Tushar BurmanDec 09, 2021 19:00:53 IST
Ever since Jabra started making inroads into the consumer market, from its traditional enterprise space, I’ve been curious. Professional equipment tends to be functional and needs to hold up to rigorous use and deliver performance. I expected the same from Jabra’s consumer products. My initial experience with its older Move Wireless Style edition over-ear headphones was excellent. Simple, functional, performant. But there were no bells and whistles, no ANC, no companion app. I’ve been using several newer Jabra devices over the past year, in and outside the ear.
Jabra Elite 85t: An ANC update to the 75t
I reviewed the 75t last year, and was cautiously optimistic about it and its future. It sounded decent to me, was convenient, the battery lasted well enough, and it had some bells and whistles. Then Jabra announced the 85t with ANC, and back-ported the feature to the 75t through software. Very, very cool, I thought.
The 85t appears to be a basic update to the 75t. The form and function remain the same, save for the included ANC at launch. Form remaining the same was somewhat disappointing to me, as the biggest complaint I had with the 75t was the shape. It just didn’t stay in my ear; particularly the left one. So much so that eventually, I dropped the left bud in the dishwater, killing it. Swapping ear tips did not help. The 85t remains the same, and rarely fits my ears properly. It’s still relatively large as an earbud, and I wouldn’t dare go for a run with them on.
Performance-wise, if there is a difference in the sound of the 75t and 85t, I am unable to hear it. The ‘house sound’ appears to be V-shaped, with decent, clean bass if you get a proper seal, and bright but not sibilant treble. The sound, to me, feels artificial, as if it is being heavily processed by a DSP. Still, not unpleasant, and I have spent many hours listening to music on the 85t (and 75t) without complaint. As long as I wasn’t moving around too much.
ANC works, but for whatever reason, feels far less aggressive than I’d like. The 85t supports ANC, in addition to ‘HearThrough mode’ for when you want to listen to the outside world, and an ‘off’ mode, which is passive. The 85t are not my go-to buds when I need some quiet. This too, is likely because of the poor seal I’ve experienced with my ears. The 85t includes two microphones on each bud for ANC to do its magic. Modes can be switched using the on-bud single button, or via the companion app.
The companion app, thankfully, appears to have been developed with reasonable UI/UX people on board. It looks nice, things are easy to find, firmware updates work well. You can also set your custom EQ here, if you so choose. Jabra has a “MySound” process to create a custom EQ for you, based on some listening tests. I went through the lengthy process, but didn’t find the results significantly different.
In terms of convenience, the Jabra Elite 85t scores high. As a flagship model should, it includes support for wireless charging. The case itself is small, rounded, but with a flat top and bottom. It makes it easy to place on a wireless charger for quick top-ups. Battery life is also reliably high, with a claimed seven hours for the buds, and 31 total hours with the case. A quick 15-minute charge gives you over an hour of (claimed) playback. In terms of battery life, these are convenient and practical.
The single button control scheme may feel underwhelming, but I am happy with the performance. The tactile button is tuned correctly, requiring just the right amount of pressure to activate. Switching modes with a long-press, and navigating music and calls with single and double-taps is easy.
Bluetooth performance, like with the 75t, is iffy. It feels like the software has just never been ready. The 75t would glitch out, disconnect, and occasionally run on just one bud. The same happens infrequently with the 85t. But once is enough, especially on an important call. Bluetooth range is par for the course, if a little bit below the cheaper competition. I have had clearer calls through more walls on far cheaper, Chinese buds.
In general, I would recommend the 85t TWS buds only on deep discount (they’re currently priced at Rs 17,999 on Amazon). Even then, the 75t offer everything the 85t do at a deep discounted price of Rs 7,999 on Amazon. I wish these were better.
Jabra Elite 3: A new entry-level with better ergonomics
The Elite 3 case appears identical to the 85t case, with a cheaper-feeling plastic. It’s not glossy, and feels lighter. It is, in fact, the same basic shape, but shorter, likely due to the smaller internal battery. Inside, thankfully, the buds have been redesigned. This time round, the fit is much better for me, and the buds themselves are lighter, and more secure. I might consider a brisk walk or jog with these in.
Being part of the new entry-level range of Elite buds, these don’t have as many features. There’s no ANC (though there is a HearThrough mode). They still do, however, connect to the Jabra Sound+ companion app and you can set EQ, update firmware and switch modes with it. Control scheme remains the single button on each bud, and works just as well as the flagship models. They are also IP55 water-resistant, so jogging in the rain is a possibility.
In terms of sound profile, I found these to be quite similar to the 85t, with the exception of not having ANC to modify the sound coming into your ears. The bass does appear to be significantly more emphasised with the Elite 3 as compared to the 85t. Whether this is an intentional tuning decision, or a result of the superior seal, I am not sure. In general, I think I prefer the sound of the Elite 3, despite the lack of ANC. I’ve been using them while typing this review with some ambient music for enhanced focus, and have been pleased.
In terms of music performance, I am satisfied with these buds, and would recommend them over the 75t and 85t. At Rs 5,999 on Amazon at the time of writing, they’re far better value. I do not miss the ANC feature. Bass, as I mentioned, feels a tad enhanced, but the treble is bright without being sibilant, and they’re just nice buds to have around for music, ambient or otherwise. The Elite 3 do not support the ‘MySound’ custom EQ feature, but do have some other useful pre-sets. I occasionally used the ‘Bass Boost’ profile, but only briefly. The more I listen to the Elite 3, the more I like them in the Jabra line-up.
In terms of Bluetooth performance, I remain dissatisfied. Even with Bluetooth 5.2, range is par for the course, and equivalent to the flagship models. Stability is not great. I’ve regularly had frustrating drops during calls, where the buds simply disconnect from my phone, and I’m talking to nobody in particular, until I go back to my phone and re-select the buds as the output device. One bud occasionally goes silent, and I have to do some juggling of the case and buds to get it back again. Good luck doing all this while on an important work call. The call quality, however, is good, and I have had no complaints from the other side of the call when it all does work well. I continue to try these as my daily-carry buds.
The Elite 3 skips frills like wireless charging, but gives you the same runtime of seven hours (claimed). The case goes down to 28 hours (claimed), which is still good. The tiny case, better fit and good sound make me pick these up more than the 85t when I need to get going. At Rs 5,999, I am more comfortable recommending these. But then, for a little bit more, you can get the hot-looking Nothing Ear (1) buds with ANC, so Jabra has its work cut out.
Jabra Elite 45h: Good sound, terrible fit
With my pleasant experience with the Move Style Edition behind me, the prospect of reviewing the Elite 45h on-ear headphones excited me. The Move Style Edition were functional and fit great. While there’s no ANC in the 45h, they are part of the ‘Elite’ range, and do connect with the Sound+ app, so I was expecting good things. I was, unfortunately, disappointed, and the 45h headphones lie in a dusty tray with miscellaneous neglected gadgets due to the lack of one thing: fit.
You see, while the materials feel more luxurious than my basic Move Style edition, the ergonomic choices made are baffling. The earcups have this lovely leatherette, which is soft like memory foam and sits lightly on the ears. Way too lightly. The earcups also swivel and articulate a generous amount on the ear, so they can sit on them no matter what your head looks like. But the clamping force is minimal, making the cups feel like they’re on your ears by sheer will power and prayer. The headband too has this nice leatherette, and has a wonderful matte touch to it. Which makes it incredibly slippery. Good luck keeping these on your head. Even turning your head moderately to answer someone will dislodge the 45h from your ears. Turn around quickly, and they will fly off to the ground. It’s ridiculous how badly these headphones fit. Adjusting them involves pulling the headband stalks out; they stay in place with friction. You need to do this when the headphones are off your head, which is another inconvenience.
Controls haven’t been messed with, and these use the same three-button control scheme as the predecessors. A middle button for play/pause and two buttons to skip tracks forward and back. Once your muscle-memory kicks in, these are easy to find on the right earcup, and you don’t need to fiddle with touch controls, which are iffy at best. There’s also a dedicated button to bring up the voice assistant of your choice. Build quality is also a step above the Move Style, and these will fold flat for travel.
Thankfully, the sound performance is better than I expected. These do sound nice, with a generous, somewhat emphasised bass response. With no seal, I imagine on-ear headphones do need to be tuned a bit bass-heavy. If you’re sitting comfortably in your favourite chair and listening to music, these are nice, light headphones to have. Being on-ear, they’re easier to deal with if you wear spectacles as well. You can run the stalks just above the earcups and be comfortable.
Bluetooth performance in terms of reliability, is similar to the TWS models. There are occasional glitches. The range is significantly better, however, likely due to the larger antenna area. I got slightly further away from my phone before the sound cut out, but within the house, the performance through walls is much better than the TWS models.
At Rs 6,299 on Amazon, the Elite 45h would be an easy recommendation for calls, music and travel, but the total lack of fit is a deal-breaker. If you’re going to sit still in one place, perhaps when typing or meditating, these are fine, but if you move like a human, these are a no-go.