake word activation for Amazon Echo, meaning it’s always listening for the “Alexa” activation word without you needing to press a button. It will also work with Google Assistant — you just have to choose your favourite voice assistant when you set it up.
The 85h are rain resistant, meaning you can still wear them even if you’re caught without an umbrella. This protection also applies to dust resistance too, meaning they should last long enough for you not to have to use the 2-year warranty that comes with the headphones.
Wireless noise cancelling headphones at the £300 price point have become so good that any new entrant in the market will have to do a lot to impress.
Based on our limited experience on the CES show floor, the Jabras sounded great, but not quite to the level of the Sony’s in terms of clarity. However, the Jabras were a prototype, and we were listening at a busy trade show, so it’s really too early to tell.
Jabra has packed its headphones out with.plenty of impressive audio tech, too. The 40mm speakers are pretty common on headphones this size, but the number of microphones impresses, with eight in total dotted around the headset to monitor for noise cancelling or allowing you to make calls.
Jabra Elite 85h initial verdict
There’s no doubt that the wireless noise cancelling headphone market is an embarrassment of riches right now, with one model, the aforementioned Sony WH-1000XM3 having dominated since their release at the end of 2018 and then there's the formidable Bose QC35 IIs. So it’ll take a lot for Jabra or indeed anybody to get a look in.
However, Jabra’s impressed with how well it’s doing at this early stage. The battery life is immense, hands-free Alexa is a first, and there are some nice bonuses such as rain resistance and adaptive noise cancelling.
The proof will be in the final item, which is due April 1st internationally. It’ll cost £280 in the UK, and $300 in the US. Stay tuned for a full review soon...