These are the premier alternative to Apple’s AirPod Pros. Excellent sound. Active Noise Cancelation. Qi-compatible wireless charging. Slight ding for less listening time on a single charge than the Jabra 75t earbuds. Works with Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. Hearing test aligns output to your personal hearing profile.
Jabra brings great earbuds to the market, and the Elite 85ts are the best so far. The company extends the design improvements of the Elite 75ts, which just acquired active noise cancelation (ANC) via a software update, to electronic ANC. And they included wireless charging in the box.
What we like
These earbuds refine a design Jabra has been working on for several years. They fit tight in the ear without much projection, and they stay snug even when walking or exercising. I have tried all of the Jabra headphones, and from the physical design perspective, these are the best so far.
The electronics also continue to improve, including ANC which works very well when compared to other earbuds. Ambient noise fades into the distance.
Bluetooth. Unlike most headsets, the Elite 85ts support multipoint Bluetooth connections, meaning they connect to two devices, like a PC and phone. The 85ts manage handoffs between the devices. This makes them a good choice in work from home scenarios. The Bluetooth 5.1 firmware supports power efficiency, more physical distance on connections, and SBC and AAC codecs.
Microphones. Six microphones pick up sound. Four of them manage noise cancellation, keeping background sounds away from phone calls and video conferences. I found universally good response when talking through the 85ts, save the times I was wearing a mask.
Eartips. The new oval tips claim comfort improvement over round tips on the 75ts, but I didn’t notice much difference over the 75ts in terms of comfort or fit. I would prefer a memory foam option, but they are not offer. Given the design tolerances on high-end ear buds, I will not introduce a variable by changing out the tips for third-party alternatives.
Charging. The other big improvement comes in Qi charging, delivered in-box versus the $20 upgrade available on the 75ts. The case also supports USB-C charging.
The app. Jabra also remains dedicated to software. The Jabra Sound +[Apple – Android] manages the listening experience that creates hearing profiles from hearing assessments, controls HearThrough to manage outside sounds, and configures the physical buttons.. The app also includes an equalizer and control for the level of ANC.
Sound. New drivers bring in more base than their predecessors, and the more open sound design fills out the experience with a more expansive profile. I have not evaluated the more high-end earbuds from Sennheiser, Sony, or Bose, but I own regular headphones from all three, and find the 85ts step up about as high as an earbud can be expected to climb.
CES 2021 promises new color options, including gold and beige, copper and black, and black and grey, to join the titanium and black originals.
What could be improved
IPX rating. Curiously, the 85ts, which over IPX4 water resistance, notch down on environmental ratings for dust and water, but for most that won’t really matter, though any specification that gets reduced raises a question. Thus, I raise the question. They will handle splashes and sweat well. Apple’s AirPods Pro also rate at IPX4.
Battery life. The other slight comes in battery life, but the new ANC circuity probably accounts for that. The wireless charging options keep the earbuds going. And anything over 5 hours is a pretty good battery rating, get close to 6, well, is even better.
Eartips. As mentioned above, I would love to see a memory foam eartip option.
Dual master. The 85ts do not support dual master mode, so only the right earbud can become an independent device for calls.
Pricing equity is always an issue with a new device. The 75ts, which are almost as good, regularly retail for under $150, and AirPod Pros hit sales prices for the 2020 holiday at under $200, so the $230 list seems a little high–that said, they will probably get discounted sooner than later.
Jabra 85t: The Bottom Line
Jabra keeps its earbuds on the market for a longtime, so the Elite 85ts ended up competing with their own products. The ANC software update on the 75ts make the choice a little harder. But in the final analysis, the 85ts sound better, include improved technology for ANC and charging, and upgrade playback and voice input. They prove the superior choice against the 75ts and other products, including Apple’s AirPods Pro.
Jabra provided the 85ts for review. Serious Insights LLC is an Amazon affiliate and may receive payment for clicks to Amazon.com.
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Daniel W. Rasmus
Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.