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After Jabra’s latest workout-friendly wireless earbuds were announced at CES 2022, we were eager to see how they’d hold up against their lineup of excellent fitness gear from last year, and they did not disappoint.
We had previously tested both Elite 7 Pro and the Elite 7 Active (although not the Elite 3), which delivered on strong sound quality, waterproofing, and pretty decent active noise cancellation (ANC) — but wouldn’t exactly be considered budget-friendly. When the specs came out for the new Jabra Elite 4 Active earbuds, we asked ourselves, is it possible to stay affordable while packing in all the high-quality features you need?
It’s still hard to get that Goldilocks balance when it comes to finding the best wireless earbuds for working out. Some workout buds feel comfy, but start to slip as soon as you start sweaty. Others may have a sleek design, but don’t offer as much protection against water and dust as they should. In this day and age, you might wonder why now-ubiquitous active noise cancellation (ANC) is missing, or why you can’t even adjust the EQ.
These days you shouldn’t have to sacrifice solid sound performance for rugged durability — the best workout earbuds have the best of both worlds, and the Jabra Elite 4 Active are a prime example of what you can accomplish at a reasonable price point. The Apple AirPods 3 should take note, because Jabra’s latest showing packs a secure fit, IP57 waterproofing, and a few key extras without breaking the bank.
Jabra Elite 4 Active: Design and Shape
The Elite 4 Active has a compact, ergonomic shape that feels surprisingly snug without needing to add extras like wingtips, ear hooks or fins to keep them in place. You can adjust the fit with the extra silicone ear tips provided. We like that they’re as light as it gets, even if they don’t necessarily feel as weightless as the Beats Fit Pro buds.
The part of the earbud that’s deepest in your ear is a smooth plastic, while the outside has a slightly rubbery texture — they’re not super grippy, but when I tested them during a HIIT workout, they stayed in place the majority if the time, only needing an adjustment if I laughed or moved my jaw too much (this is par for the course with most earbuds, though).
In terms of durability, the earbuds are fully waterproof in one meter for up to 30 minutes and dustproof thanks to their IP57 rating. This is actually higher than most regular noise-canceling earbuds like Bose or Sony, and on-par with some of the best headphones made with working out in mind (including Jabra’s own Elite 7 Pro and Elite 7 Active). Sweaty workouts or running in the rain won’t be a problem here.
The call quality is good, and voices come through clear and crisp. Jabra says the four microphones in the buds are “protected by a special mesh covering for added wind noise protection,” although we wouldn’t say they’re any better than the Elite 7 Active.
What we love: each earbud features physical touch controls that you press to adjust the volume, use voice assistant, accept and end calls, control playback, and switch between ANC and HearThrough modes. There’s a lot to learn (especially since the controls are split between the right and left earbud), but you get the hang of it with some practice, and I personally didn’t mind compared to the more finicky touch sensors on other earbuds.
What was lacking from the overall controls was any ear detection sensors — you won’t be able to automatically pause your music when you remove the earbuds and resume playback from putting them back in your ears. It’s a small detail, but a little annoying if someone comes up to you to start a conversation. Wireless charging is also not available, which isn’t the biggest dealbreaker, but a little confusing to leave out nowadays.
Customizable Tunes and Affordable Noise Cancellation
It’s safe to say that one of the biggest wins for the Jabra Elite 4 is not only their build, but the integration with the Jabra Sound+ app itself. Sure, you can sweat it out and the buds will stay secure, but active audiophiles will appreciate the sheer amount of customizability you’re provided for your sound.
The app (available for iOS and Android) not only allows you to control certain functions of the earbuds, such as how clearly you can hear your voice on calls, but lets you adjust the music to your tastes with several, adjustable EQ presets: including Neutral, Speech, Bass boost, Treble boost, Smooth, and Energize. This is particularly useful if you want to de-emphasize the bass-heavy kick the Jabra’s signature sound is known for. The buds themselves come with 6mm drivers that’ll give you a frequency range of 20Hz to 20kHz.
Speaking of the sound, the boosted bass on songs like Ace’s How Long is powerful on the lower frequencies without being too overwhelming. The higher frequencies and midranges, such as the vocals on songs like The Weeknd’s Out of Time, are undistorted and still sound robust and satisfyingly balanced. Drum-heavy performances like Travis Barker’s playing on Avril Lavigne’s Bite Me can be unnaturally heavy at times, especially if you bump the bass further on the EQ, but playing around with the balanced mostly fixes this.
The buds are compatible with Bluetooth 5.2 and support AptX and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but unfortunately not the AAC codec that Apple favors for its flagship smartphones. If you’re using iOS devices, you’ll have to use SBC, which doesn’t support hi-fidelity listening. That being said, on an iPhone, we thought that the sound was bright and rich enough for its price range, even if hi-fi purists won’t find total accuracy here.
Additionally, the Elite 4 Active’s active noise cancellation works pretty well at killing ambient noise like traffic on the street, although having a tight seal on the earbuds certainly helps. It’s not as effective as some of the better buds made for noise cancellation like the Sony WF-1000XM4, but you’ll still be able to hear your music clearly. Jabra also has a HearThrough transparency mode, and you can actually adjust how much sound passes through the buds with a slider on the app. This was a neat feature, but the higher frequencies of certain voices and doorbells still managed to get through.
So how’s the battery life? Jabra claims the Elite 4 Active gets seven hours of playback per charge, and additional three charges in the charging case for a total of 28 hours. If you want to extend that battery life a little more, you can get 8.5 hours with ANC off, and 34 hours with the case. That’s longer than you’d get with the AirPods Pro 3, and plenty for even the longest workout sessions.
Are the Jabra Elite 4 Active Worth It?
While the Jabra Elite 4 Active aren’t the most innovative fitness-minded earbuds we’ve seen, it’s rare that you can find this level of durability, comfortable fit, decent ANC and solid battery life in buds made for working out. If you don’t want to shell out too much coin on higher-end active buds like our favorites, the Beats Fit Pro, these make a great alternative.
Based on our initial testing, the Elite 4 Active are some of the highest-quality earbuds you can get at this price point, with excellent performance during workouts and an impressively stacked EQ. The Elite 4 Active has something for everyone, from athletes to audiophiles, all at a great value.