So long, Jabra earbuds, it wasn’t your fault


Jabra has been a mainstay in the true wireless earbuds category since 2018, but it won’t be any longer. Shortly after revealing two new products in its Elite lineup this week, parent company GN announced that it was shutting down its consumer earbud business to focus on other audio devices. The news was a shock given the timing and quickly put a damper on any excitement around the second-generation Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active.

“This announcement by GN is in an effort to concentrate resources and efforts on Jabra’s enterprise products within audio, including enterprise-grade true wireless earbuds, as well as video and OTC hearing devices,” a Jabra spokesperson told Engadget. “While this puts a stop to the long-term development of the Elite and Talk product lines, it does not mean product names will cease to exist and the existing products will continue to be available. Customers will be able to buy them in the usual online and retail channels, as well as, and products will be supported throughout their lifetime, as normal.”

Jabra wasn’t the first company to make true wireless earbuds, but it was among the first to make a lasting impression. In 2018, it debuted the Elite 65t, the first set of its kind that I felt was truly compelling. Jabra’s version was smaller and therefore more comfortable than its rivals. They also offered better sound quality and more reliable connectivity than a lot of their existing competition.

With subsequent releases, the company revised its formula, assisted consistently by its parent company. GN’s decades of expertise in hearing aids provided helpful insights for Jabra’s true wireless products, especially when it came to ergonomic design. Jabra was among the first to drastically reduce the size of its buds, while some of the competition still struggles to balance size and fit even today.

A much-improved follow-up to last year’s great Elite 65t true wireless earbuds.A much-improved follow-up to last year’s great Elite 65t true wireless earbuds.

Jabra Elite 75t and Elite 65t. (Billy Steele for Engadget)

Jabra seemed to carve out a niche for itself with earbuds that offered a full set of features at prices below its main rivals like Apple, Bose and Sony. And until around 2020, the company was successful in offering a compelling alternative to the big-name brands. At that time, many earbud companies were still trying to fine-tune their formulas to offer the most complete set of buds with the best performance. Jabra’s follow-up, the Elite 75t, was what I described as “the leap from good to great.” But even then, the 75t lacked active noise cancellation (ANC) despite a smaller, more comfortable design, improved sound and longer battery life.

Ultimately, Jabra could never quite match the likes of Bose and Sony on ANC performance and overall audio quality. Despite this, Jabra was positioned fourth in the earbud market at the end of 2023, according to Global Market Insights. This put it behind Apple, Samsung and Sony in terms of overall market share.

Jabra continued to expand its lineup with affordable alternatives that went as low as $80. Perhaps this extension contributed to its downfall: the company currently offers five different models as part of its lineup with significant overlap between some of them.

GN explained this week that its “re-focusing” towards more premium true wireless products in 2023 with the Elite 10 and Elite 8 Active had led to “a stronger profitability than before.” However, it saw the writing on the wall: the earbud market is becoming increasingly crowded and competitive. The company knows that the investment required to develop enough “future innovation” that would maintain its position wasn’t sustainable. So, even on the heels of its latest Elite product launch, Jabra is bowing out.

“We have demonstrated that we can compete in even the most challenging categories,” CEO of GN Store Nord Peter Karlstromer said in a statement. “The markets, though, have changed over time, and it is today our assessment that we cannot generate a fair return on investment compared to the many other opportunities we have within our hearing, enterprise, and gaming businesses.”

Jabra's second-gen Elite 10 earbuds come with a wireless transmitting charging case that will come in handy on flights. Jabra's second-gen Elite 10 earbuds come with a wireless transmitting charging case that will come in handy on flights.

Jabra Elite 10 (2nd gen) (Jabra)

In what should be an exciting time for the company following the introduction of new models, Jabra is instead heading towards the end. The company has committed to supporting the products “for several years,” but I wouldn’t expect any new features. Instead, we’re likely to see subtle updates aimed at maintenance rather than significant improvements. It’s going to be a tough sell for your newly announced product when you’re already packing up shop.

Now, the company will focus on enterprise, over-the-counter hearing assistance and gaming devices. But that doesn’t mean Jabra will stop making earbuds entirely. The company still believes in true wireless earbuds, even though it has realized the consumer market isn’t a sustainable area for future investment. “True wireless innovation is still at the core of many of Jabra’s products, so the company will remain in the earbuds market through other product lines,” a spokesperson explained.

But, it’s time for the company to move on. Several releases after the Elite 65t, Jabra still isn’t on par with Bose and Sony when it comes to noise-canceling abilities or overall sound quality. Not that it was ever far off, but it wasn’t nipping at their heels either.

Jabra may have been one of the first to actually deliver a reliable set of true wireless earbuds, but it squandered that lead by failing to surpass the competition. It introduced conveniences like multipoint Bluetooth connectivity way ahead of its rivals, a feature that is now common among new products. Even its latest two models come with an LE Audio-transmitting case that will allow you to send sound from devices with a USB-C or 3.5mm jack. Not an industry first, but another area where the company is an early adopter.

At some point along the way though, Jabra’s earbuds went from great to good. Not because they actually declined in quality, but because they just no longer stand out from the competition.

Source link

Leave a Reply