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I'll Just Say It: Jabra's New ANC Earbuds Are Better Than AirPods Pro

Illustration for article titled Ill Just Say It: Jabras New ANC Earbuds Are Better Than AirPods Pro
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Jabra’s Elite lineup of Bluetooth earbuds have been a favorite of mine for years. But as the competition has become more intense and earbuds are packing in more features for less, Jabra was missing one big thing: active noise cancellation. The $230 Elite 85t with ANC is here, and after using these earbuds for a few weeks, the noise cancellation and battery life are seriously impressive. So impressive I’d say I like these more than the rest.

There are other very good Bluetooth ‘buds with ANC too! Apple’s $250 AirPods Pro and Bose’s $280 QuietComfort are both solid options. But, look, both the AirPods and the QuietComfort look real weird in the ear. The Elite 85t are less obtrusive and also cost less. There are some drawbacks, which I’ll get to later. But for the money, these might just be the best all-around ANC earbuds you can buy.

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The Elite 85t have 12mm drivers, upgraded from the 6mm speakers in the Elite 75t, and six microphones—two mics on each side for improved phone call quality, and one on each ‘bud for ANC. (More on phone calls in a minute.)

The active noise cancellation is very, very good. I took a walk outside while a gardener was mowing a lawn, and while I could still faintly hear the lawnmower, it didn’t detract from the podcast I was listening to. Transparency mode, which you can activate by pressing the left earbud or by toggling it on in Jabra’s Sound+ app, is completely natural. I used it when running outside in LA to avoid being mowed down by cars and to dodge pedestrians, and it sounded like I was running with nothing in my ears at all. I turned off Transparency Mode on windy days to avoid blowing out my eardrums, but otherwise I loved it.

You can adjust the ANC levels in the Sound+ app, if you prefer not to have it on full blast. Jabra’s app is one of the best I’ve used for Bluetooth earbuds, because it offers so much granular control over your audio. You can take a hearing test to let Jabra customize an EQ setting for you, or you can choose a preset if you prefer a little more bass, for instance. I’ve always preferred Jabra earbuds’ audio quality to AirPods, and the same holds true for the latest generation.

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The new Jabras have bigger drivers and more microphones for better audio quality.
The new Jabras have bigger drivers and more microphones for better audio quality.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

The biggest issue when it comes to the Elite 85t’s ANC is the fact that Jabra also just rolled out a firmware update for last year’s Elite 75t and Elite Active 75t that introduces a digital version of ANC. I installed the update on my Elite Active 75t, and while the ANC quality is not at the level of the 85t (because it’s not technically ANC), it still does a much better job of blocking out noise than it did prior to the update. My one complaint is that the version of ANC you get in the older earbuds has a much more artificial-sounding Transparency Mode that I found annoying.

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When it comes to phone calls, I still prefer the regular, non-Pro AirPods from Apple over any other set of Bluetooth earbuds. I think their more open fit allows me to hear myself better. The Jabras also didn’t do a great job of filtering out ambient noise when I was walking through a park on a call with my mom. At multiple points, she had to ask me to repeat myself, despite the fact that I couldn’t really hear whatever background noise she was hearing.

The fit of the Elite 85t isn’t perfect, either. The earbuds have been redesigned from last year’s Elite 75t with a semi-open shape and oval ear gels. They also protrude out 2mm more than the Elite 75t. The difference was noticeable. The Elite 75t creates a perfect seal in my ear—no other Bluetooth earbud fits as well as they do. The 85t don’t fit the same, and despite swapping in new ear gels to customize the feel, I still found myself fiddling with the earbuds to wedge them further in my ear as I ran. I do the same with the AirPods Pro, which also don’t quite fit right for me. Earbud fit is incredibly personal, so you might not experience this, but I wish the Elite 85t had retained the same seal as the 75t.

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You can see the shape of the Elite 85t (left) and the Elite Active 75t (right) are very different.
You can see the shape of the Elite 85t (left) and the Elite Active 75t (right) are very different.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

If you’re still deciding between the AirPods Pro and the Elite 85t, there are a couple of other notable features. The first is the Elite 85t’s ability to stay paired to multiple devices simultaneously. The AirPods Pro can connect to multiple Apple devices, but the Jabras can connect to any Bluetooth device. I currently have them paired to my iPhone and my Peloton, so I can stick them in my ears and start a bike ride and then pick up my phone and resume listening to a podcast, all without having to dive into any settings or do anything other than simply put the earbuds in my ears. This almost works too well—at one point I put the Jabras in to listen to something on my phone not realizing that my husband was using the Peloton, and his class audio immediately began playing in my ears. (I thought it was hilarious; he was none too pleased.)

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Then there’s battery life, which is excellent. I’ve been using the Elite 85t for three weeks now, with daily workouts, a handful of lengthy phone calls, and listening to podcasts on long walks, and the case is now down to 50%. Jabra promises up to 5.5 hours of battery life in the ‘buds themselves, and up to 25 hours with ANC always on (and 31 hours without) when stored in the charging case between uses. The AirPods Pro advertise 4.5 hours of on-earbud battery life and up to 24 hours when charged in the case. The Elite 85t’s charging case can’t be juiced up wirelessly, but it does support USB-C—and honestly, you won’t be charging it up that much anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

With the charging case, I’m now coasting on three weeks without charging up the Elite 85t.
With the charging case, I’m now coasting on three weeks without charging up the Elite 85t.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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Aside from fit, the biggest drawback for me is the fact that the Elite 85t are not technically sweat-resistant. With an IPX4 rating, they can withstand splashes of water, but soaking them in sweat day in and day out is probably not a good idea. The AirPods Pro also have an IPX4 rating, so the same applies. But Jabra usually follows up its base-model Elite earbuds each year with an Active model a few months later. The Elite Active 75t has all the same great features as the Elite 75t, but are rated IP57—basically, they’re waterproof. I expect Jabra to do the same this year, so if you need a pair of sport earbuds, you might want to wait for the Elite Active 85t to drop.

If you don’t mind the lack of a perfect seal, the Elite 85t are my all-around favorite pair of Bluetooth earbuds with ANC. The combination of Bose-level active noise canceling, great audio, and extremely customizable audio profiles via the Jabra app put these buds in a class just above the rest.

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README

  • They’re cheaper than AirPods Pro and way more customizable.
  • Adjustable ANC is a nice touch, and Transparency Mode sounds incredibly natural.
  • Pressing an earbud to toggle between ANC and Transparency is much easier than squeezing an earbud stem (lookin’ at you, AirPods).
  • I wish the fit were a little more sealed, like last year’s Elite 75t, but these earbuds are still comfortable to wear.
  • Excellent battery life.
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Consumer tech editor, Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

Kerberos824
Kerberos824

Does ANC even matter for in-ear buds? I’ve never used a set where the ANC was worth anything...