Outstanding features and design
Rich, balanced sound
Impressive noise canceling
Not as sport-friendly as other Jabra buds
Updated December 2, 2020: Jabra has updated the firmware for the Elite 85t, eliminating both the popping sound we previously noted when taking one bud out and the pressurization that occurred when switching between ANC and other modes—two of the three cons we originally raised about these earbuds. In addition, Jabra made the buds compatible with Bluetooth 5.1 and added undisclosed "music performance" improvements. This review and scoring for these earbuds has been updated accordingly.
Jabra has been surprising us with category-busting earbuds since the brand’s first “so-called” true wireless pair (that is, those without wires at all), the Elite and Elite Active 65t. Elite they were, and the follow-up Elite and Elite Active 75t are even better. In fact, Jabra’s decision to retroactively add noise canceling to the already stellar 75t series via firmware makes them excellent competition for the new 85t, at a much lower price point. (Can you imagine Apple adding noise cancellation to the standard AirPods without raising the price?)
However, while the 85t may look a lot like the 75t—with some extra bulk—Jabra’s engineers have drawn up something new here, aimed at long-term wearability and improved sound quality to take on the AirPods Pro, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds, and other premium-tier rivals. And now that they're biggest flaws have been addressed, they’re about as close to perfect as true wireless earbuds get.
About the Jabra Elite 85t
Before we dig in, here’s a quick look at the Elite 85t’s specs:
- Price: $229.99
- Battery life: up to 5.5 hours with noise canceling, 7 hours without; up to 25 hours with charging case with ANC, 31 hours without
- Rapid charging: 15 minutes charge for 60 minutes of playback
- Wireless charging: yes, Qi-compatible case
- Colors: Titanium/Black (more colors due in January)
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
- Audio codecs: SBC, AAC
- Water resistance: IPX4
- Ear tips: three sizes
- Weight: 7 grams per bud, 45.1 grams case
Unless you’ve got a pair of Jabra’s Elite 75t to compare, you’d be forgiven for mixing them up with the latest pair—and this will be far from the last time we compare the two. Side-by-side, the 85t are slightly larger, the case is taller, and each bud weighs a distinct 1.5 grams more as well (blame the noise canceling). Beneath the surface, water resistance is less robust than either model of the 75t. Though at IPX4 the 85t match or beat all major noise-canceling rivals, that rating means they are "splashproof" but not "waterproof."
Pulling the buds from their case reveals more changes, including a heart-shaped interior to the housings that’s more ergonomic, and most noticeable, oval ear tips. The new tips compensate for the 85t’s “semi-open” design, which differs from the fully sealed 75t. The idea is to keep the fit feeling more natural, while still offering a better seal than other open-ear models like the standard AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live, for better sound and noise canceling. To that end, the 85t also double the driver size of their predecessors from 6mm to 12 in an effort to keep the sound full without the need to be seated as close to your eardrum.
What We Like
A still-minimalist and (relatively) micro design
The fact that the 85t are hard to tell apart from the micro-sized 75t, some of the smallest buds of their kind on the market, is an impressive feat—especially when compared to bulky pairs like Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds.
The biggest difference aesthetically is that, partially due to the semi-open fit, the 85t stick out a bit more from your ears. I think the trade-off of the less “plugged-up” fit is worth it in terms of comfort and I generally dig the look (you can’t really hide the fact that you’ve got earbuds in anyway), but they are a bit more bolt-like than their siblings.
You can wear them comfortably for hours
Perhaps the most apparent difference between the fit of the 75t and the 85t is that extra 1.5 grams per bud. The 85t definitely feel heftier, and because they don’t seat as deeply, they’re also not quite as secure in my ears—I rarely had a bud fall out, but they’re likely to be more prone to it if you don't twist them tightly or if they get extra sweaty during your next workout.
That said, while they don’t have the airy, barely-there feeling of AirPods Pro, the 85t are more comfy both in the short and long term for me than their predecessors. In fact, there are few true wireless earbuds I’ve tried that beat them. What’s more, the open fit makes all activities—from sitting at your desk to hiking around the local trails—feel more natural. I was able to wear the 85t for a full workday without any notable discomfort.
Effective, natural-feeling noise cancellation
I tested the Jabra Elite 85t’s ANC in all sorts of environments, including outside near traffic (and skateboarding youths), under the bathroom fan, vacuuming, and so on. While I wasn’t able to test them directly against Sony’s flagship WF-1000XM3, I did try them against several competitors, including the Panasonic RZ-S500W, AirPods Pro, Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and the new noise-canceling in the Elite 75t. The verdict? They do a darn good job.
There were some differences to note. For one thing, the 85t beat out the AirPods Pro to my ears, not necessarily because they canceled much more noise, but because they introduced less white noise in the process. The only pair that seemed to beat the 85t were the QuietComfort buds, which added one more layer of silence. Interestingly, the 75t held their own, while the Panasonic just nudged the 85t out when standing near my noisy vacuum.
However, all three of the latter rivals also create a full seal, meaning they’re utilizing passive noise reduction (i.e. blocking sound) alongside ANC. Conversely, the 85t’s open design means you hear less of yourself when walking, chewing, etc., for an overall more natural—yet still tranquil—experience.
Rich, well-balanced sound
The Elite 85t offer good sound that should satisfy most listeners. I actually considered the 75t a step back from Jabra’s first pair, as they bulked up bass and sharpened the treble to correct for an overall less balanced sound. The Elite 85t fix that, offering full and rich sound across frequencies. The sound signature is warmer and more resonant in the midrange than most earbuds I audition, and yet still does a solid job preserving subtle details and clarity.
The earbuds don’t reach the heights of my favorite performers in the genre. They’re not as strikingly clear as Kipsch’s T5 II or even Panasonic’s RZ-S500W, especially noticeable in the treble which is more rolled off and less crisp. And while they have a similarly smooth sound as Sennheiser’s Momentum 2 True Wireless, they don’t burn with as much fiery detail in the attack of instruments or offer as much granular texture to instrumental timbres.
Still, they beat out most true wireless earbuds that come across my desk, including the AirPods Pro, and at times they surprised with their subtle touches to the sound. The Milk Carton Kids’ Paul Simon-esque "Secrets of the Stars" was particularly striking, with the woody acoustic instruments laid perfectly in space and each detail lovingly reproduced. The 85t do a really good job leaning into the crunch of sawtoothed synths and gritty guitars, too. And when called upon, they bang with plenty of bass, but with less bloating than the 75t.
As for call quality, while I’m never really blown away by calls on true wireless earbuds, these do a fine job, offering clarity on both ends, aided by the ability to turn up or down the level of your own voice (AKA, sidetone). Like the AirPods Pro, they also utilize noise reduction for wind resistance, though I haven’t yet gotten the chance to test this under duress in the wild.
Damn that’s a lot of features
The Elite 85t have just about every feature we’ve seen in a pair of true wireless earbuds. Connection to multiple devices at a time? Check. Auto-pause, Qi wireless charging, comprehensive and customizable controls? Check, check, check. They offer multiple levels of ANC and Transparency Mode (Jabra calls it HearThrough), access to all major voice assistants (including Alexa), single bud playback (right earbud only), and plenty more, most of which is controllable from Jabra’s accompanying Sound+ app.
About the only standout feature we look for that the 85t don’t include is aptX for improved audio streaming to compatible Android devices, which is one of the reasons they can’t match the Klipsch or Sennheiser buds. However, that’s still a relatively rare find in true wireless buds.
Jabra's app really does it all
We can’t talk about features without diving a bit deeper into Jabra’s always improving, fully loaded app, Sound+. From there you can do everything from futzing with the five-band EQ to setting up your own customized sound profile (also available in the 75t), and even adding more bass or treble to phone calls.
You can save “moments,” presets that arrange the EQ, ANC, and transparency mode for different use cases; utilize the Find My Earbuds feature; arrange controls for each earbud; and just for kicks, there’s even a pink noise generator. The best part is, almost everything is customizable, letting you be the driver of your own experience.
There is plenty of control on each bud
One of the biggest failings of even premium true wireless earbuds is their lack of comprehensive controls. While it’s tough to put everything on two little buds, Jabra has proved it’s possible with each iteration, and the company does it better than the majority of competitors, including Sony, Apple, and Bose.
With just a single button on each bud, the 85t offer easy access to song skip (back and forward), pause/play, AI assistant, ANC/transparency mode and, most notably, volume control via a long press on the right or left button. It’s also incredibly easy to swap any of the controls on either bud—I always drop Google assistant to put song skip on the right bud.
There’s only one small issue to raise in that you can only cycle between ANC and HearThrough mode on the buds themselves—you need to use the app to turn it off entirely. It’s all the odder in that, after adding ANC via firmware to the 75t you can cycle through all three modes (though the 75t don't allow for adjusting ANC level). However, that also leads me to believe that a future firmware update could correct this.
What We Don’t Like
Better battery and water resistance would have been nice
This is barely a gripe, really, but I do wish the 85t had more than 5.5 hours of playback time with ANC. That's better than the AirPods Pro, but the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and Sony's bulkier WF-1000XM3 both offer 6 hours with ANC. I never felt short-changed—and the case does offer 12 more hours of total time than Bose's—but I would like to see Jabra push the bar higher.
Speaking of water resistance, the 85t are only rated as "IPX4." IP ratings are a bit confusing—you can read our full breakdown here—but basically you get two numbers: the first is for keeping dust out, the second is for water. If you don't bother testing for dust, you get an "X" instead of a number. Anything ending in a "7" is waterproof, such as the Elite Active 75t, which were rated IP57.
I’m not used to Jabra dipping below IP55 water- and dust-resistance, and these are untested for dust and are only rated for "splashes." That is as good or better than major noise-cancelling rivals, so again, it’s a stretch to whine here. And as long as you don't drop them in a puddle you should be fine. I think my main issue is, if history repeats itself, I assume there will be an Elite Active 85t coming with better water resistance that could leave people with some slight buyer's remorse.
Should you buy it?
If you’re ready to invest some cash, absolutely
Jabra’s Elite 85t offer an outstanding number of features to go along with good sound and noise canceling that rivals or beats the best in the business. They’re also comfortable, as durable or more so than all major competitors, and they’re incredibly nimble when compared to top-tier picks like Sony’s WF-1000XM3 and Bose’s hulking QuietComfort Earbuds.
The 85t are more versatile and offer fuller sound than Apple’s AirPods Pro, though the Pro are lighter and brilliantly simple to use with iPhones. For that reason, some may still prefer Apple’s buds. But at this point, I think the Elite 85t’s biggest competition comes from within. It’s hard to resist the low price of Jabra’s Elite 75t line, especially now that they pair excellent passive noise isolation with some ANC. If you’re looking for nimble and sporty buds on a budget, you’ll probably want to look down a rung in Jabra’s lineup to the Elite or Elite Active 75t.
That said the new 85t are an impressive pair of earbuds that have already improved in just a couple short months. If you’re looking for a compact pair of versatile and durable noise-canceling buds, the 85t are virtually unbeatable.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor - Electronics@ryanwaniata
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2013. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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