Jabra Elite 85H – Nobody gets it right the first time. Except, apparently, Jabra

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We’re no strangers to Jabra at the Stuff offices, though we’re far more used to seeing sports headphones and wireless buds with brains to match their beauty. Jabra’s Elite 85H is a stranger find, the company’s first foray into active noise cancelling (ANC). To which we say, “Where the heck were you last year, Jabra?” And the answer is, developing these headphones. We can’t be mad – as first efforts go, these are a treat.

Heavy is the head

But they may not be for everybody and that’s got a lot to do with their size. The Elite 85H cans are a little chunky. Whether you’re comfortable with 300g or so of weight resting on your melon depends on you, but we’re pleased with the solid build quality. There’s a reassuring weight to the ear cups and generous padded headband, with solid hinges throughout. Which is handy, since you turn them off and on by twisting the right ear-cup.

Jabra’s headphones can do more than just the twist. They may be controlled by a twist of the cup but they can also fold away under the headband. Perfect for packing into the included hard travel-case, that. Or taunting someone just learning how to do yoga, but that’s mean.

There are a surprising number of physical controls on the Elite 85Hs. The right ear-cup hosts a pause/play and volume control, mostly hidden beneath the fabric that covers the sides. That’s an odd choice in itself, perhaps prone to collecting dirt and other matter. Maybe… don’t… smear custard on them? Just a thought. There’s a button on the left ear-cup that sets noise cancelling levels, from ‘off’ to ‘you now live in the vacuum of space — with Spotify’. The right cup also has a key for taking calls, should you be the sort to do that. You do you, man.

Dropped the bass

The outer design might be all quality — if a little boring, visually — but that…. actually, that carries over to the audio quality as well. Sound, the thing you’re really looking for in headphones, is solidly done and ticks all the right boxes. We’d be happier with a more bass-heavy sound – it’s here that competitor Sony’s WH-1000XM3s really shine – but detailed mids and highs make up for a slight deficiency on the thumpy side of the spectrum.

During testing, we were impressed with the audio across the board. The only place it faltered was with the bass and it’s hard to hate these cans for that. They do everything else so well that this slight deficiency is easy to overlook. These are Jabra’s first crack at active noise-cancelling over-ears. We’re more shocked that they’re as good as they are. If you’re really keen on your doef-doef, the Jabra Sound+ app will let you create custom audio profiles that will rattle your fillings somewhat.

But it’s the battery life that makes Jabra’s noise cancellers really shine. No matter how long your plane ride (you’ll definitely have to take them along), it’ll cancel all the things for all of it. Expect at least 30 hours of uptime, more than enough to get you from one side of the planet to the other. Best of all, the Jabra’s will leave you with notably more spending money leftover than the competition.

Noise, cancelled

So it’s got the looks, the skills, and the stamina. If these ‘phones had a Tinder profile, we’d swipe right already. But how do they cope with noise? That depends on you. There’s Jabra’s Digital Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) available, as well as a passive option. Users can select between Off, Hear-Through, or ANC options (that left physical button, remember?). ‘Off’ better be bloody obvious, ‘Hear-Through’ pipes in ambient noise using some of the eight microphones built into the headphones. The ANC option works hundreds, rendering a phone ringing right there as mute as a famous Vegas magician with a contradictory name. Make sure you have someone nearby who can tap you on the shoulder or you’re completely dead to the world.

Which makes these a prime candidate for travel. Any time you’re on a plane or in an airport, there’s always an inconvenient amount of humanity running around making noise. And a portion of it (the younger portion) doesn’t know how not to make noise. While your seat-mate’s teeth are slowly being ground to powder because the infant twins in 23C and D are yowling again, you’re blissfully unaware of anything except what’s streaming from your smartphone or notebook. People might hate you for enjoying your silent, amazingly pleasant cone of “silence” but you won’t know about that. Unless someone pokes you on your shoulder and makes you take the Elite 85Hs off.

Jabra Elite 85H Verdict

If you’re the sort who spends lots of time on airplanes or anywhere there is a lot of ambient noise, you’re probably keen on great noise cancelling. You can pick up a pair of these headphones for R4,600, which is at least a couple hundred rands less than the direct competition are offering their wares. The Elite 85H’s major competition comes by way of the excellent Sony WH-1000XM3 or the Bose QC35 II. Jabra’s headphones don’t hold all of the winning cards here, but they have enough to make the rest of the table very nervous indeed, especially when it comes to pricing. If this is Jabra’s noise-cancelling debut (and it is), we can’t wait for the sophomore effort.

Tech specs
Noise cancellation Digital Hybrid ANC, Passive
Frequency Response 10Hz-20kHz
Drivers 40mm
Connectivity 3.5mm, Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C
Battery life Up to 36 hours
Weight 296g

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We're no strangers to Jabra at the Stuff offices, though we're far more used to seeing sports headphones and wireless buds with brains to match their beauty. Jabra's Elite 85H is a stranger find, the company's first foray into active noise cancelling (ANC).

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