Choosing a pair of ANC-enabled, true wireless earbuds is often an exercise in compromises, and if you subscribe to that idea, then the Jabra Elite 85t is perhaps the most well-rounded pair you can get right now for its price range.
It’s no mean feat to offer a full range of tech features and have them all perform well without any major trade-offs. Having used the 85t for a while, I’ve yet to find a situation where they showed up any.
The 85t comes in a sleek, compact package.
But a flashy piece of audio kit, this is not. From the get-go, the case is compact and somewhat utilitarian. The sole LED indicator is hidden behind a pinhole, which flashes a series of colours that show battery levels or the status of firmware updates. It also supports fast charging of the earbuds, whereby an emergency 15-minute charge, when the battery is low, can provide at least 45 minutes listening thereabouts. It’s just about enough for a quick commute, so you can just have a quick shower, charge, and not worry about running out of power till you reach your next destination. The case is also compatible with Qi wireless chargers, though understandably, it’s far slower. Charging takes at least three hours and the case does get a bit warm.
The earbuds that emerge from the case are considerably less utilitarian in look and are clad in shades of grey that give off vibes resonating with urbanite chic. Jabra has a reputation for a good fitting earbuds, and the 85t continues to uphold the company’s good name. Jabra often cites being able to leverage data from GN Hearing to optimise earbud shapes, and I see no reason to contest the company’s claim: most people who have tried it like how well they fit and my own experience was a pleasant one as well.
You certainly can take these for casual runs if you want to, though it’s always prudent to wear something that can be secured more tightly for intense workouts. And it’s only rated for IPX4, so be very wary about how much water or sweat you expose them to.
Strange, but it work: the 85t uses a uniquely shaped oval speaker.
It’s also interesting to note that while the 85t fits comfortably in the ear, it doesn’t seem to be designed to create a seal that blocks out external noise. Think of it as a slightly loose fit, which is actually very comfortable. It seems counter-intuitive when the earbud’s primary feature is its active noise-cancelling circuit, but that’s the interesting approach that Jabra took – it relies heavily on noise cancelling as opposed to noise isolation. Perhaps this is Jabra’s way of finding a happy compromise in managing effective noise cancelling, negating the high-pressure suction effect of a tightly fitted earbud, and overall sound quality. More on that later.
The 85t also features a single physical button on either unit, which is a welcome change from the touch-responsive interfaces that many high-end units like to employ. Physical buttons are far more reliable, and in this case, they are easy to press. The default controls are pretty intuitive once you get used to the idea – push and hold the left button to lower the volume and the opposite button to raise the volume. In any case, you can reassign the controls with the Sound+ app.
What I like is the amount of force needed to actuate the buttons – firm enough to prevent unwanted presses, yet just enough resistance to not make pressing buttons a pain or make you feel like you are shoving large objects into your ear. You’re most likely to be cycling between ANC and HearThrough most of the time, and it’s responsive enough to not cause awkward pauses if you’re having a conversation with people.
In stock configuration, the 85t gets brownie points for not being a ’tryhard’ tech gadget; so overwrought with excessive options at your fingertips that you have to be constantly jabbing at your ear to get to what you want. Two taps; and you’re done, and leave the app to sort out the settings that you don’t adjust on a regular basis. If that’s the total opposite of what you want, Jabra also gives you the option to add functions to your earbuds, such as turning ANC on and off mid-calls, turning off ANC and HearThrough, or holding calls to answer an incoming call, just to cover all bases.
It looks thick, but fits very well in the ear canal.
The ANC is probably the most interesting feature on the Elite 85t, in the sense that it has 11 levels of background noise control. That’s five noise cancelling levels along with five pass-through levels – granted, most of us will never use all ten levels (Jabra counts the off setting as one of the levels, which is hilarious, but not incorrect either) in a day-to-day setting, but it’s nice to know that we have the means to customise the intensity. Personally, it’s overkill and borderline unnecessary, but I can understand why.
The 85t’s ability to cancel noise is pretty stellar and at maximum levels you’re pretty free of most ambient background noise. However, wind will still be your mortal enemy; nothing much you can do except tilt your head and the feedback microphones away. It’s not a slight on the earbuds, because you will need physical filters to reduce the buffeting.
The ease in which you can switch modes makes me more appreciative of the pass-through feature, and I find myself using it more often than I expected. The sound quality of the pass-through still sounds slightly digital, but it’s natural enough that I forget that I have my earbuds on when I’m not trying to assess its qualities.
As we have come to expect from Jabra, the microphone quality of the 85t is on point, and taking calls is always a pleasure. It does a decent job of minimising background noise as you speak, but as alluded to earlier, wind will always be an annoyance. It’s good for an hour of calls or so, so obviously it’s not designed for long meetings.
Jabra also has this nifty control called Sidetone that lets you hear yourself so you can naturally control the volume of your own voice. I didn’t think much about it, but when you are in a conference call it can be rather useful if you need to bring your volume up or down without having to speak louder or softer.
It’s no fashion icon, but it sets the bar for utilitarian performance.
Despite the fact that the 85t doesn’t support high resolution AptX or LDAC the audio quality of the 85t isn’t bad for a pair of all-rounders. It’s relatively even-sounding across all frequencies, with a slight boost in the bass and trebles. The MySound profiling adds an additional layer of audio customisation and helps boost frequencies according to the sensitivity of your ear. Additionally, the Sound+ app also has a feature to test the fit of your earbuds to see if there is any undue sound leakage, which is neat.
While it can’t hold a candle to audio-centric earbuds like Sony’s WF-1000XM3 when it comes to audio quality, the 85t is still competent enough and generally very pleasant. It delivers all the same, albeit in a properly-formatted PowerPoint slide rather than in a milkshake topped with bacon bits.
I preferred to keep the ANC on because it sounds punchier that way. You don’t really save that much more battery life (5.5 hours vs 6.5 hours approximately), plus the carrying case is good to add an additional to 18-20 hours of battery life, anyway.
If you prize reliability above all, the Jabra 85t is going to be hard to beat. Connection issues are rare and I hardly encountered any issues throughout. I am biased towards stuff that simply works, so the 85t gets extra points for this.
It’s rare that something seems aptly priced for the features that it delivers, and I’d dare say the 85t comes pretty close. No matter how you look at it, $328 is quite a fair amount of money to pay for a pair of true wireless earbuds, but at least most of its features will be universally appreciated, regardless of your preferences.
Jabra Elite 85t
Features – 8/10
Value Proposition – 8/10
Performance – 9/10
Design & Build Quality – 8/10
It does everything well and reliably so, and the Elite moniker is well-deserved. If you don’t need audiophile-quality audio, then this ticks all the right boxes.