1. Out of the box

With bluetooth installed and working on Arch Linux, basic listening was functional out of the box with the newly bought Jabra Elite 85H noise cancelling headphones.

To initiate pairing press and hold the middle button on the right headphone. They show up in Blueman as a bluetooth headset. Two audio profiles are available:

  • Headset Head Unit (HSP/HFP)
  • High Fidelity Playback (A2DP sink)

The first profile is for conference calls aka headset mode. The second one for music listening.

Launching media files while connected to the A2DP sink plays them in hifi quality. Use the upper and lower button on the right headphone to control the sound volume.

The ANC button on the left headphone switches through 3 listening modes: ANC on, ANC off and HereThrough.

On the right side, there’s also a smart assistant button, which I haven’t bothered setting up.

The 3 buttons on the right (volume buttons + multipurpose button in the middle) also serve as media control buttons:

  • middle button: pause / resume
  • hold top button: next track
  • hold lower button: prev track / start from beginning

On most music players I tried, the media controls were not working out of the box. VLC being the typical exception.

With the A2DP sink activated, it is possible to have multiple devices connected to the headphones at the same time. It works like this: when connected to a laptop and smartphone simultaneously, you can pause music on one device and start playing something else on another device without the need to (dis)connect, pretty sweet.

Calls also work out of the box. You accept or reject calls with the middle button on the right headphone, or with voice commands. The headset switches the audio profile automatically into headset mode when needed, but does not swith back after the call. Teams calls work pretty good on condition that the Teams app is started after the headphones are connected. Check the Teams settings to enable the mic on the Jabra’s.

2. Keyboard media controls

First we need to install playerctl which is a MPRIS media player controller. This allows keyboard keys to be mapped to media control actions like play, pause, next etc.:

yay playerctl

To check for active players like mpd, cmus, Spotify etc:

playerctl -l

Available commands are invoked as an argument:

playerctl play
          pause
          play-pause
          stop
          next
          previous
          position [OFFSET][+/-]
          volume [LEVEL][+/-]
  
check player -h for the rest

With this set up, you can add mappings to e.g. your i3 config. If not already present you can add volume mappings as well. Use xev or xbindkeys to find the scancodes for the keys you’d like to use.

bindsym XF86AudioMicMute exec playerctl play-pause
bindsym XF86AudioMute exec amixer sset 'Master' toggle
bindsym XF86AudioLowerVolume exec amixer sset 'Master' 5%-
bindsym XF86AudioRaiseVolume exec amixer sset 'Master' 5%+

Here I mapped the mic mute button as a pause / play toggle because my Thinkpad keyboard doesn’t have dedicated media keys anymore.

To control MPD in an MPRIS compatible way, install and configure mpDris2

yay mpdris
mkdir .config/mpDris2
vim .config/mpDris2/mpDris2.conf 
[Connection]
host = localhost
port = 6600

[Bling]
notify = False
mmkeys = True
notify_urgency = 1

Enable it at login by adding mpDris2 & to .xinitrc.
To avoid interference disable it when not using MPD.

3. Media controls via headphone buttons

Next step is to link button presses on the headphones to playerctl. There’s a nice little tool called mpris-proxy for this, that we can run as a systemd service. It’s included in the bluez-utils package.

yay bluez-utils

The Arch wiki explains how to set it up as a service:

~/.config/systemd/user/mpris-proxy.service

[Unit]
Description=Forward bluetooth midi controls via mpris2 so they are picked up by supporting media players

[Service]
Type=simple
ExecStart=/usr/bin/mpris-proxy

[Install]
WantedBy=default.target

Start and enable the service:

systemctl --user start mpris-proxy
systemctl --user enable mpris-proxy

At this point Ear Detection should start working to pause / resume when removing the headset from your head. With a small delay that is.

4. To do

  • On intial connection the A2DP sink isn’t always chosen by default. This needs to be fixed.
  • After a call the profile should automatically switch back to A2DP
  • Setup smart assistant. Maybe 2021 will be the year of MyCroft?

5. Review

Sound quality and ANC

The Jabra Elite 85H are bluetooth headphones, so don’t expect audiophile sound quality. Furthermore, the Jabra’s are closed, over-ear headphones with ANC processing which impacts the sound signature. But, because of this they are able to seal off sound from your surroundings and that is the scenario in which they truly shine: sound isolation. Perfect for traveling or noisy offices.

Active Noise Cancelation on the Jabra’s is impressive but not the best in its class. Altough they definitely get the job done. The louder the music, the more it will cancel out. At medium to high volume levels they will even eliminate loud vacuum cleaners and power tools. Feels like magic. In the office while listen on medium volume, I’m completely isolated and I’m able to fully zone out so that people have to do a little dance in front of me in order to catch my attention. One downside: the HearThrough mode adds static.

The sound signature is on the neutral side. A little lacking in the base region: they reach low enough, but the base is often thick and muddy. No real dealbreaker, but noticeable when listening to electronic genres like house or trance. On the other hand they have plenty of detail and good balance. I enjoyed the presence on the Live Anthology version of Breakdown by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and the punchy dynamics of Aquarius Apocalyptic by Stop Light Observations.

To conclude: The sound quality is great, not fantastic.

Bluetooth 5.0

This pair of headphones are Bluetooth 5.0 compatible, which means amazing range, multipoint and rock solid connection quality (no drops). Simply awesome!

The Moments feature on the other hand feels like a sneaky way to include AI in the product description. Nice idea, but doesn’t work well enough to be usable IRL. I would’ve prefered the inclusion of more high-quality-codecs.

Comfort + look & feel + build quality

The overall build quality and look & feel is better than expected. The woven fabric finish hides the plastic materials. In the look and feel department the Jabra’s clearly win from its direct competitors: Sony WH-1000XM series and the Bose QC series. On top of this the Jabra’s are water-resistant: no worries when it rains. Also I personally prefer Jabra’s buttons to Sony’s swipe controls.

Battery life and charging speed is just stellar: one charge lasts almost a full work week at medium volume. Nice touch is the twist motion to switch the headset off.

Comfort is also better than expected. I am able to wear these for +8 hours without any serious problems. In a warm environment your ears can heat up a little, but for me absolutely doable. I do have above average sized ears. Last item I’d like to mention is weight. They are heavier than the average ANC headset. Might bother some, not me. I’m a sucker for battery life.

6. Conclusion

All in all impressive feature set for a nice looking set of cans. They have some trade offs compared to competing offerings from Sony and Bose, but a winner when found at a discounted price. And with a little tinkering most features worked on Linux. Great job Jabra!

In my opinion the Jabra’s have better sound quality than the Bose QC’s, but the Bose QC’s have better ANC.
On the other hand, the Sony XM4’s have slightly better sound and ANC, but worse connectivity at 2x the price.
The Jabra’s beat both on battery life, look & feel and call quality.

7. Official documentation

Manual

Datasheet

Quick Start guide

Technical Specifications