Jabra Elite 85t vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Which should you buy?

Jabra Elite 85t Galaxy Buds Live Cases
Jabra Elite 85t Galaxy Buds Live Cases (Image credit: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

Jabra Elite 85t

Jabra Elite 85t case Render

Jabra didn't necessarily reinvent its super popular true wireless earbuds, but it did take the Elite 85t to another level by including features people came to expect for an "elite" pair of headphones. The sum of all their parts make these earbuds easy to like, and worthy of being in the conversation among the best true wireless earbuds.

Jabra Elite 85t

Covering more ground

Solid hybrid ANC performance
Great sound quality
Improved call quality
Comfortable fit
Responsive controls
Wireless charging case
Larger frame
More proprietary ear tips
Larger and heavier case

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live Mystic Bronze

Samsung did conceptually reinvent its true wireless earbuds, and the new approach is radical by comparison in that it cuts off the actual bud. The design stands out for obvious reasons because of it, and makes a case that earbuds can fit better this way. They come ready to play with a set of impressive features, but there's room for more.

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live

Leaving things open

Good audio quality
Long-lasting battery life
Extremely useful companion app
Supports Qi wireless charging
Active noise cancelation
Touch controls can be finicky
Certain features exclusive to Samsung phones
Design can be polarizing

You could certainly find a more striking difference between two pairs of true wireless earbuds, but this is still an interesting contrast. Jabra has been consistently good at making earbuds that continue to improve every year, and the Elite 85t stick to that cadence. Samsung initially stumbled, but has since learned from its mistakes and come out looking better for it with the Galaxy Buds Live. However, was the change enough to stand up against one of the best?

Jabra Elite 85t vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Same notes, different pages

Jabra Elite 85t Galaxy Buds Live

Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

Below, you'll find that a lot of the specs seem similar, but when digging deeper, there are nuances about their respective specs that tell different stories in practice. For example, Jabra's seven-hour battery life is less on paper, but when both have ANC on, they are pretty much neck-and-neck — except for one major physical constraint.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Jabra Elite 85tSamsung Galaxy Buds Live
Bud battery life7 hours8 hours
Charging case battery life24 hours29 hours
Wireless charging caseYesYes
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
Digital assistant supportGoogle Assistant, SiriBixby, Google Assistant, Siri
Supported audio codecsSBC, AACSBC, AAC
Speaker size12mm drivers12mm drivers
Active noise cancellationYesYes

For those who've followed Jabra, or listened with anything in the Elite lineup, it may have come as a surprise that the Elite 85t are actually larger than the previous Elite 75t. This was likely to fit the larger speaker drivers in, but that just puts them on par with the Galaxy Buds LIve.

That means it comes down to fit and how that fit affects sound quality. The Elite 85t, when you find the right fit, hold an advantage in that you can get better passive noise isolation with a tight seal. That's important for maximizing the ANC effect. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Buds Live's open drivers don't have ear tips to keep sound from leaking out. This means the onboard ANC is fighting more uphill to cancel out background noise. It's the fact there is no actual bud that compelled Samsung to go with 12mm drivers, simply because they need to produce louder and clearer sound without the benefit of passive isolation.

The Elite 85t, when you find the right fit, hold an advantage in that you can get better passive noise isolation with a tight seal.

This has implications on battery life at a macro level. In a quieter room or location, you may get close to Samsung's rated numbers, provided you stick to the default volume. But otherwise, it's safe to say you won't quite get there in most cases.

Jabra's ANC is also adjustable, letting you slide up or down on the Sound+ app in case you don't need the full canceling effect. When you do go lower, you reduce the impact on the battery, which is always great, but you should expect no more than 5.5 hours when ANC is on.

Both have wireless charging cases, which is great, though Samsung's holds almost three extra charges, whereas Jabra's holds at least three. With fast charging, you can plug in for 15 minutes to get an hour's worth of playback on the Elite 85t, but there's a catch; the charging case has to have a minimum of 30% battery. With the Galaxy Buds Live, a 10-minute charge is enough to get 90 minutes of playback.

Jabra Elite 85t vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Taking a sound check

Jabra Elite 85t Galaxy Buds Live Closer

Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ted Kritsonis / Android Central)

Time to dig into some more nuance. Both earbuds have the same size drivers, so we'll need to go a little deeper to compare sound quality. The Elite 85t have 12mm drivers and aren't constrained by physical roadblocks when it comes to sealing sound in toward the ear canal. Despite being bigger than the Elite 75t, which were a revelation for Jabra as far as size was concerned, the Elite 85t shouldn't feel terribly cumbersome. The drivers and ear tips are oval-shaped, and that makes it harder to use third-party tips, including foam ones, that might have been good alternatives.

Jabra also tried to do something about the fit by addressing it through a firmware update. The MyFit feature in the Sound+ app plays a short audio clip to gauge how much sound leaks out, suggesting either an adjusted fit or a different ear tip to tighten the seal.

The key to all this is preserving the low frequency response. As with any pair of true wireless earbuds, a tighter seal generally gets you better bass. The Sound+ app has presets, like Bass Boost, to help the cause, and you can always create your own to save for use anytime. Unfortunately, Samsung hasn't done the same with its Wearable app. You get decent presets, but no manual EQ.

You will get good sound you can count on, and the ANC is okay, but you won't block out as much as the Elite 85t can.

Jabra equipped the Elite 85t with an excellent sound signature out of the box. It's full, clear, and balanced, albeit with a slight turn toward the bass. The Galaxy Buds Live sound impressively good for what they are, especially considering the lack of a tight seal thanks to its unique (and divisive) bean-shaped design. They're incredibly comfortable and certainly hold an edge — not just against Jabra but against others in the category as a whole. There's no need for ambient mode because it's already there by the sheer openness of the design. The ANC, however, isn't as effective for the simple fact it has more background to deal with.

This is the essential trade-off you have to accept when going with Samsung' earbuds. You will get good sound you can count on, and the ANC is OK, but you won't block out as much as the Elite 85t can. Not to mention there's the wiggle room afforded by the Sound+ EQ. Samsung's design choice comes with that caveat out of the box. If you can't get great passive isolation, it's hard to get incredible ANC.

It's also worth noting that the Elite 85t use buttons rather than touch surfaces for onboard controls. That's already an advantage unto itself, and even more so when taking into account how shaky the controls are on the Galaxy Buds Live. It also matters when talking about voice assistants and phone calls.

Color options vary between these two, and it's safe to say the Galaxy Buds Live are the flashier of the two. The Elite 85t come in titanium black, and starting in Jan. 2021, gold beige, copper black, black, and gray. The Galaxy Buds Live come in mystic black, mystic white, mystic bronze, aura blue and mystic red.

Jabra Elite 85t vs. Samsung Galaxy Buds Live: Which pair should you choose?

It's hard not to like the package the Elite 85t deliver. The sound quality is excellent, the ANC effective, and the app support superb. Battery life and the form factor are still respectable, so there aren't too many faultlines to contend with there. The Galaxy Buds Live are also among the best true wireless earbuds because you would be hard-pressed to find a pair more comfortable.

Even from a fashionable point of view, the Buds Live hold that down, especially with the bronze and red variants that will stand out almost anywhere, especially with its unique bean shape. Jabra started out with a more muted titanium black, and the flashiest its group will get is gold beige. If looks truly do matter to you, it's something to keep in mind.

You do pay more for what Jabra is selling, but the value is there in spite of that. The Buds live have been creeping down a little in price, making them a better value proposition, but you do get what you pay for every time you wear the Elite 85t.

Ted Kritsonis
Contributor, Audio Reviewer

Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.