I wore the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds for a full week — the biggest pros and cons

Biggest pros and cons of Bose's fashion-forward, open-ear buds

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds
(Image: © Future)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are a stylish pair of open-ear earbuds that don’t compromise on audio features and can be worn comfortably for many hours at a time. While call quality could be better for the price and they feel a little too easy to lose, they’re a compelling solution for staying connected to the world around you.


  • +

    Barely-there feel

  • +

    Spatialized listening

  • +

    Very little sound leakage

  • +

    Great battery life


  • -

    Seem easy to lose

  • -

    Mediocre call quality

  • -

    Case doesn’t support wireless charging

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our writers and editors spend hours analyzing and reviewing products, services, and apps to help find what's best for you. Find out more about how we test, analyze, and rate.

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Specifications

Price: $299 / £279 / AU$429
Black, white smoke
Battery life (rated):
7.5 hours; 27 hours (charging case)
Bluetooth 5.3
Durability rating:
Not specified
Not specified

Noise-canceling earbuds are great, but sometimes, you want to stay tuned into the world around you. While there are already a number of bone conduction or open-ear-style buds on the market that promise exactly that, I’ve found many ask you to compromise your listening experience for convenience. Enter the $299 Bose Ultra Open Earbuds, offering the brand’s premium headphone features in an inventive form factor akin to clip-on earrings.

In other words, this new breed of Bose buds should actually deliver a satisfying listening experience despite not providing a true seal like many of the best wireless earbuds. And with your ears left open, you could theoretically wear them 24/7. For the sake of this Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review, I kept them strapped to my ear lobes for as many hours of the day as possible, and I found them mostly practical. But I discovered some limitations, too. You can read about the biggest pros and cons to know below.

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Price and availability

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are available as of February 15, 2024 and cost $299 / £279 / AU$429. That’s the same price as the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds, which launched in 2023.

These open-earbuds come in the same two color variations offered across Bose’s product lineup: black and white smoke. You can optionally get the compatible Bose Wireless Charging Case for $49, too, though it won’t be available until March 2024. 

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Design

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • Look like ear candy
  • Comfortable enough to wear all day
  • Small = easy to lose

Bose essentially turned an ear cuff into an earbud. The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds look like jewelry strapped around your ears, and as someone who loves mixing-and-matching earrings, I find the brushed metallic finish and overall look very fashionable. Style definitely feels like a priority for this product, just check out the limited-edition Kith collaboration to see what I mean.

There’s a slight learning curve to fitting the buds onto your ears. The flexible silicon-coated arm is meant to grip around your upper ear lobe, yet the placement isn’t necessarily intuitive. After I got the hang of it, I did find that these are one of the most comfortable earbuds I’ve ever worn. Other bone-conduction or open-ear headphones like the Shokz OpenFit need to hook around your ear to stay in place, thus can feel bulky compared to normal in-ear buds. 

Speaking of staying in place, the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds felt secure as I went about my day. From commuting on the subway, to a treadmill workout at the gym (they’re rated IPX4 sweat resistant) the buds didn’t budge. That said, I had no issues comfort-wise wearing them to fall asleep, but they weren’t still on my ears in the morning. Luckily, I knew to look for them in my pillows right away, though I could see the earbuds ending up lost in sheets heading to the laundry. I also accidentally slingshotted them a few times as I tried to put them on and take them off, since the flex arm snaps back into place when it’s not secured around your ear. This seems like an issue for anyone prone to losing small things — you know who you are. 

In terms of controls, each bud had a physical button facing upwards on the back barrel-looking part of the arm. You can assign controls in the Bose Music app, but by default, a single press on either bud pauses/plays whatever you’re listening to. A double press skips the track 

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Sound quality

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • More full-bodied sound than expected
  • Bose Immersive Audio makes a big difference
  • Call quality is a let down

Sound quality is typically a trade-off for headphones that don’t completely cover or fit inside your ear. Yet Bose managed to make a pair of open-ear earbuds that sound much more satisfying than you’d expect thanks to what the company calls its proprietary OpenAudio tech. The Ultra Open Earbuds pack a small transducer that precisely feeds sound into your ear for clear, full-bodied performance. This precision effectively limits audio leakage — a common issue with this form factor — too.

But what’s special is the spatialized sound features, also known as Bose Immersive Audio software that debuted with the Bose QC Ultra Earbuds and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. I’ve never seen any kind of multi-functional spatialized audio before for this category of earbuds, let alone impressive multi-functional spatialized audio. In ‘still’ mode, it sounded like the music moved out and stayed fixed in front of my head. This was ideal when I was sitting at my desk doing work. Then in ‘motion’ mode, the music seemed to move with me, keeping my ears in the sweet spot of the soundstage as I walked around the city. 

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)

Listening to Billie Eilish’s "Happier Than Ever," the nuances of the old radio effect and delicate ukulele strumming in the beginning of the tune sounded defined. Then as the song reached its crescendo, the bass guitar bellowed in balance with Billie’s impassioned crooning. Don’t get me wrong, the same song sounded more sophisticated and concert-like through the Bose QC Ultra Earbuds, but the Ultra Open Earbuds didn’t leave me wanting.

Of course, I couldn’t always listen in quiet environments as I went about my day. The auto-volume feature intelligently adjusted to the ambient sound levels of my environment, whether it be a noisy cafe or a series of passing sirens. And while I appreciated having my ears free to stay aware of my surroundings in the city where I live, I would reach for my AirPods Pro 2 if I was taking a flight or long train ride for some noise-cancelation-powered peace and quiet. 

Also, considering the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds kind of look like an earpiece, I expected decent performance in terms of call quality. Unfortunately, these didn’t classify as good earbuds for phone calls. Not only did the volume level of calls feel limited, but the person on the other end said they struggled to hear me with any degree of wind or people talking in my vicinity.

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Battery life

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • Up to 7.5 of listening
  • Doesn’t lose battery when not listening
  • Why no wireless charging case?

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds battery life is rated for up to 7.5 hours of active listening, with the Bose Immersive Audio settings dropping that estimate down to 4.5 hours. When you’re not actively listening, the buds don’t lose much juice, but the charging case offers up to 27 hours total of playtime which is great for those who are the go. In attempting this all-day experience for this review, I was able to get past almost three full days before needing to charge; however, that will vary depending on how many hours you're listening on average.

As was my feelings towards the Bose QC Ultra Earbuds, I’m disappointed that wireless charging isn’t included. For $299 earbuds, I should be able to charge the case on the same wireless charging pad I use for my AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM5

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Verdict

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are far from perfect. In fact, they have the kind of shortcomings that would make me write off a normal pair of earbuds. But they’re not normal earbuds. They make a fashion statement and don’t suffer from the common setbacks of open-ear earbuds. 

Open-ear earbuds with limited sound leakage and premium spatialized audio features are a game-changer. I can see people who move around a lot during the day or who live the single-earbud lifestyle being able to embrace the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds. I quite enjoyed the experience of great-quality listening while being able to hear my name called at the office or oncoming traffic out on the street. The ‘aware’ modes on noise-canceling earbuds work well, but actually having your ears free beats ambient noise recreated through microphones.

Still, the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds probably aren’t the only pair of earbuds someone needs to own. For $299, there are more versatile options out there. Even if you categorize the Ultra Open Earbuds as a lifestyle product, I can’t help but point out that the Meta Ray-Ban Smart Glasses start at the same price and do a lot more than just play music. And if the open-ear design is what you’re after, the Shokz OpenFit are about half the cost. I can’t say they sound as fulfilling as Bose’s buds, though.  

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.