As a technology reviewer, I've had the privilege of testing an array of gadgets, each with its unique strengths and shortcomings. However, the opportunity to try Jabra's first foray into the direct-to-consumer hearable market, the Jabra Enhance Plus, truly piqued my interest. Being a product of GN, one of the six global hearing aid manufacturers, the expectations were high.
Upon unboxing the Jabra Enhance Plus, the earbuds' color-coding scheme instantly caught my eye. Just like conventional hearing aids, they are color-coded: blue for the left and red for the right. The ultra-small form factor is another standout feature. Weighing just under 3g, each earbud is about half as heavy as standard in-ears, almost disappearing in your ears once inserted.
The charging case complements the earbuds with its compact, lightweight design. It has a matte dark-grey exterior with a pleasant-to-touch rubber interior. The inclusion of magnets to snap the earbuds into place and secure the lid is a thoughtful touch. The case is so small it could fit into the coin pocket of my jeans - talk about convenience!
When it comes to aesthetics, the Jabra Enhance Plus maintains a conservative approach. Each earbud features a single multi-function button with a discreet Jabra logo, an embossed L or R, and a color-coded ear tip connector. If you're allergic to nickel, take note: the copper charging connectors may come in contact with your skin.
The Jabra Enhance app controls most of the earbuds' features, which makes the single-button design user-friendly but also limits your control options. Creating your personalized hearing profile using the app adjusts the volume on the left and right buds separately - a feature that I found quite handy.
One major caveat: the Jabra Enhance Plus is currently only compatible with iOS, leaving Android users out in the cold. The company is actively working on Android compatibility, but for now, it's a significant limitation, especially given that Android represents 40% of the smartphone market in the US.
Personalizing the sound of the Enhance Plus is a pretty straightforward process. The app guides you through a simplified hearing test, where you tap the screen when you hear a sound. I must admit, this personalization feature added a touch of uniqueness to the overall user experience.
On the Bluetooth front, the Jabra Enhance Plus runs on Bluetooth 5.2 and supports the SBC and AAC codecs. However, its certification under the Made For iPhone (MFi) hearing devices program restricts its compatibility to only Apple devices.
As for battery life, Jabra claims that these earbuds can run for 10 hours per charge. However, in my experience, I managed to squeeze out over 14 hours of usage, a pleasant surprise. With the case holding two additional full charges, the total battery life extended to over 30 hours, making it quite impressive considering the size of the earbuds and the charging case.
When it comes to sound isolation, the Jabra Enhance Plus performs similarly to other earbuds. With Listen Mode enabled, the earbuds amplify surrounding sound, which is crucial for a hearing device. However, the earbuds also enhance sounds that may not be as desirable, including your own voice, which can lead to the so-called occlusion effect.
The output frequency response of the Jabra Enhance Plus deviates considerably from our target curve for consumer headphones and earbuds. The bass is almost inaudible while the high-pitched piano and vocals are harshly over-emphasized. However, the Enhance Plus’s sound personalization applies to both Listen Mode and streaming audio. This corrects the imbalance for people with uneven or one-sided hearing loss, improving the overall listening experience.
The Jabra Enhance Plus is not a music lover's dream come true. While you can generally distinguish between elements of a song, the music lacks any bass and low-midrange impact. For example, in Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights," the high-pitched piano and vocals were harshly over-emphasized relative to the almost inaudible bass.
However, the Jabra Enhance Plus shines when it comes to enhancing speech. The device features signal processing technology that boosts speech intelligibility, perfect for conversations in noisy environments. Various noise reduction features like 'Environmental-based noise reduction,' 'expansion,' 'impulse noise reduction,' and 'automatic digital feedback suppression' all contribute to a clearer speech experience.
The outdoors is a challenge, though. In Listen Mode, wind noise was noticeable, indicating that sound artifacts affecting the microphone aren't properly filtered. Nevertheless, speech came through clearly, even in noisy environments.
Hands-free calling is another feature of the Jabra Enhance Plus, but it currently only supports iPhone 11 and iOS 15.3+. In my case, when paired with an iPhone 8, the phone defaulted to its internal microphone for calls or recordings, making it impossible to test the microphone quality with these earbuds.
In conclusion, the Jabra Enhance Plus is a mixed bag. It excels in certain areas, like personalizing sound and enhancing speech, and falls short in others, like music reproduction and compatibility with non-Apple devices. If you're looking for a hearable device primarily to amplify speech, and you own an iPhone 11 or later, the Enhance Plus is worth considering. However, if you are an avid music listener or an Android user, you might want to look elsewhere.
Despite its shortcomings, the Jabra Enhance Plus marks a crucial step in bridging the gap between hearing aids and consumer electronics. It may not be perfect, but it's a sign of things to come in this rapidly evolving sector. I look forward to what the future holds for hearables. For now, it's clear that there is still room for improvement.
Being an over-the-counter hearing aid solution, the Enhance Plus hearing aids can be found online on a variety of sites, including on Best Buy's website. These devices are also available through UnitedHealthcare or in local Best Buy and Beltone stores.