With excellent products like their most recent QC35 II and WH1000xM3 models, Bose and Sony have had a stranglehold on the premium noise-canceling headphone world for a few years now. But that’s not to say other companies aren’t nipping at their heels with compelling products of their own.
The latest contender to enter our testing ring is from one of our favorite modern headphone brands: Jabra. Representing the first entry in over-ear headphones for the brand, the Elite 85H sport class-leading battery life, excellent noise-canceling, and crystal-clear wireless sound, all for $50 less than the competition from Sony and Bose. The result is another big win for Jabra’s growing headphone lineup.
Out of the box
Even in a market segment where the vast majority of options are understated, the Elite 85H stand out for their streamlined design. Thanks to a matte fabric coating on the black headband and exterior of each earcup, the headphones don’t even reflect the light. In fact, the only distinguishing bit of branding is a dark grey Jabra logo on the bottom of the headband. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of incognito listening, these are just the ticket.
Comfort was clearly paramount to the design team, resulting in thick memory foam earcups and a soft headband that all but guarantee lengthy listening times without any noticeable aches or pains.
The included controls, which are embedded below the fabric on the outside of the right earcup, help complete the clean design. A subtle indentation indicates the play/pause button in the middle of the earcup, and two raised bumps on the top and bottom of the indent indicate volume controls.
The Jabra Elite 85H crushes its more-expensive competitors on battery life.
There are also two small buttons on the bottom of the right and left side, the left one allows you to turn on the company’s “HearThrough” technology, which pipes in ambient sound and also allows you to turn noise canceling on and off. The right button lets you access your voice assistant or mute the microphone.
Accessories include a solid black hard case, a 3.5 mm cable for wired listening, as well as a USB-C cable to for charging, so you won’t have to worry about damaging them when stuffing them in your carry-on or backpack during a commute.
Features and design
The Elite 85H have many of the same features boasted by the more expensive Sony and Bose models, but one place where they clearly crush their competitors is battery life. The new Jabra model offers a class-leading 36 hours (!) of juice with noise canceling engaged, a whopping 6 hours more than the 30 hours offered by the Sony WH1000xM3, and over ten hours longer than the Bose QC35 II. Their quick-charging function will also net you 5 hours of listening time on a 15-minute charge.
The other feature we love is that the Elite 85H are both dust and water resistant (though Jabra doesn’t list a specific IP rating), with the company even going so far as to warranty the headphones for two years against both substances. This means those (like us) who live in rainier climates like the Pacific Northwest get peace of mind out of the box.
In terms of musical customization, the Jabra Sound+ app offers many of the same features we love about Sony’s WH1000xM3. You can change the equalization settings, adjust noise-canceling, and even tell the headphones to adjust noise-canceling based on responses to your environment. Sitting in a busy plane terminal? It’ll pipe through a bit of sound from the outside world so you can hear announcements. Sitting on a loud plane? It’ll set your noise cancellation to maximum.
It’s worth noting that while we think this tech has lots of potential down the line — and Jabra will likely continue to improve it with firmware updates — we typically just left the noise-canceling on unless we otherwise needed to have it off as we didn’t always agree with its decisions. In our open-floorplan office, for instance, the system reduced noise canceling and pumped in sound — the exact opposite of what we wanted. No problem, though, we just selected the manual setting in the app and it was off to the races.
Jabra appears to have put a lot of energy into making sure these headphones accurately reproduce all elements of the frequency spectrum.
Another feature Jabra borrows from Sony and others is a sensor system inside the earcups that automatically pauses/plays when you take off or put on the headphones – a nice touch.
Pairing is equally intuitive. The Elite 85H’s Bluetooth 5.0 chipset makes them among the fastest to connect of any wireless models we’ve ever tested. Turn them on, and they are ready to play music almost instantly.
That brings us to the weirdest thing about the Elite 85H: There isn’t a power button. In order to power the headphones off, you must lay them flat with the earcups turned all the way down towards the surface you lay them on. To turn them on, you just pick them up and place them on your head as normal. It’s an odd feature and can be very annoying when you don’t lay down the headphones right and they remain on. Next time, we’ll take a button.
Another feature inexplicably missing from this $300 pair of headphones? Support for aptX or LDAC — the two highest quality Bluetooth codecs. That’s an oversight for wireless headphones at this price, but luckily, we were still impressed with their sound quality.
Even without aptX or LDAC, the Elite 85H feature a very open and inviting soundstage, tending towards a warmer overall representation of our favorite music than either the Bose or Sony models.
Where Bose tends to boost the bass and lean on the treble, Jabra appears to have put a lot of energy into making sure these headphones accurately reproduce all elements of the frequency spectrum. They also offer an impressive amount of clarity in the midrange, even when there is a lot of information to deal with.
The Elite 85H is among the best sounding noise-canceling headphones you can buy right now.
Listening to the latest offerings from Vampire Weekend and Big Thief, the headphones did well to create separation between each guitar, synth, or other layer in the middle of the sound, joined by dynamic (but not overly rumbly) bass, and relatively crisp upper frequencies.
We say relatively crisp because, when compared side-by-side with the Sony WH1000xM3 (among the best sounding Bluetooth headphones you can buy), the Sony model offered an airier top end, giving acoustic instruments a bit more room to breathe in the musical space.
In terms of listening experience, we’d put the Elite 85H square between the Bose and Sony models, making them easily among the best sounding noise-canceling headphones you can buy right now.
Speaking of noise canceling, the Jabra Elite 85H employ four onboard microphones to remove unwanted background noise, offering performance that is almost as good as what’s offered by the class-leading Sony and Bose models.
Both the Sony and Bose headphones do a slightly better job dealing with HVAC and conversational noise, but we were actually very impressed with the way the Jabra removed the sounds of mechanical keyboards and other, more percussive sounds. Sony and Bose have the upper hand overall, but the Elite 85H are no slouch.
Jabra’s two-year warranty covers water and dust damage, as well as defects in materials or workmanship.
The Jabra Elite 85H are a great pair of noise-canceling headphones that compete with the best on the market.
Is there a better alternative?
At $300, we’ve yet to hear a pair of headphones that goes head-to-head this effectively with the flagship models from Sony and Bose. With better battery life, a comfortable design, and great features (save that lack of a power button), the Elite 85H do well to stack up with their pricier peers. If you’re looking to save a bit more money, you could look at the Panasonc RP-HD605N, which sound similar thanks to aptX and LDAC support, but have shorter battery life and lack the app-based features of the Jabra model.
How long will it last?
Jabra has a history of making great products, and the Elite 85H should be no different. With built-in dust and waterproofing, we expect them to last for years of steady use.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you are looking for a pair of great noise-canceling headphones and want to save $50 over the top of the class, Jabra’s Elite 85H are a great way to get nearly the same functionality, plus better battery life, at a bargain.