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Jabra elite 85h review: Are the wireless noise cancelling headphones worth a listen?

Do the brand’s first over-ear headphones have the audio and smarts to put them among the market’s elite?

David RS Taylor@davidrstaylor
Tuesday 01 June 2021 15:46
<p>Fantastic sound, wireless connection and active noise cancellation at a price that blows most other headphones out of the water </p>

Fantastic sound, wireless connection and active noise cancellation at a price that blows most other headphones out of the water

The film The Usual Suspects centres on a group of criminals ordered to infiltrate and steal from a boat at the Port of Los Angeles. It contains one of the biggest twists in film history (no spoilers here), has won multiple Academy Awards, and has nothing to do with headphones. Its title, however, is particularly apt when discussing Danish brand Jabra’s first foray into wireless over-ear listening.

When you think of Bluetooth headphones, you likely have a few names that spring to mind: Sony and Bose will probably be the first two, followed by storied brands like Sennheiser, Bang & Olufsen and Beats. Jabra is widely-praised for its range of in-ear headphones: the Jabra elite sport earbuds, for instance, have been hugely popular since their introduction to the true wireless market.

The usual audio suspects are there on merit, producing headphones with fantastic sound, great wireless connection and premium active noise cancellation (ANC). However, the holy trinity of headphone quality usually comes at a hefty price.

Enter Jabra and the elite 85h over-ear headphones. The specs look promising, with all angles seemingly covered for a price that undercuts other top-end headphones by a significant margin.

But, do these headphones flatter to deceive, or do we have a new challenger at the top of the industry? After hours of testing, we have the low down.

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Jabra elite 85h

Buy now £111.55, Amazon.co.uk

Type: Over-ear

Noise cancellation: Digital hybrid ANC

Weight: 296g

Battery life: 36 hours NC on, 41 hours NC off

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, multi connect capability, 3.5mm jack

Water resistance: Water-resistant nano coating of internal components

Voice control: Yes

Design

The elites look every millimetre the part. From the premium, faux leather case, to the fabric inside frame, taking the elites out of the packaging is an event in itself. The headphones continue the theme, available in gold beige – the colour we tested – navy and three black finishes, they are constructed from a sturdy, matte plastic. The plastic serves to add an element of flexibility that helps enormously with fit, and the cushioned cups are comfortable enough for hours of uninterrupted listening. The back of the cups features a sophisticated, woven fabric finish that immediately improves the plastic frame and adds a premium feel.

Play/pause and volume control buttons are subtly indented in the cups, along with a voice command button. The elites don’t actually have a power button, an initially-disconcerting experience. However, to switch your headphones on takes a simple twist of the cans to normal listening position: the opposite movement switches them off. After the first few times instinctively taking five minutes to look for a button, this actually helps save on battery, as an absent-minded listener such as this reviewer could regularly forget to press a button, but would rarely forget to fold away their wireless headphones.

Speaking of battery, the battery life of the elites is a class-leading 36 hours with ANC switched on, and an outrageous 41 hours without, while 15 minutes of charging provides five hours of usage. This is an outstanding achievement from Jabra, helped in no small part by the elites’s “auto pause” feature holding fire on your music when you take the headphones off. We have an annoying habit of wearing our headphones with one cup off our ear, like a continental DJ at an Ibiza rave, and after a little fiddling, the auto pause even worked while doing this. This is obviously not the most scientific test we performed, but every little helps: the elites seem to distill “ease of use” perfectly.

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Sound

The biggest challenge for ANC headphones is to find the right balance between blocking out ambient noise and retaining the quality of audio output. On the ANC side, Jabra has given listeners a wide range of noise-cancelling options in its Sound+ app, offering multiple noise-cancelling “moments” with varying levels of transparency. In fact, the elites offer the most versatile NC range we’ve tested, be it in public, on the commute, or in private. You can also tweak each of these to create your own NC mode, and switching between is as easy as tapping in the app. Helpfully, Jabra’s “smartsound” tech will also analyse your surroundings and decide on the best NC for the situation. This can be useful, but we found that it didn’t hit the mark every time our location changed. It doesn’t take much to rectify, however, and the elites’s NC challenges the very best NC headphones we’ve tested, a refreshing surprise given the price tag.

The elites started out life without supporting any of the higher-end codecs (algorithms that compress audio data for wireless headphones), meaning a loss of audio fidelity when listening to bigger audio files. Happily, Jabra updated the elites, meaning your lossless audio will remain so. This was the major sticking point when it came to the sound quality, so for Jabra to sort this elevates the headphones into the upper echelons of the market.

The sound in general is high quality. The Sound+ app lets you find the best EQ for your tastes and, while bass could be a little more hard-hitting, Jabra has still done a good job of creating a full soundscape. Coupled with the ANC, this becomes more impressive, with sound quality seemingly not taking a hit when switching to a stronger noise cancellation mode. The elites aren’t on a par with some of the more sophisticated sounds available, such as the Sennheiser momentum 3 wireless, but are much better quality than the price would suggest, and a very able pair of headphones.

Sometimes, call quality can be put a little on the back burner, but it’s an important aspect to consider, especially in the era of regular Zoom calls. The elites’s internal microphones do a great job of picking up your voice and retaining an impressive clarity when on a call. We had no issues with hands-free calls, and those on the other end of the phone were actually surprised they were listening to a voice through a pair of headphones.

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The verdict: Jabra elite 85h

Jabra’s first attempt at over-ear noise-cancelling headphones is a triumph. The ANC is among the best in class, the headphones are a pleasure dome of comfort and fit, and audio is more than enough for 99 per cent of listeners. The sound quality is, understandably, not at the level of headphones such as the Sennheiser momentum 3, but still gives the listener plenty of clarity and richness: we’d be more than happy to have these as our go-to pair.

There are a couple of market leaders when it comes to wireless ANC headphones, namely the Bose noise cancelling 700s and the Sony WH-1000XM4s. The pay-off for a spot on the podium is usually price, with both the Bose and Sony headphones demanding a high fee for their quality. The Jabra elite 85h headphones are among the best of the rest, with an unbeatable battery life and series of premium features that the two bigger players would be proud of. Vitally, the great-value price point blows most other headphones out of the water. For what you’re getting, these really are a steal. Compared to the usual suspects, the Jabra elite 85h are worth a listen.

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