Not to let Sony and Bose continue to dominate the active noise cancelling market, Jabra joined in with their own version of smart noise cancelling technology which they developed over the years. Jabra has been in the audio communications market since 1983, developing communication headsets for consumer and enterprise. They later progressed well in the stereo audio product market, fine-tuning their sound quality and wireless technology. Their hunger for innovation led them to develop the first wireless sports earphones with built-in heart-rate sensor, and later went on to create the first true wireless earphones with built-in heart-rate sensor.
Jabra has had years of experience in noise-cancelling technology in processing microphone sounds to remove background noise so that only the caller voice is clearly heard. They have also implemented active noise cancelling technology in their office headset products in 2017 (Jabra Evolve 75). It took them another 2 years to finally release their first consumer noise cancelling music headphones. Their headset competitor Plantronics launched their last ANC product in 2018.
So what are the key features of Jabra Elite 85h?
Smart Active Noise Cancellation
The Elite 85h has a total of 8 microphones. 4 for calls, 2 for ANC, 2 for both calls and ANC. Using A.I., the headphones analyses the surrounding and automatically apply a profile using a combination of ANC and HearThrough (ambient mode). For instance, if the headphone detects you are commuting, it will enable HearThrough to hear traffic, if you are at a noisy cafe or office, it will enable ANC, if you are at a library, it will disable ANC to save battery. Personally, I am not a fan of this smart profile, even on Sony. I would prefer to choose my own profile based on my needs.
I find that the noise cancellation is above average, but still not as aggressive as Sony or Bose. You can still feel the vacuum but it is comfortable. And it works better than the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. High frequency sounds are still audible while most other low frequency sounds are effectively eliminated.
As for HearThrough ambient mode, it sounds natural and does not sound artificial. The audio pick-up is almost as if I am not wearing headphones.
Here is where Jabra Elite 85h aces. The headphones produce powerful impactful sound tuned for sparkling treble details and firm sub-bass. The sizzles transform flat tracks with renewed excitement, but vocals are not exaggerated and bloomy to create any irritation. Percussion crashes are similarly crystal but positioned slightly further from the sound stage. The bass is also not too boomy to bloat up the sound, yet they support the overall balance with moderate bass vibes. Midrange details are available, but when the mix is overpowered by highs, they do not get the clarity they deserve. Playing piano tracks, however, brings out the warmth to fill the senses.
These cans aren’t neutral at all, but they sure make music sound good. I really like how the treble is sweetened to bring out more clarity at the highs yet they do not overpower and cause fatigue.
Among the various modes, I feel that HearThrough delivers the best sound as I feel the bass is a little more resonance and not so tight. Second is ANC, with similar bass intensity but just a little tight, albeit very unnoticeable. Under off mode, the midrange is more forward making the overall sound a little more full but lacks bass.
One very small issue: as the headphones only support SBC codec, I can pick up some compression artifacts and noisy floor but they are mostly drowned by the overall music.
Voice Call Quality
Jabra owns this as well. When using the Elite 85h in a busy shopping mall, I could hear the other person clearly and so could the other party.
There is no power button on the Elite 85h: just twist the ear cups to a flat position and it will power down. It’s not so ideal if you want to wear it around your neck and keep it powered on, but I find that the headphones connect to the smartphone relatively fast.
The headphones also support auto-pause when they are removed for the ears.
On the blue unit, the exterior is made of fabric instead of plastic, and Jabra claims the internal componants are nano-coated to be rain resistant.
Battery life is exceptional, lasting 36 hours with ANC enabled. Full-charging takes 2.5 hours, but a 15-minute charge gets you 5 hours use.
One thing that irks me is that the voice prompts are too loud, and even if I disable the prompts, the replacement beep sounds are equally startling.
Another issue is that the headphones does not work in passive mode, which is when the headphones is powered off. It would not happen because you have to twist the ear cups to wear them, which would have powered up the headphones. When listening to wires, the noise floor is quite apparent even when playing through a very clean source, like the Astell&Kern KANN CUBE.
While the Jabra Elite 85h does not trump over Sony or Bose in ANC, I enjoy the audio quality better. And with a retail price of S$428, the Elite 85h is one of the cheapest headphones with comparatively excellent ANC. If you find yourself underwhelmed by the audio of the Sony WH-1000XM3 and do not mind a little less aggressive on the ANC, the Jabra Elite 85h might be a viable option.
- Excellent audio quality: Treble transparent and detailed yet not pushy, bass feel yet not overpowering
- HearThrough sounds natural
- Exceptional battery life of 36 hours with ANC
- Above average ANC performance
- ANC does not beat Sony and Bose for buyers looking for one
- Headphones does not work in passive mode, i.e. when there is no power
- Detectable noise floor and compression artifacts, not for sharp ears