Playing better

Jabra Elite 85t

Jabra Elite 85t case Render

Trying harder

AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro render

With the Elite 85t, Jabra has finally put together a pair of true wireless earbuds that feel like they may be a total package. Features that were previously missing are now staples in these earbuds, and with solid performance throughout, they make a strong claim to be among the best true wireless earbuds.

$200 at Amazon

Pros

  • Solid ANC performance
  • Great sound quality
  • Improved call quality
  • Comfortable fit
  • Responsive controls
  • Wireless charging case

Cons

  • Larger frame
  • Proprietary ear tips
  • Larger and heavier case

Apple has a harder go of it, particularly with battery life, on the AirPods Pro, but these are far and away the best earbuds the company has made to date. When taking them for what they are, they can turn out to be steady performers with an impressive feature set — but only if you have an Apple device.

$180 at Amazon

Pros

  • Longer battery life with charging case
  • Solid sound quality
  • Great ANC performance
  • Spatial virtual surround sound option
  • Excellent phone call quality

Cons

  • Proprietary ear tips
  • Low battery life with ANC on
  • Can't customize on non-Apple devices
  • Lightning for wired charging

This is really the matchup that has been going on since Jabra and Apple first came to market with their respective best true wireless earbuds. Jabra has routinely proven to be better than Apple's AirPods and AirPods 2, but what about the AirPods Pro? The Elite 85t finally bring in the features that weren't available in prior models, and the result is a pair of earbuds that put the AirPods on the defensive again.

Jabra Elite 85t vs. AirPods Pro: Here we go again

Jabra Elite 85t Lifestyle FemaleSource: Paul Broadrick

When Jabra launched the Elite 75t, it had addressed issues related to design and fit that quickly made them among the most comfortable around. Comfort was always something the AirPods Pro held as a top priority, and it's a comparison that figures all the more prominently here because the Elite 85t went big again. To cram in more of the features Jabra wanted, it had to go bigger, leading to greater scrutiny over just how well they might fit.

Jabra Elite 85t AirPods Pro
Durability IPX4 IPX4
Bud battery life 7 hours 5 hours
Charging case battery life 24 hours 24 hours
Wireless charging case Yes Yes
Charging connector USB-C Lightning
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Digital assistant support Google Assistant, Siri Siri
Supported audio codecs SBC, AAC SBC, AAC
Speaker size 12mm drivers 6mm drivers
Active noise cancellation Yes Yes
Transparency/ambient sound mode Yes Yes

The specs tell a story of two competitors who are pretty even, although the reality in your ears will tell a different story. Jabra's return to a larger size is one of those things. Another is the disparity in audio quality caused by the very things thrown into the Elite 85t. Jabra already held an edge in audio quality over Apple, but the latter could always lay claim to having other unique benefits, like active noise cancelation (ANC) and more seamless integration with iOS devices.

However, Jabra has been addressing its weaknesses while the AirPods Pro have only made marginal changes. The AirPods Pro sound better than their regular predecessors, but it's not a massive gorge between them. Jabra, on the other hand, has crept up to match or surpass Apple in the areas that were previously lacking.

Jabra equipped the Elite 85t with larger 12mm drivers that don't have to work as hard to produce the same volume of sound. It also made ANC adaptable through a manually-controlled slider on the Sound+ app, making the feature more flexible in different scenarios. Apple's ANC is excellent, though it doesn't work at variable levels. As to whether ANC is generally better from one to the other, Jabra makes a really strong case that it's among the best in the business. Even better than the AirPods Pro, in fact, because of the available ANC range.

The AirPods Pro, however, hold an edge in fit, which has its own impact in ANC performance. Passive noise isolation is integral to making sure the feature works to the best of its ability, and the AirPods Pro focus on getting a great, snug fit to lock in noise. However, Jabra made the Elite 85t less of a snug fit than the preceding Elite 75t. That's not to say you can't get a good seal with Jabra's latest earbuds, given that passive isolation is excellent. It's just that Apple's can accommodate a greater variance of ears. And that's still true after Jabra's firmware update that added the MyFit feature, which plays a short audio clip in the Sound+ app to look for sound leakage. It suggests adjustment shifts or different ear tips to get the right seal.

Jabra has been addressing its weaknesses while the AirPods Pro have only made marginal changes.

The problem Apple has yet to solve is delivering more acceptable battery life. For the price, it's not a lot to ask, but at 4.5 hours max with ANC on, the AirPods Pro almost always lose in that race. With higher volumes, that 4.5 hours whittles down to four, or even 3.5. By the time you reach your second year using these earbuds, the battery starts to show its age.

Jabra's Elite 85t aren't miles ahead at up to 5.5 hours with ANC on, but you also won't have to crank up the volume as much because of the drivers. Moreover, you can get up to 90 minutes more when you turn the feature off. With the AirPods Pro, it's only an extra 30 minutes.

Jabra also finally brought wireless charging to the Elite 85t case after teasing it as an upgrade for the Elite 75t. That now puts the company's flagship earbuds in the same power category as others. You will get at least three extra charges from it, whereas Apple's can get you as many as four. Plug in the Elite 85t for 15 minutes and the fast charge gets you an hour of playback, so long as the case has a minimum of 30% battery itself. With the AirPods Pro, a five-minute charge is enough to play audio for an hour.

Jabra Elite 85t vs. AirPods Pro: Dueling earbuds to the finish

AirPods Pro on a Daniel BaderSource: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Jabra did at least do something productive with the extra size it brought to the Elite 85t. ANC support required a chip with extra mics, the 12mm drivers are naturally larger, and battery levels had to stay relatively stable. It's just unfortunate to go back to something bigger when the Elite 75t were so nimble and comfortable. The Elite 85t and AirPods Pro share the same design treatment in that they each use proprietary ear tips. That makes replacing them with third-party options a little more difficult for Jabra, but not for Apple. Look around and you will easily find foam tips for the AirPods Pro.

Since both can do passive isolation and ANC so well, the disparity between them is more evident by the actual sound signature they produce. Jabra holds an advantage out of the box in that they already sound better. Utilize the Sound+ EQ and the gap only grows further. Apple offers EQ settings for the AirPods Pro — but only for Apple Music. For any other streaming service, you would have to do it through each one independently.

The Elite 85t and AirPods Pro share the same design treatment in that they each use proprietary ear tips.

Jabra walks a fine line with its earbuds, much like it has with previous iterations. You get some thumpy bass to go with balanced mids and highs, which is the kind of sound meant to please most people's ears. Apple has always taken a similar approach, preferring to not skew too far one way or another. The Pro earbuds are punchier and fuller than the AirPods 2, which are pedestrian at the best of times.

However, Jabra leaves considerably more room to maneuver when it comes to pulling something extra out of the sound. The Sound+ EQ may not be the most intricate, but it's easy to understand, and you can always use one of the presets as a starting point to make your own custom choice. It's that kind of support that makes the Elite 85t more dynamic than the AirPods Pro.

Each of them are great for phone calls, though the AirPods Pro do benefit from the stem that reduces the distance to one's voice. Jabra's HearThrough and Apple's Transparency modes both do great jobs of piping in ambient noise. Voice assistants are also pretty easy to drum up, though the AirPods Pro are super easy to use since you can just say, "Hey Siri" without touching anything. And then, certain features, like Siri, aren't available to Android users to begin with.

Color options aren't much of a comparison. The AirPods Pro only come in white. The Elite 85t come in titanium black, and starting in Jan. 2021, in gold beige, copper black, black, and gray.

Jabra Elite 85t vs. AirPods Pro: Which pair should you choose?

Yet again, Jabra gets the best of Apple, courtesy of the excellent package inside the Elite 85t. They sound great, bring superb ANC to the table, and offer the right kind of flexibility at the right times. Battery life is decent, and the fit and comfort, which are a step back from the Elite 75t, aren't going to be deal-breakers for most. But the AirPods Pro hold their own for some of the same reasons, even if battery life and Android access leave something to be desired.

Both are among the best true wireless earbuds, though the Elite 85t are bigger contenders for the top spot than Apple's pair. The price difference between them is also not as big when you take into account how much more you get from Jabra for the money. The AirPods Pro are partially priced on branding alone, though it is fair to assume that it may trickle downward as time goes on before Apple releases a replacement.

Jabra has already launched its replacement, and the Elite 85t are a solid step forward.

Busting out

Jabra Elite 85t case Render

Jabra Elite 85t

Coming in hot

The Elite 85t are Jabra's way of adding features that were otherwise missing, and they get the performance just right in many respects.

Getting comfy

AirPods Pro render

AirPods Pro

Excellent all-around buds

The AirPods Pro are in a different class from the other AirPods models, and it shows with a major boost in sound quality and great ANC.

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