Jabra Elite 85h review: Undercutting the competition

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It’s 6 a.m. and your back’s against the wall of an overcrowded train car. You left your coffee on the counter and the last thing you want is to hear is the mouth-breathing stranger next to you drone on about how his kid is a spoiled brat. In most instances, you’d just have to endure this situation, but the Jabra Elite 85h noise cancelling headphones make it easier to be alone when surrounded.

Editor’s note: this review was updated on February 4, 2020, to contextualize how the Jabra Elite 85h stack up against the competition.

Who is the Elite 85h for?

The Jabra Elite 85h is for anyone and will greatly benefit listeners who study in coffee shops, use public transportation, or find themselves perpetually accruing frequent flyer miles. Although the headphones don’t outperform the Sony WH-1000XM3, they retail for $50 less and are still effective.

What’s it like to use the Jabra Elite 85h?

A photo of the Jabra Elite 85h headphones in front of a window on a stack of books.

The Jabra Elite 85h headphones are a slightly more affordable alternative to top-tier ANC headphones.

These headphones are extremely comfortable. The ear cups are plush and leave plenty of wiggle room for even the most outward-facing ears. While the ear cups are rather bulky (a necessity for the 40mm drivers), they fold flat and rotate up toward the headband. Plus, you can keep everything organized in its included carrying case. Sure, it’s not as travel-friendly as a pair of true wireless earbuds but it makes a significant difference.

The Jabra Elite 85h is remarkably comfortable, making it easy to wear them all day long without fatigue.

Jabra’s smart noise cancelling uses four of the Elite 85h’s eight microphones to filter out ambient sound. When these mics register unwanted noise, they automatically switch ANC on. What constitutes distracting noise can be customized via the Jabra Sound+ app. Conversely, HearThru settings can also be managed. HearThru amplifies your surroundings, which is helpful when walking outside or during subway rides when you need to hear the upcoming stops.

Aerial image of the Jabra Elite 85h headphones folded flat on a table and surrounded by vintage cameras, a blue notebook, and a black carabiner.

Folding the headphones flat automatically turns them off, while turning them inward wakes them up.

Another nifty feature is the automatic ear detection. While this is a seemingly popular inclusion for true wireless earbuds, it’s a rarity in wireless headphones. By removing the headphones, playback automatically pauses. Thusly, placing them back on resumes playback. This works quickly and flawlessly.

Instead of incorporating touch controls, Jabra’s headphones make use of the right panel with nearly undetectable playback, volume, and call controls. Upon pressing the controls, a wheezing sound escapes from the ear pad. Initially, this was comical but became increasingly annoying as time went on.

The edges of both ear cups also have buttons: a noise cancelling toggle button is on the left side, while the right side has a mic mute/voice assistant button just above the 3.5mm and USB-C charging ports. You may access Siri, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant via the voice assistant button. While the buttons are responsive, I wish they were slightly larger.

Jabra Elite 85h: Headphones partly folded on a stack of blue, thin books with a vintage camera in the bottom left corner.

The ear cups rotate 90 degrees and can be folded toward the headband.

One of the more unique features of these premium noise cancelling headphones is the water-resistant nano-coating protecting the headphone’s internal components. While I wouldn’t work out with these—mainly due to their size and weight—it’s a comfort to know they won’t melt like the Wicked Witch of the West if briefly exposed to light rain.

How long does the battery last?

The Jabra Elite 85h’s battery lasts a very, very long time. Our testing yielded 34.58 hours of playback with noise cancelling on. Jabra claims up to 41 hours with noise cancelling switched off and a year of standby time, but your results will likely vary from factors like listening volume, codec selection, and so on. When the battery does eventually die, it takes 2.5 hours to complete a full charge cycle via the included USB-C cable. If the battery dies and you’re crunched for time, 15 minutes of charging allows for roughly five hours of playback.

How do you connect the Jabra Elite 85h to your phone?

Straight-on image of the Jabra Elite 85h headphones and the USB-C and 3.5mm inputs on the ear cup.

You can connect via Bluetooth or use the included 3.5mm cable for wired listening and optimal audio quality.

The headphones use Bluetooth 5, which allows for a 10-meter wireless connectivity range. It’s a major bummer that the Jabra Elite 85h cans don’t support aptX or AAC for that matter but it’s not too much of a surprise seeing as the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds don’t either. Of course, if you want the best audio quality, wired is the way to go. However, this lack of high-quality codec support may be the Achilles’ heel in an otherwise standout product.

Multipoint serves as a compensatory feature, allowing you to pair up to eight devices to the headset and connect two simultaneously. I frequently alternate from speakers to headphones when working and greatly appreciate the convenience. It’s also great if you share headphones with roommates or family as they can just play from their phones without pestering you for yours.

Related: Expensive headphones are worth it

Sound quality

Despite the lack of high-quality codec support, these headphones sound fantastic. If you want an accurate reproduction of sound that matches the depth and spatial awareness we naturally experience, you’ll enjoy the Elite 85h. Instrumental separation is precise and the slightly underemphasized bass frequencies allow for vocals to shine through tracks. During testing, this made songs feel intimate as if they’re truly being performed just for me.

The Jabra Elite 85h just sounds good, plain and simple.

Noise cancelling is impressive but doesn’t outperform Sony’s cans. However, the ANC is still highly effective at mitigating noises like clicking of a keyboard, air conditioning, and washing machines. Really low frequency noises still permeate the noise cancelling barrier but that’s the case for virtually all ANC products.

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Lows, mids, and highs

In Sigrid’s song Raw, the bass drop at 0:33 can sound overpowering with the wrong headphones, but the toned-down bass response from the Elite 85h avoids any auditory masking that could occur here. On the other hand, listening to the same part of Raw with the Creative Outlier Air makes a bit difficult to hear Sigrid sing the lyrics, “I just want to be…”

The song clearly demonstrates the headphones’ ability to distinguish frequencies along the spectrum. Skip ahead to 1:59. This is when Sigrid vocalizes controlled “Ohs” amidst the steady keying of a piano and predictable bass thumps. All of the instruments have their place within the listener’s perception of auditory space. While much of this is attributed to adroit audio engineering, the headphones are able to properly reproduce how the track was intended to be heard.

Is the Jabra Elite 85h good for phone calls?

Vocal frequency of the Jabra Elite 85h for the microphone.

Wind noise is significantly reduced by the internal microphone setup.

How well it performs depends on your vocal range, but generally speaking, it’s fine, not great. Just like with the audio frequency response chart, the microphone response would ideally be a flat line along the 0-mark. However, the ideal is a rarity at best and an abstract in actuality. The Elite 85h microphone handles low voices differently than higher-pitched ones. If you have a lower voice like fellow SoundGuy Chris Thomas, you’ll sound half as loud as I do in the below example.

Jabra Elite 85h microphone demo:

As far as technical specs go, six of the eight microphones are used during voice transmission to isolate the voice from background noise. This works fairly well as given by the demonstration. When I turn the background music on it’s much less audible than it sounds in real life. What’s more, the microphones actively work to combat wind noise, which works rather well when walking around.

Should you buy the Jabra Elite 85h?

Angled image of the Jabra Elite 85h headphones folded in the case with the USB-C and aux cable in the internal pocket.

The zippered carrying case resembles Sony’s and has a nifty organization system for the included cables and airplane adapter.

Yes, the Jabra Elite 85h is an exceptional pair of headphones with an attractive price and design. Again, the biggest drawback is the lack of AAC and aptX support. However, if you’re not one to pick apart sound quality, the Jabra Elite 85h is your best feature-packed option. On the other hand, if you want a slightly more accurate bass response from your headphones with significantly better microphone quality, look into the cheaper Sony WH-XB900N.

If you need something more portable

A photo of a woman wearing the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds and reaching for the touch panel of the left 'bud.

Touch controls are customizable via Sony’s Headphone Connect app.

There are a handful of great noise cancelling true wireless earbuds available, with more to flood the market in the coming years. While ANC earbuds aren’t as effective as their larger, over-ear counterparts, they’re better than nothing.

If you have an iPhone, the Apple AirPods Pro are the earbuds to get. These integrate the company’s H1 chip for streamlined usage across OS devices and hands-free Siri access. What’s more, the chipset affords solid battery life for this category of true wireless earbuds, and the included charger is Qi wireless-certified.

Related: Best headphones of 2019

If you’re an Android user, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are the best portable noise cancelling earbuds. These attenuate low-end noises (e.g. an airplane’s engine) like a pro. In fact, they made my cross-country flights from Atlanta to San Francisco nearly enjoyable. Battery life falls a bit short of the AirPods Pro, but they support quick charging and supremely comfortable fit.

A photo of the Beats Solo Pro on-ear noise cancelling headphones headband emerging from a backpack with the cloth carrying pouch hooked to it.

Pressure from the headband makes the headphones uncomfortable after an hour of listening.

If your bag can fit headphones but you still want something a bit more compact, the Beats Solo Pro ANC on-ear headphones work rather well to combat external noise. They happen to be Beats‘ best noise cancelling headphones to date, which is greatly attributed to the tight fit.

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