Jabra Elite 85h review: Noise cancellation to rival Bose and Sony

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Jabra shocked the world (ok, maybe just me) in 2018 when it debuted the Elite 65t true wireless earbuds. Those headphones quickly shot to the top of a lot of “best of” lists, including a couple of Engadget Buyers Guides. The Elite 65t have dependable controls, solid audio and cost less than much of the competition. For 2019, Jabra is tackling over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones with the Elite 85h. However, no matter how good they are, they’re not as good of a deal at $300.

Gallery: Jabra Elite 85h headphones review | 17 Photos

The world of noise-cancelling headphones was dominated by Bose for years. It had the best noise-cancelling technology, even if most of us weren’t enamored with the company’s design choices. Then Sony introduced the 1000X line in 2016, a set of headphones that rivaled the Bose QuietComfort 35 (now QC35 II) in terms of blocking out sound, but also delivered high quality audio. Other companies have caught up to Bose too, and the field is increasingly crowded with legitimate contenders.

Like Sony, Jabra definitely offers a better design on the Elite 85h than the Bose QC35 II. Jabra’s latest headphones don’t look cheap, even though there was plenty of plastic used to make them. The headband and the outside of the earcups are fabric, which is a nice tactile change from many flagship models. It’s a canvas-like material that matches the color of the Elite 85h. But it does have one downside: If you leave them out of the case, dust and other debris sticks to it noticeably more than the typical plastic or leather. Those can be easily wiped off, and that’s not the case on the Elite 85h.

Jabra Elite 85h

Underneath the headband is soft, cushiony leather-like material which contributes to stellar comfort. And the portion of the headband that retracts when you adjust it is painted to look like metal. Again, this looks much better than colored plastic, even if it isn’t the real thing. The inside of the earcups are also wrapped in leatherette, and cushion your head without being too soft you feel the plastic behind them. In other words, they’re comfy, but still provide adequate support. At 10.4 ounces, the Elite 85h is 2.1 ounces heavier than the QC35 II and 1.5 ounces heavier than Sony’s 1000XM3.

Like many over-ear headphones, the earcups on the Jabra Elite 85h rotate flat and fold in for easy storage. That folding motion is also how you turn them on and off, which was super confusing to start. I spent a few minutes looking for a power switch to turn the headphones off. They automatically came on when I unpacked them and spun the earcups into the proper listening position, so getting started wasn’t a problem. Yes, I could’ve read the directions first, but what’s the fun in that.

Most of the controls are on the outside of the right earcup. Here, you’ll find three buttons, one in the center for play/pause and receiving calls with one above and one below for volume and skipping tracks. A single press on the two secondary buttons adjusts the volume while a long press skips tracks. A long press on the center button will put the headphones in pairing mode, and if they’re already unfolded, it will turn them on. You need that in the event you let the Elite 85h go into sleep mode. There are two more buttons on the rim of each earcup, in the same spot on each side.

On the right, that button activates your virtual assistant with a single press or mutes the microphone during calls with a long press. The 3.5mm jack and USB-C port are located beside this button . On the left earcup, a single press switches between ANC on (active noise cancellation), ANC off and hear-through/transparency modes. With a long press, you can select what Jabra calls Moments inside its Sound+ companion app.

Basically, Moments are EQ and noise cancellation presets that you can enable based on your environment. You can have different settings for your commute, in public and in private. There’s also a fourth option called “My Moment” that you can adjust how you see fit. And instead of remembering what those were, you can save them for easy access on the headphones themselves, without having to fire up the app to change modes. The headphones themselves can analyze noise to try and detect which location you’re in before switching to the appropriate Moment — a feature called SmartSound. This tool worked for me for the most part, though a few times it selected public instead of commute. It was much better at gauging when I was in a quiet or “private” setting. Like many features on the Elite 85h, you can turn SmartSound off if you don’t want to use it.

Inside the Sound+ app, you can quickly change the ANC mode and adjust the EQ sliders or choose one of six EQ presets. The software will also show you what all the on-board controls do, allow you to change your voice assistant preference, help you find your headphones if you lose them and more. The Elite 85h offers on ear detection, a feature that senses whether or not you’re wearing the headphones. When active, you can automatically answer calls or resume audio simply by putting them on. It’s handy, but Jabra gives you the choice to turn it off completely inside the app.

Unlike some headphones, the EQ tools make a noticeable difference in the tuning. The default sound profile is fine, but you can definitely improve it with the EQ sliders and presets. Or at least, you can tweak it to fit your taste. After testing all the premade options, I found manually adjusting the curve was best for me: more bass, a little more mid and a touch more treble. With that change, hip-hop, electronic music and metal had the thump it needs without overpowering everything else. I found the sweet spot for things like Com Truise’s Persuasion System, Denzel Curry’s ZUU and Gojira’s Magma. All of which are best served loud and bassy.

Jabra Elite 85h

The Elite 85h also handles softer genres like bluegrass well, with a nice clarity and depth to the instrumentation that keeps things from sounding compressed and muddy. With Punch Brothers’ All Ashore album and anything with an upright bass, the low end can get boomy if you aren’t careful, and I had to adjust the EQ so that it wasn’t too overpowering. The default setting is nice for this genre, but the more aggressive styles I mentioned tended to feel flat. It’s nice that you can make these changes with the help of an app, but at the same time, you also shouldn’t have to. On truly great headphones, the default tuning would handle all genres well.

Jabra promises a whopping 36 hours of battery life with ANC on, six hours more than Sony’s 1000XM3 and 16 hours more than Bose’s QC35 II. Turn off noise cancellation and the company says you can expect up to 41 hours between charges. Basically, if you can limit yourself to 7 hours a day (lol), you can listen to these all week (five days) before you’ll need to charge them. To me, that’s ridiculous, and during my tests, I found out just how outrageous it was. Starting with a full charge, I used the Elite 85h for around 2-3 hours a day for seven days — with a weekend-long break thrown in. At that point, I still had 85 percent left, according to the Sound+ app. Needless to say, you won’t be reaching for that USB-C cable very often. And like many headphones nowadays, the Elite 85h has a quick-charge feature that will give you five hours of use in 15 minutes if you completely run them down.



As I’ve already mentioned, the two closest competitors to the Elite 85h are the Bose QC35 II and the Sony 1000XM3. They’re all the same price at $300 (Bose was $350 at launch), and the noise cancellation will adequately block out any ambient noise with all three. The deciding factor is overall audio quality, and Sony has the edge there. The 1000XM3 will be a year old in a few months, and Sony could reveal a new model at IFA in early September. The company also has XB900N on the way that looks very similar to the 1000XM3, but with the promise of more bass. Sony has already said the noise cancellation is different on this XB model, so if blocking out the world is your goal, you might want to wait and see if those are still up to par when they go on sale later this month. I really like the sound profile on the Master & Dynamic MW65, but at $499, it’s hard to justify the extra expense, even with its stunning design.

Jabra impressed us last year with a mix of quality and value on the Elite 65t. Those true wireless earbuds were every bit as good as competitors that cost over $100 more. With the Elite 85h, the company has built another solid set of headphones with amazing battery life and capable ANC. But, the sound quality isn’t as good at the Sony 1000XM3. And, other than keeping you away from a charging cable for insane lengths of time, these headphones don’t really impress. The trademark SmartSound feature works well for the most part, but I’m not convinced of its necessary. If these were even $50 less than Bose and Sony’s current flagships, Jabra would have earned my praise yet again. However, at $300, there’s not enough here to justify recommending them over the QC35 II or 1000XM3 unless you really need the absurd battery life.

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Master & Dynamic MW65 review: Almost the perfect headphones

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Master & Dynamic has been making some of the world’s best-looking headphones since 2014. The company uses premium materials like leather and anodized aluminum for its high-end products, while the competition settles for cheaper plastic even on flagship models. Despite a lineup that boasts on-ear, over-ear, in-ear, wired, wireless and true-wireless options, M&D still hadn’t entered a key category: active noise-cancellation. With the $499 MW65 introduced earlier this month, the company is making a belated debut, all while maintaining its premium style — and premium price.

Gallery: Master & Dynamic MW65 review | 18 Photos

The first thing that always strikes me when unboxing a piece of Master & Dynamic gear is the product design. As someone with a design background (and who tests a lot of headphones), it’s nice to unwrap audio accessories that aren’t made from plastic and that don’t feel cheaper than they should. The MW65 continues M&D’s heritage of leather and metal that began on the original MH40. Not only do those materials return, but trademark aesthetic details like the metal grilles on the outside of the earcups and other textured surfaces exhibit keen attention to detail.

The MW65 closely resembles its predecessors, the wired MH40, the over-ear MW60 and the convertible MW50+. In fact, the headband is identical to the one on the MW50+, and the panels on the earcups are flat like the MW40 instead of the MW60’s slightly rounded look. Unfortunately, the earpads aren’t magnetic like other M&D headphones. You can remove them, but swapping them out is more cumbersome than before. As was the case on previous models, the onboard controls sit on a ring outside the right earcup. They aren’t on the edge of the earcup itself, but rather on a circular section that sits on top of it. This is also the section where a hinge connects the earcups to the headband.

Master & Dynamic MW65 review

A lot of headphone companies are replacing physical buttons with touch controls, especially on their high-end or flagship wireless models. This is fine when they work well, but based on my experience, touch controls can be frustrating. And when you want to do something simple like adjust the volume or skip tracks, the last thing you need is a struggle. Master & Dynamic kept the physical controls it used on previous models, where a group of three buttons do all the heavy lifting. Volume buttons are on the outside, while the center button handles play/pause with a single click. A double click on that center control skips tracks forward; a triple click skips backward; and a long press activates Google Assistant or another virtual assistant. Although the MW65 is designed for Google Assistant, you can use it with Alexa, Siri and others. Long-press on the volume up button to receive Google Assistant notifications; you can always long-press on the volume-down button to disable it altogether.

M&D has made switching from Google Assistant to another option very easy. Simply holding down both the ANC button and that center play/pause control for five seconds enables a hands-free mode that allows you to use your device’s native assistant. When you want to switch back, repeat the same sequence.

The one difference from those previous models is that the MW65 has a dedicated button for noise cancellation. With a control on the left earcup, you can switch between high (planes, noisy streets), low (quieter or windy environments) or turn it off entirely. There’s also a battery-level indicator on the left side, nestled up against the power and Bluetooth-pairing toggle. It flashes red, orange or green depending on how much juice you have left. A separate light tells you the pairing status (pairing mode vs. paired), so you aren’t left guessing there, either.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Master & Dynamic took a while to release its first headphones with active noise cancellation. The technology can be tricky: You’re trying to block out environmental noise without affecting the overall audio quality inside the headphones. Companies like Bose and Sony take a scorched-earth approach to this, doing whatever it takes to kill all (or very close to all) external sound. Sure, they mostly succeed at that, but the Bose QC35 II and Sony 1000X series also aren’t the best-sounding wireless headphones out there. M&D took a more even-handed approach to ANC, and the overall audio quality on the MW65 is better for it.

The company said “vigorous research” helped it created ANC technology that wouldn’t compromise its “signature acoustics.” The wait was worth it. Master & Dynamic succeeded in keeping its warm- and natural-sounding audio profile, a tuning setting that handles most genres well. Some of the earlier M&D headphones lacked bass and could’ve used more volume, but that’s not the case with the MW65. Electronic tunes like Com Truise’s Persuasion System, hip-hop tracks from Wu-Tang’s Of Mics and Men and the blitzing metal of Oh, Sleeper demand a solid dose of low-end tone. The MW65 accommodates them all without being overpowering. Instruments remain crisp and clear, and there’s a depth to the sound that doesn’t feel overly compressed inside the cans.

Master & Dynamic MW65 review

The audio does change noticeably between noise-canceling modes, especially when you turn off ANC entirely. The best sound is with noise-cancellation on high — that’s when the headphones give the audio the most depth. The low setting is serviceable, but you’ll notice a big difference between high ANC and turning it off. None of this is a bad thing, per se; it’s just something you’ll want to be aware of. Even when set to high, the ANC doesn’t “block out the world,” like my colleague Andrew Tarantola described Sony’s original 1000X. However, since the audio is so much better on the MW65, you probably won’t mind, unless you frequent superloud spots.

It’s impressive that M&D used premium materials and added noise cancellation all while making the MW65 its lightest headphones yet. They weigh in at 245 grams (8.64 ounces). That’s almost 10 grams lighter than the Sony 1000XM3 (254.86 grams/8.99 ounces). Trust me, the difference is noticeable, especially after you’ve been wearing either set for an hour-plus.

The MW65 felt comfy even during my longest listening sessions, which often last up to three hours. The lambskin-wrapped earpads are soft, but they offer the appropriate amount of stability so you can feel the ring of the earcup beneath. The headband isn’t too tight but provides a secure fit without pinching your head.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Master & Dynamic promises up to 24 hours of battery life, significantly less than Sony offers with its 1000XM3. The MW65 does have a quick-charge feature that gives you 12 hours of playback in 15 minutes. I found that I had to plug in these headphones about every third day, after steady use during working hours. I did employ that quick-charge feature more than once, which got me through the end of the day until I could plug the MW65 in overnight. Yes, the MW65 can manage is at least six hours less than some of the competition, but I doubt you’ll need that extra time.

At $499, the MW65 costs $150 more than the list price for both the Bose QC35 II and Sony 1000XM3. Those two models still top my list of the best wireless headphones even though they’ve been out for a while. What’s more, you can typically find them on sale for even less, so you really have to like M&D’s refined design in order to justify the higher price. A lot of the features are similar too, including easy access to a virtual assistant. If your goal is to silence the world around you, the noise cancellation on Sony’s 1000XM3 outperforms the MW65, and I also prefer it to the QC35 II.

After all that, this is another great product from Master & Dynamic where price is my main gripe. Yes, the MW65 looks great, and yes, it sounds really good. Sure, the materials used here are much better than basic plastic. And even though the noise cancellation doesn’t kill all noise, it does its job well without sacrificing great audio in the process. The MW65 are nearly the perfect headphones. It’s a shame most people won’t pay what it costs to find out.

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Master & Dynamic's MW65 are its first noise-cancelling headphones

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Master & Dynamic

Last year, Master & Dynamic filled a gap in its headphone lineup with the MW07 true wireless earbuds, but the company was still missing one key feature: noise cancellation. That changes today as M&D has announced the MW65, a set of over-ear wireless headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC). The company’s attention to detail is on display once more, with its trademark aesthetic that mixes leather and metal. The additions of ANC and a dedicated Google Assistant button do come at a cost, pushing the price tag on the MW65 to $499.

The MW65 carries much of the same design and style from its predecessor, the MW60. There’s still a leather-wrapped headband, lambskin earpads and metal construction that give many of M&D’s headphones their premium look. Like many of the company’s other models, the MW65 will come in brown leather with silver metal and black leather with gunmetal color options at launch. M&D typically adds more colors later on, so if you prefer the red or navy leathers available on the MW60, those might arrive in the future.

Master & Dynamic MW65

Master & Dynamic tapped Bluetooth 4.2 for the wireless connectivity on the MW65, and promises up to 65 feet of range with the paired device. In terms of battery life, the company says you can expect up to 24 hours of listening time on a charge. What’s more, a quick-charge feature will get you back to 50 percent in 15 minutes. A battery-level indicator will show green when the battery is full, orange at medium level and red when you’re running low. All of these figures I’ll test during our full review.

Like many headphones these days, the MW65 has a dedicated button for your go-to voice assistant. The MW65 is optimized for Google Assistant, but based on my time using the headphones, the on-board controls work just as well for Siri. There’s also a dedicated button for ANC that allows you to toggle between three options: High (airplanes and noisy areas), Low (wind or quieter spots) and Off. And as you might expect, there are on-board controls for adjusting volume, skipping tracks, play/pause and answering calls.

At $499, the MW65 is a lot pricier than the popular noise-cancelling options from Sony and Bose. Both the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are $350, and you can often find them on sale even cheaper. The MW65 is only $50 more than the MW60 — a reasonable increase given the addition of ANC and the other features.

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