Monday, 19 August 2019

Jabra Elite 85h Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones: Almost the Best

Active Noise Cancelling headphones can be pretty amazing, or pretty terrible, depending on how well they actually cancel noise in real-world situations, so when Jabra sent over their Elite 85h Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth headphones (Rs. 28,999) over to us, I tested them the way I would test any pair of ANC Bluetooth headphones — while travelling. I’ve used these headphones for a considerable amount of time over the last two weeks, and I’m pretty impressed with them, so why did I put “Almost the Best” in the title? Well, read on to get a detailed look into the Jabra Elite 85h Headphones — their ups and downs, pros and cons, and more.
Jabra Elite 85h: Specifications

One of the best things about Jabra’s website is the fact that they give proper specifications for their headphones, as compared to a lot of other brands that simply mention “battery life” and “Bluetooth version”.
Dimensions    195 x 82 x 225 mm
Weight    296 grams
Bluetooth    Bluetooth 5.0
Ports and I/O    USB-C; 3.5mm AUX
Battery Life    Up to 41 hours (without ANC)
Up to 36 hours (with ANC)
Number of Microphones    8 (4 used for ANC)
Price    Rs. 28,999

Clearly, the Jabra Elite 85h bring a lot of impressive numbers on paper, but let’s take a look at how these translate into the real world.
Design and Build

If you buy these headphones, Jabra knows enough to send them packed with a carrying case, because with headphones this size (and at this price) you’ll want to keep them in a case when you’re not actively using them. Not that these headphones are flimsy or weak; if anything, the Elite 85h are pretty well built, and feel sturdy and premium to the touch — as they should.

The design is pretty straightforward, and Jabra has clearly not taken too much of a risk here, which is perfectly fine by me. These headphones look impressive and attractive, without looking overdone and flashy. The back of the earcups are covered with a mesh-fabric material, while the earcups themselves are made out of a leatherette material that’s soft to the touch, and really comfortable to use. There’s a blend of high quality plastic, ABS, PC and other materials that keep the weight low, while giving off a premium look and feel.

The Elite 85h also come with an interesting UX choice — folding the earcups to disconnect and opening them back up to connect. That’s very similar to what you’ll see in some magnetic Bluetooth earphones, such as the OnePlus Bullets Wireless earphones, and it’s really neat seeing this on a pair of headphones. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sold on this implementation, but I used it on my weekend trip to Nainital, all through the train and the cab journey, and I found myself loving the ease of use this brings. It’s incredibly quick to respond and very reliable in its functionality to make me want this functionality on all headphones.

Thanks to this functionality, along with an automatic power-off in 72-hours feature, Jabra did away with the power button on the Elite 85h — it’s simply not required. There are still a bunch of buttons here though, and we’ll talk about these in detail later, but one thing I really like on these headphones is the USB-C port for charging. I love USB-C, and thanks to this port, I just carried one charger on my trip for my laptop, my phone, my power bank, and my Bluetooth headphones. That’s incredible ease of use, and I love it.
Comfort and Fit

The Elite 85h are also amazing when it comes to the actual comfort while wearing them. True, at 296g they’re heavier than headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM3, but even so, Jabra’s offering doesn’t feel heavy on extended usage — and I should know, I used them continuously for over 7 hours on my train + cab journey to Nainital.

The earcups have a firm grip that puts just enough pressure to hold the headphones in place, without making it feel like the headband is pressing into the top of your head — something I’ve noticed happening with a lot of headphones. Along with that, the fact that the headband also has the same leatherette material used on the earcups helps with the headphones being comfortable when being used for a long period of time.
Audio Quality and Noise Cancellation

The Jabra Elite 85h come with impressive audio quality all around and while these are one of the best headphones I’ve used, they’re definitely not the best. Let me explain: the Elite 85h have impressive sound. They get quite loud if you push them, the sound doesn’t distort, and the bass is heavy enough to be thumpy, but not heavy enough to get overwhelming. Along with that, the treble is really well tuned — the elite 85h just offer a really nice blend of highs, lows, and mids.

    the Jabra Elite 85h are the second best sounding pair of headphones I’ve tried in this price range.

However, if you’re listening to bass heavy songs on these headphones and you turn the volume to max, the bass sometimes does distort. I could clearly hear the bass distorting in some EDM songs that pump the bass exceedingly hard. For some reason this was even more pronounced when ANC was turned on the headphones. Turning ANC off, or reducing the volume to around 80% almost completely gets rid of this problem.

Apart from that one thing that bugs me though, the Jabra Elite 85h are the second best sounding pair of headphones I’ve tried in this price range. The first are obviously Sony’s WH-1000XM3 ANC headphones that are just so blissfully good at everything it’s almost wrong of Sony to not give others a chance.
Noise Cancellation

Anyway, coming back to the Jabra Elite 85h — these headphones are a very close second to Sony’s offering, and the sound quality on the Elite 85h is really impressive. Speaking of impressive, let’s talk about the Noise Cancellation.

The Jabra Elite 85h come with Active Noise Cancellation, and there are different modes:

    Active Noise Cancellation On
    Active Noise Cancellation Off
    Hear-through

The effect of turning ANC on or off is pretty obvious, but Hear-through is a cool feature that I use at work a lot. With hear-through, the Jabra Elite 85h essentially mix your music with the ambient sound they take in from the microphones, so you can hear your surroundings while you listen to your music. This is most likely aimed at people listening to music while running or jogging, but it’s incredibly useful at work, because I can keep listening to music and still discuss things with my colleagues. One thing to notice here is that if you’re listening to music at anything higher than 60-70%, hear-through is basically useless since you won’t be able to hear anything.

Anyway, with Active Noise Cancellation On, the Jabra Elite 85h perform admirably, and if I compare them to the Sony WH-1000XM3, they’re very close. With ANC on, you can completely immerse yourself in the music, movie, or podcast you’re listening to — and I did this with all three of those while I was in the train. It’s pretty great, especially in trains and flights with little kids that keep creating a ruckus — I speak from experience.

That said, I did notice one odd thing with ANC on these headphones — if you’re travelling in a car with the windows rolled down, the ANC tries to compensate for the noise the wind creates, and sometimes the headphones just end up making a very loud and annoying static sound as a result. I found this out by accident, but it’s incredibly annoying and there’s no way to fix this unless you turn off ANC, or roll the window up. It’s an issue that’s very specific to a particular situation, but it’s annoying as hell. I’m not sure if the Sony WH-1000XM3 would also have this problem, but logic suggests that they might, considering how ANC works.
Connectivity

In terms of connectivity, the Jabra Elite 85h bring all the good stuff — there’s Bluetooth 5.0, which is something you wouldn’t get with Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones (those come with Bluetooth 4.2). However, the Elite 85h don’t come with aptX or aptX HD support, which is weird at this price range. In fact, Jabra isn’t even mentioned on the aptX website. Still, if you’re willing to ignore the absence of aptX on these headphones, the connectivity here is on point in every other way.

The headphones stay connected easily over 7-8 metres in a regular home-space which is pretty great, and there’s no signal drop or distortions. Also, you can connect two devices to the headphones at the same time, which can come in handy if you want to pair your phone and your laptop to your headphones at the same time to listen to music from your laptop and still be able to take calls from your phone straight on your headphones.

Connectivity wise, the Jabra Elite 85h are actually pretty great, and the only drawback I could find here is the missing aptX support, which, honestly, is something you would expect in high-end headphones like these.
Buttons and Ports

Moving on to the I/O on these headphones, the Jabra Elite 85h come with quite a lot of that. There are only two ports here — a USB-C port for charging, and an AUX-in port. The USB-C port is a personal favorite of mine, and I honestly can’t wait for even affordable headphones to come with USB-C — it’s faster, and just more convenient.

The AUX-in port, well, that’s a life saver if you ever run out of battery and want to listen to music. Simply connect the headphones in wired mode and keep listening. True, ANC won’t work, and neither will hear-through, but at least you can listen to music on these even if you manage to completely drain the battery (which is a task, believe me, but more on that in the battery section).

There are also a bunch of buttons here — there are the usual play/pause, and volume control buttons on the right earcup under the mesh-fabric material, that also serve the dual purpose of putting the headphones in pairing mode, and skipping tracks with long presses.

There’s also the Assistant button on here which you can use to activate the smart assistant on your phone, so you can send messages and stuff without having to take the headphones off.

Lastly, there’s this button without any markings on it — it basically switches between the various noise canceling settings:

    ANC on
    ANC off
    Hear-through

There are helpful voice prompts when you switch between these modes as well, just in case you’re unable to figure out what mode you’re in. These modes can also be switched between from the companion smartphone app: Jabra Sound+ that’s available for free on the Play Store and the App Store.
Jabra Sound+ App

The Jabra Sound+ app is your one stop solution for managing and customising the Elite 85h. This app is where you’ll find settings like choosing Moments for your headphones. Moments can be thought of as customisable sound profiles. There are four:

    Commute
    In Public
    In Private
    My Moment

with each of these Moments you can choose between ANC on/off or HearThrough mode, you can adjust the Music equalizer, and you can choose a Music preset.

For example, I’ve set Commute to have ANC on, In Public to HearThrough, and In Private to ANC off. This way, I don’t have to listen to random kids on my commute, but I can still listen to my coworkers when I’m at work, and when I’m alone, I can save battery by turning ANC off.

You can switch quickly between these Moments from the notification the app puts into your Notification Center, but to actually utilise these to their full extent, there’s a feature called ‘SmartSound.’

With SmartSound enabled, your headphones analyse the sound in your surroundings and automatically choose Moments based on that. So they will switch automatically from Commute to In Public when you reach work, and from In Public to In Private when I’m back home. It’s pretty impressive, even though it does take some time to analyse ambient sounds and change Moments.

Other than that, the Sound+ app brings the Discover tab which is where you will find tips, tricks, news, and even firmware updates for your headphones.
Battery

The Jabra Elite 85h come with a battery that’s rated to last up to 41 hours with Active Noise Cancellation off, and up to 36 hours with ANC on, and that claim is pretty accurate. From a full 100% charge, these headphones have been used for almost 16-17 hours so far with ANC turned on all the time, and they’re at 60%. Clearly, they’ll last around 34-35 hours. That’s pretty damn impressive.

Plus, thanks to USB-C charging, I don’t have to worry about carrying a separate cable for the headphones either because my phone, my laptop, and now these headphones, all can be charged from the same USB-C cable. Charging the battery also doesn’t take too long; the headphones charge in around 2 to 3 hours, and, while I didn’t test this particular thing out, Jabra claims that a 15 minute charge can get them up to 5 hours of listening time, which is also pretty impressive.
Pros and Cons

So, the Jabra Elite 85h are a pair of really impressive headphones, but they too have some drawbacks and flaws. So here’s a handy list of the good, and the bad about the Elite 85h:

Pros:

    Good sound quality
    Excellent battery life
    Bluetooth 5.0
    Premium and sturdy build
    USB-C

Cons:

    No aptX support
    Bass sometimes distorts at high volumes
    ANC is not at par with competitors like Sony’s WH-1000XM3

Jabra Elite 85h: Should You Buy These?

So the question at the end of all this is should you buy these headphones or not. After all, at Rs. 28,999 these are a big investment. Look, the Jabra Elite 85h bring great sound quality, an amazing battery life, good ANC, and a lot more to the table, but even though these are a great sounding pair of headphones that offer a high level of comfort, they don’t quite parallel the offering from Sony in the WH-1000XM3 (Rs. 28,999) which are quite simply the best headphones I’ve used in this price. They offer better sound quality, a more balanced bass and treble output, and better noise cancellation as well. If I were you, I would go with the Sony headphones over these.
If you’re in the market for a gaming monitor, you’ve probably come across a whole bunch of them at multiple price points. However, if you’re looking for a monitor that brings a ton of features, and comes in at a competitive price point, the BenQ Zowie XL2546 is probably one you would’ve seen. So, if you’re planning on buying this gaming monitor, and are doing your due diligence before making a purchase such as this, I mean, it’s priced at Rs. 37,690, we have you covered. Here is our review of the BenQ Zowie XL2546 gaming monitor.
Zowie XL2546: Specifications

Before we dive into the review, let’s get the specifications for this monitor out of the way.
Display Size    24.5-inches
Resolution    1920x1080 (Full HD)
Refresh Rate    240Hz
Response Time    1ms
Aspect Ratio    16:9
Brightness    320nits
Viewing Angles    170/160 degrees
Stand    90-degree pivot, 45-degree swivel, 140mm height adjustment, -5 to 20-degree tilt adjustment
Ports    1x HDMI 1.4
1x HDMI 2.0
1x DVI-DL
1x DisplayPort 1.2
1x Headphone Jack
1x Mic-in
Zowie XL2546: Design and Build

The Zowie XL2546 looks like most other expensive gaming monitors at first blush. It has a thick build to accommodate the plethora of ports, and things like the built-in headphone hanger, it doesn’t do a lot to hide its bulk, and it looks slightly intimidating, especially if you’re using it at work, like I am, and you’re surrounded by sleeker looking monitors.

That’s not bad though, because the Zowie XL2546 doesn’t try to make its way into fitting in at your workstation, even though, as I’ve found through my usage of this monitor over the past few weeks, it can fit in for all the work-related tasks you might need it to do. With this monitor, BenQ simply had gamers in mind, and that’s very obvious in a bunch of design aesthetics that the company went with.

One of those design aesthetics is the black and red color combination used throughout this monitor and its stand (which is included, by the way), but even so, BenQ doesn’t overdo it, and it looks nice, and adds not only a splash of color, but also some character to the set up. Then there’s the height marker running along the side of the stand. It goes all the way from 0 to 14cm, and comes with a small plastic marker so you can remember what height adjustment you prefer for gaming (and/or work). The stand also comes with tilt degrees marked on it, and the base has a set of markers to identify when the monitor is perfectly straight towards you.

What’s really good about the design here is that sheer number of configurations you can use this monitor in. It can be brought close to the desk, tilted up and down, swiveled around, and even rotated 90-degrees into a portrait orientation (that might come handy for streamers wanting to use a secondary display to show their Discord, Steam, or Twitch chat. Basically, the Zowie XL2546 is as versatile as it gets as far as configurability options are concerned, and I really like it.

There are relatively big bezels here though, which isn’t really something I personally like, but BenQ claims that it’s helpful to make gamers focus on the game without getting distracted by their surroundings — something that’s also done by the included shields that attach to the sides here. That said, these aren’t massive bezels, especially when put in perspective to the size of the display itself, and after an hour or so of using the monitor, you don’t really notice them anymore, unless you’re hunting for the buttons on the bottom right to adjust a setting on the display.

Moreover, the bezels certainly add more in the way of a sturdy construction, which is yet another thing that’s great about this display. It doesn’t feel weak or cheap; it’s made of high quality plastic and metal, and while it’s certainly a little on the heavier side, the included handle on top of the stand makes for easy portability should you need to move the monitor to a different location in your house, or, as was the case for me, in the office.

Zowie XL2546 Display and Picture Quality

This is a relatively difficult section to describe, because even though this monitor is aimed at gamers, I also used it as my daily display for work, and in those situations, this doesn’t seem to be the best display out there. Especially if you’re coming from a higher resolution laptop, such as my usual daily driver 2017 MacBook Pro with its 13-inch Retina display.

Still, since this is a gaming monitor, I’ll treat it as such, and not dock points for flaws that are really only visible when using this is a non-gaming display.

So this here is a 240Hz panel with a response time of 1ms, and those are specs you would expect from a display priced at Rs. 37,690. Does that make a big difference to games? Kind of. Does it make a big difference in daily usage — definitely. As long as your laptop or PC has a GPU that’s capable of driving 240Hz displays (and most modern GPUs will do), everything on this panel is pretty frikkin awesome. The animations are smooth, scrolling is a treat, and gaming is smooth and responsive. It’s all pretty great.

For testing this display from a gaming display point of view, I connected it to one of the many gaming laptops at our office, and yes, gaming on this display is fun. It’s definitely better than gaming on a standard laptop display, and the refresh rate and response time will certainly make a difference, especially in fast-paced shooting games like Fortnite, PUBG, or Battlefield V.

When I did connect the display to my MacBook Pro for general office-related work, I had to set the color profile to fix the otherwise washed out colors that the monitor defaulted to. However, that’s something I’ve noticed happen with a lot of displays so it’s not really something I’d attribute to this monitor itself. Other than that though, the Zowie XL2546 is a pretty solid display.

The colors here are nice, and while I do feel like the whites are a little less white than what they should be, it’s not a big difference, and general media consumption on this display is satisfying enough an experience. That said, I’d suggest staying at arm’s length from this display because a 1080p resolution on a 25-inch monitor will definitely show you pixels if you’re looking at it too close, and that can (and will) ruin your experience, even in movies, and especially if you’re using subtitles.

The one thing that I don’t like about this display are the viewing angles. Zowie claims the monitor has 170/160-degree viewing angles, but move your head even slightly off the center of the display and it takes on a yellow-ish almost sepia-like overlay which looks absolutely terrible. The only consolation to that is the fact that while gaming, you’ll not really be looking at your screen from the side, so it shouldn’t bother you while you’re engrossed in a match of PUBG.
Zowie XL2546: Ports and Connectivity

The Zowie XL2546 comes with a plentiful selection of ports on both the side, and below the bottom lip of the display. There’s quite a lot of stuff here, but mostly what you’ll be concerned with are the HDMI ports, and the USB 3.0 ports on the side.

There are 2 HDMI ports, one of which is an HDMI 1.4 port, and another an HDMI 2.0. There’s a DisplayPort, a DVI slot, a headphone jack, mic-in, USB-3.0 ports, and even a headphone hanger, which isn’t strictly a port, but it’s a handy addition to the monitor, so you can easily store your headphones when you’re done gaming, and pick them back up when you’re ready for more rounds of your favorite game.

Zowie XL2546: Features

As a gaming monitor, the XL2546 would be remiss if it didn’t offer features that are aimed specifically at gamers, and it offers quite a lot of them, so let’s take a look at them one by one.
1. DyAC

DyAC, or Dynamic Accuracy, is a feature that works more or less to reduce motion blurring on the display, making it easier for you to aim at moving objects in games. DyAC comes in three settings: Premium, High, and Off. While Zowie claims that High and Premium are considerably different in terms of performance, I found both of them to be pretty close, but DyAC does make a big difference because turning it off results in a very observable change in the way games look and feel on the display.

2. Black eQualizer

No I didn’t get the capitalisation wrong there, that’s how Zowie writes Black eQualizer. Think of this as the Pixel 3 Night Sight feature but for your display… almost. With Black eQualizer, the monitor will increase the brightness in dark areas in a game, but will maintain the white areas so they don’t become over-exposed. This can come in very handy for spotting enemies hidden in the dark, and in PUBG, it definitely helped me quickly take a look inside houses without having to actually properly look and check if there was a hidden enemy in the dark somewhere.
3. ColorVibrance

ColorVibrance, or CV, is another feature in the Zowie XL2546 that makes colors stand out better, and can help with spotting enemies easily. Personally, other than colors becoming more saturated, CV didn’t really feel like a very helpful gaming feature to me, and I found myself leaving CV at the default value of 10 throughout my usage of this monitor.

Apart from these features, the Zowie XL2546 also comes with Flicker Free technology which reduces screen flickers, and helps avoid strain on the eyes. There’s also the Shield here, which, contrary to what you might think, is not actually meant to add a little privacy to your gaming sessions. Instead, BenQ says that this helps gamers focus on the game better. Now, I’m not sure about that, but personally, after having used Shield on the monitor for a week or so, I can’t go back to using it without the Shields, so it definitely helps with concentration, and a more immersive, less distracting experience, which is awesome.
Zowie XL2546: S Switch

The Zowie XL2546 also has an additional accessory. Called the S Switch, this circular set of, well, switches, comes with 3 custom keys that you can program to quickly change the display settings on the monitor. You can simply change the settings to whatever you want, then press and hold on the 1,2, or 3 buttons on the S Switch for 3 seconds, and the setting will be saved. From there on out, you can simply press the button to switch display settings of the monitor to your liking, so you can create a setting that suitable to games like PUBG, one for something like watching movies, and yet another one for casual usage, and quickly switch between the three with just the push of a button.

I didn’t use this very often, but it was helpful to quickly be able to switch settings from game-mode, to something more suited for finishing off articles on the website. Plus, the base for the Zowie XL2546 comes with a dedicated place where you can keep the S Switch — that’s definitely a good touch, and, if you’re not using the S Switch, like I wasn’t, you can use that place on the base to keep your drinks, which is also pretty handy.
Zowie XL2546: Pros and Cons

The Zowie XL2546 definitely looks like a pretty solid gaming monitor, but as the age old adage goes, there are two sides to every coin, so lets take a quick look at the good and the bad of this monitor.

Pros:

    240Hz refresh rate
    1ms response time
    S Switch makes it easy to switch profiles
    Built-in headphone hanger

Cons:

    Viewing angles are not good
    1080p resolution seems a little low for a big, 25-inch display, especially when using it close up.

Zowie XL2546: Worth the Money?

All things considered, the Zowie XL2546 is a pretty good gaming monitor. It’s packed with features, it comes with a 240Hz refresh rate, and 1ms response time, it brings a nice, versatile stand that can let users set up their monitor any way they want and more. However, at Rs. 37,690, the drawbacks of the Zowie XL2546, especially the shabby viewing angles, sound more jarring than they otherwise would. As a purely gaming display, the Zowie XL2546 is good, but there are other options out there. There’s the Acer Predator XB272 which is priced at Rs. 39,990 and brings 240Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time, and a Full HD 27-inch display. There’s also the HP 27XQ, which brings a 144Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time, and a 27-inch QHD display for Rs. 35,399. There are others too, and all of this just goes to show that the Zowie XL2546 has tough competition in this segment, and other than the added features that it brings to the table, major brands like HP and Acer will definitely bring the fight to it, and personally, they feel like better choices.
Buy the Jabra Elite 85h (Rs. 28,999)

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