Wireless earbuds are quickly becoming one of the most popular types of headphones, especially with so many smartphones ditching the traditional jack output. Bose has made its first ‘truly wireless’ in-ears and here’s our SoundSport Free review.
The wave of wireless earbuds has come after the introduction of the Apple Airpods and the term truly wireless refers to the in-ear headphones not being connected by a wire of any sort like the Google Pixel Buds. There’s some tough competition from the likes of Jabra and Jaybird so let’s see what Bose has to offer.
Bose already make some of the most popular wireless headphones in the QC35 but the SoundSport Free are cheaper headphones at £179/$249.
That’s not a bad price in the wider market with the Jabra Elite Sport going for an RRP of £229/$249. However, you can already pick them up via some retailers, coincidentally, at £179. For reference, the Apple AirPods will set you back £159/$159.
Design and build
Wireless earbuds come in various different shapes and sizes, with some being remarkably small. Others are more chunky and that’s the case with the SoundSport Free in-ears as they have rather large bodies that stick out of the ear a fair way.
This means they look a little odd, but almost all wireless in-ears do and we still prefer this look to the oddness of the AirPods. It depends how self-conscious you are as to whether you will feel comfortable wearing them. They come in three colour options: Black, Midnight Blue (pictured) and Bright Orange.
Despite the large size of each bud, the headphones aren’t too heavy at just 9g each. Fortunately, they don’t pull down on your ear much while moving around.
Like previous Bose headphones, the comfort is partly down to the cleverly designed tips which include a fin that fits into the upper ridge of the ear. These StayHear+ Sport tips work really well and you get three sizes in the box.
As with the Elite Sport, the SoundSport Free are aimed at those wanting in-ears to use while running or working out in the gym – of course, you can just use them for regular use if you like.
Those who do want to use them for fitness activities will benefit from the IPX4 rating which means they can deal with sweat and a bit of rain. A water-repellent mesh keeps liquid out of the ports. It’s worth baring in mind the Elite Sport by Jabra have a higher IP67 rating if this is important.
As usual, the headphones come with a carry case which also doubles up as a portable charger. In this case (pun unintended) it’s a little larger than rivals but not by much and provides excellent protection. We’ll talk about battery life and charging below.
The last thing to mention design wise are the built-in buttons. The left earbud has a single button for pairing while the right has volume controls that straddle a multi-function button for controlling music playback as well as answering calls.
It’s a perfectly good system but the buttons, as we found with the Elite Sport, are easy to locate but difficult to press. If you’re moving a lot then you’ll likely need to stop in order to use the controls.
Having the buttons on top does mean you can squeeze between two fingers which is much nicer than the Elite Sport setup where you end up pushing the earbud painfully into your ear canal.
Sound quality and features
One of the reasons the Bose SoundSport Free in-ears have large buds is because sound quality in understandably important to the company. Years of consumers expecting premium audio can’t be ditched for earbuds.
Fortunately, the size is well justified here as the SoundSport Free in-ears offer excellent sound quality.
Before we get to that, we’d like to applaud Bose for making a pair of wireless earbuds that not only connect to a phone without any fuss (or having to look at a use manual) but more importantly maintain a stable connection.
Bose says it has worked hard on designing the Bluetooth antenna for this and it, along with the way they stick out of your ear, seems to have paid off. We’ve only experienced one or two drop outs during our testing.
It’s worth mentioning that despite the sport focused design, the SoundSport Free in-ears actually lack specific fitness features such as any activity tracking, a heart rate monitor or any kind of fitness software.
These are things you can get with the Jabra Elite Sport so it’s a little odd not to see similar here. They might well be a better choice if you’re looking for this kind of thing.
Bose does have the Connect+ app which can locate the earbuds (on a map and by playing a tone) if you lose them but it doesn’t do much else.
Back to sound quality and the SoundSport Free are among the best sounding wireless earbuds we’ve tested. Bose doesn’t provide any details on the specs like driver size but they sound great regardless.
The star of the show here is the mid-range which is great if you listen to a lot of different types of music, overall keeping vocals and lead instruments forward in the mix.
That’s not to say the remaining frequencies are forgotten about, thought. The tuning means the mid-range is nicely supported by a crisp and punchy amount of bass and a nicely bright high-end.
Bose promotes ‘volume-optimised EQ’ and its own digital signal processing to ensure music sounds “full and balanced at any volume. No matter how crowded the gym is”. Well that sounds good but we haven’t found it to quite be the case.
In fact, in noisy environments we almost always found ourselves boosting the volume to counteract – not something you want to do all time if you care about your hearing in the long term.
This is largely down to the open design where the tips only sit just inside your ear canal rather than further and creating a noise isolating seal. While this isn’t ideal in a noisy gym, it does mean you’re more aware of your surrounding when out and about which is a lot safer so there are pros and cons depending on where you will use the headphones.
As mentioned earlier, the case doubles as a charger and from full can charge the SoundSport Free in-ears twice over. The earbuds themselves offer up to five hours of battery life which is impressive compared to rivals and you likely won’t want them in for that long anyway.
The earbuds will take two hours to fully charge but you can get 45 minutes worth of run time in just 15 minutes in the case.