I’ve used the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II for almost a month and the Jabra Elite 85t earbuds for 4–5 months. Both are flagship products, with the Boses being released a few months ago, and the Jabras two years ago. This means that by now, the Jabras only cost around half as much as the Boses. That doesn’t make the Boses better at everything, however. Depending on what qualities you value, one or the other could be the better pair.
I am easily distracted by noise and sound which is why I wanted great noise reduction, and Bose did not disappoint. The noise reduction of the QuietComfort Earbuds II is fantastic. I think they’re almost as good as the over-ear Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which is an amazing feat.
I use the term noise reduction instead of noise cancellation, because noise cancellation is only one component of the total noise reduction. There’s passive isolation (think earplugs) which the Boses do better than the Jabras, because the Boses get a better seal in my ears. Jabra describes Elite 85t with their oval ear tips as a semi-open design, so it’s not so strange they have less isolation. (Most Jabra true wireless earbuds except for the 85t’s have round ear tips and are described as a closed design.) It’s a bit strange though that the Boses get a better seal while also having an oblong shape (though more stadium than oval).
The next part of noise reduction is active noise cancellation (ANC). The Jabras have good ANC, but the Boses have possibly the world’s best. Third and finally, I count noise masking as part of noise reduction: The use of regular wide-band noise to drown out irregular noises. Bose does not list noise masking as a feature of the QCE II but I do think they use it a little bit. More than other ANC products I’ve tried, the QCE II has a white noise-y hiss in the background (even with occasional hints of static). I’ve seen some people on Reddit be very unhappy about this, but to me it’s acceptable since the QCE IIs are so good at reducing external distractions which is what I use them for. I don’t know if Bose used masking on purpose or it’s just a consequence of their beefy ANC. Either way, it works.
Both the Boses and the Jabras can be paired with (remember) multiple Bluetooth sound sources, but the Boses can only be connected to one source at a time, while the Jabras can be connected to two at the same time, known as multipoint. From what I read, the first-generation QCEs could easily be switched to another sound source by pressing the button in the charging case, but the QCE II case button is only for pairing, not for switching between paired devices.
Bose has other products with multipoint such as the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, it just seems they didn’t find room for it in the earbuds. To switch sources, Bose suggests using the Bose Music smartphone app, but I find it too slow to use. Instead I use the target device’s Bluetooth menu to “steal” the connection. For example if the Boses are connected to my Android phone and I want to use them with my work computer, I press Win+K to open the connections menu, and select the Boses which then disconnect from my phone and connect to the computer. But then when I walk out of the office and the Boses lose the computer connection, they don’t automatically connect to my phone in my pocket.
Both products have stable Bluetooth connections, but the Jabras just automatically connect to the two most recent devices within range, and it Just Works.
The Jabras sound good, but the Boses sound very good, with much deeper bass, probably helped by the better seal in my ears. In fact, I’ve had to reduce the low end a bit in the equalizer, so now it’s perfect.
Another kind of sound quality is how good phone/voice calls sound to the people in the other end, listening to you. I have not tried being on the receiving end of these earbuds, but my impression, based on other people’s reviews and tests online, is that both products are acceptable but not great for call quality. However, from the music listening experience alone I will definitely say:
Both cases feel smooth and sturdy, even though closing their lids sounds a bit clacky. If they could have fit a soft-close feature for the lids, that would be really nice. Either way, the Bose case is pretty large while the Jabra case is smaller, though not small.
Each case has a battery status LED. Jabra indicates high, medium, and low battery state of charge by green, (greenish) yellow, and red. Bose lumps high and medium into one with a white light, and low battery is amber. The Jabra one seemed more intuitive to me, though I think the Bose colors might be more inclusive to color blind people, which is nice.
It’s very easy to get the buds out of the Jabra case, while it’s easiest to use two hands to get one bud out of the Bose case. Combined with a bit slow connection and auto-calibration, it takes around 15 seconds from I open the case until I can start using the Boses. With the Jabras, it takes 5 seconds as I can take one bud in each hand, and they connect quickly. The Jabra buds snap very satisfyingly back into the case after use, while the Boses require more precise handling to get back in, and have a less satisfying snap. Small things, but the Jabra case is just a joy to use.
After using the Jabras for months, I was amazed the first time I put the Boses in my ears. They felt much better than the Jabras, and the fit was more secure. After the initial impression, and after wearing the Boses for some hours, the difference did not feel as large, but the Boses are still a bit more comfortable. The Boses are also more customizable in terms of fit and stability, while the Jabras fit less securely in my ears.
The two products take different approaches: Jabra uses physical buttons while Bose uses a touch sensitive surface that you both tap and swipe. The Jabras don’t have the swiping actions so you control volume by holding down the buttons — hold right bud to increase volume and left to decrease. With Bose, each bud has full control of volume by swiping up/down, plus more actions you can do on either side such as one tap to ⏯, two taps to ⏭, and three taps to ⏮.
The Bose controls look better on paper, but the Jabras feel way better in real life. You can use the physical buttons quickly and effortlessly and always know if you pressed the correct number of times. All control actions have around one second of delay before they happen which is why the physical feedback is even more important. The touch surfaces are slower to use, require more precision and don’t give haptic feedback so you’re not sure if a tap registered and consequently if you tapped the correct number of times. And the touch surface doesn’t work with gloves or headgear that covers the ears. I love that I can use the Jabras through clothing.
Transparency mode uses the earbuds’ microphones to let you hear what’s going on around you without taking out the earbuds. Bose calls it Aware while Jabra calls it HearThrough. Bose Aware mode provides great transparency once the feature is turned on, but it’s annoyingly slow to turn on because it requires a long press, and then you have to wait for the voice prompt to tell you you’re in Aware mode. It’s faster to take a bud out than to wait for the Aware mode to turn on, so I usually just take one bud out if I need to briefly talk to someone. Jabra HearThrough is easy and quick to turn on, with or without gloves, with a single press of the left earbud, but the sound quality is not especially good.
The Jabras have the advantage that they can work in “old school” mode with neither of the newfangled ANC and HearThrough features turned on, whereas Bose only lets you fade in a straight line between Aware (max transparency) and Quiet (max ANC) — you can’t turn off the smart features. Bose on the other hand has a potential advantage with its ActiveSense feature which tries to be transparent while also cancelling/reducing loud noises in your surroundings.
It’s a draw.
Mono mode means using one earbud alone. Both products have the right earbud as the primary one, meaning that the left one is not designed to be used alone. An advantage of the Bose touch surface controls is that using only one bud gives you almost all controls on that one bud. The only choice you have to make is whether long press triggers mode switch or voice assistant, as you cannot have both on the same bud. The left Bose bud can actually be used alone for playing audio (no calls) as long as the right bud is turned on, i.e., not in the case, to relay the audio data from your phone/computer.
For Jabra, the single/double/triple press of each bud can be assigned to different actions except for volume control. Even though long pressing the right bud normally increases volume, this is disabled in mono mode, probably so you don’t set the volume too high using the right bud and then can’t get it back down because you’re not wearing the left bud which has the volume down button. You can however use the right bud to activate your device’s voice assistant and ask them to change the volume. The physical button with its limits again has the upside that it works through fabric. Finally, the right Jabra bud actually fits pretty well in the left ear, and I do use it like that occasionally.
It’s a draw.
Battery life, Water resistance
Bose claims “up to” 6 hours on a single charge and 24 hours in total including the charging case. Jabra claims “up to” 5.5 hours on a single charge and 25 hours including the case. I have not tried to confirm the numbers, but both products are totally adequate. In practice I charge the Jabra case more often, but I think that’s because its battery indicator shows a non-full battery after using only (my guess) one third of the charge whereas the Bose case shows normal status until you have used two thirds of the charge.
As for water resistance, both products are rated IPX4 (splash proof), but I’m not going to test the limits of that!
It’s a draw.
App support, Wireless charging
Both products have supporting smartphone apps. When the Jabra Sound+ app starts, it connects very quickly to the earbuds and you can use the app almost immediately. The Bose Music app, even though my phone is already connected to the earbuds and playing music, sometimes needs to “find” the earbuds when I start the app which is frustrating to wait for.
Both apps contain settings, mode setup, equalizer, help/tips, etc. The Jabra app has some extra features: It shows the case battery state, which is really nice, and it can play soundscapes like White noise, Pink noise, Waterfall, Ocean waves, etc.
The Jabra case can be charged wirelessly on a Qi charger. So could the original QCE case, but not the QCE II case. Not important to me, though it definitely is to some people.
Here’s a summary of each category winner:
|Battery life, Water resistance||Draw|
|App support, Wireless charging||Jabra|
The two products win approximately the same number of categories, but some categories are more important than others. To me, noise reduction is paramount, which is why I prefer Bose overall, but it’s no landslide victory. While I enjoy the ANC when working at the office, I also dislike having to switch Bluetooth sound sources manually, often multiple times per day.
Going outside in the winter, I definitely prefer the Jabras, with their physical buttons that I can use unhindered by winter getup. In hindsight, I should not have bought the Jabra Elite 85t’s with their semi-open design, as they let in too much external sound for my taste. I might have preferred their newer Elite 5 or 7 models.
The best product would be a lovechild of Bose and Jabra with the fit, ANC, and sound quality from Bose and everything else from Jabra. That would be hard to beat (except perhaps on call quality).