Great Sound, High Price

Review: Can Bose’s First Truly Wireless Earbuds Stand Up to Apple AirPods?


Tech By Photo by Hunter Kelley
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Bose SoundSport Free ($250) is the company’s first-ever truly wireless pair of earbuds. They have no fitness frills (no built-in GPS or heart-rate tracker), nor do they have the active noise-canceling tech of Bose’s QC30 headphones, but they are sweat resistant.

The Good: Bose has mastered both the hardware and software sides of things. The headphones fit securely and sound way better than Apple AirPods. They are great for casual listening or working out. The Bose Connect app runs smoothly and isn’t overly complicated. It also makes pairing simple.

Who It’s For: If AirPods don’t fit in your ears, these are a solid, high-quality alternative; they can also handle sweat. And they’re also worth a look if you’re simply a fan of Bose.

Watch Out For: They are pretty expensive. Although secure, the bulky design makes them look like they’re sticking pretty far out of your ears. The charging case is big and it charges via microUSB, which isn’t very convenient anymore.

Alternatives: You might like AirPods just fine, if you iPhone; if you just bought a Google Pixel, you’ll probably want to wait for Google’s Pixel Buds. If you’re seeking a workout pair, try the Jabra Elite Sport ($200); but if it’s sound quality you’re after,go for the B&O Play E8 ($299).

Review: If you’ve ever worn truly wireless earbuds, such as AirPods, you’ll know that fit is half the battle. If they don’t fit, they won’t sound their best and you’ll always fret that they’re going to fall out. With the SoundSport Free, Bose’s entry into truly wireless earbuds, you likely won’t have to worry about fit; in my experience, the ear wings (which Bose calls its StayHear+ Sport tips) are as secure as any I’ve worn — without forcing you to jam them into your ear canals to fit snugly, like with Bragi’s Dash or B&O Play’s E8.

It’s natural to compare every pair of truly wireless earphones with Apple’s popular AirPods, but the SoundSport Free is actually quite a different pair. They’re essentially wire-free versions of the Bose SoundSport Wireless sport headphones ($150) designed to withstand sweat. Apple’s AirPods are not. I’ve killed so many Apple EarPods (basically a wired version of Apple’s AirPods) by running with them that I cringe whenever I see people running with their AirPods; why intentionally break something that expensive?

At nearly $100 more than Apple’s already expensive $159 AirPods, you’d expect the SoundSport Free to sound noticeably better — and they do. The SoundSport Free’s enclosed fit creates a passive noise-canceling effect, and the soundstage sounds huge compared to that of my AirPods. The bass, too, is super impressive. My running playlist includes “Believer” by Imagine Dragons and “Numb/Encore” by Jay Z and Linkin Park; both thumped, but they also sounded clear, with no noticeable distortion, even at max volume.

At nearly $100 more than Apple’s already expensive $159 AirPods, you’d expect the SoundSport Free to sound noticeably better than the AirPods — and they do.

The SoundSport Free pairs with the Bose Connect app (just like Bose QC35 II does), which walks through the setup process. There’s no fast pairing like with AirPods or Google’s Pixel Buds, but it was all pretty smooth; you also can’t adjust the EQ. But the app does have a “Find My Buds” feature that, when enabled, will show you on a map where your buds are (provided they’re charged). You can also prompt the buds to beep, so you can quickly find them if they’re lodged under a couch cushion; it effectively works like Apple’s “Find My Phone” feature.

I’ve been using AirPods for the better part of 10 months and have almost never left the buds loose, separated from the charging case. It’s because the charging case is small enough to take anywhere. The Bose charging case? Not so much. It’s roughly twice the size and not nearly as pocketable. For this reason, and because I actually worked out with the buds, I was more likely to let the case and the earbuds live separately, which makes the Find My Buds feature pretty worthwhile.

The right earbud has a few buttons to toggle playback, adjust volume and take calls. The buttons are slightly more reliable than swipe gestures, but still didn’t work great, in my experience. The headphones don’t have built-in optical sensors to detect when you take an earbud out and automatically pause your audio. Take both earbuds out, and the music continues to play. You might be bummed out this; I wasn’t particularly.

There’s a ton to love about Bose’s first truly wireless earbuds. The sound quality and the accompanying software are particularly excellent. However, the main issue I had was size: the bulbous buds will conspicuously hang out of your ears. The fit is secure, no doubt, but everybody and their brother will see what you’re listening to.

Verdict: The Bose SoundSport Free is probably the best-sounding pair of truly wireless earphones I’ve ever tested. The Bose Connect app is simple to use and pair, too. The fit is secure, but the headphones are undoubtedly bulky and conspicuous. The charging case isn’t as sleek and pocketable as other wireless headphones’ cases, either. If you want great workout and on-the-go wireless earphones and you’re willing to shell out almost double what AirPods cost, go for these.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The bass levels might increase at lower volume levels to provide a fuller sound, for instance, while at top volumes it gets dialed back, as it does through most earphones using DSP. Purists won’t like this, especially since there’s no way to adjust EQ in the app. But if you’re not looking for an absolutely flat, reference-style listening experience, you won’t mind at all.” — Tim Gideon, PCMag

Key Specs
Water Resistance: IPX4
Charging Time: two hours
Battery Life: 5 hours per full charge

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