REVIEW: Jabra redefines true wireless ?budget? quality

gLer

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[size=10pt]Full disclosure: I was sent samples of the Jabra Elite 4 Active and Elite 7 Pro by Circuit City Electronics, the official Jabra distributor in South Africa, in exchange for my honest opinion and review. While I won?t mention it as part of the review, I want to extend a special thanks to Steve Nossel, whose reputation for exceptional customer service was evident from first contact. If nothing else, Jabra has a head start on almost any other TWS brand in South Africa by virtue of the backing and support given to local customers by Steve and his team.

PART ONE

Introduction

True wireless (TWS) in-ear monitors (IEMs) are fast becoming the most popular way to listen to music on the go. The convenience of ?cutting the wires? and the freedom of using the ubiquitous smartphone as an untethered source is the perfect storm of convenience and accessibility to music anytime, anywhere.

Not only that, TWS IEMs are increasingly being packed full of modern features, like active noise canceling, which help eliminate noise from everyday environments, and considering they rely on fairly basic, lossy Bluetooth codecs, playback quality is slowly but surely catching up to fully wired earphones.

While there are dozens of different brands and models to choose from, the vast majority ? and without naming names, especially those imported from China ? are best avoided. Most of these ?cheap? wireless IEMs lack even the most basic features, and everything from build quality to audio hardware is questionable at best.

But there?s one brand that keeps getting mentioned alongside the more established TWS market leaders like Sony and Bose, despite staying firmly inside the so-called ?budget? segment: Jabra.

Part of the 150-year-old GN Group, responsible for such innovations as 2.4GHz wireless connectivity for hearing aids, Jabra is perhaps better known for its business-oriented line of headsets and their renowned voice call quality than it is for audio enthusiast wireless IEMs, and indeed some of that know-how is apparent in their consumer products too.

Towards the end of 2021, Jabra announced two new TWS IEMs aimed at two different user groups: the Elite 4 Active, for (you guessed it) active users like athletes, runners and gym enthusiasts; and the Elite 7 Pro, for business-oriented (but also active) users wanting maximum features and flexibility for both calls and music playback, without breaking the bank.

I?ll be taking a closer look at both models, having used them extensively in my daily life for the better part of two months now, and share what I consider to be their respective strengths, weaknesses, and value proposition, depending on how you?ll likely want to use them.

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Packaging and presentation

If you think there?s something Scandinavian about Jabra?s unboxing experience, you?re right. Designed in Copenhagen is proudly exclaimed on the side of the beige and yellow 4 Active box, while the 7 Pro?s more subdued warm grey packaging adds ?and Engineered? into that sentence, suggesting a more hands-on manufacturing process for the more premium of the two IEMs.

The unboxing experience itself is as stylish as it is functional. Both Jabras feature a high-resolution classy foiled and embossed image on the cover lid which, when removed, reveals a series of tabs that open in ?layers? to reveal the contents inside. Each layer is adorned with a combination of inviting text and instructions on how to connect the IEMs, charge the case, and run the Jabra Sound+ app.

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The 4 Active case is taller and slimmer than the 7 Pro case, which is flatter and easier to pocket. The 7 Pro case is also lined in a soft rubbery material on the inside, and although the smooth plastic finish is a fingerprint magnet, it has the advantage of supporting wireless charging, which the 4 Active case lacks. Both cases can also be charged with the supplied USB-C cable, with a small LED indicating the charge state and amount of battery life remaining.

Along with the cases and IEMs, each Jabra comes with a set of silicone tips (which Jabra calls EarGels) in small, medium (default), and large sizes. Although the IEMs have tiny nozzles, you may still be able to replace the stock tips with your own, but given how well they fit, I don?t see much point in tip-rolling with these.

Overall, the packaging is very well done, contains all the information you need to use the IEMs on the packaging itself, and seems to be made of recyclable material if you decide to toss it in the bin after opening. Personally, I think the care that went into designing the packaging merits you keep it around, if only to store the loose accessories so you don?t lose them.


Build quality, design and comfort

The first and most obvious difference between the 4 Active and 7 Pro is their respective designs. The Elite 4 Active earpieces are notably smaller and slightly more elongated than their big brother, designed to fit deeper in the ear for more active sessions at the gym. In contrast the Elite 7 Pro is bulkier ? but still very small, much smaller than the class-leading Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS IEMs (which I?ll compare both Jabras to later).

While the 4 Active is slightly lighter than the 7 Pro, weight really isn?t an issue for either (5g for the 4 Active, 5.4g for the 7 Pro). I had no issue getting a snug and comfortable fit with both IEMs and their supplied EarGels almost immediately, and experienced no discomfort even after hours of continuous use.

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That said, the 7 Pro, though larger, was for me the more comfortable of the two. Jabra claims over 62,000 ear impressions were taken before coming up with the final design, and whatever they did, the earpieces do seem to slide in and snuggle more closely to my outer ear than the 4 Active. Neither IEM comes with ?wingtips? that were all the rage on older models, supposedly to help keep them in place, and neither IEM needs any help sitting tight. Both easily pass the ?vigorous head shake? test, and don?t move around while I?m moving around.

Colourwise the 4 Active is available in black, navy and mint, while the 7 Pro comes in black, black titanium and beige gold, reflecting their more active and corporate sensibilities respectively. I got the navy blue 4 Active and black titanium 7 Pro to review, and must say the build quality, finish and styling on both is excellent, especially considering the price point.

The 7 Pro has a slight edge on build quality over the 4 Active, if I have to be picky, with a more premium feel overall, and while the Sony flagship is even more impressive, it also costs twice as much and is twice the size, which won?t suit those wanting smaller, lighter, and less intrusive shells.

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Where both Jabras have another advantage over the Sony is water and dust protection, with their IP57 rating besting Sony?s IPX4. Jabra is so confident that neither IEM will be damaged by water (as in light rain and sweat, not swimming), that your standard one-year warranty is extended to two years against water and dust damage when you register your IEMs online.

The entire face of each IEM (with the Jabra logo) is a physical button that can be pressed to activate the IEMs? various features and functions (see below). While not quite as ?slick? as the touch-sensitive controls found on some premium buds, there?s something reassuring about a physical button. For one thing, it prevents you from accidentally activating a function, although the downside is slight discomfort when pushing the button repeatedly.

The only other physical features on the smoothy sculpted IEMs is the external microphones used to pick up external noise, and for picking up your voice for calls. The microphones on the 7 Pro are slightly more advanced than those on the 4 Active, but I?ll touch on what that means in practice later in the review. 

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Battery life and connectivity

Two of the key specs for any TWS is battery life and Bluetooth connectivity. Both Jabras boast excellent battery life, among the best in their class. The 4 Active has a claimed 7 hours battery life per charge, with an additional 28 hours of charge capacity in the case. The 7 Pro goes one better, with 8 hours playback per charge and up to 30 hours using the case. Both can be fast-charged in the case, the 4 Active giving you an extra 1-hour playback with a 10-minute top-up, the 7 Pro needing only 5 minutes in the case for an extra hour.

Connectivity is one area Jabra seems to have cut corners to fit both IEMs into their respective price brackets. While the class-leading TWS IEMs support some at least one of the hi-res Bluetooth codec options like AptX HD or LDAC, the Jabras are limited to standard AptX (4 Active) and AAC (7 Pro) along with the usual SBC (plain vanilla Bluetooth which I can?t recommend you use if you value sound quality).

Confusingly, the 7 Pro does not support AptX, which is a superior format for anyone using Android phones, and the 4 Active does not support AAC, which makes it far less attractive to anyone using iPhones. Since iPhone only supports AAC, you?re stuck with SBC when pairing the 4 Active with an iPhone, and while many Android phones support AAC, it?s not really optimised for the platform, so 7 Pro users can expect less than optimal Bluetooth quality with their Android handsets.

All that said, Bluetooth format won?t make a huge difference to most mainstream users, so while I?m being somewhat picky about it, chances are it?s not going to be a limiting factor to your musical enjoyment, and certainly not to your calling or noise canceling experience, neither of which are negatively impacted by the codec. The one advantage of using basic codecs is that the range is usually not an issue, so you shouldn?t have any problems leaving your phone in one room and walking around the house without any drop-offs.

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Feature for feature

One of the appeals of modern true wireless IEMs ? at least the good ones ? is the sheer number of features they cram into their tiny shells.

Not only does each earpiece contain the DAC (digital-to-analogue converter, which converts the digital signals from your phone or computer into music), they also house the tiny amplifiers that drive the tiny drivers that transmit the sound to your ears. More than that, they have to contain all the smarts for advanced features such as noise canceling, two-way calling, music and call controls, and even sensors that know when you take the earpieces off or put them back on.

While the two Jabras share many features, the 7 Pro sets itself apart from the 4 Active with a number of additional features ? particularly the ability to configure and personalise sound and controls in Jabra?s Sound+ app. For example, you can change and configure the button actions on the 7 Pro, but not on the 4 Active. The 7 Pro also features additional app settings, such as MyFit, which uses the built-in microphones to test for optimal earpiece seal, and MySound, which runs a series of short hearing tone tests, and configures music playback for your specific hearing accordingly.

MyFit is a welcome feature that I?ve seen in more advanced IEMs like the XM4, but the hearing profile is something altogether new and, which I?m not sure how effective it is in practice, at least offers a different way of tailoring the sound to your liking. 

Both 4 Active and 7 Pro feature a basic 5-band equalizer that lets you fine-tune music playback, something that I found to be quite useful on both sets. The equalizer also comes with basic presets, and lets you save your own for future use.

One of the key features of the two Jabras is active noise cancellation technology which, while not quite as advanced as the class leaders Sony and Bose, is a rarity at this price point and, from my testing, proved effective at drowning out the everyday sounds.

As a corollary to noise cancelation, Jabra included a HearThrough feature that uses built-in microphones to bring in environmental sounds and let you hear your surroundings while wearing the IEMs. This can be useful when you want to hold a quick conversation, and with a press of a button, hear what the other person is saying. It?s also useful to be able to hear your surroundings while exercising outdoors or crossing the road, for example.

You can switch between noise canceling and HearThrough modes from the Sound+ app, which also allows you to fine-tune the sensitivity of both.

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More features and functions

While I didn?t actively test the call quality of both IEMs, in casual use they both performed amicably, with my voice using the 7 Pro sounding ever so slightly clearer to the caller on the other side of the line. This is likely a factor of the 7 Pro?s two additional microphones, along with the bone conduction microphone technology it uses, which the 4 Active lacks.

Both IEMs also feature SideTone, which lets you hear your own voice during a call so you know how loudly you?re speaking. It?s enabled by default during calls but can be switched off using the app.

The 7 Pro gives you more sophisticated connectivity and playback features, including true Multipoint support that lets you connect the IEMs to two devices at the same time. This is useful when you?re working on your laptop, making Zoom calls, for example, but can stay connected to your phone to receive calls and play music in-between without disconnecting from either device. It?s a feature even the Sony XM4 currently lacks.

In addition, the 7 Pro?s wearing sensors detect when you take your IEMs off and can auto-pause whatever music is playing ? or mute phone calls ? without you having to touch any of your devices. It?s a feature I?m surprised was left out of the 4 Active, but appreciate how difficult it is to squeeze every conceivable feature into the price bracket.

In summary, while both Jabras are packed full of some of the very latest features previously the domain of higher-end products, the 7 Pro is especially impressive for the sheer number of features it includes for the price. Aside from a few advanced options like Sony?s speak-to-chat, which puts the IEMs into ambient sound mode as soon as your voice is detected, the 7 Pro doesn?t leave me wanting, feature for feature, against its illustrious peer.

Even the 4 Active, which offers more basic controls and features, has enough to keep all but the most finicky users happy. The stuff that counts ? active noise canceling, HearThrough, and equalizer controls ? is all there, and while app customization on the 4 Active isn?t extensive, it does the job perfectly. Any way you look at them, these are great value IEMs that don?t feel like mutton dressed as lamb, but instead feel right at home at the gym, the office and the boardroom.
 

gLer

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PART TWO

Sound impressions

I tested the Jabras with a range of music, paired with an LG V60 smartphone and Apple MacBook Pro. To be honest, I wasn?t expecting miracles with either IEM, given their price points and limited connectivity options, but what I heard actually exceeded my expectations.

Starting with the 4 Active, I hear the tuning as down-the-line mainstream, which is to say slightly bass boosted for bigger booms and drops with modern pop and RnB music, a flat if slightly recessed midrange, and lifted treble to emphasise details and sparkle. While I enjoy the bigger bass, the treble is a touch forward for my liking, but I?m more sensitive to this than many, so your mileage may vary here. Vocals are mostly clear and detailed, with just a touch of hollowness and grain compared to more refined (and more expensive) drivers.

The percussion sections in Brandi Carlile?s The Story are precise and punchy, with just enough bite to the guitars and kick to the drums. Brandi?s voice isn?t as crisp as I?ve heard it, but doesn?t leave me wincing either. Switching pace to Olivia Rodrigo?s happier, delivery is sharp but not fatiguing, and the Bluetooth compression less noticeable than it is with some of my reference tracks. 

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Technically the 4 Active is a decent performer too. I didn?t find soundstage to be lacking, with instruments and vocals fairly well separated and positioned on the stage. Dynamics are good, with many tracks getting me toe-tapping without even realizing it, and while the resolution is never going to be the strong point of any TWS IEM, let alone a budget model, I don?t have to strain to hear the details.

Switching to the 7 Pro, I did find the sound quality to be slightly better than the 4 Active, but not without some EQ tweaking. Out of the box, the 7 Pro is even more V-shaped than the 4 Active, with a bigger bass boost (like) and bigger treble boost (don?t like), the latter making some sounds harsher than they need to be. This could also be a factor of the less-than-optimal AAC codec on my Android phone, though I heard similar treble peakiness using AAC with the Macbook Pro.

Where 7 Pro does have an edge over the 4 Active is technical performance, the stage slightly wider and more open, with more air between the instruments and vocals. Instrument timbre is also improved, with the string sections in Max Richter?s rendition of Vivaldi?s Winter 1 coming off as more lifelike and detailed. Resolution, as such, is also improved with the 7 Pro, and even though the two IEMs seem to be using the same 6mm dynamic driver, the design of the audio paths and earpiece cavities must be different enough to give the 7 Pro its advantage.

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On the whole, both IEMs share quite a similar tonality, warm but clear, with some bass and treble roll-off at the extremes which, frankly, should be expected at this level. For casual listening and even more focused listening sessions, you?ll be left wanting by the limited Bluetooth bandwidth more than you will the quality of the audio hardware, which is a credit to Jabra?s engineering chops.

This becomes abundantly clear when switching to a higher-end TWS like the Sony XM4, with its high-res LDAC support and more intrinsically-designed drivers and acoustic chambers. Compared to the Jabras, the Sony immediately impresses with the control and depth of its bass, crisp and grain-free vocal delivery, and smooth but relaxed treble that needs little to no EQ in my opinion. The Sony is also wider-sounding and more detailed, which you?d expect for the significantly higher asking price at this level. That doesn?t mean the Sony?s sound will necessarily be to everyone?s preference, with an even warmer, more relaxed presentation than the livelier Jabras. 

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Verdict and closing thoughts

The Elite 4 Active and 7 Pro mark my first experience with the Jabra brand, which on this evidence, won?t be my last. From the classy packaging and unboxing, to the well-made cases and earpieces, exceptionally comfortable fit, and abundance of included features, these IEMs make a mockery of their ?budget? pricetags and set themselves apart from similarly-priced but markedly inferior Chi-Fi knockoffs.

Considering the company?s heritage in best-in-class business communications solutions, it?s probably not surprising that the new Elite series inherits many of the thoughtful features that put Jabra on the map. Water and dust resistance, for example, seems like an obvious place to start for IEMs designed for active use, but this isn?t always the case, and even class leaders like Sony don?t go as far as Jabra in protecting their products from the elements.

Call quality is another area of expertise, and while I don?t think the 4 Active and 7 Pro display quite as high a standard of call quality and legibility as Jabra?s dedicated business communications headsets, they go some way to mitigating the obvious disadvantages of the TWS form factor to make call quality more than workable in professional environments. Moreover, noise canceling ? and effective noise canceling at that ? is rarely a feature at this price point, yet here we are.

It's not all sunshine and roses, however. Sound quality, while more than adequate, isn?t going to turn any audiophile heads, but if you find the tonality of one or both of these IEMs to your liking, I don?t think they?ll leave you wanting either. Then there?s the lack of hi-res Bluetooth support, which I suppose should be expected, but I would have liked to see AptX and AAC featured on both IEMs, and not one or the other.

The Elite 4 Active is best suited for those wanting a full-featured wireless IEM that?s comfortable to wear for long sessions at the gym or hikes up the mountain, come rain or shine, without cutting too many corners to hit a very attractive price point. With long battery life, a sturdy case, an easy fit that doesn?t rely on funky wingtips to stay put, and a well-designed app that lets you tweak the sound and some basic features, it would my current for anyone on a budget wanting a high-quality, versatile TWS IEM for everyday use.

The Elite 7 Pro is equally well-suited for active individuals but adds some extra features that working professionals will appreciate while somehow remaining reasonably affordable. For starters it gives you far more control from the Sound+ app, ensuring you get a proper seal, and even accounting for minor hearing issues. It also has sensors that automatically pause your music when removing an earpiece, and voice prompts (rather than different tones on the 4 Active) make it easier to know which settings you?ve tweaked or which mode you?re in. Sound quality is also improved over its younger sibling, as is call quality, with more microphones and more effective microphone technology making sure your Zoom colleagues hear every word you say. It?s probably the best all-round TWS I?ve used for the budget, and is an easy recommendation for anyone wanting a full-featured TWS at this price point.

The Jabra Elite 4 Active is available at all good Jabra retailers, including Takealot, for R2,199. The Jabra Elite 7 Pro is likewise available at [url=https://www.takealot.com/jabra-elite-7-pro-true-wireless-in-ear-anc-earbuds/PLID73160564] Takealot and most Jabra retailers for R3,999.
 

capetownwatches

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Wonderfully comprehensive review, thanks for sharing.
If I don't feel like spending R2,200, what in your opinion is the next best option that is not a total waste of money?

I seldom use IEMs.
 

KNL

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Thank you for the review.  I use Jabra USB headsets at work and have always been impressed with the sound quality I am getting out of my run of the mill computer headsets when using it to listen to music.  So much that I have stopped using my dedicated headphone for listening to music at work.
 

gLer

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capetownwatches said:
Wonderfully comprehensive review, thanks for sharing.
If I don't feel like spending R2,200, what in your opinion is the next best option that is not a total waste of money?

I seldom use IEMs.
The Jabra Elite 3 is an excellent set of IEMs at considerably less than these two. It may not have all the features and functions, but is probably the best budget IEM out there atm. I'd avoid no-name Chi-Fi products if at all possible and go with a trusted brand with local support. If you need (decent) noise canceling, the Active 4 would be my pick. It's a bargain at this price point. 
 

Soundfox

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I have a pair of Jabra Elite 4 Active. They are comfortable, something I often have problems with other IEMs. I run most days with them and they never fall out.
Love them.
 
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