Twist its arm just a little, and Jabra will tell you it launched the world’s first Bluetooth headset back in the year 2000. But while its pedigree is not up for question, the Danish brand has inspired a whole planet’s-worth of imitators – so as of right now, every product Jabra launches has dozens, sometimes literally hundreds, of competitors from which it needs to stand out. That’s the trouble with flattery, isn’t it? Quite often it looks a lot like imitation…
The Jabra Elite 4 Active true wireless earbuds are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom they sell for no more than £119. In the United States they go for $119, while in Australia they sell for around AU$179.
It almost goes without saying that this sort of money can buy you alternatives from some of the most credible brands around – JBL, Panasonic and Sony, in particular, have profoundly credible rivals to sell you. In the five-star camp, JBL’s Reflect Flow Pro will set you back £130 / $180, while Sony’s WF-C700N, while not specifically designed for sports, are snug and sound excellent for the money, and cost £100 / $120 / AU$200.
So it’s going to take more than showing up in an attractive choice of finishes for the Elite 4 Active to make a case for themselves – although that is, at least, a start.
Design & comfort
The Elite 4 Active earbuds are extremely compact and at 5g each they’re pretty light too. There are three sizes of eartip in the packaging – so it’s easy to get a comfortable and secure fit.
Jabra sees the Elite 4 Active as suitable for use when working out or being – hey! – active in other ways. The design of the earbuds doesn’t really make much of a case for this usage, though. There are no wings or fins to keep the earbud stable in the ear, and the material from which they’re made isn’t especially grippy either. They rely entirely on the snugness of their fit – and, to be fair, they stay happily in position when we break into a run in order to catch the bus or other similarly tepid activity. An IP57 rating suggests the Elite 4 Active should be able to withstand the results of more determined activity than this, too.
With the exception of the available finishes, then, it’s really wireless earbuds business as usual. But Jabra is to be congratulated for breaking free of the ‘black or white’ default finishes where reasonably affordable true wireless in-ear are concerned – the Elite 4 Active are available in black, navy or the lively ‘mint’ finish of our review sample.
Despite the fact that they’re notably small even by the standards of something that fits in your ear, Jabra has found room in the Elite 4 Active for quite a few features.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.2, there’s compatibility with SBC, AAC and aptX codecs, and the earbuds can pair with as many as six devices. Sound is delivered by a couple of 6mm dynamic drivers, from which Jabra reckons a frequency response of 20Hz - 20kHz is available. And your chances of being able to enjoy that full-range response ought really to be enhanced by the appearance of active noise-cancellation (ANC).
Bluetooth? Yes, 5.2
Codec support SBC, AAC and aptX
Battery life 7 hours (earbuds), 28 hours (total)
Waterproof rating IP57
Dimensions (hwd) 20 x 21 x 27mm (earbud); 39 x 28 x 63mm (charging case)
Weight 5g (earbud); 37.5g (charging case)
Finishes x3 (black, navy, mint)
Control is available via the clean, stable and logical ‘Sound+’ app that’s free for iOS and Android. As well as five EQ presets, it features a six-band equaliser for creating custom settings, a control to switch ANC ‘on’ or ‘off’ and a slider to adjust the amount of the outside world you hear if you select ‘hear-through’. There’s a degree of customisation available to the intensity of the noise-cancellation you prefer, too.
Each earbud has a control button, from where it’s possible to control ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘answer/end/reject call’, ‘volume up/down’ and ‘summon voice assistant’. The Elite 4 Active have Amazon Alexa built in (as long as you’re running Android 6.0 or higher), and they work with Google Assistant and Siri via your connected player’s native assistant too.
These are physical buttons, rather than capacitive surfaces. It makes for a more positive and reliable experience when issuing your commands – but having to press, rather than touch, the earbuds, does compromise the fit just a little.
With active noise-cancellation switched on, you can expect roughly seven hours of power from the earbuds, with a further three full charges stored in the case. An all-in total of 28 hours is about par for the course these days – so is ‘good enough’ good enough for your needs?
It is better than Sony WF-C700N’s quoted 7.5/15 hours, while JBL offers 8/20 hours with ANC on in the Reflect Flow Pro (this extends to 30 hours in total with ANC off).
Charging for the Elite 4 Active takes place via the case’s USB-C input. From ‘flat’ to ‘full’ takes around three hours, while ten minutes on the mains should buy you around an hour of playback.
We’ve heard Jabra true wireless earbuds before, in the Elite 3 and the Elite 5 (both four star reviews). So the energetic, quite upfront presentation that’s fundamental to the Elite 4 Active performance doesn’t take us by surprise in the slightest.
With a nice big file of Edge Of The Edge by Panda Bear and Sonic Boom on board, the Jabra are quite nicely balanced through the frequency range. They push the midrange forward just a little, it’s true, but this is a trait rather than a shortcoming – and because they retain such pleasing levels of detail through the mids, it has the effect of making the Elite 4 Active sound quite articulate and communicative.
Below there, the lower frequencies have decent shape and a fair amount of body. The Jabra snap into bass sounds with enthusiasm, but control their attack and decay quite well – so there’s convincing rhythmic expression and a fair sense of momentum to the recording. In ultimate terms the low end is a little short of fine detail, which means a little less variation than is absolutely ideal – but, again, this is more of a trait than an outright flaw.
The top of the frequency range occasionally threatens to become too lively, too perky – but it never quite happens, even if you like to listen at quite significant volumes. The top end attacks with gusto, but it’s mitigated by good detail retrieval and a degree of substance to go along with all the bite and shine. It goes without saying that you can affect the balance of the frequency range quite significantly when using the EQs in the app, but it seems that Jabra’s engineers found the best balance. ‘Different’ doesn’t always mean ‘better’, after all.
There’s a fair amount of dynamic headroom available, the Elite 4 Active breathing deeply enough to put reasonable distance between the quietest and the loudest moments in a recording. The Jabra are pretty adept with the more minor, but no less important, dynamic variations apparent in solo instruments or close-mic’d voices, too – they may not be the most fanatically attentive earbuds this sort of money can buy, but they’re no slouches in this regard.
They’re far from the most expansive listen, though, and given unsympathetic material to work with can sound quite narrow and confined. The soundstage they create is on the tight side, and everything except the midrange elements of a recording can sound like they are scrapping for the space in which to do their thing – there’s not a lot of elbow-room in the Elite 4 Active sound.
It’s a sign of just how cutthroat the market Jabra had a big hand in creating has become. The Elite 4 Active are perfectly decent true wireless earbuds with plenty to admire, both in their form factor and in way they sound. But ‘perfectly decent’ is no longer quite enough to get you to the top of the list.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Comfort 4
Read our review of the Sony WF-C700N
Also consider the JBL Reflect Flow Pro