Jabra Evolve2 85 Reviewed

Toward the end of 2020 I looked at Jabra’s Evolve2 65 headset and found it just a hair short of perfection.

The Evolve2 85 are the bigger, beefier, badder sibling of the 65 and are similarly excellent. It’s almost as if Jabra know what they’re doing. Like the Evolve2 85 the 65 frustratingly miss the trick of putting the Bluetooth dongle (or a USB port) in the USB-connected charge-stand but otherwise they’re also near perfection.

I tested the Evolve2 85 over several months with my iPhone and a Starlabs Lite MK3 running Linux Mint. During this testing I participated in 1:1 calls and general videoconferencing meetings, and even a video “podcast”. The Evolve2 85 held up excellently in all cases, although Linux’s audio subsystem can lead to some irritating quirks and – as you might guess – Jabra’s desktop software (which is actually… not bad and has changed since my review of the 65) is *not* available on Linux. Though there’s a Linux SDK which requires a membership to download and includes – as you might have guessed – a pre-compiled, managed shared library. It also includes an example Qt project and pre-compiled binary that I could pretty much just run and get a very rough and ready interface to configure Evolve2 85 settings on Linux…. why don’t you… just release this as a Linux client Jabra?

Bluetooth bandwidth and multi-device frustrations

Like the Evolve2 65 the 85 have similar issues with Bluetooth bandwidth. This is unsurprising, since the problems with Bluetooth audio are endemic to Bluetooth itself. The battle between high quality audio input *and* output continues, and the Jabra Evolve2 85 will either give you excellent stereo audio listening quality *or* tinny audio and microphone input but not both.

Another minor frustration I discovered between my Linux laptop and iPhone was the tendency for *something* on Linux (I haven’t identified what, but I’m looking at you Pulseaudio) to grab the audio output device and relentlessly monopolize it, to the point where I can move upstairs with the headphones and not get any audio out of my phone at all. This only seems to happen if “Sound” settings is configured to use the Jabra microphone input, and presumably Linux keeping the microphone “hot” is what causes the conflict. Ah. Bluetooth headphones. Such endless fun.

These minor and near universal issues aside, the Jabra Evolve2 85 are excellent… let’s find out why.

Big, bad, bassy, but business

The Jabra Evolve2 85 is as big as the Evolve2 65 is small. This large, over-ear design is much, much more preferable to me and offers excellent passive (and active, but we’ll get to that) sound isolation plus a comfortable, lightweight and low-pressure fit that I can wear for long durations.

Despite being large, the 85 are still unashamedly business with a sleek, minimal design that echoes the Evolve2 65’s appearance. The 85 is more or less the 65 scaled up, albeit it falls a little short in material finish. Unlike the 65 the bits joining the ear cups onto the head band are not wholly metal on the 85. They don’t need to be, they’re bigger, stronger and internally reinforced with metal in addition to using a metal hinge… but the lack of a real metal surface finish feels ever so slightly cheap on such a monster expensive headset. With Apple setting the bar high in this regard, and throwing absolute caution to the wind when it comes to weight and comfort I wonder if Jabra could have pushed the envelope a little further here. I can take those extra few grams for a premium feel, I swear!

Despite this petty complaint the design of the 85s works and they look at home while out and about and in a business environment. They look at home at home, too, which is where business seems to be for me right now.

One design cue the 85 didn’t take from their smaller sibling is the huge, always visible boom mic. The 85 are clearly designed for both business and casual wear serving your daily videoconferencing needs along with your insatiable desire to walk while listening to obnoxiously loud music (wait, that’s not just me is it?). They *have* a boom mic, but it slots very neatly and discretely into the right ear-cup. It slides cleanly down and rotates into place with a two step action that’s very *Business Mode: Engage* and you might be forgiven for thinking you’ll need to repeat this procedure in public, stomaching the chagrin and pretending to be very srs… but no… Jabra are keen to make sure your cool headphones look cool outside in front of random strangers you’ll never see again. You can use the integrated ear-cup microphones – this thing has TEN microphones in it, TEN! – to place calls just fine. Hate the integrated microphones? You can even disable them, and spend 10 seconds going “hello, hello” before you remember to deploy the boom. Jabra’s broad variety of device settings clearly paint a picture of demanding customers who leave no stone unturned.

Like the Evolve2 65 the 85 include a “busy light” which illuminates when you’re “busy”. This is a useful feature in business settings when everyone’s aware of and respects the lights “don’t interrupt me, I’m on a call” authority. It has very little practical use in a home environment, though, but does let people on the other end of a video call know that you’re very, very serious and professional indeed… while dressed from the waist down in pyjamas and takling over Pingu in the City.

Fun Facts For Friends

Like the 65 the 85 support audio over USB Type-C so you can use them as a wired USB headset if you find a long enough, flexible enough cable. *Cough* Anker *Cough* will sort you out. This feature might be useful to some, but I feel it’s probably best used as a way to prolong the life of the headset once the battery is well and truly dead.

Desk stand demands supplementary data signal

Just like the Evolve 2 65 dock, the 85 dock demands a data connection to a computer before it will charge the headset. This is curious, since I’m at a loss for what functionality this provides. On the Evolve 2 65 I hypothesized that the dock could detect the headphones being lifted off the hook but I’m not so certain this is true. Nobody has leapt in to correct me, though, and the dock does show up as a USB HID device with a manufacturer defined mystery meat IN endpoint.

Like the Evolve 2 65 the 85’s Desk Stand takes a little practise to get used to. Locating the headphones in just the right place to charge them can be tricky and is best accomplished by holding both cups in one hand and plonking them down while taking care to locate the neckband in the cradle. Still this is decidedly easier than locating the USB cable down the back of your desk, plugging it in, and leaving the headphones hanging over the edge of your desk or just plonked somewhere untidily. Like the 65 – It feels silly to keep comparing these to the Evolve 2 65 but these two offerings are so exceptional that I’d be tempted to say pick one or the other if you’re in the market for a WFH headset – the benefit of the desk stand/charger/dock is extremely noticable within just a few days of using these headphones. The simple fact that they’re always placed somewhere tidily and always charged means there’s never any mental burden to maintaining your headset- it’s always there, always good to go. By contrast truly outdoorsy bluetooth headphones that aren’t designed around desktop, office use tend to lack a good charging solution and are almost without exception a huge nuisance to keep charged.

That’s not to say Jabra’s charging stand is perfect- they’ve missed a trick with the Evolve 2 85- they’re seating a flat ear cup very precisely into a flat desk stand but relying on sprung metal contacts to make a connection. I guess the old ways are the most reliable, but I’d love to see some sort of standard wireless charging involved here- you can get Qi charge pads for five bucks so there’s really no excuse not to build this into a ~£400 product. This, coupled with integrating the bluetooth dongle *into* the Desk Stand (either directly, or by means of a concealed USB port), would comprise the two biggest changes I’d like to see in a Jabra Evolve *3* range.

Noise cancelling needed in kitchen

Noise cancelling can be a little hit and miss, with some being susceptible to the sensation of pressure it creates on the ears. With my ears being a little worse for wear anyway, I’m not necessarily the most reliable source of information about how good noise cancelling actually is.

The Evolve2 85 offer excellent passive noise cancelling as a first line of defence against household noise. Having been perched in kitchens for months upon months this has been a godsend to preserving my zen. The active noise cancelling offers an additional boost over this, deadening more repetative sounds such as washing machine or dishwasher rumbling. It’s not all that useful in a home office environment, however, where most noise is transient, unexpected and thoroughly immune to the methods used to cancel more repetative noises. For the most part I’ve unwittingly run the Evolve2 85 with ANC on, but since my old life of 5 hour train commutes and 5 minute walks into the office has been left in the dust by you-know-what I’ve had precious little opportunity to really test it. If ANC is important to you, you’re going to have to (and I hope you already are, since this is a pricy proudct!) seek out additional opinions!

Software actually super awesome

Not content to rest on their laurels, Jabra have completely overhauled their Jabra Direct software since I reviewed the Evolve2 65. Is this change for the better? Yes.

The new Jabra Direct software takes a dramatic visual turn, updating to a more modern, flat, aesthetic that might feel a little overkill to some but really throws away the visual noise from the settings pages in favour of clear, detailed, in-line descriptions of what each setting actually does. It feels grown up and modern and Jabra’s possibly accidental use of blue and yellow contrasting colours results in extremely strong visual guidance when and where there is a call to action.

Navigating from the settings of one device to another now takes more clicks, but it this also means that things like the device list – previously at the bottom of the application – have got right out of the way and left a cleaner, more focussed interface that makes it much easier to locate, understand and toggle the relevant setting. No doubt there are plenty of criticisms I could level at the way confirm/cancel actions move around the UI as you navigate, and the lack of any visual means to guide your eye to the correct toggle for a given setting, but the software is – on the whole – cleaner, clearer and better.

Aftermarket replacements available reluctantly, are really expensive

While you can easily net a replacement or additional desk stand for £50-£60 a replacement Jabra Link 380 dongle will set you back an eye-watering £85 on Amazon and replacement ear cushions – an almost inevitability on every-day wear headphones – are a little tricky to find from a B2C retailer and will set you back about £24 from specialist telecom/communications shops, may or may not be available from BT’s Shop, and are probably best acquired directly from Jabra even though they’ll run you almost £30 delivered. They’re easy enough to pull off and replace- relying on plastic clips rather than any clever magnetic arrangement- and I found mine easiest to pull off with two fingers hooked around the top of the ear cup and a good, slightly nerve-wrackingly firm pull.

If Jabra are serious about targeting the new working-from-home movement they need to make replacement parts available more widely in traditional B2C settings – pretty much Amazon – and try to get those prices down to something a little less excessive. In fact I think a replacement set of ear cushions should come with the product since these things tend to wear out in a couple of years for me, and replacement availability tends to remain sketchy. Shipping a bonus free pair would reduce shipping costs and environmental impact, and prolong the duration of the headset making for a win/win.

Overall

The Evolve 2 85 are far and above some of the best headphones I’ve had the pleasure to use. They’re very squarely targeted for office use and I’d strongly recommend them to someone looking for an extremely solid working-from-home conferencing setup that can deliver excellent audio quality for music listening and drowning out office/household noise.

Like all Bluetooth headphones – the 85 suffer a bandwidth problem that results in tradeoffs between listening and recording quality that make them entirely unsuitable for recording professional quality audio, podcasts, live streams and other more permenant voice recordings. They are similarly unsuitable for gaming and absolutely no substitute for a desktop microphone setup, but they are an extremely convenient pick-up and use product for office communications and even more essential where your office might be perched at the end of a kitchen table, or roaming through the house. Since receiving the Evolve 2 85 I’ve switched to a permenant desk setup, but they remain my stable for communications because I like to pace about, move about, grab things, tinker and fidget while I’m in meetings and a fixed desktop microphone wouldn’t allow me to do that.

I’m still very keen to try out some solid 2.4GHz communication headsets to see how they fare against Bluetooth. There are strengths and weaknesses to both, however, and I like having one pair of headphones shared between my phone and whatever PC I have plugged the dongle into. A hybrid would truly be the watchword here, and perhaps I should refine my wanted list for the Jabra Evolve 3 to be:

1. 2.4 GHz high definition audio input/output support in the dongle (though I may be making a crucial mistake in assuming this isn’t a horrorshow in an office environment)
2. Dongle or USB port integrated into the desk stand
3. Qi (or similar) standardised charging. Heck, put some magnets in the ear cup to align it and hold it onto the dock… they’re all the rage now!

But this wishlist aside… Jabra really knock it out of the park for their specific niche, and the Evolve2 65 – which I’ve loaned to a family member for Zoom-based interviews/meetings – are still still killing it, too.