“Budget-minded fitness buffs will have a hard time finding a better set of buds.”
- Comfy, secure fit
- Fully waterproof
- Very good sound quality
- Effective ANC
- No wireless charging
- No wear sensors
It’s not hard to find great true wireless earbuds for workouts that have a comfy but very secure fit, lots of protection against water and dust, and active noise cancellation (ANC). Jabra’s Elite 7 Active, JBL’s Reflect Flow Pro, and Jaybird’s Vista 2 — just to pick three recent models — all qualify. But with prices that start at $150 and can get as high as $300, they’re not nearly as friendly to your bank account as they are to your morning runs.
That makes Jabra’s Elite 4 Active look really compelling: They’re fully waterproof, designed to fit securely, and they even rock a few handy extras like ANC, transparency mode, and customizable EQ. All for the much more reasonable price of $120. Are these the workout buds you’ve been waiting for? Let’s find out.
Jabra’s Elite line of true wireless earbuds are some of the best-fitting and most comfortable we’ve reviewed, and the Elite 4 Active is no exception. They have an almost identical shape to the budget-priced Elite 3 and are very similar to both the Elite 7 Pro and Elite 7 Active, which is to say, they fit very well. With a selection of three sizes of silicone ear tips in the box, it shouldn’t be hard to find a combination that works for you.
The portion of the earbud that sits deepest in your ear is made from smooth plastic, while the portion that sits just inside your outer ear has a slightly rubberized texture. It’s not as grippy as the finish Jabra used on the Elite 7 Active, but it’s got more texture than the Elite 3. Will they stay seated during your intense workouts? For the majority of the time, the answer is yes.
The combination of their small size, ergonomic shape, textured finish, and light weight make them as secure as you can get without adding physical aids like earfins, wingtips, or ear hooks. But anything that changes the shape of your ear canal like talking, laughing, sneezing, or just grinning ear-to-ear because you’ve just beaten your personal best, could affect how the Elite 4 Active are seated and thus require an adjustment.
Physical controls are still the way to go, and Jabra is still the master.
Jabra’s controls also are the stuff of legend, as far as I’m concerned. Because the company always uses physical buttons and never touch sensors, you get a delightfully tactile click when you press them. And that never leaves any doubt about whether you got it right or not. The Elite 4 Active’s controls share this legacy, but they require more force to use than other Jabra models.
I chalk this up to the fact that the button is concealed behind a thin rubber membrane on the outside of the earbuds (part of the reason they offer such strong IP57 protection), but the surface itself is quite small. The result is a button that, while still very accurate and tactile, requires almost twice as much effort to press as the Elite 3 or the Elite 7 Active.
Still, I’ll take the Elite 4 Active’s physical buttons over almost any other earbuds’ touch controls, especially when you’re trying to concentrate on your workout. Plus, like all physical buttons, you don’t need bare skin or special gloves to use them – another advantage, especially in cold weather.
Unlike the Elite 7-Series, Jabra doesn’t let you customize the Elite 4 Active’s controls, but the default settings give you everything you could need, including play/pause, track skip, call answer/end, microphone mute, ANC/transparency, voice assistant, and volume control. You can use each earbud independently, and if you’re an Android user, you even get the option of substituting the Google Assistant with Amazon Alexa. Android users also get the option of using Spotify Tap instead of a voice assistant, for instant access to their Spotify Premium playlists.
A set of workout buds are useless if they can’t give your favorite tracks the power and presence to get you motivated and moving. Here, the Elite 4 Active definitely have what it takes. They combine Jabra’s well-balanced sound signature with an extra serving of bass. We’re not talking rattle-your-fillings bass, but it’s exactly what you need to feel the rhythm of your music as you pound the pavement or throw your fists at a punching bag. Whether you take your inspiration from AC/DC, Kendrick Lamar, or BTS, the Elite 4 Active are more than able to keep up.
I put the Elite 4 Active head-to-head (ear-to-ear?) with the Elite 7 Active, and both models were surprisingly close. As you might expect, the Elite 7 Active had a bit more detail and a wider soundstage than the Elite 4 Active, but given that neither model is aimed at critical listening, I don’t think there’s enough of a difference to recommend the Elite 7 Active over the 4 Active — at least not from a sound quality point of view. We’ll discuss the other differences later.
With clear high frequencies and satisfying midranges, I found the default tuning worked just fine with every genre of music I threw at these buds, but if it isn’t quite to your liking, the Jabra Sound+ app lets you tweak the EQ via a series of presets and manual options. You won’t be able to alter the sound signature drastically, but there’s more than enough latitude to enhance (or de-emphasize) bass and treble for various listening preferences.
It’s worth noting that these buds do not support the AAC Bluetooth codec that Apple favors for all of its phones and tablets — you’ll be using SBC on these devices instead — but they do support aptX on Android devices if yours is compatible with that codec. Flipping back and forth between an iPhone 11 and a Google Pixel 5, I could hear a slight improvement on the Pixel, but it was barely noticeable.
Hear that? No? That’s the point.
Some active noise cancellation (ANC) systems, like Apple’s AirPods Pro, can magically eliminate external sounds to the point where they just vanish when you turn ANC on. The Elite 4 Active’s ANC system definitely reduces some of the frequencies that make their way into your ears from outside, but it’s not that cone-of-silence effect that Apple has achieved.
But who’s complaining? Especially at this price, any ANC system that helps kill off unwanted sound is a good thing. And that’s exactly what you get. Switching from passive sound isolation to ANC offers a noticeable reduction of traffic, fans, background conversations, and other annoyances.
The best part is that with one click of the left earbud, you can switch from ANC on to transparency mode, which brings the outside world in. Or, using the app, you can decide to use that button to switch between ANC on and off, transparency on and off, or all three modes in sequence.
You can also decide how much of that external sound to include with a slider adjustment in the app. Transparency mode does a good job of letting you hear other people and sounds, but your own voice remains a tad muffled.
Calling on the Elite 4 Active, as on most Jabra earbuds, is very good. Your voice comes through very clearly and the mics seem to have no problem keeping unwanted background noises from overwhelming your conversations. While testing them, I came across a bit of wind — not a ton mind you — but it barely registered on my recordings.
You can choose to turn on side-tone (which is like transparency mode but for phone/video calls), and this lets you hear your own voice more clearly, which reduces the fatigue involved in some earbud calls.
How much battery life do you need in a set of true wireless earbuds? I’d argue that more is always better, but the Elite 4 Active’s claimed seven hours of play time per charge, plus the additional three charges in the charging case (for a total of 28) should be plenty. If you want even more time, Jabra says you’ll get 8.5 hours with ANC off, and a total of 34 hours with the case.
In testing, with ANC on and volume set to 50%, I got closer to six hours of use, but that’s still pretty decent. A fast-charge feature gives you an extra hour of use for 10 minutes of charging.
Jabra includes a Find My earbuds feature in the Sound+ app that keeps track of the last known location when the Elite 4 Active were connected to your phone, making it easier to track down lost buds. You can also make the earbuds play a sound so you can figure out which couch cushion they’re under.
While the Elite 4 Active have a decent number of features, here’s what you’ll find on some other earbuds, including the more expensive Elite 7 Active:
- Wireless charging
- Wear sensors for auto-pausing music
- Fully customizable controls
- Hands-free voice assistants
- Bluetooth Multipoint (for connecting two devices simultaneously)
The Jabra Elite 4 Active are the perfect set of workout earbuds for those who want great sound, great fit, and excellent protection from the elements, without spending more than $150.
Are there better alternatives?
The Elite 4 Active seem to have found themselves a nice little niche. You can pay more for the $150 JBL Reflect Mini NC and get wireless charging and voice-activated assistants, but total battery life isn’t as good as the Jabra’s and the Reflect Mini NC are IP56 vs IP57 for the Elite 4 Active.
You can also spend less and get the Anker Soundcore Spirit X2, a set of earhook-style earbuds, which have better battery life and even better water/dust protection, but they don’t have ANC or transparency mode, and there are no app-based adjustments for EQ.
So while there are certainly plenty of alternatives when it comes to a set of wireless workout buds, we haven’t found any that combine the Elite 4 Active’s features with its accessible price.
How long will they last?
While it’s never easy to predict this kind of thing, Jabra makes high-quality products, and the Elite 4 Active look well-built and relatively rugged. Their IP57 rating will protect them from most dust and water — even complete immersion — and Jabra offers an extended two-year warranty to customers who register their earbuds via the Jabra Sound+ app.
Should you buy them?
Yes. While they may not fit quite as securely as workout buds with ear hooks or ear fins, the Elite 4 Active are a great choice for budget-minded athletes who don’t want to compromise on the essentials.
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