Jabra 85h headphones: active noise cancellers tick the right boxes

Pair these with the Sound+ app and you can tailor sound to your surroundings

Jabra 85h headphones
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Price: €269
Where To Buy: www.harveynorman.ie

When it comes to noise cancelling headphones, there are plenty of options out there – and good ones too. Bose, Sony, even Microsoft are all getting in on the act, offering you comfortable over-ear headphones that will drown out the background noise and give you great sound at the same time.

Jabra is getting in on the act with the the 85h active noise cancelling headphones. These over-ear headphones tick all the right boxes: they're comfortable, they filter out a good bit of noise even before you flick on the noise cancelling and the sound is easily customised.

The headphones themselves are fairly standard. On one ear cup, you have controls that will cover volume, music selection, and making and taking calls, plus a button to control the voice assistant of your choice (assuming your choice is Siri or Alexa). The other has the sound button that will let you switch between active noise cancelling and the microphone pass through, so you can be more aware of your surroundings, and switching it all off.

One of the more interesting things about the 85h is the ability to customise the sound. Pair the headphones with the Jabra Sound+ app and you’ll get the option to tailor your sound to your surroundings – whether that is the commute, public spaces or private ones. For example, you can choose to switch the Active Noise cancelling on or off, or set the “hear through” level to one that suits you. Perhaps you prefer to listen to podcasts in the morning on the way to work – in which case you can set the sound to boost vocals – and bass-heavy music on the way home. You can set each of these to specific scenes, and access them all through the app at a single tap.


Then there is Smart Sound, which analyses the sound in your environment and tweaks the noise cancelling to cope.

Like other headphones of this type, when you take them off, the track or music you are listening to will pause automatically, so you can resume when your attention is back on your listening material. That’s something you can customise through the app for each of the sound modes, so you could have one for use in the office that automatically pauses, or one for home use that doesn’t.

Sometimes I like to wear headphones while I work purely to block out the background noise of the office. Jabra has this covered, with the Sound+ app offering some white – and pink – noise to mask the sounds around you. For example, you can have a ventilation fan drown out the office noise, or mimic the sound effects of diving while you are on the bus on the way to work. You can also bring in some soothing nature sounds, such as ocean waves or rain, or recreate the ambient noise in a cavern. There are options, and all of them are preferable to the tinny sound of other people’s music at 7.30am.

Instead you get to listen to your own music, tuned to your own preferences. And Jabra certainly doesn’t fall down on the sound quality. They may not be quite up to high-end headphones standard, but they handled everything from podcasts to pop and some classical music with ease.

If there is one thing to criticise, it’s the wisdom of some of the design choices. The headphone ear cups are covered in fabric, which looks lovely and is certainly more comfortable than plastic, but it is also a dirt magnet. That’s mainly because the colour – cream – is a disaster waiting to happen. They look lovely, but every time I wore them I had the same feeling as when I decide to wear white or cream clothing: I’m living on borrowed time and something is going to come along to spoil the pristine colour. Inevitably, they are now sporting a smudge of chocolate, so if you do go for these, buy the darker coloured ones.

The good

Comfortable to wear with great sound quality and decent battery life. At one point, I had 4 per cent left on the headphones; it lasted all the way into the office. Plus there are plenty of options for customisation, much more than in any other set of headphones I’ve had.

The not so good

The fabric can easily pick up dirt and marks. Plus the controls – press, double press, two long presses – can be a bit confusing.

The rest

Most of the smart features rely on the Sound+ app, so get that downloaded before you start using these headphones. Also, if the battery does give out mid-commute, there’s always the option of a cable.

The verdict

Jabra is competing in an increasingly crowded space here, but the 85h headphones hold up well.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist