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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JLab's true wireless earbuds offer 70 hours of total listening time

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JLab Audio

JLab Audio might have a simple solution to competing with wireless earbud heavyweights like Apple and Samsung: offer ridiculously long battery life. It just introduced truly wireless Epic Air Sport earbuds whose centerpiece is a claimed 70 hours of total battery life, with 10 in the earbuds themselves and another 60 available through the charging case. If it lives up to the lofty estimates, you could easily blast tunes for a week before having to plug the case in. And did we mention that you can charge your phone with the case?

As you might have guessed by looking at the design, the Epic Air Sport is designed for the sort of active person who’d otherwise consider the Powerbeats Pro and other workout-friendly buds. They’re IP66-rated to withstand your sweat, and their over-ear hooks should keep them in place while you’re lifting weights at the gym. You can also expect on-the-spot EQ adjustment as well as a “Be Aware” feature that pipes in outside sound to keep you in touch with your surroundings.

The buds are slated to ship in mid-July for $149. Although that doesn’t make them the most inexpensive buds in this category, that battery life figure might just tip the balance if you tend to listen all day or just don’t like hunting for power sources.

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Sennheiser debuts its first wireless gaming headset, the GSP 670

During Computex last week, Sennheiser gave media a sneak peek at its first wireless gaming headset, the GSP 670, slated to ship starting at the beginning of next month.

The GSP 670 retails for €349 (about $393), significantly pricier then other popular wireless gaming headsets (as well as its wired predecessor, the Sennheiser GSP 600, priced at $249.95). Sennheiser is hoping its features, as well as the company’s reputation for excellent sound quality and comfortable headsets, will convince gamers to take the plunge. (When I tried on a pair at Computex, it delivered on wearability, connection speeds and audio quality, but of course it is hard to tell how headsets will feel and sound after hours of gaming, versus a few minutes of testing).

Despite the freedom afforded by wireless, many gamers stick with wired headsets to avoid reductions in sound quality and connection speeds or having to worry about battery levels, issues that Sennheiser addresses with the GSP 670’s features. Like other wireless headsets, the GSP 670 needs to be connected to a wireless dongle. Each one comes with a GSA 70 compact USB dongle with proprietary technology that Sennheiser developed to ensure a low-latency connection it promises transmits sounds with “near-zero delay.” The USB is compatible with PCs and the Sony Playstation 4. The GSP 670 also has Bluetooth, so users can pair it with their smartphones and tablets as well.

The GSP 670’s microphone is noise-cancelling and can be muted by raising the boom arm. The headset has two volume wheels to allow users to control chat audio and game audio separately. Gamers can also adjust the audio on the GSP 670 with Sennheiser’s Gaming Suite for Windows, a software tool that lets users switch between audio presets or customize sound levels, and also includes surround sound modes and an equalizer.

In terms of battery, Sennheiser claims the GSP 670’s quick-charging battery can run for two hours after a seven minute charge. When fully charged, it says the battery can last for up to 20 hours on Bluetooth and 16 hours when connected via the GSA 70 dongle. The headset has automatic shutdown to save power.

The GSP 670 is currently available for pre-order on Sennheiser’s website and will ship beginning on July 1.

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Spotify Stations is the Pandora alternative we need

Spotify is testing a lot of things right now. In the last month alone, the company has revealed its long-rumored in-car device, curated podcast playlists and a standalone Stations app. Heck, those last two were announced in the same week. “We’re always testing new products and features to create better listening experiences for our users,” a Spotify spokesperson told me multiple times this week, and the company’s busy spring certainly supports that. Unfortunately, most users will never get to participate, except in the case of Spotify’s experimental Stations app.

After a test in Australia on both Android and iOS, Spotify made its Pandora-esque Stations app available in the US this week. The premise is simple: Lightweight software that breaks out Spotify’s radio feature into a standalone app for easy access. Basically, it allows you quickly fire up a music shuffle with minimal taps, instead of having to hunt through the full version to get to it. Until you use it, Stations sounds like if could be just more clutter on your phone, but I promise you it’s surprisingly useful.

Inside the main Spotify app, Stations is one of eight options on the main menu. If you’re not familiar, Stations is what the company calls its artist- and genre-focused radio channels. I’ll be the first to admit I forget it exists until I finish an album and a mix based on that artist kicks in. It’s just not a feature I think about much, mostly because of how I typically listen to music. However, when you just want a mix of one artist’s tunes, or exploring a genre based on one or more artists, Stations is your ticket. And yes, it’s exactly like Pandora. Or at least, it’s exactly like what Pandora used to be before it transformed into a full-on streaming service.

When you fire up Stations for the first time, all you have to do is link your Spotify account and you’re in business. You need a Spotify log-in, but you don’t need a paid subscription. If you do pay up, you won’t hear any ads, just like the full version. The app already gives you a few channels based on artists and genres you listen to often from the start. For me specifically, it was Favorites, “Fresh Indie,” (a genre station) and two artist stations for Com Truise and Steve Hauschildt. You can also add the popular Discover Weekly mix as a station. It isn’t a playlist you can skip around like the main app, but it is the same collection of songs that Spotify has picked for you during a given week. It was nice to already have all of those mixes ready for me so I could start listening immediately. Ditto that they are specifically catered to my tastes. Personalization is something Spotify prides itself on, so this isn’t a huge surprise.

You can add more stations as you see fit. A button in the top left corner brings up a menu where you can add more channels based on an artist (or artists, if you’re feeling fancy) or a genre-specific mix. If you opt for either of the artist routes, you can tell the app to only play that performer or to include similar acts in the mix. For genres, stations get more specific. For example, Hip-Hop has options for “New Rap,” “Old School Hip-Hop” and “Lo-Fi Beats,” just to name a few. The app lists the kinds of artists you can expect to hear on a station and it lets you preview before you commit to adding to your lineup.

All of your stations reside on the main screen of the app in clean, bold typography, and the list itself serves as the main navigation. When you scroll through the list, the station changes, which makes browsing a bit of a headache. However, when go back to a station you previously played, the music picks up right where you left off.

Spotify Stations

Nothing is permanent when you create a station. If you need to edit, just tap on the station name. From there, you can update the name of the station itself or add/remove artists. You can also change whether or not you want similar artists to be part of the rotation.

Below the stations list is the player. And much like Pandora’s radio option, the controls are very simple. You only have play/pause and skip to the next song — no skipping backwards. If you’re a free user, you won’t be able to skip tracks at all. Pandora also limits functionality on stations based on your plan. The handy thumbs up and thumbs down buttons are here as well, so you can let Spotify know when you are/aren’t happy with a song it selected. Again, that’s another standard feature of Pandora.

Billy Steele/Engadget

Thankfully, you aren’t just limited to listening on your phone either. A device icon in the top right will pull up nearby options for Spotify Connect. Weirdly, only my Sonos speakers show up there. The three Google Cast devices and speakers I have at home do not, even though they’re accessible in the main Spotify app. It’s not a deal breaker for me since Sonos is my usual go-to, just an interesting quirk I noticed. Speaking of the main app, whatever you’re listening to in Stations will show up on the player there if you switch. If you’ve had Spotify playing on your phone and opened the app on your desktop, for example, you’re likely familiar with how this works. It could be handy if you want to make a playlist for later or hear something you might want to revisit. You won’t have to remember an artist or song name when you’re trying to save things.

Despite Spotify telling me “some of those tests end up paving the way for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning,” it’s easy to make the case Stations should be a permanent fixture. It complements the fully loaded app well, but provides stripped-down access to a handy feature. The radio/mix option is great when you don’t know exactly what you want to listen to (even if I don’t do it often), so making it easier to use and quicker to navigate makes a lot of sense. I just hope Spotify does something similar for podcasts.

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Still recovering from an awkward band phase as a guitarist who dreamt of world tours, Billy now covers the audio beat, spanning everything from headphones to streaming. He lives in the great state of North Carolina where a good biscuit is the only thing that matters. He’s also a Cheez-It expert and a graphic designer on nights and weekends.







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iTunes isn't dead

I’ll admit it. I had an emotional response to the idea that iTunes, the app that shaped my digital music habit, could be on the way out. With every iPod I owned, iTunes was the lifeline, the sole method for adding to and organizing the precious collection. The only problem was, somewhere along the way, iTunes became the catch-all for everything Apple sold. It wasn’t just for music, or even audio content — apps, movies and TV shows crept into the app as well. And in the end, Apple had a chaotic mess that was confusing and poorly organized.

Even Apple knew it. The intro to the iTunes portion of today’s keynote was a tongue-in-cheek bit about adding Calendar, Mail and Safari inside the desktop app. “One thing we hear over and over: Can iTunes do even more?” quipped vice president of software Craig Federighi.


The current version of iTunes (Nathan Ingraham/Engadget)

Once all kidding was put aside though, Apple announced its solution: iTunes will be split up into three apps in macOS Catalina for Music, Podcasts and TV. Sure, this makes a lot of sense on the surface, but it doesn’t really address the main problem of iTunes. In fact, I’d argue more apps might not be better. You will know exactly where everything is immediately — no more dealing with that godawful drop down menu that plagues the current version. However, this will mean firing up another app when you want to switch content libraries. It’s not really better, just in a different place.

Thankfully, you won’t have to use a different app to sync things to your phone or tablet. Apple already lets you download your music, movies and more directly to your device via the cloud. Of course, if you really want to use a cable, you can. But in that case, you will have to open up each app individually, according to Apple’s macOS Catalina announcement.

Please, Apple: just give us something that feels like a player, and less like a file management system.

Basically, instead of a nearly organized and slimmed-down iTunes, Apple is giving us separate apps, each with a single focus. I think I could accept this if they were each redesigned. The TV app is, mostly because the company is gearing up to launch its streaming service, Apple TV+. But it resembles its tvOS counterpart. Music and Podcasts, however, look pretty much identical to iTunes. Sure, they’re focused on their specific niche, but the overall look is the same.

Please, Apple: just give us something that feels like a player, and less like a file management system. When you compare the design to Spotify, Pandora or PocketCasts (on desktop), the gap is glaring. iTunes looks dated compared to other services, and that spills over into other desktop interfaces. Apple Music looks like the iTunes store, and less like a streaming service. And it seems like that will continue, at least for the immediate future.


How iPhone management will appear in Finder (Chris Velazco/Engadget)

I’m fully aware this situation could’ve been a lot worse. Apple could’ve gone the News route, and lazily ported over an iOS app to the desktop. And that would’ve likely meant losing some key functionality along the way. So at the end of the day, what we’re left with is neither better nor worse than what we had before really — just different. And only ever so slightly.

We’re getting separate audio apps, but each is so similar to iTunes, you won’t know the difference. Except when you have to click a separate icon in the dock to access music or podcasts, or use Finder to sync and monitor the rest of the stuff on your iPhone. Which, let’s be honest, that’s were those device management features should’ve been all along.

Nobody is arguing that iTunes isn’t a jumbled mess, but it didn’t need to be broken up. It just needed some love and attention (and maybe a major redesign). So don’t believe the headlines: iTunes isn’t dead, it’s multiplying.

Catch up on all the latest news from WWDC 2019 here!

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