The Jabra Elite 5 are the latest in a seemingly inexhaustible supply of true wireless earbuds from the Danish audio specialist. This time out, Jabra’s banking on a remarkably small and light form factor to help its latest model stand out in an area of the market that’s already full to bursting.
In principle it’s not a bad idea at all – but if our experience of true wireless in-ears has taught us anything, it’s that it takes more than tidy design and low weight to make a market leader. So what else do the Elite 5 have to offer?
The Jabra Elite 5 are on sale now, and in the United Kingdom you can acquire a pair for £149. In the United States, they’re an even more competitive $149, while customers in Australia should expect to part with AU$219.
Unless you’ve been living somewhere very remote indeed, you’ll know you’ve almost too much choice when it comes to true wireless earbuds at this sort of money. For example, Sennheiser, Shure and Sony all have rivals to sell you for this sort of price – and that’s just the ‘S’ brands. So if Jabra’s going to force the Elite 5 to the front of your thinking, these earbuds are going to need to be pretty special.
Our Award-winning Sony WF-1000XM4 have also dropped in price to around £159 / $180 now (from their original launch prices of £250 / $280 / AU$450) so the Jabra have this formidable rival to compete with too.
Obviously there are limits, but broadly speaking we tend to prefer our true wireless earbuds to be as small and light as possible. Don’t we? Jabra certainly hopes so.
At just 5g per earbud and with dimensions of 21 x 20 x 27mm, the Elite 5 are small and light enough to be no burden whatsoever – to be absolutely honest, if your ears are on the generous side the Elite 5 might conceivably be too small, even with the largest of the provided eartips fitted. Once they’re in place, they’ll stay comfortable for the long haul.
The fit is so snug and secure, in fact, that even the fact that the Jabra feature a ‘press’ rather than ‘touch’ control on the surface of each earbud can’t affect the way they fit. It’s not like you have to exert much pressure to issue instructions, admittedly, but you certainly need to be more positive than when using the more common capacitive touch-control alternative.
The charging case in which the earbuds travel is equally compact. It’s small enough to slip easily into a pocket, and it’s finished so smoothly that it won’t cause any aggravation while it’s there. At just 40g it’s a fair bit lighter than many price-comparable alternatives, too.
The Elite 5 are available in three finishes – or, more accurately, two-and-a-half. ‘Gold beige’ and ‘titanium black’ are available from any retailer, but if you fancy ‘black’ (which really doesn’t look all that different to ‘titanium black’ as far as we can tell), you’ll need to go directly to jabra.co.uk.
Just because a product is small, that doesn’t mean it can’t be extensively specified – the Jabra Elite 5 are the latest product to prove it.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.2 and there’s support for SBC, AAC and aptX codecs. Multipoint connectivity means it’s possible to connect the Elite 5 to two sources at the same time, and once the sounds are streaming they’re delivered to your ears by a pair of 6mm full-range drivers. And owners of appropriate smartphones will be pleased to hear the Elite 5 are compatible with both Microsoft Swift Pair and Google Fast Pair.
Battery life is perfectly respectable if unremarkable: seven hours from the earbuds with active noise-cancellation switched on, rising to nine hours if you keep ANC switched off. The case is good for another three full charges – so anything between 28 and 36 hours should be available before any recharging is required. The Jabra are compatible with Qi-certified wireless charging devices, which only adds to the convenience quotient – 10 minutes on the power is good for an hour or so of playback.
Battery life 9 hours (earbuds), 36 hours (total)
Codecs aptX, AAC, SBC
Dimensions (hwd) 21 x 20 x 27mm (earbuds) / 39 x 26 x 64mm (charging case)
Weight 5g (per earbud)
In comparison, the Sony XM4 buds give you eight hours in the bud (with ANC on), with 24 hours in total with the charging case – so the Jabras certainly keep going for longer.
Control is available via those press controls on each earbud, although ‘volume up/down’ is not among the options. It’s available via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri voice control, though – each Elite 5 earbud is fitted with three mics, which take care of voice-assistant interaction, active noise-cancellation and telephony.
And there’s also the Jabra ‘Sound+’ control app, which is one of the more stable, logical and extensive examples of the type. Here’s where you can customise the response of the touch controls, stick your oar into sound quality via the five-band EQ or activate the ‘MySound’ feature that seeks to deliver audio balanced to your specific hearing profile. It’s where you can check for firmware updates, and adjust the amount of external sound that’s admitted when active noise-cancellation is engaged.
The active noise-cancellation system here is hybrid – that’s to say, it assesses noise from both outside and inside your ear in order to offer its best version of noise-cancellation. Jabra reckons this methodology is less dependent on the way you choose to position the ‘buds in your ears.
What else? Well, there’s an IP55 rating against moisture-based jeopardy, and they support Spotify Tap, for super-fast access to that most ubiquitous of streaming services.
If aptX is available, it seems foolish not to make use of it – and with the Elite 5 connected to a Nothing Phone (1) using the Qualcomm codec, the earbuds don’t take long to establish their modus operandi. Once through a TIDAL stream of This Fractured Mind by Nation Of Language, in fact, is all it takes for the Jabra to reveal a lot of what they’re about.
On the plus side, they’re a nicely balanced listen. From the bottom of the frequency range (which is pleasantly shaped and quite detailed, though short of outright punch) to the top (which is similarly detailed yet similarly undemonstrative), they’re an even and consistent listen. Nothing is understated and certainly nothing is overplayed, and so the overall presentation is quite poised and believable.
What it isn’t, though, is in any way assertive, as a comparison with Sony’s WF-1000XM4 shows. A digital file of Army Nights by Sleaford Mods should, by rights, have its eyes out on stalks as it pokes you repeatedly in the chest – but all of the aggression and dynamism of the recording is rather neutered by the Elite 5. They’re perfectly forthcoming where the details are concerned, and more than happy to organise a convincing soundstage – but having done so, they’re reluctant to get their hands dirty dealing with the grimy, cheap-sounding music. Low-frequency dynamics in particular are constrained and lack the substance to properly drive the song forwards. The Sonys, on the other hand, are more expressive and outgoing in nature, and ultimately more entertaining.
This ‘safety first’ attitude means the Jabra buds don’t express rhythms with much positivity, and it also means these earbuds have a ‘type’. They like smooth, unthreatening and, ideally, well-produced music they can emphasise the sheen of. What they emphatically don’t like is anything upfront or otherwise in-yer-face. Which is going to make them ideal for a certain kind of listener but less so for the rest of us.
As far as the hybrid noise-cancellation performance is concerned, in character and temperament it’s not unlike the Elite 5’s sonic performance. Which means it’s pleasant and effective enough, up to a point, but it doesn’t have what you might call an ‘all-court game’. That the Jabra can reduce the intrusion of external sounds is not up for question, but they’re far from decisive and can be intimidated both by very loud occurrences and by sounds in a specific area of the frequency range. ‘Cancellation’ here really means ‘reduction’.
Hands up those who enjoy a walk on the mild side. Anyone? Well, the Jabra Elite 5 are exactly what you’re after: they sound as smooth and inoffensive as a daytime BBC radio DJ. The rest of us will admire the way they fit so comfortably, and the very well-sorted control app – but then we’ll probably hanker after just a little more sonic bite.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 4
Read our review of the Grado GT220
Also consider the Sennheiser CX 400BT
Read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review