We’re used to Jabra headphones and earbuds being there-or-thereabouts at their price-point. But what we’re not quite as used to is Jabra headphones and earbuds being quite so aggressively priced – these Elite 3 are the most affordable true wireless in-ears the company has ever delivered.
When you’re talking about this sort of money for a product such as this, of course, it’s about the compromises that have been made. Are the Jabra compromises sensible? Predictable? Acceptable? Let’s find out…
The Jabra Elite 3 are on sale now, and in the UK they shouldn’t set you back more than £79. They’re a deeply competitive $79 in the United States and in Australia you’re looking at AU$119 or thereabouts.
Competition at this sort of money is, inevitably, feral. We recently listened to Sony’s outstanding WF-C500, which are yours for another tenner on the price of the Jabra – and they’re by no means your only viable alternative. Just like any brand sticking its head over this particular parapet, Jabra has its work cut out.
As far as specification goes, it’s difficult to get too worked up about the omissions Jabra has made here, given the low price. If, for example, you want active noise-cancelling at this sort of money, well… Panasonic’s staggeringly impressive RZ-S500W are your only choice at anything like this price.
And besides, the Elite 3 properly hold their own elsewhere. Wireless connectivity, for example, is via Bluetooth 5.2 – and there’s support for Qualcomm’s aptX codec too. Once on board, sound is delivered by a couple of 6mm full-range dynamic drivers.
Audio codecs aptX, SBC
Microphone type 4 x MEMS
Battery life 7 hours (buds), 28 hours (charging case)
Waterproof rating IP55
Dimensions (buds, hwd) 27 x 20 x 21mm
Weight 4.6g per earbud
The Jabra can keep the music coming for a very competitive 28 hours, all-in – that’s seven hours in the earbuds themselves plus another three full charges in the tidy little case. But even if you’re negligent enough to let them run completely flat, they can be brimming inside four hours – and ten minutes on the mains will buy you another hour of playback.
What else? Well, there are a total of four mics ready to deal with your telephonic requirements, while an IP55 rating suggests reasonable protection against moisture and dust.
Control is available from the push/push button on the surface of each earbud (between them they can handle ‘play/pause’, ‘skip forwards/backward’, ‘volume up/down’ and ‘summon voice assistant’ – even Amazon Alexa is available). Or there’s the good-looking, stable and frankly not-all-that-much-use Jabra Sound+ control app.
As long as you keep the asking price uppermost in your mind, there’s not too much to take issue with where the design and finish of the Elite 3 is concerned. No, they don’t feel especially luxurious and no, the earbuds aren’t as easy to grip as you might hope. But they’re solidly put together, and their charging case is equally so.
At just 27 x 20 x 21mm (hwd) and 4.6g per earbud, the Jabras are among the tidiest and lightest around. This, in conjunction with the selection of eartips in the packaging, means it’s easy to position them comfortably – and they’ll stay that way pretty much indefinitely. Or until you use the physical control on either earbud, which can affect the fit a little.
The charging case is a similarly manageable 33g and 29 x 64 x 35mm (hwd), and it’s an understated looker. Only a discreet ‘Jabra’ logo and a single LED offer any visual excitement.
No, if you want to express yourself where your true wireless in-ears are concerned, as far as the Elite 3 go it’s in the colour you select. Choose between black, beige, lilac or navy blue.
In a decisive break with the true wireless norm, the Jabra Elite 3 don’t sound their best when EQs are left ‘flat’ or ‘off’. Instead, the judicious listener should engage the ‘Smooth’ preset – it doesn’t result in an especially smooth sound, to be honest, but it’s the most convincing and likeable balance available.
With a nice chunky TIDAL Masters file of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition playing, the Elite 3 are an uncomplicatedly engaging listen. They’re pretty decent where rhythmic expression is concerned, and can organise the fairly busy ‘drums/guitars/bass/keyboards/horns/vocal’ mix into something that’s expansive, well focused and easy to follow. Timing is good, and there’s a good level of insight and detail across the board.
The lowest frequencies are nicely managed, and controlled enough to demonstrate a nice straight edge where the attack and decay of individual bass sounds is concerned. They can sound rather remote from the rest of the frequency information, it’s true, but they at least fight against the overconfidence that can unbalance quite a few of their price-comparable rivals.
Up in the midrange, that peerless vocal is loaded with detail and, as a result, this is quite a thrilling listen. The top of the frequency range is just slightly edgy, but there’s plenty of substance and drive to treble sounds, rather than the ill-defined presentation some alternatives indulge in.
Switching to a 16bit/44.1kHz digital file of John Grant’s Queen Of Denmark doesn’t undermine any of these positives, but it does highlight a slight flatness in the dynamic response of the Elite 3. They just don’t seem to breathe deeply enough to put significant distance between the more contemplative sections of the recording and the big shouty choruses. And where smaller-scale dynamic variations are concerned, too, the Jabra aren’t all that attentive.
Call-quality is perfectly acceptable, as is the amount of passive noise-isolation provided by the snug and comfortable fit. Add these to the (fairly extensive) list of things the Jabra Elite 3 get right and it’s made apparent (yet again) that being less than perfect doesn’t automatically make you less than competitive.
In some ways the Jabra Elite 3 are nigh-on ideal. Light, comfortable, decently specified and with a very acceptable battery life, they’ve got a lot going for them ergonomically, and the way they organise a recording is most agreeable too.
If it wasn’t for the rather inhibited dynamic response and slightly disjointed bass presence, they’d be on everyone’s shortlist.
- Sound 4
- Features 4
- Build 4
Read our review of the Panasonic RZ-S500W
Also consider Sony's WF-C500
These are the best wireless earbuds 2021: budget and premium