Right now, it seems like all hardware and software—including, but not limited to, our digital landscapes—has become the victim of rampant price inflation. But wireless earbuds have done the opposite. Gone are the days of annoying connectivity, closed ecosystems, paltry battery life, and high prices. For a little over $100, you can now get quality wireless earbuds that work seamlessly with both Android and iOS and could wipe the floor with models priced at twice as much two years ago.
Models like Jabra’s new Elite 4 Active are proof that there’s no longer a reason to spend big money on everyday earbuds. Noise canceling, good mics, excellent water resistance, an ergonomic fit, and svelte colors make these some of the best around, even at their modest $120 price tag.
If you’re not apprised of the comings and goings in the wireless earbud industry, you probably last remember Jabra from its absolute domination in the Bluetooth headset era—the kind your uncle wore in 2006 like an overweight Secret Service agent.
In the intervening years, Jabra has made some of the best wireless headphones around, especially earbuds. They compete directly with the likes of Samsung and Apple’s most premium models and often outperform them in durability and sound.
But as Apple and others push more premium models with Pro or Max in their names, Jabra has begun to trickle much of its top-end technology downward into more affordable earbuds. Instead of making you pay more to get noise canceling, audio transparency, and the fruits of its work laser scanning thousands of ears for an ergonomic fit, Jabra is sharing these features, albeit without the same overall performance, in products like the Elite 4 Active.
The new model dominates at lower prices, even it’s only 90 percent as good as the higher-end options from Jabra. It feels like we’re encountering a new, third generation of the company’s headset design: First, it made some of the best Bluetooth earpieces, then some of the best earbuds. Now you can find its excellent tech at below-average prices.
I’m a big fan of headphones I don’t have to feel precious about, which is part of what makes the Elite 4 Active so appealing. I’ve lugged them up ski hills, splashed around on rainy Portland runs, and used them outside while trimming my berry bushes this winter. A two-year warranty and an IP57 rating mean they’re ready to tackle virtually anything the world throws at them, though they won’t auto-pause when you remove an earbud to chat with a neighbor—you’ll want to use the hear-through feature instead, which pipes in outside sound via a press of the earbud.
Not that you’ll want to ever remove them: The Elite 4 Active are so comfortable and secure, they feel like they’re custom molded. They’re also holding up to Jabra’s durability claims, at least so far: The soft blue plastic of the buds still looks brand new.
Passive noise isolation—the amount of noise they keep out without active noise canceling engaged—is excellent, thanks to the secure fit. With active noise canceling engaged you’ll hear basically nothing; I frequently had to turn on ambient sound mode to hear my wife around the house.
There’s an EQ and other settings inside Jabra’s Android app, but I didn’t end up needing to mess with the standard tuning or settings much. The headphones have tight and punchy bass and a fairly unobstructed midrange, allowing instruments to sit clear of each other in a good mix. I’ve been experimenting with Apple Music during the recent Spotify-Joe Rogan debacle, so most of the sample tunes I listened to were via Apple-made playlists and radio. Everything from jazz to indie pop sounded great, though you won’t get the sparkling clarity you’ll enjoy with earbuds that cost more than double the price.
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