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Jabra is entering the noise-cancelling over-ear headphone market with a bang. After updating their line of wireless headphones last year, they have released a new high-end offering aimed at people that want to shut the world out around them for extended periods of time. The new Jabra Elite 85h Headphones are game-changers and help the company enter into the conversation with some of their peers.

Jabra Elite 85h Headphones: Overview

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The new Jabra Elite 85h Headphones, available in four different colours (Black, Navy, Gold Beige, Titanium Black) are in direct competition with other high-end, over-ear Bluetooth headphones from Sony and Bose, for instance. This model is most comparable (by price and features) with the market-leading option, the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. These headphones have some class-leading features but others may be deal-breakers for you.

Jabra Elite 85h Headphones: Design

What’s in the Box?

This detail may seem unimportant to some, but the packaging for the device screams quality. Once you open the multi-level box, you will get a first glance of the leatherette case. Inside of the case are the headphones complete with a 1′ USB-C charge cable, 4′ 3.5mm AUX cable and a flight adapter.

Headphone Design

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The Jabra Elite 85h Headphones are made from a combination of hard thermoplastic and stainless steel for the frame, leatherette (synthetic leather) for the ear cups and fabric on the outside of the ear cups. It looks and feels like a very high-end, quality product. A lot of the buttons on the device have been well-masked as well, contributing to its look. The play/pause, volume up/forward and volume down/back button are built into the fabric front of the right ear cup and are easy to find. The device also has two physical buttons on the back of the ear cups for adjusting noise-cancelling settings on the fly and for activating your personal voice assistant of choice (Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant). With the fabric on the device, you may worry about getting them wet. Although the device offers no formal ingress protection (IP), it does provide rain resistance, which is helpful for folks that will use these headphones in outdoor settings.

No Off Button?

The wildest part of the design, however, was the fact that there is no physical on/off button on the device. To my knowledge, this is the first pair of headphones that I have seen to sport this choice. When storing them, you will fold the ear cups inward and then fold the headphones inward again to put them in the case. The on/off function is built into the right ear cup. Simply fold it in and the device goes off, twist it back outward and the device will power on. It’s a small convenience that I imagine more manufacturers may try to add to their devices. These headphones also have an ear detection feature; when you take off the headphones, they will stop your music automatically much like the Apple AirPods.

Some Small Quirks

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Some of my issues with the device only started to manifest after extended use. First, the headphones are bulky and heavy compared to other headphones in this category. At 296g, the Jabra Elite 85h Headphones will start to feel bulky after a period of time on your head. I would start to feel the weight after the completion of an average length podcast, for example. Comparable headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM3 are lighter (255g). You will surely need to adjust them every hour if you’re planning to use them for extended sessions. Second, these headphones have an S-shaped hinge/yoke between the ear cups and the headband, making them look large on your head. Finally, the hinges on the device feel a little flimsy when folding the device for storage. I worry that someday down the road, I may snap the hinge.

Jabra Elite 85h Headphones: Performance

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General Performance

Starting with the noise cancellation, I was impressed. Although not as impressive as the Sony WH-1000XM3, these headphones would easily cancel out almost all sounds from the surrounding area. Outside of the device’s Active Noise Cancellation mode, you can apply the HearThrough mode, which lets the outside world in using the microphone array built into the device. This device has a total of 8 microphones built-in that help with noise-cancelling, HearThrough and phone calls. As an aside, phone calls switch to HearThrough mode automatically, allowing you to hear your voice while speaking. Call quality is good.

The Jabra Elite 85h headphones sound great and deliver excellent bass and mid-range sound with average highs. Combined with the device’s noise-cancelling capabilities, you will likely be very satisfied with the warm quality of the sound you will get out of these headphones. You may not even be bothered by the bass-heavy sound while listening to pop tunes or your favourite podcast, but you may hear the average highs when listening to some bass-heavy genres. When moving into hip-hop, you will easily be able to bob to the hard bass on a song like Kendrick Lamar’s m.A.A.d city or Rick Ross’ B.M.F., but you might lose the high hats during some parts of the song. All this changes with the Sound+ app, however.

Jabra Sound+ App

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I am always apprehensive about adding new device-centric apps to my phone. The Jabra Sound+ App is a very welcome addition for a few different reasons. After an initial setup, you will be able to adjust your noise cancellation settings in the app and set preferences for your commute, being in public and in private. Beyond that, you can get more granular adjustments with the “My Moment” profile. The app comes with six presets: default, speech, bass boost, treble boost, smooth and energize (V-shaped sound) but you can personalize the sound to your liking. If you want more treble, you can easily adjust for that and the same goes for bass.

The app also comes with a “Find my Jabra” feature in case you misplace the device around your home. Think “Find My iPhone”, but for Jabra headphones.

SmartSound

Beyond the impressive customization options for the sound, you can also rely on the device’s SmartSound feature. Instead of manually switching between noise cancellation modes (HearThrough and Active Noise Cancelling), this feature will do it for you. It continuously analyzes the sound around you and switches between different sound profiles based on your surroundings. It’s a really impressive feature; while walking from my vehicle to class on one of my first testing days, I was floored by the flawless switching that the device was making on the fly.

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Jabra Elite 85h Headphones: Verdict

For their first kick at the can, the Jabra Elite 85h headphones are a worthy competitor to some of the other devices in the category. They are a little bulky and heavy, but they pack a great sound and some neat features (SmartSound, no power switch) that will surely become industry standards in the years to come. Add them to your consideration set if you’re looking to upgrade your pair of Bluetooth headphones.