(Pocket-lint) - You could be forgiven for confusing Jabra's selection of true wireless headphones. The Jabra Elite 75t, the Elite Active 75t, and the new Elite 85t all look basically identical - unless you've got a really keen eye - and the names aren't all that different either.
While the former two above were differentiated by the level of waterproofing offered, there's actually a small physical change to the Jabra Elite 85t. But is this enough to push you towards the newer version of Jabra's headphones?
Design and build
- New oval earbuds
- IPX4 rating
As we've said, there's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it difference between Jabra's true wireless headphones. To look at, the Elite 85t is the same as the 75t. The compact case looks the same, the shape of the 'buds looks the same, along with the same control buttons.
But examine the earbuds closer and you'll find there are refinements. The Jabra Elite 85t retain a plastic construction, meaning these 'buds are not too heavy - and the design means they are housed within the concha of the ear - so there's nothing hanging out, dangling down, looped up, or anything else.
It's perhaps a simple design, but as we've experienced on other devices from Jabra previously, the 85t sit very well in the ear, comfortable for wearing on long sessions, while also being secure enough to stay put during exercise. Hey - you can also wear a woolly hat over the top without it being uncomfortable, which is great.
But these 'buds are a little bulkier than the Elite 75t that came before, a little thicker in the body, not that you'll notice that once you've got them properly seated in your ears.
The waterproofing here isn't as high as Jabra's dedicated sports headphones (and we'd expect an Active version to follow in 2021), but the IPX4 rating should be sufficient to protect against the occasional rain shower. That means it protects from splashes from any angle, but not from dust (hence the 'X').
Although the overall the look is the same as the previous-gen model, there's a couple of little details to note. Firstly, the external mic holes are smaller, so the 85t looks slightly more refined. But there's also a second grille for external mics, which helps power the active noise-cancellation (ANC) tech.
Flip a 'bud over and you'll see - aside from the charging contacts having moved in this design - that the tip itself has changed shape too. Admittedly, having been consistent users of the Elite 75t over a year-long period, we were worried about how this oval shape would fit in the ear canal.
Jabra too seemed slightly nervous, reminding us about the change in design before the company sent the 85t for review. But fortunately we can sweep any doubt to one side, because as soon as we'd fitted the correct size of tip (for us that's the largest) these 'buds sat and sealed in the ear with rare excellence.
In those terms, the Jabra Elite 85t is an upgrade over the 75t: although we really like the previous gen, the new version's tweaks make for an even better experience.
Jabra says the newer 'buds also have pressure relief vents to make for greater comfortable over longer periods of wear. We don't know about that - just that these 'buds fit well and are perfectly comfortable.
The case too is worthy of some attention. It's the same case as we've seen previously, with a USB-C for charging, but now also supporting Qi wireless charging as standard (previously, that was an optional extra). That means you can drop these headphones onto a wireless charging pad and forget about the cables.
Sound and performance
- MySound hearing profile
- Active noise cancellation
Aside from the three different 'EarGel' tips, there are a lot of options for controlling the sound from the Jabra Elite 85t. The tips are easy to change; but don't go thinking you can swap for an older rounder version, as the mounts themselves are also oval.
The first thing that the Elite 85t will try and do is configure MySound. This is a quick process driven by the Sound+ app that will tune the headphones to your ears to ensure optimised sound. It's at that point that you'll identify that the ANC is really effective.
There are three states that you can have the Elite 85t set in: ANC for full cancellation; HearThrough, where select exterior noise such as voices is allowed in; or you can turn those things off and just have isolation.
The ANC is really good and we've sometimes found ourselves stepping out of the house without playing any music just to enjoy the silence. If you've been lucky enough to be in really heavy snowfall, that's what we'd liken the experience to. Heavy snow deadens all sound and you find yourself walking in a sublime silence - which is what these headphones will do. Ideal for travelling - when that becomes a thing again.
Of course there's a downside - you can be totally oblivious of the world around you and that could be everything from missing the dog barking or doorbell, through to stepping in front of a car pulling out of a driveway.
That's why HearThrough really exists. This system works as it does on other Jabra headphones, switching on with a tap to let exterior noise through. That's ideal for navigating busy streets, for example, to make sure you don't get hit by a car, giving you enough awareness to hear what's going on without being too much of a disturbance.
This is all a great foundation for serving up good audio too, with tight and precise bass and clear vocals with plenty of clarity across the range. Having an equaliser means you can easily change the bias one way or the other to suit your preference, so you can essentially have anything you want.
When it comes to call quality, the Jabra Elite 85t gives a solid performance too. The earbud let in some outside noise as soon as you switch to a call, so remove that sense of isolation and to help things feel more natural. We had no complaints from callers about the quality and equally found that we could hear with no problems at all. In busy environments some background noise can be heard by those on the end of the line, something to be aware of if you're calling in a busy location.
App and connected features
- Full button customisation
- Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri
The Jabra Sound+ app plays its part in managing these headphones, delivering firmware updates as well as giving you access to customisation. It's not really an optional extra for a headset that's sophisticated - if you don't use the app, you really are missing out on much of what's on offer.
There's customisation for all sorts of aspects of how these headphones work. For example, you can set HearThrough to pause the music when engaged, so if you want to concentrate on something or someone, you can do that with one button press. You can control the level of sidetone - which is where you hear a little of your own voice when talking - making conversations while wearing the headphones more natural.
The buttons can be customised too, letting you choose the actions for single-, double- and triple-presses on either ear. That can mean you put all playback controls on one side or the other depending on your preference, remove functions you don't like - it can be anything you want.
There's also support for voice assistants, so you can trigger Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri depending on what you have on your phone. This means you can control your phone via voice, getting things like notifications read to you, asking basic questions you want answered, and whatever else you use your voice assistant for.
Battery life and charging
The battery life of the Jabra Elite 85t is rated at 5.5 hours with ANC on - which we found to be realistic - extending to 7.5 hours without using the noise cancellation. Whether you'll use these headphones like that is another question - but for most people it's the 24 hours of use total that you'll get from the case which makes the biggest difference.
As is the case for all true wireless headphones, placing the 'buds in the case recharges them - and as you store them in the case it means auto-recharging once stowed away. The case itself can be charged via USB-C, which is convenient for many as lots of devices use this standard, so you can probably connect it to an existing charger. Support for Qi wireless charging is a premium feature that's convenient, but not a game-changer.
From a strong foundation, the Jabra Elite 85t make meaningful changes to evolve into a leading set of true wireless headphones. From the exterior, these 'buds don't have the most expensive-looking design and aren't the most eye-catching - but when it comes to performance, it's a strong execution.
Much of that was true of the older headphones too. With the Elite Active 75t offering a slightly slimmer build, increased waterproofing at IP57, and a firmware update to add active noise-cancelling (ANC), there might therefore be the temptation to opt for the older and cheaper model.
It's the ANC in the 85t that we're really impressed with, boosting the convenient HearThrough system, and performing better than it does on the updated Active 75t too - giving an added incentive to opt for the newer model. Sound quality, too, is super.
We'd happily forego the wireless charging to bring the price down, but as it is, these in-ear headphones come highly recommended.
Alternatives to consider
Jabra Elite Active 75t
As we've mentioned, the Active 75t offer much the same experience as the 85t - but with a lower price and better waterproofing. The active noise cancellation isn't as good though.
Apple AirPods Pro
Apple's AirPods Pro are hugely popular, not just for the iconic looks, but for the convenience of pairing across Apple devices.
Corrections - [14/12/2020] Updated to include call quality information.