The latest premium ANC headphones pose a serious threat to Sony and Bose and we can’t get enough of it.
When it comes to audio products, very few brands have achieved what Jabra have. The Danish brand, backed by the illustrious GN group has over 150-years of expertise in the world of audio products. Jabra were pioneers when it came to Bluetooth headsets and in the past few years, they are challenging on all fronts, be it true wireless earphones that range across all budgets or standard Bluetooth headphones that compliment your every need.
Having tested a wide range of audio products from Jabra, especially fan-favourites such as the Elite Sport and Elite Active 65t, we were totally stoked when the audio-brand raised the curtains on its premium Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) headphones — the Jabra Elite 85h. On paper, these headphones check all the boxes what it means to be the best in the business and also possesses enough of tech to beat the best premium ANC headphones in the market — the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM3.
The Jabra Elite 85h aims to disrupt the market as it does not just come with some of the best active noise-cancelling in the market; but also, massive battery life and a SmartSound function in Jabra’s Sound+ app that comes with useful AI features.
In India, a market which is of great importance to Jabra, the Elite 85h is priced at Rs 28,999 but available for a lot less on various online shopping platforms. This price point undoubtedly puts it in the same spectrum as flagship ANC headphones and challenges for the title of best in class. These high aspirations are backed by various features such as best-in-class battery life, amazing call quality, impeccable noise cancellation and a design that’s par excellence. However, it does fall short when it comes to supporting certain codecs such as aptX, AAC and others which could have the potential to turn off some audiophiles.
When it comes to the design of the Jabra Elite 85h, these cans stand tall and can be argued that it’s looks are way better than the competition. The options from Bose and Sony seem mechanical and appear to be designed to just serve the purpose. Like premium headphones from rivals Beats, the unboxing of these headphones is an experience as well and the carrying case that comes with it is built from a combination of faux leather while the interior lining is made out of soft fabric. There is a divider in the centre which separates the cans when stowed and it also plays home to accessories such as the 3.5mm AUX cable, an adapter for airplanes as well as the USB Type-C charging cable.
While we can keep on bragging about the headphone’s carry case, it is the Jabra Elite 85h that you have come to read about and is the Danish brand’s first attempt at premium ANC headphones, Jabra has taken into account every last detail regarding all aspects of it.
When it comes to the design and build, Jabra’s first attempt at a premium wireless ANC headphones is head over shoulders above the competition. While Bose and Sony have made their options rather boring to look at, Jabra has seized this opportunity to capitalize on its rivals’ failures.
The Elite 85h is available in three colour options — Titanium Black, Beige and Navy Blue. In for review, we have the latter option but have also witnessed the other two options first-hand. Each colour has its own appeal and while we prefer the Titanium Black option, to each his/her own. The headphones come with a minimalistic design with each variant featuring a single-colour approach and subtle change of hues on its logos and extendable arms. We found this design choice to exude appeal in a sea of options that are mundane.
While the headphones certainly look and feel premium, there is no titanium (even though the name suggests) or any other metal material found here. In fact, the extendable arms are made out of plastic which may put some people off considering how pricey these headphones are. While we don’t have any problem with the plastic finish, there is a bit of give when it comes to extending the headbands. It doesn’t lock in place as well as it should which means we had to keep on adjusting it whilst it was on our head from time-to-time. With that being said, this could have been an issue with just the review unit we received and not a widespread issue.
On the outside of the ear cups and the headband, there is a soft meshed cloth material which provides the Elite 85h with its premium prowess and in turn, separates it from the competition. The underside of the headband and the padding for the ear cups feature a soft faux leather finish. The padding in these areas are extremely soft which adds to the overall comfort level. The design of these headphones is reason enough to purchase this bad boy and you will not be left wanting.
On the outside of the right ear cup, you will find the traces of the controls. On the centre, there is a slight indentation that provides you options such as play/pause, answering calls, and accessing other functions. To the top and bottom of this indentation, there are dots which allow you to adjust the volume or switch back and forth between tracks.
Again, on the right ear cup at the bottom, you find the Type-C charging port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s also a button here that mutes your voice during calls that can be quite functional. On the left ear cup, there is just a single button that can be used to switch between the various ANC modes such as ANC on, HearThrough mode and ANC off. We found this feature to be extremely convenient during our testing period and accessed it a lot more in comparison to the Sound+ app which required you to whip out your phone and change it.
As you can see there is no mention of a power button. And this is because there isn’t one. In what may be considered as a tech lover’s wet dream, the Jabra Elite 85h automatically turn on when its cups are facing each other and turn off instantaneously when they are facing downwards. Interestingly, music will also pause when they’re taken off your head and they magically turn on when placed back over your ears.
Lastly, the Jabra Elite 85h is built to withstand the elements such as rain as there is a nano-coating that protects it from water and dust. Also, Jabra will also provide a two-year warranty against water and dust which means you can use these headphones without any worry.
The Jabra Elite 85h is packed to the brim with features that would make any tech enthusiast swoon. While the ANC is undoubtedly the headlining feature, it also has lesser features that can give competing brands a run for their money.
To start off, the ANC on the Elite 85h comes with various modes which Jabra refers to as ‘Moments’ which allows the wearer to opt-in for different presets of noise cancellation such as In Public, In Private and Commute. Also, there is a no noise-cancelling mode which can also be accessed from the Jabra Sound + app. In this app, you can also custom create your own profile which allows you to manually create your own ‘Moment’ by adjusting the presets, equaliser and also giving you the option for whether you want HearThrough, ANC or ANC off.
There is also a SmartSound mode where Jabra allows you to access its intelligent adaptive technology. With this, you can easily adjust the level of ANC depending on your ambient surroundings. When this mode is set to active, the feature will make use of Artificial Intelligence to analyse your surrounding sounds in real-time. This allows the app to decide which mode is best suited for your environment.
With this feature, SmartSound cleverly detects whether you are commuting on public transport, in a quiet room or in a public place. When in transport, the ANC will kick in all the way up to not let in any ambient sound. In a quiet room, the ANC will get turned off and the HearThrough mode will get activated. When the public profile gets activated, you can hear ambient sounds that are necessary such as traffic, announcements etc. This is the most important and useful profile, especially when using these headphones while walking on the street.
While for the most part, this works well, it can get a little annoying at times when in traffic it randomly switches to commute or public every few seconds. Luckily, there is an option to turn off this AI feature and the headphones can be used with the app without SmartSound.
Lastly, the Jabra Elite 85h also has support for voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant.
Jabra is a late entry into the world of premium noise-cancelling headphones but their first entry is nothing to scoff at. While competing brands have peaked in their later entries, the Elite 85h comes with the relevant tech that rivals every other premium ANC headphones. As far as noise cancellation goes, the Elite 85h stands tall in a world that’s dominated by Bose and Sony. From the get-go, you feel that encompassing ANC kicking in. However, for first-time users, you won’t feel that nauseating vacuum pressure that goes hand-in-hand with noise-cancelling headphones. With Jabra’s Elite 85h, you get the quietness necessary that it advertises all the while without making you feel claustrophobic.
When the ANC is turned on, you will find some slight ambient noise creeping in without any audio playing. However, when the music turns on, this ambient sound will be a distant memory and you can bathe in the music without external disturbances. Having tested rival headphones such as Bose QC35 and the Sony WH-1000XM3, we are pleased to say that the Elite 85h provides performances that are on par with its rivals. Read: On par, not better.
There is a balanced audio quality that situates on clarity. With the warm sounds emitted from the Elite 85h, instruments here are an absolute pleasure to listen to without its primary focus being on extended bass like other headphones available in the market. Listening to these cans on the neutral setting without any adjustment in the equaliser will bring an absolute pleasure to an audio enthusiast. However, for those who love tweaking the various frequencies, the Sound+ app has got you covered as well. In here, those who favour punchy bass can opt-in for the bass boost and this will be highly appreciated for fans of dubstep or hip-hop. The treble boost preset will entice those who love listening to guitar riffs as it really brings out the entire dynamic of the instrument.
A complaint with these headphones is that when using it at full volume, some distortion creeps in while listening to bass-heavy music which hampers the overall experience. Again, this could be a problem with the review unit and not a widespread issue.
Another issue we had with the Elite 85h is that it lacks support for various high-end codecs such as AAC and aptX. Without these codecs, you do not get to experience lossless audio quality that audio enthusiast love. This could turn off a significantly large consumer base as this model is in the end, targeted at the discerning consumer.
When it comes to call quality, we have gotten mixed responses from people at the other end. While some have praised the clarity, others have complained extensively about us not being audible at all. The latter shouldn’t be the case since these headphones have been fitted with eight microphones, six of which are intended to improve call quality. Another notable point is that during calls, the HearThrough mode gets enabled automatically which is something that we really appreciated.
While the ANC and audio quality are one of the best in the market, the Jabra Elite 85h beats its rivals hands-down when it comes to battery life. With ANC on, the headphones promise a massive 36-hours of continuous audio playback. And with it off, you get a whopping 41-hours of playback. If this isn’t impressive for ANC headphones, we don’t know what it.
In India, the Jabra Elite 85h is priced at Rs 28,999 and available for as low as Rs 24,990 at certain online retailers. With best-in-class battery life and a design to match, these premium ANC headphones are the best bet for the price-conscious Indian consumer. Sure, there are some niggling issues with it such as the lack of supported codecs; however, it gets glossed over by an incredible audio quality that rivals the best in the business. Also, the Elite 85h comes with an app that can enhance your overall experience that needs to be taken into consideration as you can fine-tune the frequencies to your heart’s content.
To sum it up, if you are looking for premium ANC headphones that offer a design and performances that are close to excellent, then the Jabra Elite 85h are the ones for you.