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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Solid Bose-style sound quality
Durable and resilient
Unimpressive battery life
Few bells and whistles
The Bose SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds are great for those who want no-nonsense, comfortable workout buds.
The Bose SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds can be largely described in one word: sporty. But when you unpack the larger field of true wireless earbuds (and it has gotten large), it’s surprising how many of them seem to do away with the concept of workout-friendly earbuds and opt for a more premium, more luxury vibe.
It’s refreshing, actually, that Bose has chosen a simplistic approach—largely creating the same design as the SoundSport Wireless earbuds, not offering any fancier features like noise-canceling and even going for a really simple charging case. I own a pair of normal SoundSport earbuds, and I picked up a pair of SoundSport Free true wireless buds, so I feel pretty confident in saying these are the best earbuds for most people. Here’s why.
If you live in an area with lots of people like I do, you’ve most likely seen the SoundSport Free earbuds around town. That’s because a lot of people have them, but it’s also because the SoundSports (both Free and otherwise) sit outside of your ear, clinging to it like a little beetle—making it obvious when someone is wearing them.
Normally I’d find this bulk upsetting, but just like AirPods have overcome the “weird hanging stem” criticism due to sheer popularity, the Bose SoundSport earbuds look totally normal. They are definitely bulkier than basically any other true wireless buds on the market, even compared to the bulky Master & Dynamic line of earbuds. But the look is still very Bose, with a matte rubber asymmetrical enclosure and the now-ubiquitous StayHear+ Sport tips that almost look like a flattened normal ear tip.
The StayHear+ Sport tips have two parts: a wing that comes upward to cling to your outer ear, and a wider, flatter ear tip that presses into your ear but leaves some very slight gaps. Thanks to these two touchpoints, I’ve never worried about the SoundSports falling out of my ears.
I’ll admit that the black color (the unit I have) is a bit boring, though it is more versatile. You can also grab Midnight Blue with yellow accents, a beautiful Bright Orange with dark blue accents, and a super-psychedelic Ultraviolet that looks like someone gave it the summer camp tye-dye treatment.
The slight bulkiness of the earbuds also carries through to the case as it measures around four inches long and almost two inches thick. This is double the size of cases you’ll find from Apple and Samsung for their true wireless earbuds. The case does look good though, with a matte black finish and soft, curved lines. If you don’t mind a little bulk, the look of these earbuds should suffice for you.
One of the most unique features of the Bose SoundSport Free earbuds is how they fit in the ear. Most true wireless earbuds today utilize a round rubber ear tip that is meant to fully seal your ear, isolating outside noise and using the pressure to stay secure. This is great for sound quality but can be a little stifling during workouts, trapping sweat and heat. It also has the tendency to not fit in everyone’s ear. I’ve learned in the past few weeks of testing a range of true wireless buds that a “two points of contact” method is the best for a couple of reasons, and I’ll use the SoundSport free mechanism to explain them.
The StayHear+ Sport tips have two parts: a wing that comes upward to cling to your outer ear, and a wider, flatter ear tip that presses into your ear but leaves some very slight gaps. Thanks to these two touchpoints, I’ve never worried about the SoundSports falling out of my ears—no small accomplishment considering the number of earbuds that don’t sit inside my oddly shaped ears well at all.
But it’s more than that. The fact that the ear tips allow some air to come in and out of the ears means these buds can be worn effortlessly for long listening sessions and intense workouts. Though they are big, they don’t even weigh half an ounce each, so once you put them in, you kind of forget you’re wearing them. There are three size choices for the ear tips, so there’s some customization, but for the most part, Bose has really struck gold with the fit here.
I’ve been a little misleading on the quality of these earbuds, calling them sportier than they are luxury. To be clear, Bose is decidedly a luxury brand, and that carries through to the fit and finish of the SoundSport Free earbuds.
The case uses a premium-feeling matte plastic, and the ear tips of the buds are made of a really high-quality silicone (the softest, yet most durable I’ve felt in an earbud). At this price point, you definitely get a premium product. However, rather than adding glitzy design accents or focusing on glossy textures to make the earbuds feel luxury, Bose has focused the quality R&D on durability. For one thing, the battery case does not snap open and closed with the same satisfying magnetic force of many other cases. It’s a spring-loaded button clasp that is sturdy, but you likely won’t “enjoy” opening and closing it in the same way people enjoy opening and closing AirPods cases.
Bose has gotten IPX4 certification here, which is nice for sweaty workouts.
The inside of the case does feature sturdy magnets to suck the earbuds in, which is a helpful touch for those who don’t like fumbling the earbuds into the case. I also found the materials on the earbuds themselves are really resilient to drops (there are a lot of rubber components that act as bumpers) as well as sweat and rain. Bose has gotten IPX4 certification, which is nice for sweaty workouts, though I honestly think with all the rubber-sealed sections, it would have been easy for them to climb to the safer IPX5 certification. The moral of the story here is that these are premium, on-the-go earbuds that are just as at home in the office as they are at the gym.
The SoundSport Free earbuds bring the classic Bose sound quality to the true wireless market. That doesn’t mean these earbuds sound the best—that crown belongs with the nerdier audiophile brands like Master & Dynamic or Sennheiser. But these earbuds sound leaps and bounds better than most of the true wireless earbuds on the market, AirPods Pro included.
Bose is notoriously tight-lipped about any specific sound specs—no frequency range or SPL levels to be found here. But if you’ve ever owned a Bose product, speakers, earbuds, or otherwise, you know that their proprietary signal processing is great for most consumer listening. The SoundSport Free earbuds pack just enough bass to make top 40 sound energetic, and just enough detail to make podcasts sound clear.
One thing Bose has done with these the SoundSports is engineered the audio response to adjust the EQ as you adjust the volume. This, to me, is the most noticeable feature, because some earbuds even from audiophile brands get muddy at high volumes or thin at low volumes. Bose compensates for this nicely. There don’t appear to be any upgraded Bluetooth codecs here, so expect the basic SBC, but what Bose does with the sound once it gets to your ears is pretty solid.
The one drawback is that I found the overall volume to be just a bit on the quiet side, a fact that’s true of most Bose earbuds. This is probably mostly due to the lack of isolation in the earbuds. It’s a trade-off, if you want comfort you’ll have to be okay with a bit of outside noise bleeding in. That said, it’s a trade-off I’ll happily make because these things still sound great.
One thing Bose has done with these the SoundSports is engineered the audio response to adjust the EQ as you adjust the volume. This, to me, is the most noticeable feature, because some earbuds even from audiophile brands get muddy at high volumes or thin at low volumes. Bose compensates for this nicely.
When you look at battery life numbers from competitors like Sony, Apple, and more, the numbers advertised by Bose come up seriously short. On paper, these earbuds are supposed to give you 5 hours of listening with the earbuds, and an additional 10 hours with the charging case. This, on its own, is a bit of a letdown when some competitors offer 24–30 hours with the battery case.
However, it seems like Bose is undercutting the real-life hours as I was getting closer to 6 or 7 hours with the earbuds alone and definitely more than 10 additional hours with the case. This will likely get less and less over time as the battery ages, but just know that out of the box, the practical numbers are a bit better than advertised.
There’s also no advertised quick-charge time on the lithium-ion battery, just a note that they’ll take about 2 hours to charge fully. This is likely because of the battery cases charges via micro USB rather than the more modern USB-C. None of this is a dealbreaker, to me, but if you plan on spending days and days away from a charger and want your earbuds to go for the long haul, then you might need to look elsewhere.
The SoundSport Free earbuds were pretty easy to connect right out of the box, as they were automatically in pairing mode. There is an app that Bose prompts you to download before pairing, but I didn’t find this step necessary. Setting up a new device is as simple as holding the left earbud button down for a few seconds.Though Bose doesn’t advertise the Bluetooth version being used, it seems like it’s Bluetooth 4.0 or 4.1, because you can’t connect two devices simultaneously. This could be a problem for people who like to switch between a laptop and a phone frequently, but for me, it wasn’t a huge deal as once you pair your devices, it’s just a matter of switching between them in the Bluetooth menu.
I noted very minimal Bluetooth interference, even in high traffic areas with lots of other wireless signals around. It is a bit disorienting when it happens with the SoundSports because it will cut out back and forth on each ear in a quick pan pattern before it kicks back in. It only happened once or twice, but I definitely noticed it.
One other quirk that is not readily apparent when looking at the earbuds is that phone calls are only possible using the right earbud. Even if both earbuds are on and connected, phone call audio will be fed directly to the right bud. This makes sense in a kind of nostalgic way because that’s how you’d operate with a standard phone, but I can’t help but think it’s a weird choice on Bose’s part when so many people are used to phone calls in stereo with their earbuds.
The earbuds themselves are really simple, employing a more standard button system to access most of the expected features. Other than the Bluetooth pairing button on the left earbud and the standard volume up/down buttons on the right, there’s one multifunction button on the right earbud. This lets you play/pause music, answer calls, call up Siri with a long press (no specific voice assistant customization here) and skip songs with a double press. Simplicity works to the earbuds’ benefit because sometimes when earbuds try to do too much, it can get confusing.
The Bose Connect app is also really simple, giving you a Q&A-style user guide, a good bit of customization including the standby timer (how long before putting the earbuds to sleep), voice prompt languages, and more. One feature I really like here is the list of all the devices you have Bluetooth connected with in the past, allowing you to clean house every so often when you get new phones and tablets. There’s also a Find My Earbuds feature that, in my opinion, is crucial for something as losable as true wireless earbuds.
The Bose SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds are in the top five for the category. Solid sound performance, excellent build quality, and a near-perfect fit make them ideal for athletes and on-the-move listeners.
Being a premium brand, it’s not surprising to see the Bose SoundSport Free earbuds sitting right around $200. At the time of this writing, you can find them on Amazon for $179, which at only $20 more expensive than AirPods is a great deal. You aren’t getting any of the fancy features of higher-dollar products, like active noise cancellation, and the package isn’t quite as luxurious as you’d get from other brands. But for sound quality, durability, and comfort alone, getting these earbuds for under $200 is a no-brainer.
To me, the most apt comparison for the SoundSport Free comes in the form of the Galaxy Buds (see on Amazon). The latter also features a second touchpoint for fit, offering a small rubber wing to grab your outer ear. Both earbuds seem great for workouts, though the airflow available with the Bose edges out the Galaxy Buds for me. You’ll get similar sound quality between the two, and a smaller form factor with the Galaxy Buds. I think the Bose will last a bit longer on the building front, but there’s wireless charging available on the Galaxy Buds case. There are a lot of considerations here, and these two are a natural match.
One of the best truly wireless earbuds you can buy.
The Bose SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds are in the top five for the category. Solid sound performance, excellent build quality, and a near-perfect fit make them ideal for athletes and on-the-move listeners. Don’t expect a full luxury design, noise-canceling, or even terribly proficient battery life though. Bose has stayed laser-focused on the one word in the name that, to me, is most important in this category—Sport.