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January 14, 2022 02:00 pm GMT

Jabra Elite 4 Active review: Checking a lot boxes for $120

I review a lotof true wireless earbuds, so Im always curious what the next trends will be when companies offer their annual refresh for new products. Over the last few years, smaller sizes, better battery life and hands-free features have become the norm, but theres only so much you can do on such a tiny device.

In 2021, Jabra set the new standard for affordable wireless earbuds with the Elite 3. At $80, it covers most of the basics quite well.Now the company is improving its mid-range option with the Elite 4 Active. Its a more workout-focused model, complete with active noise cancellation (ANC) and enough moisture protection for the sweatiest of sessions. Like it did last year, Jabra is seeking to not only make its true wireless lineup compelling in terms of features and performance, but to also make the price more competitive. This $120 model delivers a lot of options that we typically see on earbuds that go for $150-$180.

The Elite 4 Active carries Jabras new design that debuted on the Elite 3, Elite 7 Active and Elite 7 Pro last year. Instead of a mostly circular earbud with an elbow that holds the microphones, the company switched to a rounded triangle shape that offers a cleaner look. Most importantly, all of Jabras latest earbuds are significantly smaller than their predecessors and the Elite 4 Active continues that trend. The smaller size not only means these buds dont stick out from your ears as much, but theyre also lighter and more comfy.

I wouldnt blame you for mistaking the Elite 4 Active for the Elite 3. Aesthetically, the main difference is the outer panel on the 3 is one big button, while that area on the 4 Active is seamless. The button is there, but its sealed off. Jabra increased the water resistance to IP57 for this model, and the onboard controls are one area where it had to increase protection. Of course, Jabra has always designed its earbuds with the Active label for workouts. Better sweat protection is usually part of that formula.

Jabra continues to revamp its true wireless lineup with compelling options at affordable prices. With the Elite 4 Active, you get upgrades like ANC and better water resistance over the base model Elite 3. Sound quality is good and battery life is solid, which helps make up for the lack of premium conveniences.
Billy Steele/Engadget

The lack of a defined panel or button proved to be an issue for me when accessing the controls. I had to train myself to remember to press in the middle of the earbud as getting too far to the top or bottom wouldnt register my actions. The outer surface of the Elite 4 Active is completely smooth, without so much as a raised dot to indicate youre in the right place. Over time I might get used to this, but after a couple weeks of testing, Im still not nailing it consistently.

Like every other Jabra model, you can tailor the Elite 4 Active to your needs via the companys Sound+ app. Since this set is Jabras mid-range option, you get more features than the entry-level Elite 3, but not quite as much as the Elite 7 Pro or Elite 7 Active. First, theres ANC and its customizable. Notice I didnt say adjustable. Specifically, the app lets you set a level of noise cancellation during initial setup. You can also tweak the balance if you need more on one side than the other. Jabra will allow you to repeat this process if you need to, but theres no easily accessible slider like the Elite 7 models.

The companys transparency mode, HearThrough, can be controlled in the app via a slider. In fact, you can even set what the on-board control for sound mode does (single press on the left side). You can have it cycle through HearThrough and ANC, HearThrough and off or HearThrough, ANC and off. The app also allows you to turn on and off Sidetone, which lets you hear your voice when youre on a call. Unlike some Jabra models, it isnt adjustable just all or nothing. Still, being able to hear yourself so youre a bit less shouty over Zoom is better for everyone. The companys own Find My feature returns as well, helping you locate a misplaced earbud if youre willing to give it the proper permissions. And on Android, you can opt for one-touch access to Spotify if thats your preferred streaming service.

Jabra continues to revamp its true wireless lineup with compelling options at affordable prices. With the Elite 4 Active, you get upgrades like ANC and better water resistance over the base model Elite 3. Sound quality is good and battery life is solid, which helps make up for the lack of premium conveniences.
Billy Steele/Engadget

For a $120 set of earbuds, I wouldnt blame you for not expecting too much in the sound department. However, Jabra has a track record of solid audio across its true wireless lineup. With the Elite 4 Active, the company maintains its reputation for buds that sound good, but not great. Theres decent clarity and nice detail, but they lack the wider soundstage and depth pricier models from the likes of Sony and Sennheiser offer.

The Elite 4 Active has pretty good sonic range, but big bombastic tracks like Run The Jewels Mean Demeanor and Gojiras Another World sound overly compressed. The bass is solid and not muddy, so keeping the energy up during workouts with hip hop, EDM, or isnt a problem. Its just that on the whole, songs lack the dimensional punch you can find with a bigger investment. For $120 though, the Elite 4 Active gets the job done in most cases.

If you find yourself yearning to tweak the EQ, you can do that in the Sound+ app via a set of sliders. If one-tap audio changes are more your style, Jabra also offers a collection of presets for quick customization. Its not the most robust set of options for dialing in the sound, but its more than you get on the ultra affordable Elite 3.

One advantage the Elite 4 Active has over the Elite 3 is active noise cancellation. As I mentioned, you can customize the feature to a degree, but its not as powerful as whats on Jabras pricer earbuds. Still, the ANC here will help block out some distractions, just dont expect it to do a lot of heavy lifting.

The Elite 4 Active has four microphones for calls. Jabra says theyre covered with a special mesh to reduce wind noise when youre outdoors. Typically, mileage varies greatly on call quality with true wireless earbuds. Most of the time you just end up sounding like youre on speakerphone. With the Elite 4 Active, the call quality is slightly better, but still not as good as if you had a microphone closer to your mouth or even pointed more towards your face. Background noise is reduced when youre talking, but any environmental roar is distracting when youre not.

Jabra says you can expect up to seven hours of battery life on the Elite 4 Active, with three additional charges in the case for a total of 28 hours. The company doesnt specify whether or not thats with ANC on, but in my tests I managed seven and a half hours with noise canceling active. Its by no means the best battery life youll find in true wireless earbuds, but its certainly enough to get you through a workday if you take a break or two. If you run out of juice before you head out the door, a quick charge feature gives you an hour of use in 10 minutes.

At $120, Jabra is offering solid mid-range specs at the same price as some companies budget models. Whats more, most of those dont offer ANC, let alone a transparency mode or customizable sound. Samsung put noise canceling inside of its cheapest true wireless model with the Galaxy Buds 2. These earbuds are tiny and comfy and wireless charging is included, but the ANC performance is just okay. Plus, the Galaxy Buds 2 are only IPX2 rated, so youll want to be careful about how wet you get them. Full price theyre $150, but weve seen them as low as $100.

If youre looking to maximize your dollars, Id suggest looking into Ankers Soundcore line. You can find a lot of value, and features, for well under $100 there. Plus, the companys top-of-the-line flagship ANC model, the Liberty 3 Pro, is only $170. And if youre good with passive noise isolation, Jabras own Elite 3 can get the job done for $60.

If Jabras new mission is to deliver the same overall quality as its previous earbuds at more affordable prices, Im here for it. With the Elite 4 Active, as it did with the Elite 3, the company has managed to offer a compelling set of features at a great price. It hasnt cut corners to do so, improving details like design and fit while maintaining its standard for sound quality. There are some omissions, but all the basics are covered and for the most part done well. Once again, we have more evidence that you dont need to spend over $150 in order to get a set of good true wireless earbuds.

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