Jabra has been a leader in true wireless earbuds, and the Danish audio brand just released its latest offering: the Jabra Elite 85t. I’ve spent the past few weeks evaluating these, and it’s safe to say they Jabra’s best earbuds yet. They get a new design, and 11-level active noise cancellation. However, the decision to choose these over last year’s version is slightly more complicated than you might expect.
A new design
Jabra went with a new design for the Elite 85t earbuds, but if you look at them compared to last years’s Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t, there’s not a whole lot of visual difference. However, it’s there if you look closely.
Instead of two MEMS microphones on each earbud, the Elite 85t buds each have three. This is to support ANC—more on that in a moment.
The driver is much larger, at 12mm compared to the 6mm driver used previously. This has advantages in audio quality, but it also means the ear tip is larger and oval-shaped. I always have trouble with earbuds (weird ears, I guess) and I found the slightly larger Elite 85t buds didn’t fit quite as tightly or comfortably as the previous generation. Chance are you’ll never notice—Jabra says it optimized the shape based on scans of “thousands” of ears—but it did make a difference in my case.
The bigger design change is the move to a semi-open design. This means pressure-relief vents than should make it more comfortable to wear these earbuds. However, in going that route, water resistance becomes an issue because components are now exposed. Jabra used a nano-coating treatment to get an IPX4 water resistance rating. That should be okay in rain, but it’s not as robust as the water resistance of its previous, closed design earbuds.
The charge case for the Elite 85t earbuds uses USB-C, but also supports Qi wireless charging.
11-level active noise cancellation (ANC)
The spotlight new feature for the Jabra Elite 85t earbuds is 11-level active noise cancellation. In support of this, Jabra included a new dedicated ANC chip, and extra MEMS microphones.
ANC never seems to work quite as well with earbuds as it does with over-ear headphones (which physically block all noise as well), but Jabra did a nice job here. I tested the ANC while working from my home office in a house with my wife now working from home, three teenagers, two large dogs, and a massive street construction project going on right outside my window. The earbuds couldn’t do much more than muffle the dogs barking and they obviously have no effect on the vibration from heavy equipment rolling by the front yard, but they did do a good job of largely silencing the construction racket and the background noise.
Jabra’s ANC includes varying levels of HearThrough, which utilizes the microphones to allow ambient noise to be heard. Cycling through ANC levels can be accomplished quickly with the Sound+ app, while tapping the bud activates or disables HearThrough.
Jabra Elite 85t key specs:
The larger, 12mm drivers in the Jabra Elite 85t earbuds offer an upgrade in audio performance. There’s more nuance, more detail and a little more low end than previous models offered. I did find that I greatly preferred listening to music with ANC active. Not to avoid background noise, but because with ANC on, music playback had a much warmer tone.
Battery life and potential for confusion
Jabra claims a battery life of up 5.5 hours with ANC on and up to 7 hours with ANC off. I saw those numbers pretty much exactly, although for most sessions I kept ANC on.
However, there is potential for confusion if you check the Sound+ app for charge remaining. I found the right earbud consistently ran down its charge much faster than the left. The left would often have between 35% and 40% of a charge remaining when the right ran down.
That is actually not something I’m concerned about. With most true wireless earbuds, one bud has a higher battery demand because it has the radio that connects to the smartphone, and it also connects to the other bud. Manufactures can avoid this confusion by making one battery a slightly higher capacity (not ideal in a tiny device), or by avoiding breaking down battery life per bud and just showing battery remaining in general. Even though the right earbud was always depleted long before the left, the battery life for music playback using the buds as a pair was still spot on: 5.5 hours to 7 hours.
Are the Elite 85t earbuds the right Jabra choice for you?
The Jabra Elite 85t earbuds are very good. And typically, a new generation of earbuds means the previous model is out of contention. However, that’s not necessarily the case here.
Complicating matters, Jabra rolled out a firmware update to the Elite 75T and Elite Active 75t earbuds that gives them ANC as well. It’s not as effective as in the Elite 85t, which has the advantage of additional mics and a dedicated ANC chip. But it’s a feature that didn’t exist before—good on Jabra for doing so! The move to a semi-open design also means the Elite 85t earbuds don’t have the same level of water resistance as their predecessors. The new earbuds are also slightly larger. For me, that size made a difference in comfort and fit.
The point is, the decision to pick the Elite 85t over previous versions is more complicated this time around than usual. To help, I posted a guide that helps to explain the differences and what they mean. The good news is whichever model you ultimately choose, Jabra makes some very nice wireless earbuds.