In Summary

Want a great pair of premium ANC headphones that not only deliver great sound but also fit smoothly into your work from home routine? We won’t recommend the ones from Sony, Bose or Sennheiser. Surprised? Don’t be. The Jabra Elite 85h could be just perfect for you. We tell you why in this article. For more such resources on audio and ANC, check out our ANC hub.

I am talking of the Jabra Elite 85h. Yep, the ones that were launched in mid-2019 in India.

Better than Bose, Sony and Sennheiser? Well…

Before anyone asks, I will say it out loud – when it comes to blending work and entertainment, I rate them above the Sony WH-1000 series, the Bose QC series, and the Sennheiser Momentum series. For those shocked by that statement, let me concede a point – all those headphones deliver better sound on an average than the Elite 85h. Indeed if the sound quality was the only requirement, I would perhaps pick the Bose QC 35 II as the top option. Similarly, when it comes to pure ANC, then the latest Sony WH 1000X4 seems to have the best of the lot. So the question arises: why the devil am I backing a year and a half old headset over this lot. Well, the answer is simple: because the Elite 85h strikes the perfect balance between a lot of factors. Its sound is not on the same extremely high level as that of the competition but is not too far behind. It is actually very very good in terms of clarity and instrument separation, although not as bass-heavy as some of Jabra’s other audio products. Similarly, its ANC is not the best of the lot but it is again very good, and more than able to close out a lot of external noise.

A call master and smart as well

Most of all, the Elite 85h delivers on a front that the others stumble on – call quality. We are not saying that the others have bad call quality. It is just that the 85h come with Jabra’s renowned microphone arrangement (eight microphones in all, six for call purposes) which results in some crystal clear calling, perhaps the best I have experienced on a Bluetooth headphone. And while a lot of us could ignore slightly below par call quality in the past, working from home has suddenly made it assume a whole new dimension.

Another area where the Elite 85h are significantly ahead of the curve are in terms of smart functions. They do not have a power button, for instance. You just twist the cups inwards and they switch off. Twist them back into normal “on-ear” shape and they switch on. No hunting around for buttons. And that is kind of convenient. Also convenient is the fact that lifting them off your ears pauses whatever is playing, so you do not have to hit a pause button. And yes, they start playing where they left off when you put them back on. Very AirPods like ear detection.

Them simple and effective controls

The volume, as well as the call receive and end buttons, are on the right earcup incidentally – right on the outside of the cup, so finding them is easy – the volume up button is the dot on top, the down one the one below and the pause/call receive and end is a bigger, slightly recessed dot right in the middle. There are actually just two other buttons on the headphones – one on the underside of the right for the virtual assistant, and one on the underside of the left cup for ANC.

In terms of controls, I found this to be one of the best I have used. There are no fiddly touch panels, and the buttons are located at very different places so there is no scrabbling around trying to find them. Best of all – the buttons you use the most (volume, track skip, pause, call receive, and end) are right out there outside the right earcup, easy to each. Connecting is easy over Bluetooth 5.0 and I have had no problems over a distance of 15-20 feet even with the odd wall between me and my devices – yes, I said devices, you can connect your mobile phone and PC at the same time to them and switch between them.

Let the headphones decide the ANC – they be good at it!

The handling of the ANC is very good too. The headphones come with a SmartSound functionality and a concept called Moments and the headphones – if you give them permission – simply change the ANC level to suit your surroundings, or even switch it off if not needed. You do not have to do anything – the headphones do it by themselves. And it actually works. There were times when I took a stroll downstairs near the road and I was informed in a “Commute” moment and the ANC was adjusted accordingly. There are eight microphones that monitor external sound, and well, they seem to do a decent job. It is a simple system and although you can override it using the ANC button, I have tended to trust it. Incidentally, there is transparency or hear through mode here – press the ANC button three times to get to it. Again, it is kind of handy to have when you have the earphones on your head but are not actually listening to anything and want to hear the sound around you, or maybe even speak to someone. There is a Sound+ app to let you know which Moments have been chosen and well it can even show you the location of your headphones – not much use if you lose your headphones inside the house, though, as the location tracking is not that precise, but at least it lets you know it was inside the house last!

Oh, and I forgot to mention…

They are dust and water-resistant. No, you cannot go swimming in them for God’s sake, but they will survive the odd spill of water. Jabra claims they are rain-resistant and I have worn them during the odd drizzle and well, they worked fine. They come with a 2-year warranty against water and dust. When you have a work desk cluttered with tea, coffee, water bottles, and ink, this kind of feature is…GOLD! And they do not look too bad either. They have well-padded cups with a nice fabric finish on the outside, a very comfortable (and again well-padded) headband, and a generally very strong and solid feel to them. The hinges connecting the band to the cups stick out a little which might annoy some, but we did not really mind, as the headphones fit comfortably on the head and do not “clamp” too tightly. So you can actually wear them for half a dozen hours if you wish without your ears sweating or head feeling heavy. They come with a good, hard case for storage and can fold up into a compact form factor too. You also have three colors – Navy (kinda okay), Gold Beige (oh blingy, blingy), and Titanium Black (just get!).

…and one more thing

The Elite 85h claim to deliver 36 hours of battery life with ANC on, and it is actually more if you do not go crazy with volume levels. I have consistently got through a week on a single charge. Incidentally, the headphones tell you battery levels the moment you put them on your ears (just “low,” “medium” and “good,” and we would have preferred percentages, but ever so handy!). There is a USB Type C port for charging and support for fast charging which gives you 5 hours of battery from 15 minutes of charging. And if you DO run out of battery, you can plug it into any 3.5 mm audio jack on a device and carry on – there is a cable in the box!

Still darned good value for money

The Jabra Elite 85h were launched in mid-2019 at Rs 28,999 and frankly had their task cut out against the likes of Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser. But even at that time, they had struck as being superb value for money for those who really wanted a great combination of work and sound. In 2019, however, the moment you got into the premium segment of headphones, sound quality took centrestage, and there as I said before, the competition had a clear edge.

And then 2020 happened. And so did COVID. Now with great audio on the demand list, comes great functionality. Stuff like calls, ease of use, great battery life, and smart functions designed for productivity have come to the music party! And that is where the Jabra Elite 85h win. They are well-designed, water and dust resistant, have fantastic battery life, and very very good sound, as well, as a truckload of smart and easy-to-use functions. Other headphones might beat them in the odd department but as a whole, these are the perfect audio armor for work from home warriors. They are currently officially priced at Rs 24,999 ($245) but keep your eyes open and you will see them dip frequently below Rs 20,000 on different e-commerce portals, and sometimes even as low as Rs 16,999 (on Croma).