In this Jabra Elite Active 65t Review we will look at Jabra’s latest high-end headphones specifically designed for delivering high quality audio during sport.
This is a long form review and looks at some general topics as well as giving a detailed review of the Jabra Elite Active 65t earbuds. Skip ahead to the sections that most interest or sit back with your coffee and enjoy.
Sports Headphones – What’s In An Earbud?
Clearly the main ‘point’ of a pair of sports headphones is that you can listen to music whilst exercising. That most basic of requirements means that a degree of sweat-proofing and dust-proofing is a pre-requisite.
To play music, the sports headphones must link to your source of music, or contain a source of music themselves. We have seen an evolution away from an AUX (auxiliary/line) model where a single plug is pushed into the socket of a Walkman, iPOD, smartphone, or something similar.
With Bluetooth compatibility comes the ability to have a remote connection to the music source. Typically this source has been a smartphone but we could also connect to gym equipment, computers or, more recently, to sports watches. Thus we have the ‘wireless’ headphone or earbud.
The evolution from wireless has been to ‘true’ wireless. With ‘true’ wireless, the cable joining the two earbuds, often also containing a charging port and control unit, has gone. Those functions have been moved to within the earbud itself and so there is no cable/wire whatsoever. Although sometimes ‘true’ wireless earbuds have an optional ‘tether’ or wire which has the sole purpose of ensuring the earbuds are secured together.
As well as a source of power from an internal, rechargeable battery the true wireless earbuds may also contain a microphone. Some, more sportily advanced models also contain accurate optical HRMs or accelerometers. And, of course, by linking to that ever-present smartphone app the manufacturer can add lots of functionality of many kinds.
The future will see the sporty earbud morph into a more general class of ‘hearables’ that will do ‘other stuff’. That’s partly beyond the scope of this post, today!
Even in that potted history you can see that the simple earbud has the potential to be ‘not so simple‘. The not-so-simple earbud could well contain: a heart rate monitor; activity tracker; noise cancelling technology; audio-to-environmental sound management (hear-through); a microphone to control Alexa or Google Assistant; a remote to make and take calls; an audio feedback mechanism for workout cues (audio coach says, “speed up!”); audio quality and frequency configuration through an equalizer; and more.
Or they could even play your running favourite songs 😉 But then they could even do that cleverly by adding caching into the earbud to mitigate against dropped bluetooth connection – although that might give playback delays against, for example, video.
Indeed that’s the BIG ISSUE. Audio dropouts. If your heart rate monitor missed a beat..or maybe even 10 beats…in reality you wouldn’t notice it. But you would, for sure, notice even a fraction of a second of audio dropout.
Another BIG ISSUE that comes from the evolution towards the earbud is that it becomes a significant design challenge to make an earbud fit everyone’s ear AND stay in it whilst exercising. Thus we see different shapes of Ear Gels/Ear Plugs that fit into the ear canal and different shapes of Ear Wings/Ear Clips that steady the earbud by clipping under your ear’s antehelix.
Yet another BIG ISSUE is battery life. The increasingly clever stuff that earbuds can do needs more battery power but a physically bigger battery is not the solution as the true wireless earbud requires it all to fit into your ear whilst still looking cool. One workaround here is to convert the carry-case to a charging case. The charging case also contains a battery and can recharge the earbuds on the go.
“Simple” earbud? Nah! Definitely “Not so simple”.
Jabra – Sports Audio Pedigree & History
Jabra products have moved with the sporting times.
- Jabra Sport ROX – wireless sporty earbuds with Dolby & NFC (Jan 2015)
- Jabra Sport Pulse /Sport Coach Special Edition – wireless sporty earbuds with Valencell optical HRM (Aug 2016)
- Jabra Elite Sport – true wireless sporty earbuds with smartphone integration (Sep 2016)
- Jabra Elite 65t – true wireless earbuds with smartphone integration and voice assistant (Jan 2018)
- Jabra Elite ACTIVE 65t – true wireless sporty earbuds with smartphone integration, accelerometer and voice assistant (Jan 2018)
Jabra have released a number of accompanying apps, the one for the Sport Pulse is advanced and contains clever Firstbeat training metrics. Other products required secondary companion apps that ran the Jabra Service – which I assume to be an audio/bluetooth service.
That’s all by-the-by. Now the new Jabra Sound+ app is all you need
Jabra – Elite 65t vs. Elite Active 65t
The two Elite 65t products are very similar. I’ve highlighted the headline features and then the small differences, below
- High quality sound
- 3rd generation stability of bluetooth connection – reducing dropouts
- Personalized sound via a music profile/equalizer in the Jabra Sound+ app
- Multiple device pairing with Bluetooth 5 (8 devices, 2 can be connected at same time)
- Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant capability
- Up to15 hours of music play time (2x 5 hour recharges from the carry-case charger)
- Wind noise reduction
- True Wireless
- 4 microphone technology to reduce ambient noise
- Auto turn-on when case opened and auto sleep after periods of non-use
The Elite 65t products are very similar, having these differences:
- Elite 65t sweat and dust resistant to IP55 (Active version to IP56)
- Elite Active 65t has an inbuilt motion sensor/accelerometer
- Elite Active 65t has a different coating which aids grip
- The Active version will typically be slightly more expensive.
- The Elite 65t comes in 4 colour options, titanium black, copper black, gold beige and brown. The Active version is only available in copper blue
Hopefully all that has laid the groundwork and we can now proceed with the Jabra Elite Active 65t Review
Jabra Elite Active 65t Review – Unboxing
It’s a rather impressive box. But the material things you get are
- Charging case
- Left + Right earbud
- 3 sets of Ear Gels/Ear Plugs
There’s also a standard USB cable.
The gels pull off and push on easily enough. Here is the underside of two of the Gels/Plugs
The case is a compact fit and once the lid closes an LED illuminates to show you if it is charging.
On the underside of the earbud you can see the two connecting points for the charging case. There’s only one way to close the carry case and that is if the buds are in properly and hence able to be charged. The USB cable plugs into the CARRY CASE to re-charge t’s own internal 10 hour battery.
A side on view shows two of the 4 microphones. 2 for each side. The circular Jabra plate is a button with some basic functionalities.
From a different angle we get a slightly better view of one of the microphones
Jabra Elite Active 65t Review – Wearability
The Elite Active 65t fit and grip surprisingly well. I was initially surprised that there were no ‘wings’ to help the buds stay in the ear. But stay in they do. I’ve done some relatively fast interval workouts and all was good.
It is however important to get a good fit. The buds are inserted into your ear with the pointy microphone bit pointing down and then it is twisted into your ear by a quarter turn so that they point forwards. They seem to lock around the tragus.
When they are correctly inserted they should look something like this inside an average-sized male’s ear. They will not fit into small people’s ears and that would include adults with small ear cavities – although the same would apply to other earbud products which will be similarly sized
Jabra Elite Active 65t Review – Pairing
Pairing with Bluetooth 5 to multiple devices is easy (backward compatibility exists, I’ve not tested backwards compatibility on all features with different Bluetooth versions). The Jabras paired to every device I tried. To pair to a smartphone there is NO NEED to install the Jabra Sound+ app. You can just pair ‘as normal’ and use them for audio with Play Music (or whatever you already use for music playback).
I’ll be working my way through some other running watches that support music in my somewhat biblical guide to the best running watch with music.
Jabra Elite Active 65t Review – Controls
The controls are simple and straightforward. A flashing blue light comes on for first-time usage. Think BLUE=BLUEtooth. It’s looking for a pairing and that is relatively standard functionality across manufacturers.
Press and hold the right earbuds central button to turn off
Press to turn on. Or press and hold to force a pairing
The image to the right shows the answer/play button functions.
The LED at the base of the carry case will light green when charging. It lights up PURPLE if there is an ongoing firmware update.
Full list of control actions (see manual): Play/pause music, Answer/end call, Reject call, Voice assistant (SiriTM, Google Now, etc), HearThrough on/off, Adjust volume, skip track, BATTERY STATUS.
There are a LOT of factors affecting sound quality as well as personal preferences.
Generally speaking if you are buying ANY wireless headphone or earbuds then the sound quality will be compromised. The compromise first comes when you convert a potentially perfect digital recording to analogue so that your ear can hear it. The the speaker will deliver that analog signal and sound quality loss will always happen there to some degree.
The Digital-to-Analog Conversion (DAC) MUST be performed inside the earbud if you think about it. With a wireless solution there is no other option.
The Elite Active 65t has very good sound quality in my opinion.
It’s the best sound quality on any device I have. I have heard better from a top-end Bose and a top-end Sony earbud owned by friends. But the difference is very marginal and those devices are also slightly more expensive. If you asked me to put my finger on why the Bose and Sony sounded better I’d find it difficult to answer, it’s close to my ears, perhaps there’s just a very slight lack of flair with the sound of the Jabra?? Some metaphorical ‘Oomph’ that’s not quite there
Sound quality will be further impacted by the quality of your source MP3/FLAC.
Even if you chose a perfectly originally mastered, LOSSLESS .FLAC track played over a WIRED solution then the DAC must take place on the SMARTPHONE or COMPUTER and, again, if the DAC circuitry is rubbish then the sound quality will be rubbish even with the best wired headphones in the world.
There will also be issues with electrical interference and shielding all of which can respectively hinder or help sound quality. That’s one great thing with having the DAC in the earbud. The earbud manufacturer must take full ownership for the interference-related issues they have designed around (or not!).
Microphone & Calls
Say ‘Answer’ and you answer an incoming call to your smartphone when it is paired to the Jabras. There may even be an attempt by Jabra to pronounce the name of the person who is calling, if they are in your address book.
The 4 microphones give a VERY GOOD sound for the recipient of your dulcit tones. Perhaps not up to the quality I’ve sometimes had from a Facebook Messenger type call but VERY GOOD nevertheless.
However the audio I received on calls while preparing this Jabra Elite Active 65t review always seemed to sound ‘distant’. Perfectly clear & audible but nothing special at all. I only mention this as the music audio is SOOOO much better.
I had a play with Google Assistant and enjoyed listening to myself saying ‘OK Google’ numerous times. Google Assistant understood with >95% accuracy what I said. The results returned weren’t necessarily always what I wanted but that is an issue with Google Assistant rather than the Jabras.
I would imagine that the Jabras will work equally as well with other supported voice-activated services.
The Jabra Sound+ app
Available on iOS and Android you know where to get it from and you know how to install it. You might want to check the compatibility of older devices on jabra.com.
The functionality of the Sound+ app is relatively limited. It covers the basics and doesn’t offer too much that is interesting. Here are some screen shots of the key screens and a few comments afterwards.
- The activity tracker functionality in the Sound+ app is indeed super basic. To the point where I don’t know why it’s included. As people in the wider market are ditching basic wrist-based activity trackers in favour of smart watches then I can’t see the activity tracking functionality being used by many people at all in the app, especially when the app isn’t required for playback of audio.
- Hearthrough is a handy feature that let’s you hear that oncoming lorry though the music you are playing. Chances are this will have ZERO impact on your road safety so don’t cycle with these on the road. Around the house, however, it’s quite nice to be able to hear the doorbell ring and, sometimes, quite nice to be able to blot out other household sounds eg people asking me to do stuff when there are gadgets to be played with 😉
- Sidetone is very handy. I really don’t like the sound of my own voice and sidetone goes some way to stop me listening to me talk.
- The equalizer is also relatively basic but does the job perfectly well and comes with various presets.
- The soundscapes are interesting to a point. I liked the ‘pink noise’ The pink noise is a less harsh version of white noise and would be ideal for blocking out all ambient noise, for example when going to sleep. However if you sleep on your side the earbuds will almost certainly inhibit any attempts you make to go to sleep wearing them.
I only once experienced unexpected dropouts when listening to music on a smartphone. That was just after a firmware update and when I was playing with the Jabra+ app. I closed the Jabra+ app and all was good after that.
Naturally trying to listen to the source that is 8m away through 2 walls will give even the best bluetooth antennae some serious issues.
If I wear my watch on my left wrist or have my smartphone in my left pocket then there can be dropouts (same with most other devices in this scenario). This is a bit annoying if you wear your watch on your left sie normally.
Factettes, Interesting Bits, Resources
- You can remove the left earbud without the sound turning off. There is a MONO earbud option.
- Two smartphones can be SIMULTANEOUSLY paired two and BOTH can take calls (Bluetooth 5 connection). Some features will only work on the last paired device eg Voice Assistant
- Others report hiccups during some playback
- Others report issue connecting up to left earbud
- I’d recommend a quick clean before popping back in the carry case.
- My personal preference with the equalizer was to pop up the bass a notch
- I’m a bit nervous about anything popping out and me losing it. I would have liked a cord option. As in the review though, they never popped out. REMEMBER THE ACTIVE VERSION STAYS BETTER IN YOUR EAR – if you are doing ANY sport then buy that version and save yourself trouble down the line.
- Max volume levels were no issue for me. I could set it ‘too loud’ if I were so inclined (I wasn’t)
- As of 15Jul I am unsure of status with support for Amazon Alexa (not tested, reported elsewhere as not yet enabled by Jabra).
- Buds, tips, wings, etc from other Jabra models will probably not fit.
- Remember it’s unlikely any one earbud will fit all ears.
- Replacement earbuds can be purchased separately (listed on Amazon)
- I used firmware 2.10. Full firmware updates are listed here (link to: jabra.com)
- Data sheet is here (link to: jabra.com)
- Technical specs are here (link to: jabra.com)
- Our good old friend Manuel can be found here (link to: jabra.com) (aka User Manual)
- 15 hour battery life with carry case (5 hours on the earbuds, 2x 5 hour chargess from the carry case)
- Carry case takes 2 hours to charge
- There is an initial ‘fast charge’ boost. 10-20 minutes of charging in the case. This will give an hour of use.
- BATTERY STATUS: Press the Volume up or Volume down button when not on a call or listening to music
- Battery status info given from LEDs in the carry case (link to: jabra.com)
Best Running Watch With Music
It’s great having some sporty earbuds. But if you want a sports watch with ONBOARD MUSIC then they are all reviewed in my guide to the best running watch with music.
In terms of audio quality I would rank the Elite 65t in the top 3 along with the Bose SoundSport Free and the Sony WF-1000X. I’ve only had limited use with the Bose and Sony but they might sound a tad better. If you are not looking for a sport-rated product the there is no point paying the extra for the ACTIVE version, the Elite 65t is otherwise the same.
If you want a similar product but a bit more sporty functionality then the Jabra Elite Sport are worth of consideration. Otherwise you know you can get earbuds across a wide range of prices down to $20/£20 levels. Generally you get what you pay for with higher prices giving better battery life, better sport suitability and better sound quality – sometimes also better functionality.
- Jabra Elite Active 65t $170/£150 Sweet (high audio quality, true wireless also ACTIVE version)
- Jabra Elite Sport £198/£188 Inbuilt heart rate monitor #Clever
- Bose SoundSport FREE $199/£160 (high audio quality, true wireless)
- Sony WF-1000X $198/£149-199 (high audio quality)
- Jaybird X3 Wireless $120/£100
- Jaybird Run $159/£140
- Bose SoundSport Wireless $199/£180
- Sennheiser PMX 686G Sports $35/£30
- Optoma NuForce BE Sports3 $63/£/Eu54
- Aftershokz Trekz Air $180/£160 – Interesting option that plays through your jawbone not inside your ear. They sound remarkably good.
- JBL Under Armour Sport $120/£100
- LifeBEAM Vi $250/£210
- Apple AirPods $160/£140
Price, Availability & Discount
The Jabra Elite Active 65t review ed here were released in January 2018 and are now generally available. I always suggest Amazon as a great place to buy because of their return policy eg if not compatible with your phone or watch.
You might see some discounting as time goes by. Probably small discounts in 2018 but increasing over subsequent years as tends to happen with this kind of product.
With the Elite Active 65t, Jabra have produced a device that delivers great quality audio in a sporting environment. It’s the best quality earbud audio I have spent any notable amount of time with. It’s probably not the very best audio in an earbud, but not far off. I’ve briefly used a couple of slightly more expensive earbuds that have potentially very slightly better audio quality.
If it’s audio super high fidelity you are after then you should not be buying earbuds and instead seeking a wired solution
With it reduced-slip coating, the Jabra Elite Active 65t does its audio job on long 2 hour steady runs and on shorter, faster intervals. They never once came out of my ears.
Turning away from the audio quality, the aesthetics are GREAT (for an earbud).
The in-call features, general call handling and smartpone integration of the microphone were all great.
Maybe there could have been more functionally rich buttons on th earbuds and maybe the app could do a little more for some people.
Either way; it ticked all my boxes. ie sounds great when running, comfortable enough, doesn’t come out and long enough battery life.
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