Sometimes a bit of tech comes along that you’re curious about, very excited for and you also have some apprehension about the delivery of and the Jabra Elite 85H fits perfectly in that box for me. On paper there’s a really good collaboration between the current emergence and progress of Noise cancelling technology and AI, while still catering for some of the old school technologies around.

It’s a consistent comment in many of our hardware posts to see the headphone jack being in or out of a device. Well the Elite 85H has a plug to attach a cable to your phone, tablet or laptop which is particularly useful when travelling. These headphones still rock the latest in Bluetooth connectivity though to make sure that they’re capable as we move into the foreseeable future.

Creating a point of difference to many of the slightly cheaper options on the market, the Jabra Elite 85H has the capability to work with all of the major smart assistants: Alexa, Siri and of course Google Assistant. I don’t have an iDevice that I can test Siri with, I have minimal access to Alexa but found the interactions as reliable as the Echo Dot and Assistant has been consistent with my experiences on phone, smart speakers and Android Auto. Jabra has delivered the experience consistently and very well on headphones that otherwise may just sit in the mid-pack without the array of smart help options.

After a couple of weeks giving these a good workout, I’ve found myself gravitating towards them for a number of reasons daily. There’s a lot to like about them with a few little points of frustration in there as well.

What are they good at?

One of the most impressive things I’ve enjoyed with these is the huge level of comfort which I enjoyed for extended listening sessions. They’re lightweight, well padded in the right areas and give enough adjustment for me to be super happy with the comfort, but also for my 6 year old to think they’re the “Best Headphones EVER!!!”

From a design element perspective, one of the things I really liked is the “weather proof” concept from Jabra. In a similar move to several phone manufacturers we’ve seen of late, Jabra has labelled their headphones as weatherproof, citing:

Nano-coating of the internal components, combined with a 2-year warranty against water and dust means you can be confident your headphones are ready for whatever your day throws at them.

So they’re not IP rated (that costs significant money to achieve) but they are guaranteed against normal wear and tear even in dusty or wet conditions. Don’t go swimming in them, but you should be pretty right for anything else you choose to do daily with these.

I’ve been really happy with the battery life that I’ve been getting from the headphones also. On paper there’s around 36 hours of listening with ANC on, 40+ without and my experience to date has pretty much matched those numbers. Perhaps this another case of under-promising and over-delivering from Jabra as I usually see a touch more than that in terms of battery which makes for a good user experience. I usually charge devices like this over the weekend and use them throughout the week, I’m yet to need to charge them during the week to make it through. Better still is the fact that they charge through USB C so I’ve got cables everywhere, so a quick 15 minute charge will get me an extra 5 hours of playback – more than enough for a day if need be.

What are they less good at?

The noise cancelling is good, but not brilliant. In a really noisy environment you’ll still get a significant amount of the background noise through. So as a starting point, if you’re buying for travel which includes a lot of flights, then perhaps you should consider spending a bit extra and getting the Sony WH-1000X M3 which have amazing noise cancelling capabilities or even the slightly older and cheaper Bose QC35-II because the noise cancelling is better, but the battery life and general functions aren’t quite as advanced.

It’s important to note on this, that the noise cancelling on the Jabra Elite 85H isn’t bad, just that the more expensive Sony and Bose options have delivered it better at this time.

Design and Features

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to like about the Jabra Elite 85H and a couple of little quirks that may put some users off. More than anything though, there are adjustments to make in the way you think about the use of your headphones than something that’s going to be a deal breaker.

In the box you’ll find everything you need to make the headphones work for you. A really solid, nice looking (if somewhat bulky) case for them in which you’ll find the headphones, a 3.5mm cable and a USB C charging cable that you can use with your computer or any other USB type A charger in your home.

A few of the design and engineering decisions here made me particularly happy as a user. I mentioned earlier the padding and given the huge level of comfort this provides it is well worth a secondary mention. I’ve used these for hours at a time with zero discomfort, including fairly lengthy sessions at the gym and found that they are stable on my head while maintaining that comfort.

The button layout is similar to other headphones I’ve used in the past with playback control on the right ear, volume up and down with play/pause in the middle. An interesting quirk of these headphones is the fact there’s no power button. To turn them on, you just remove them from the case and twist the earpieces from flat to side on and ready to wear. This quirkiness extends to the fact that there is no need to use play/pause button, this is handled by sensors when you take the headphones on and off your ears – playback pauses automatically.

The rear of the left ear cup has the button which filters through the options for noise cancelling. They’re pretty simple options, ANC (Active Noise Cancelling), Hear through which keeps your music playing but brings through the sounds around you (remarkably useful in commute to hear traffic and people around you) and off which is the natural noise suppression you’ll get from the ear cups but nothing active.

The rear of the right ear cup has the button to mute your mic during phone calls and to trigger the assistant of choice for you. Clearly for me, that’s Google Assistant and it’s only a small thing to not have to take your phone out to do things – but boy was it useful. I loved the convenience of being able to push the button and complete any task I’d normally do through assistant on my phone, tablet or Google Home devices. For me, the placement of the button is clever – it’s a very easy to access button but not easy to accidentally activate.

One final feature that definitely is worth a mention is the ability to connect to two separate devices at the same time. For me this was either my laptop and phone or tablet and phone. This meant that there wasn’t that (albeit mild) inconvenience of constantly switching between the two sound source devices and if a phone call comes in – you can just answer it on the headset.

Sound Quality

Generally speaking I was very happy with the sound response from the Jabra Elite 85H, but there’s a couple of little points that needs to be explored further if you’re buying headphones looking for big sound.

SmartSound is a very clever use of the built in microphone array to analyse your environment and alter the “moment” accordingly. I like this function, a lot! If you choose to have it turned on – the software is constantly analysing the sounds around you and adjusting the settings to suit the need. The options are: My moment, Commute, In Public and Private. Each of these can be setup to suit your preferences with differing EQ setups and noise cancelling settings.

This is hugely useful as earlier mentioned for users who commute, allowing them to automatically suppress the noise (ANC enabled) of buses or trains while seated and travelling but once on foot again and in crowded areas automatically enable hear through as mentioned earlier.

Out of the box they sounded really good, but not mind-blowingly good. Through the SmartSound app you can tune the sound to your liking with a simple equaliser in the app or some of the predefined settings available.

For my listening habits, I found the “energise” pre-set was pretty close to how I like sound so a couple of tiny tweaks and I was pretty happy with the sound. I say pretty happy because (and this is me being SUPER picky) while the mid range sound was genuinely excellent as was the higher range of sound. The clarity of sound made it sound really crisp and “bright”. If you listen to an eclectic selection of music, these two sound capabilities are an absolute must.

Combine that with a solid bass and you’ve got an excellent sound range and for the most part, Jabra has delivered that. That being said, the only issue I had with the sound was with some bass response frequencies being a bit flat. I’ve had a few people listen and I had to point out what I was referring to for them to notice and even then it wasn’t a dominant feature of the sound to them. It was very much the punch bass or “doof doof” where the sound was a touch flat.

Should you buy a pair of these?

Jabra has nailed the essential elements of a headset like this. The sound is solid, the battery life is excellent, the noise cancelling good (but not brilliant) and they’re super comfy to wear for long periods of time. With that in mind, I feel like the Jabra Elite 85H represents the best value for a Noise Cancelling Headphones that I’ve seen in quite some time.

They’re a great sounding pair of over the ear headphones, that have a really good feature set and (for what they offer) are great value for money. You get a solid case that will protect your investment and the build quality of the headphones is top notch.

I’ve been genuinely impressed with the implementation of Google Assistant as well. The noise cancelling is solid, but not the best I’ve ever experienced. It’s going to be more than enough for the vast majority of users needs, but if you’re engaging air travel regularly you may want to check out a few options to ensure you’re getting what you need from the noise cancelling functions.

The RRP is $499 can make these a tough sell for some, but if you’ve got the budget available there is no doubt in my mind that the Jabra Elite 85H are a worthwhile investment that you’ll be happy with for years to come.

Disclosure Statement

Jabra has allowed Phil to retain the Jabra Elite 85H. Re-using headphones is kind of gross.