Technology

These Jabra wireless earbuds are the best alternative to Apple’s AirPods

(Source: www.theverge.com)

The new $170 Jabra Elite 65t earbuds are my go-to recommendation for anyone who wants truly wireless earbuds that aren’t Apple’s AirPods. As good as the AirPods are, there are several things that might rule them out for some people. If you’re like me, it’s the one-size-fits-most design; my ears just aren’t a good match, and buying aftermarket ear hooks for a snug, secure fit is a hassle. And then there’s the outside noise; the open design of AirPods, though great for awareness and safety, means you’ll occasionally find yourself cranking the volume to extremes when you want to drown out the cacophony of city life. But those pitfalls aside, the AirPods have remained on their own pedestal above the competition for well over a year because of their ease of use, rock-solid connection stability, and battery life.

We’ve tried many AirPod alternatives over the last two years, and most of them fall to the same foils like audio dropouts, very noticeable video / audio delay, or lackluster sound quality. Not this time. The Jabra Elite 65t earbuds show that Apple’s lead is finally shrinking.

The Jabras fit my ears nicely. They sound good. The connection — both to your device and between the earbuds themselves — holds up remarkably well thanks to Bluetooth 5. And they’ve got strong battery life and a compact carrying case. They lack extra features like the built-in fitness tracking or language translation that earbuds from Samsung and Bragi have offered, but these earbuds nail the fundamentals.

For one, they’re subtle and look relatively normal. The gunmetal gray Elite 65t earbuds don’t stick oddly far out from your ears like Bose’s SoundSport Free, and they don’t have long stems like the AirPods. Both earbuds are mostly circular with a microphone area that juts toward your mouth slightly to help them pick up your voice. And while I don’t use earbuds for calls or work video conferencing often, these do that job very well thanks to the two mics in each earbud. Siri and Google Assistant both heard me loud and clear during testing. The right earbud can be used by itself for mono audio and calls, but not the left one.

In your ear, the included silicone tips (three sizes are provided) can deliver a good level of noise isolation. I ended up buying some Comply Foam tips for the gym to fully drown out my surroundings and because they never budge when I’m running. But I stick with the included tips in all other scenarios. Jabra says the Elite 65t earbuds are rated IP55 water / dust resistant, and the company offers a generous two-year warranty against damage from those factors. I can tell you that I sweat far more than the average human, and they haven’t failed or powered down yet after a month’s worth of workouts. My only gripe is that I’ve found the earbuds can get a bit uncomfortable after an hour or more seated in your ears, but usually some adjusting and twisting is enough to alleviate that.

Do they work as effortlessly as AirPods? Not in terms of setup. Going through traditional Bluetooth pairing will never be as cool and seamless as holding an AirPods case near your iOS device and having them instantly connect. But getting started with the Jabras is at least very straightforward. You flip open the matte black case, pop them into your ears, and a voice will prompt you to open Bluetooth settings on your device and select them. They can pair with two devices simultaneously, which is very useful. I really like the voice feedback these earbuds provide; it’s not overly robot-sounding, and there aren’t any pointless audio tones that get really grating like those on Jaybird earbuds. More than a few times, the left earbud failed to power on when removed from the case, but fixing that just takes holding down its button for a second and they immediately sync up.

You play / pause audio with a single press of the right earbud. Holding it triggers your phone’s voice assistant. The left earbud has little nubs on each side for controlling volume or, when held down, skipping tracks. If you’re running outside and need awareness (or just want to have a conversation), tapping the right earbud twice enables a “HearThrough” transparency mode and pipes in the audio around you. You can adjust the mix between environment / music to your preference with Jabra’s Sound+ mobile app, which is also where you’ll go for firmware updates. Jabra issued two of them in March to improve sound performance and stability.

The connection is dependable and you’ll rarely encounter audio dropouts

Battery life is perfectly satisfactory. The earbuds last 5 hours on a charge — the same as the AirPods — and the case is good for two additional charges. I never had a single instance where I wanted to listen to something, pulled out the earbuds, and found them too depleted to do the job. These things don’t have the 20-hour marathon battery of full-sized Bluetooth headphones, but when you’re constantly putting them back into the case for top-offs, it rarely matters day to day. The AirPods are still best in class overall, since the case can provide over 24 hours of total listening before you’ve got to plug it in for a recharge. The Jabra case charges over Micro USB, which is disappointing. Bluetooth 5 and USB-C seem like a natural pair, but nope. Also, the case can be difficult to open with a single hand at first, but I found after a week or two, the tension leveled out and was neither too loose nor too tight.

Before I get to sound quality, I want to emphasize the terrific connection reliability of these Elite 65t earbuds. Where other truly wireless earbuds have routinely experienced audio stutters, dropouts, and disconnects on busy streets, those annoyances were incredibly rare with the Jabras. They performed flawlessly at intersections that would cause other earbuds to fall into a fit of dropouts and make me pull them out in frustration. The only environment where I dealt with noticeable audio snags was on subway trains, where some kind of interference seemed to weaken the dependable playback I heard everywhere else. But the most recent firmware update has helped stability underground. I tested the Elite 65ts with my iPhone X, MacBook Pro (2014), and a Pixel 2.

With the Elite 65ts, I finally feel like performance is on par with (or better than) standard Bluetooth headphones. Other truly wireless earbuds have been less stable — especially for the $200 or $300 price they typically sell for. There’s no penalty or sacrifice to going truly wireless with the Jabras, which I can’t say about the competition. Apple’s AirPods have never been saddled with this bad connection nonsense, so it’s nice to finally hear progress. Bluetooth 5 must be playing a significant part; just remember that your phone must also have it to get its full benefits.

Note: My colleague Vlad Savov received two consecutive review samples of the Elite 65t that suffered from frequent audio dropouts to the point where they were unusable. I’ve used three pairs — one review unit and two store-bought — and have had the opposite experience. Customer reviews have also been largely positive. But the disparity is worth mentioning and points to some potential QA troubles. Definitely give the earbuds a good test run after you’ve bought them and before your return window closes.

I’m very happy with how these earbuds sound. I’ve been listening to Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour constantly over the last few weeks, and it’s proven to be a good audio test. The Jabras do a good job of distributing the jangling acoustic guitars, banjos, silky lead vocals, and harmonies on “Wonder Woman” between the left and right channels. The soundscape isn’t as wide or expansive as audiophile-grade headphones, but for now that seems to be a universal limitation of truly wireless earbuds; the AirPods are no better. I don’t feel like I’m missing much.

They’re not audiophile-grade, but they sound better than fine

Janelle Monáe’s “Make Me Feel” is a great example of the Elite 65t playing to its strengths; strong bass and a crisp, bright high end. The mids can sometimes feel a bit lacking, but that varies by track. Jabra’s app lets you customize the overall EQ, and those changes stick with the earbuds when you pair them to other devices. But I haven’t deviated from the out-of-box profile, and the earbuds have never gotten fatiguing to listen to. When watching videos on my phone or laptop, the Jabras exhibited very minimal audio delay. And just like the AirPods, you can remove either earbud to temporarily pause what’s playing until you put it back in.

Other companies have been putting the cart in front of the horse and tacking on extra tricks (like fitness tracking) before they check off the essentials: connection stability and decent sound. That’s what the AirPods got so right from the very beginning. The Jabras can’t match every aspect of that “magic,” and there’s nothing particularly unique about them, but the Elite 65t earbuds are very good at what they’re designed to do. They’re freeing, they’re dependable, and they’re a much-needed benchmark for this product category. These are the new default recommendation if AirPods don’t work for you.

8

Verge Score

Jabra Elite 65t

Good Stuff

  • Incredibly stable connection
  • Pleasant sound with good bass
  • Customizable fit
  • Two-year warranty against sweat / dust

Bad Stuff

  • Sometimes get uncomfortable during extended listening
  • No foam tips included
  • You’ll need a recent phone for best performance
  • Possible QA issues with some units

Buy for $169.99

from Jabra

Buy for $169.99

from Amazon

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More Info: www.theverge.com

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