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True wireless earbuds are everywhere now, and prices vary enormously. Our ears are all subtly different, so finding the right fit can be tricky. When it comes to sports buds, build material matters a lot as well, and an IP rating is a requirement. Sorting through the options can be a challenge.
At $119.99, the Jabra Elite 4 Active true wireless earbuds are not exactly a budget option, but they are excellent value for money. Jabra has a lot of experience of producing personal audio kit, including sports buds, and that really shows here.
My review sample was a lovely navy blue colour, but black and mint-green options are also available. The build material is a soft silicone. The buds weigh just 5g each, three sizes of gel are included, and these are nicely pliable to bend to each ear shape. The result is buds that fit neatly in the ear and are almost unnoticeable.
In fact I found myself leaving them in all the working day, and on a few occasions without any awareness unless the phone rang. Although I didn't punish the Jabra Elite 4 Active with long, sweaty runs, they felt extremely secure in my ear through a range of tasks, including gardening and long walks. The IP57 rating ('dust protected'/immersion in up to 1m of water for 30 minutes) will please those who do use these buds during physical workouts.
On the top of each bud, where the Jabra marque is located, is a small area you can press to accomplish a range of functions such as answer and reject calls, play, pause, skip tracks and adjust volume. It's great to have a physical rather than a touch button for these tasks: I find tapping at touch-controls on buds can be a bit hit-and-miss. Here, I got the right result every time.
Sound quality is superb right out of the box. Music is clear, there's plenty of bass and I also found the spoken word to be sharp. People I spoke to on phone calls could hear me as well as I could hear them. The buds can be used perfectly well freestanding, but the Jabra Sound+ app adds a range of features including some equaliser pre-sets that make a notable difference to audio: neutral, speech, bass boost, treble boost, smooth and energize. Users can make manual equaliser settings too, and save these with an appropriate name for later use.
The app can toggle Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). This worked reasonably well for me, although it doesn't block everything. I'm fine with that, but people who really want to cut out all external sound might be disappointed.
Hear Through mode is an alternative to Active Noise Cancellation. It is designed to admit some sounds over whatever you're listening to, while blocking others. There is a slider in the app that allows this to be set along a spectrum from strong to weak. I'm not convinced: Hear Through didn't seem to block much, and the slider didn't have much effect. However, the firmware can be updated through the app, so perhaps this and Active Noise Cancellation will improve over time.
The app also lets you know the remaining charge in each bud. Jabra says the Elite 4 Active buds can deliver up to seven hours of listening, and up to 28 hours if you include the power from a fully charged case. It takes up to 180 minutes to charge the case from empty, and a light on its front goes green when a full charge is reached. Three hours is quite a long time, but fast charging will provide up to an hour's listening from a 10-minute case charge.
These battery life figures are quoted without any information about whether Active Noise Cancellation is in use. I found that this made a big difference: with ANC off, the battery dropped around 10% an hour; with it on, the loss was around 20% an hour.
The charge case supports USB-C, and Jabra provides a short USB-C to USB-A charge cable. This could probably be omitted on environmental and cost grounds, given the increasing prevalence of USB-C.
Although we have some reservations about Active Noise Cancellation and Hear Through, the Jabra Elite 4 Active's sound quality, fit and battery life are all strong. This is a product with appeal beyond sports enthusiasts.