At the start of September, Jabra announced its new lineup of true wireless earbuds – the Jabra Elite 3, Elite 7 Active and Elite 7 Pro. While the latter two devices will only be available in October, the Elite 3 is available for purchase right now.
In my original article, I wrote that the Elite 3 was the most interesting device among the three, mainly because of its price tag. At just S$128, it’s at the same price point as the cheapest buds from Sudio, and even cheaper than the S$149 budget-oriented Google Pixel Buds A-Series.
With aptX support, IP55 water and dust resistance, and a 7-hour battery life, the Elite 3 is shaping up to be a strong contender in the budget true wireless segment. Let’s see if they surpass the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ as my new default recommended buds for Android.
As always, let’s start with the key specs and features.
Jabra Elite 3 Key Specifications & Features
- 6mm drivers
- 4-mic array with HearThrough awareness feature
- IP55 water and dust resistance
- 7hr battery, 28hr with case, 10mins in case gives 1hr of playback
- Bluetooth 5.2, Codecs: Qualcomm aptX, SBC
- Alexa / Google Assistant support
- Google Fast Pair
- Ability to listen on either earbud
- No active noise cancelling (ANC), no multi-device connection
- Colours: Dark Grey, Navy, Lilac, Light Beige
Design & Build
The Jabra Elite 3 comes in a relatively compact and lightweight plastic case that’s about the same size as the case of my Galaxy Buds+. The unit that I got is Dark Grey, but it also comes in Navy, Lilac, and Light Beige options. The matte texture of the case is smooth to the touch, and in my opinion feels less cheap compared to the glossy plastic found on the Buds+. The lid however, can be a little creaky.
There’s an LED on the front below the Jabra logo indicating the case battery level. On the back there’s a USB-C port for charging. There are no other markings on the external surface of the case, making for a clean, minimalist look.
Despite not having a lip or recess on the lid, the case is easy to pop open when using two hands. One-handed operation is a bit more of a challenge due to the case’s shape. Closing the case creates a satisfying snap.
Inside, the buds are held strongly in place by magnets. They’re easy to take out, and pop back in reassuringly when you’re done with them. The buds themselves have a rather low profile — Jabra made it a point to note that they are 16% smaller than the 75t — though they are about the same size as the Galaxy Buds+.
What is different from the Galaxy Buds+ is the Elite 3’s lack of wing stabilisers. Despite this, I’ve found the fit to be fine. There are 3 sizes of eartips (S, M, L), with the medium tips coming pre-installed when you first take them out of the case.
I found the medium eartips to fit me best personally, and I’d expect them to be the best fit for most people. While they did get a little loose during a run, they never felt close to falling off.
On the subject of exercise, the Jabra Elite 3 are IP55 dust and water resistant. This means that you won’t have to worry about getting these buds wet during a workout or when caught in the rain. While they’re not specifically targetted for workouts like the Elite 7 Active are, they certainly will get the job done. The IP rating is definitely a nice inclusion at this low price point.
The Jabra Elite 3 do not have active noise cancelling (ANC), nor do I expect them to at this price point. Despite this, these do have decent passive isolation. I’ve found that they’re fine for casual listening in a coffee shop or on the train. Of course if you want the ANC, Jabra will gladly point you towards the Elite 7 Pro, Elite 7 Active, or even the older Elite 85t or Elite 75t.
While most buds offer touch controls, Jabra has opted for a large physical button on each bud. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, touch controls can be finicky and easily triggered accidentally. On the other hand, with buttons, it can be uncomfortable to push the earbud further into your ear every time you want to pause your music.
Controls on the Jabra Elite 3 are simple and fully-featured. Press on the right earbud to play / pause. Double press to skip a track, triple press to go back a track. On the left earbud, pressing once turns on / off Jabra’s HearThrough transparency mode. Pressing twice either triggers Google Assistant / Alexa or launches Spotify (configurable in the Sound+ app).
You can even do volume controls on the buds themselves, something which isn’t always the case for true wireless earphones. Pressing and holding the right earbud increases the volume, while doing the same on the left earbud decreases it.
While you can’t customise these controls, they are intuitive and fully-featured. That’s not something that can be said for a lot of true wireless earbuds out there, and so I’m happy with it.
Everything’s been pretty positive so far, but how do the Jabra Elite 3 sound? Pretty good.
Yes, they aren’t quite as detailed as the Galaxy Buds+. But they also cost about half the price at launch. And for the price, the quality of the audio is more than fine.
The sound signature on Jabra Elite 3 is quite clearly V-shaped, meaning that bass and treble are elevated. Most mass-market consumer audio products are V-shaped, so it should be a sound signature that most people are familiar with.
I A/B tested the Jabra Elite 3 with the Galaxy Buds+, Sudio T2, and my Sennheiser HD560S as a neutral reference point. Out of the bunch, the Galaxy Buds+ are certainly the brightest, the Sudio T2 are the most neutral, and the Elite 3 are the warmest. I wouldn’t be surprised by this given that bass is literally the first thing highlighted on the Elite 3’s product page.
The warmer sound of the Elite 3 does result in quite a relaxing listen. The lofi hip hop music playlist on Spotify sounds very mellow on these, and I’d say that these earphones are a good match for the genre. On the other hand, this sound signature is also pretty good for getting hyped on workout tracks. When I was running to Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets To My Downfall, I found that the elevated bass was sufficient to keep me pumped.
Vocal-oriented tracks, and female vocals in particular, are where the Elite 3 starts to fall short due to its recessed mids. On Taylor Swift’s ’tis the damn season for example, vocals don’t sound as intimate on the Elite 3 as compared to the other buds. That’s not to say that it sounds bad; I just find the song more enjoyable on the Galaxy Buds+ or the Sudio T2.
This could potentially be remedied with EQ. While Jabra has included in its Sound+ app 6 customisable EQ presets to alter the sound signature, I found this to be too limited and couldn’t get the sound to be exactly what I wanted. Fortunately, I’ve been told that full EQ customisation will be available later in the year through a firmware update.
Features & Sound+ app
There are quite a few welcome features on the Jabra Elite 3 that aren’t very common at this price point. The first is Jabra’s HearThrough transparency mode, which uses the earphones’ 4-mic array to let you listen in on your surroundings. This is useful for when you want to have a quick conversation with someone without taking off your earbuds.
It takes about a second to activate after pressing the left earbud, and you get an audio cue to let you know that it’s on. It works fine in quieter environments, but I did find it difficult to make out voices in noisy environments such as a coffee shop. I think it’s more or less on par with the transparency mode on the Galaxy Buds+. The best transparency mode I’ve heard thus far is still the PXC 550’s, which literally sounds like you’re not even wearing headphones at all.
Other features include quick access to voice assistants (Alexa or Google Assistant) or Spotify. I personally don’t use these features, but they’re welcome additions. Google Fast Pair provides a seamless pairing experience for Android phones. Taking the Elite 3 out of their case for the first time, a prompt to connect appeared on my OnePlus 6T, and the buds were paired and ready to go within a couple of seconds.
The Sound+ app allows you to view the aforementioned controls or change EQ presets. You can also update the firmware through the app, register for warranty, find your lost earbuds, or view the full manual (though it’s in Chinese for some reason). As mentioned previously, full EQ customisation will also be available in the app via a firmware update coming at the end of the year.
Some miscellaneous things that I’ve noticed about these headphones:
- There is an audible noise floor, which can be quite annoying. You can hear the noise floor go away after several seconds of no music being played.
- The microphone quality from the 4-mic array is good. From my limited testing I’ve found it to be better than microphones on the Galaxy Buds+.
- I found no audio delay issues during video playback.
- No multipoint support, meaning you can’t have these connected to multiple devices at a time.
- Jabra claims 7 hours of continuous playback with an additional 21 hours provided by the case. I have no reasons to doubt this from my testing.
Pricing & Conclusion
- Affordable and competitive price of S$128
- aptX codec, HearThrough transparency mode, voice assistant support, Google Fast Pair
- Comfortable fit
- Nice build quality, compact case, clean design
- IP55 water and dust resistant
- Good battery life
- Limited EQ presets to choose from (full EQ customisation coming later this year with a firmware update)
- No multi-device connection
- No ANC
Let’s talk about the competition.
Google’s Pixel Buds A-Series cost S$149. They come with more Google-y features like being able to launch Google Assistant with your voice. But they have a lower IPX4 rating and poorer battery life of 5 hours compared to the Jabras.
Sudio’s Nio and Tolv true wireless earphones are S$129. While I haven’t tried the Tolv, I’ve reviewed the Nio. They aren’t in-ear and hence have little passive isolation. Furthermore, the sound quality isn’t as good as the Jabra Elite 3, they only support the lower quality SBC codec, and the water resistance rating is lower at IPX4. Sudio is launching the T2 soon, and I’ve got a review unit which I am currently testing. First impressions are positive – I find that they generally sound better than the Elite 3. They’ve also got ANC and are “splash proof”. But they’re also more expensive than the Elite 3 at S$179.
Then there’s the competition from Jabra itself. The older Elite 65t and Elite 75t are still being sold at S$128 and S$158 respectively. The latter adds ANC to the mix for $30 more. It’s worth noting that the ANC on the 75t was added a year after launch as a firmware update and so probably isn’t as good as something like the Elite 85t or soon-to-be-launched Elite 7 Pro. The older models are also bulkier than the Elite 3.
So, does the Jabra Elite 3 replace the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ as my new default recommendation for Android? Yes. At the price point of S$128, it’s hard to find a better pair of all-purpose true wireless earbuds. The Jabra Elite 3 is compact and lightweight, provides decent sound quality, and can even be taken to the gym. When full EQ customisation comes later this year, these will be nearly perfect for what they’re trying to be.
You can purchase the Jabra Elite 3 on Jabra’s website.
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