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Jabra Elite 85t Review: Simply the Best

Rating: 9.5/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $230
The Jabra Elite 85t case on a white desk
Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

When it comes to high-end true wireless earbuds, there are Apple AirPods Pro and then there’s everyone else. That’s how it has been—at least in my mind—for the last 12 months. The Jabra Elite/Active 75t have been the closest competitor, so I’ve been looking forward to the incoming 85t since Jabra first announced them. They’re the first set of true wireless earbuds that not only compete with AirPods Pro but best them in almost every way.

This is precisely what I hoped for from the 85t, too. Jabra has been upping its game dramatically since the 65t, with each version making significant leaps from the last. The 75t were the best buds I’d heard at the time and remained my most recommended earbuds based purely on sound quality for the last year. It was the other features—Active Noise Canceling (ANC) and Transparency Mode—that gave the AirPods Pro the edge in most cases.

Recently, Jabra brought ANC to the Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t by way of a firmware update, and it’s very good—especially for a free update. That’s a huge win for 75t owners, and I applaud Jabra for going out of its way to bring this feature to an existing model. That’s awesome.

But while the 75t was basically a more refined version of the 65t (until the ANC update, anyway), the 85t features an entirely new design. They look very similar, mind you, but under the hood they have an improved open ear design to prevent that clogged ear feeling. That open ear design also means that they only offer an IPX4 rating for splash resistance (they should be fine for workouts, but that’s about it). Still, they offer five adjustable levels of ANC, improved HearThrough (transparency mode), and better sound quality than ever before.

They are the best true wireless earbuds I’ve ever used. In literally every way.

An All-Around Smarter Case

The Jabra Elite 85t case lying on its back to show the Qi charging logo on the bottom
The 85t case has Qi charging Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

If the charging case for the Elite 75t was an upgrade from the 65t (it was), then the 85t is another step in the right direction. The overall design is the same—it’s flat on the bottom with a magnetic closure on the lid. The USB-C charging port is still on the back. It’s a little larger than the 75t’s case, presumably because the buds themselves are also slightly bigger and the case likely has a bigger battery to accommodate the massive 31 hours of battery life with ANC off (25 hours with ANC on). Fifteen minutes on the charger also gets you an hour of playback time if you’re in a pinch.

The 85t case also has another trick up its sleeve: wireless charging. This is the first set of ‘buds Jabra has done that offers wireless charging, and in my opinion, is the best way to charge earbuds. They’re small and don’t need a massive amount of power to charge quickly—exactly the type of thing wireless charging excels at. I’m so glad to see this on the 85t case.

The Jabra Elite 85t case in black next to the Elite 75t case in blue, for size comparison
The Elite 85t case (left) next to the Elite 75t case (right) Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

There’s also one other notable change from the 75t case. The charging light, which is on the back of the 75t case for some reason, is now on the front. This is a smart change because it just makes sense. I like it. Yes.

Overall, the case is an incremental improvement over the 75t, but an improvement nonetheless. And it’s only marginally bigger, so it’s still very pocketable. I can’t tell a difference between the two when carrying it in my pocket, so it’s all good.

A Better Fit Than Ever Before

A good fit is arguably the most important feature of any set of earbuds—wireless or not. And as long as I’ve been testing Jabra’s Elite headphones, the fit has been mostly excellent across all of them. But it’s even better with the 85t.

The Elite 85t earbuds out of the case, showing the buttons and the ear tip
Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

Instead of sticking with the typical round ear tips, the 85t use oval-shaped tips. Not only do these create a better seal, but they’re also more comfortable and stay in place better than previous versions. I can wear them for hours with no discomfort whatsoever. It’s fantastic.

The buds ship with the typical three sets of tips—small, medium, and large. I normally wear medium tips for most earbuds, but with the 85t, I had to switch to the large ones to get the best fit. That’s worth keeping in mind if you normally wear large tips, as these seem to run smaller than others.

Also, because I know someone is going to ask: You can use the right bud solo, but the left earbud is a no go.

The Jabra Elite 85t compared to the AirPods Pro
Jabra Elite 85t vs. AirPods Pro. Totally different form factors here. Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

The excellent fit is crucial for the 85t, though, because it’s how they achieve excellent sound quality and fantastic ANC. Let’s talk about that.

Insane Sound Quality and Killer ANC

Last year, I said the 75t was the best-sounding set of true wireless earbuds you could buy. And the 85t sound even better. They’re full and balanced, with powerful lows and pristine highs. They are truly incredible.

I have a playlist of songs that I use for every headphone and speaker review, but I always start with the same song and repeat it often throughout testing: Fireflies by Owl Cities (thanks, Cody!). To be clear, I do not like this song. I don’t recommend it to anyone for regular listening. But if you want to know what a set of headphones or speaker is capable of, this is the song. The waveform in the chorus is like a solid block of sound—if there’s a frequency range in music, you’ll find it here.

This song lets me know what to expect right out of the gate. And from the first bass note in the song, I had a smile on my face with the 85t. I knew the chorus was going to be amazing. And boy, was I right. It’s the fullest, boldest, biggest sound from such a tiny set of speakers that I’ve ever heard. These are the first earbuds I’ve heard that can rival over-ear headphones in terms of how big they sound.

The Jabra Sound+ app showing the earbuds and HearThrough option enabled The Sound+ app showing the EQ The Sound+ app with the MySound feature

And that’s just with the stock settings. The Jabra Sound+ app really enhances the sound quality with a number of tweaks. First off, there’s the MySound setting. This is a sound test that runs through a series of tones to gauge your hearing and create a personalized profile just for your magnificent ears. It’s easy to do, takes about two minutes, and has a meaningful impact on your listening experience.

On top of that, you can also set a custom EQ curve. The stock is flat (of course), but you can adjust it to your liking according to what you’re listening to. There are some presets available, but it’s also fully customizable. I did the first part of my testing on the Neutral setting, then later moved to the Energize setting, which is my preference. It cuts out a lot of the midrange (I don’t like the midrange, sorry), which just works for me. Either way they sound amazing, so the EQ setting is just about refinement—you could never touch it and be perfectly happy with how these sound.

And then, after all this amazing sound quality, it just keeps getting better. There’s the ANC. First of all, it’s the best ANC that I’ve personally heard in a set of earbuds.

Jabra gave the 75t an unexpected boost with the ANC update, which works shockingly well. That gave me big hopes for the 85t’s ANC capabilities. I wasn’t disappointed. Because the 85t uses an “open ear” design to prevent the clogged ear feeling (similar to the AirPods Pro’s open ear design), the ANC is not only excellent, but very natural. And in direct comparison to the AirPods Pro, the 85t seems to block out more ambient noise, too. It’s fantastic.

The Jabra Elite 85t case open with the earbuds inside
Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

But ANC isn’t the only thing that benefits from the open ear design of the 85t—there’s also HearThrough, Jabra’s version of transparency mode. Now, to be clear, this isn’t a new feature on the 85t. It’s just better than before. Basically, it opens the ‘buds up so you can hear the outside world in a more natural way that its predecessors. It’s almost as good as AirPods Pro transparency mode at this point, and after a few minutes it’s almost indiscernible. It’s very, very good.

And then there’s SideTone, which is basically like HearThrough, but when you’re on calls. But it’s a weird sort of feature, because the audio profile totally changes when a call comes in. Like, the entire experience is different. Where HearThrough is very natural, SideTone is jarring in comparison. It’s more of the unnatural “pump sound from the microphone into the ear” thing that used to be common with early transparency features. I wish that SideTone was just as seamless as Transparency Mode on the AirPods Pro.

This is one thing that bothers me about not just the 85t, but all recent Jabra headphones with HearThrough capability. Alas, I’d rather have this version of SideTone than no SideTone at all, so it’s better than nothing. And once you get used to it, it’s not so bad. Call quality is still quite good overall.

Conclusion: The New Benchmark

The Jabra Elite 85t case closed on a white desk
Cameron Summerson / Review Geek

For the last 12+ months, the AirPods Pro have been the headphones that I used to benchmark all others. Today, that changes. The AirPods Pro will remain in rotation because they’re so good, but the Jabra 85t are my new benchmark earbuds. The excellent sound quality, comfortable fit, new open ear design, incredible ANC, and improved HearThrough make these the best earbuds I’ve ever had the pleasure of testing.

If Jabra can make SideTone sound just a little bit more natural, they’ll be absolutely perfect and without compromise.

Rating: 9.5/10
Price: $230

Here’s What We Like

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Good, comfortable fit
  • Incredible ANC
  • Great battery life and wireless charging

And What We Don't

  • SideTone could sound a little more natural

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is Review Geek's former Editor in Cheif and first started writing for LifeSavvy Media in 2016. Cam's been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. In 2021, Cam stepped away from Review Geek to join Esper as a managing Editor. Read Full Bio »