I review a lot of true wireless earbuds, so I’m 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 there’s 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. It’s 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 Jabra’s 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 Jabra’s latest earbuds are significantly smaller than their predecessors and the Elite 4 Active continues that trend. The smaller size not only means these buds don’t stick out from your ears as much, but they’re also lighter and more comfy.
I wouldn’t 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 it’s 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.
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 wouldn’t register my actions. The outer surface of the Elite 4 Active is completely smooth, without so much as a raised dot to indicate you’re in the right place. Over time I might get used to this, but after a couple weeks of testing, I’m still not nailing it consistently.
Like every other Jabra model, you can tailor the Elite 4 Active to your needs via the company’s Sound+ app. Since this set is Jabra’s 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, there’s ANC and it’s customizable. Notice I didn’t 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 there’s no easily accessible slider like the Elite 7 models.
The company’s 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 you’re on a call. Unlike some Jabra models, it isn’t adjustable – just all or nothing. Still, being able to hear yourself so you’re a bit less shouty over Zoom is better for everyone. The company’s own Find My feature returns as well, helping you locate a misplaced earbud if you’re willing to give it the proper permissions. And on Android, you can opt for one-touch access to Spotify if that’s your preferred streaming service.
For a $120 set of earbuds, I wouldn’t 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. There’s 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 Gojira’s “Another World” sound overly compressed. The bass is solid and not muddy, so keeping the energy up during workouts with hip hop, EDM, or isn’t a problem. It’s 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. It’s not the most robust set of options for dialing in the sound, but it’s 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 it’s not as powerful as what’s on Jabra’s pricer earbuds. Still, the ANC here will help block out some distractions, just don’t expect it to do a lot of heavy lifting.
The Elite 4 Active has four microphones for calls. Jabra says they’re covered with a “special mesh” to reduce wind noise when you’re outdoors. Typically, mileage varies greatly on call quality with true wireless earbuds. Most of the time you just end up sounding like you’re 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 you’re talking, but any environmental roar is distracting when you’re 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 doesn’t specify whether or not that’s with ANC on, but in my tests I managed seven and a half hours with noise canceling active. It’s by no means the best battery life you’ll find in true wireless earbuds, but it’s 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. What’s more, most of those don’t 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 you’ll want to be careful about how wet you get them. Full price they’re $150, but we’ve seen them as low as $100.
If you’re looking to maximize your dollars, I’d suggest looking into Anker’s Soundcore line. You can find a lot of value, and features, for well under $100 there. Plus, the company’s top-of-the-line flagship ANC model, the Liberty 3 Pro, is only $170. And if you’re good with passive noise isolation, Jabra’s own Elite 3 can get the job done for $60.
If Jabra’s new mission is to deliver the same overall quality as its previous earbuds at more affordable prices, I’m 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 hasn’t 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 don’t need to spend over $150 in order to get a set of good true wireless earbuds.