Jabra has been one of the earliest brands manufacturing true-wireless earbuds with innovative features, like heart-rate sensor. They also made it very affordable compared to a lot of the earlier crowd-funding projects. Having more model iterations than most competitors, Jabra amassed a wealth of TWS experience and seems to have found the optimal design with the Jabra Elite series.
Indeed, the Jabra Elite series have been very well-received due to its high quality mic, outstanding audio, and compact size. The new Elite 85t does not deviate much from the Elite 75t in overall design and features. There are 2 important improvements: the introduction of a dedicated active noise-cancelling hardware and the better balanced sound signature.
Comparing Elite 85t to Elite 75t
The Jabra Elite 85t has a slightly larger charging case and thicker earbuds, but overall they remain sufficiently compact. The ear tips are more oval shaped which is more ergonomic than the round design, although I must say the previous generation of Jabra Elite are still comfortable to wear.
One downgrade is the IP-rating: the Jabra Elite 85t is only IPX4. There is also no “Active” variant, but it still comes with the 2-year extended warranty against dust and water (upon registration on the app).
The earbuds communicate to each other via NFMI (near field magnetic induction) just like earlier models. As such, the right earbud remains as the master and you can only make calls with that earbud. When the earbuds are further apart than the length of the ears, the left earbud will not be able to receive audio transmission.
All the in-ear features and controls since the previous models are also available on the Elite 85t. MySound runs a hearing test to calibrate the frequency to suit your hearing profile. MyControls lets you customise the buttons which can be different for music and calls, while volume control gesture is fixed at long-press on each earbud (press-hold left earbud button to reduce volume, right button to increase volume). The Sound+ app also supports EQ adjustments, “My Moments” profile which stores your favourite settings, and preset background sounds like white noise, ventilation fan, waterfall, diving, ocean waves, rainy day, songbirds, even crowd to fill your silence.
The battery life is also impressive: 7 hours without ANC and 5.5 hours with ANC with a single charge. The charging case, which supports wireless charging, provides another 25 hours of additional use time.
The star of the Elite 85t must be the Active Noise Cancelling feature, though its limelight is somewhat taken away when Jabra offers a software update to enable ANC on the Elite 75t and Active 75t. However, between the two models, the Elite 85t definitely offers better ANC that further reduces upper frequencies better. On the Elite 85t, you can adjust the ANC and HearThrough level to suit the situation, similar to Sony WF-1000XM3 and Technics AZ70. In the HearThrough mode, the Elite 85t also transmits more natural ambient sound compared to the Elite 75t, which amplifies the upper frequency.
What I also like about the Elite 85t is the audio tuning, which is less extreme than the Elite 75t series. The treble is not as artificially bright while the midrange is lifted for better balance. The bass remained prominent and pompous but sounds fuller and warmer. I would prefer the treble to be slightly brighter but controlled, just like what Sennheiser did with the Momentum True Wireless 2. Somehow, the Elite 85t does not sound as unique as the Elite 75t, but it’s sonically more palatable. In any case, you can EQ from the app to get to your preferred sound signature. The tuning is quite close to the Pamu Quiet but with slightly thicker treble thanks to the elevated midrange.
The call quality remains spectacular and reliable. If you needed good mic pickup performance for important calls, you can rely on Jabra Elite 85t. There are also several setting options to ensure you get the best call quality, for instance, disabling other Bluetooth devices when in a call, enabling sidetone to hear your own voice, as well as call EQ to boost voice clarity.
Should you buy the new Jabra Elite 85t or the last-gen Elite 75t series? It depends on whether you need a more powerful ANC which the 85t series deliver. I find that the Elite 75t with updated ANC delivers sufficiently good ANC, so the 75t series still offer some great price value. On the other hand, the Elite 85t’s dedicated ANC hardware puts it close to the rest of the ANC TWS earbuds competition, with a massive list of features that not many other earbuds could match, in a compact size that is hard to beat. All these with a retail price of S$348 makes it the true wireless earbuds to consider in 2021.
Update 9 Mar 2021: The article is corrected to reflect that volume control is supported, just like the Jabra Elite 75t.