Tom's Guide Verdict
Innovative in some ways, disappointing in many others, the $199 Bose Sport Open Earbuds is a tough sell for avid fitness buffs.
Sleek and sturdy
Stable battery life
Surprisingly good sound
Open design is not for everyone
Extremely limited features
Lack of charging case and smart controls
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Despite launching two new models last October – the noise-cancelling QuietComfort Earbuds and fitness-centric Bose Sport Earbuds. These still are some of the best wireless earbuds and best workout headphones you can buy, so it's no surprise the momentum kept going with the new Bose Sport Open Earbuds.
Boasting a singular open-ear design that was made for optimal fit, along with Bose’s OpenAudio technology to dish out full audio without covering your ears, the Sport Open Earbuds seems to have the makings of something special…on paper, that is. Despite the ultramodern look and notably high sound quality, a lot is missing in terms of functionality and performance.
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Battery life (rated): 8 hours
Size: 2.2 x 1.9 x 0.75 inches (per bud), 1.6 x 4.4 x 2.8 inches (carrying case)
Weight: 0.49 ounces (per bud), 2.4 ounces (carrying case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Fitness fanatics who love Bose products, and want something different, might find some value in the Sport Open Earbuds. However, you can get much more for your dollar from some of the market’s best running headphones.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds price and availability
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds is currently available for $199 at Best Buy or directly from Bose. This places them in a lower price bracket than competitors like the Beats Powerbeats Pro ($250), yet higher than the Bose Sport Earbuds ($180).
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: Design and comfort
The concept behind the Sport Open Earbuds is extraordinary: wireless sport earbuds with a flat enclosure that sit above the ear canal and are suspended by a plastic loop. This is clearly different than the standard in-ear design that most, if not, all, wireless sport earbuds feature. At the same time, the Sport Open Earbuds is a polarizing creation.
Let’s start with the positives. Build quality is exceptional, with the entire frame composed of durable PC-ABS plastic composite, which fends off scratches and scuffs well, while keeping the internals secure. The buds come with IPX4 water resistance and the open design allows for higher ambient awareness when exercising outside.
This is also Bose’s most stylish pair of buds in its sport category, with a fashionable and compact appearance that gives the Powerbeats Pro a run for its money. It’s also a vast upgrade from the bulky and unflattering QuietComfort Earbuds.
Normally, we would reserve this section for the charging case, only there is one issue: these buds do not come with one. Yes, Bose released true wireless earbuds without a charging case. Instead, we get a protective carrying case that, not for nothing, is actually attractive and portable-friendly. It’s lightweight, displays the buds beautifully, and has a magnetic closure that keeps the buds secured. Rubberized polyurethane wraps the entire case and gives it a carbon-fiber-like appearance as well. I just wish it had a USB-C port in the back.
Now, for the negatives. Firstly, at 0.49 ounces apiece, the buds some of the heaviest out there. The looped design is somewhat flawed, affecting both comfort and fit when worn. Trying to squeeze the top flap of your ear through the loop’s tiny opening is frustrating and requires numerous tries to hook on properly. Also, if not properly adjusted, the buds will apply unwanted pressure onto the top of your ears. I felt this after 30 minutes of use. This could have been attributed to my ear size, which is pretty thin, meaning that those with thicker ears will definitely feel the loop pinch their antihelix and fossa.
I’m also not sold on the stable fit Bose promises. All it takes is the slightest movement, like bumping into an object or pressing the multifunctional button, for the buds to lose their grip and slip out. This actually occurred several times when answering calls on runs.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: Controls and digital assistant
There are no touch controls or on-ear detection on these buds. What you get is a multifunction button at the bottom of each bud to perform basic commands: play/pause, answer/end call, skip track, previous track, voice assistance, and voice prompts.
While not the most practical input method when exercising, the buttons are responsive and offer great tactility to ensure users that their intended commands are being executed. There are no on-board volume controls at the moment, which the Powerbeats Pro has, though a software update is coming in March that adds them, according to the Sport Open Earbuds FAQ page. It claims that “slowly tapping on the center of each earbud” will either increase or decrease volume, suggesting that the buds support touch gestures. So why no touch controls at all?
Siri and Google Assistant are also at your disposal, and they work well for the most part. There is some lag when enabling either digital assistant, but once activated, the buds demonstrate solid speech recognition and respond to voice commands as quickly as they register them.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: Audio quality
Since this is not technically a pair of in-ear headphones, the Sport Open Earbuds uses a different way of delivering playback, employing Bose's OpenAudio technology to fire “rich, full sound” into the ears from a short distance, while minimizing leakage. It's the same tech used on the Bose Frames, though the Open Sport Earbuds offers the better listening experience between the two products. It even fares moderately well against most in-ear wireless buds.
Bose’s warm sound signature remains intact, with the 16mm drivers pumping out punchy bass. Just know that the low end isn’t as impactful as what you get from Bose’s two other wireless offerings. The grumbling bassline on Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Mistake” was present enough to keep me energized when putting up some shots in the backyard, but it also lacked oomph. There was also some hissing on the vocals, an issue I noticed on other bass-heavy records too.
I actually preferred the buds for casual listening, which gave me a better feel for overall audio quality. Jazz records sounded superb. Classics like Ahmad Jamal’s “Dolphin Dance” held their own, with instruments having an openness that augmented the track’s melodic vibes. I was also surprised with the reverberation produced by the double bass, which had a lasting effect throughout the recording.
The open design is serviceable for outdoor runners who want to increase their environmental awareness without stopping or muting playback. At the same time, it affects audio quality, as common street noises (e.g., car horns, construction tools, wind) make their presence felt on the soundstage and diminish totality. The design also increases leakage, meaning those around you will likely hear what you’re blasting on the buds.
All in all, you will receive slightly better audio performance on the Sport Open Earbuds than most bone-conducting models. I just wouldn’t consider the Sport Open Earbuds a suitable replacement for sonic powerhouses like the Jabra Elite Active 75t and Powerbeats Pro.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: App and special features
The QuietComfort Earbuds is the only model in Bose’s true wireless lineup with advanced features. This includes active noise cancellation , Transparency mode, and Self Voice, so you can hear yourself louder on phone calls. Bose shrunk the features list down for the Sport Earbuds, excluding all of the aforementioned modes and limiting functionality to music and volume controls, how-to guides, and several toggle controls via Bose Music App.
What if I told you the features were even more sparse on the Sport Open Earbuds? You only get a timer function to enable sleep mode, a volume slider, and the option to assign a shortcut command on the left earbud that only enables voice prompts for battery life. That’s all, folks.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: Battery life
Bose rates battery life at 8 hours on a single charge. By comparison, this is longer than the Sport Earbuds (5 hours) and the Elite Active 75t (7.5 hours), but shorter than the Powerbeats Pro (9 hours) and the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC (11 hours). Some might consider this disappointing, especially with the lack of features, but in practice this is a sufficient amount of playtime to get in a handful of workouts during the week.
Using the buds for about 1.5 hours daily, I had enough portable power to stay entertained for five days straight before docking them onto the unconventional wired charging base.
At a time where charging cases and wireless charging pads are considered standard and more convenient charging solutions, one can’t help but question Bose’s logic. I suppose the one positive is that the accessory does support quick charging; 30 minutes on the dock gets you 3 hours of playtime. This isn’t as fast as the quick-charging technology on other wireless earbuds, but it beats waiting 2 to 3 hours like some of the market’s best noise-cancelling headphones.
There is some inconsistency with discharge times, as the right bud seems to hold more power than the left, indicating that the left houses more powerful circuitry and requires more juice. This also means that you’ll end up with one bud working when hitting the 20% mark.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: Call quality and connectivity
The QuietComfort Earbuds is the best set of wireless earbuds for making calls, so my hopes were high for the Sport Open Earbuds as a calling headset. Sadly, the results aren’t as impressive. The buds do work well for indoor calls (I got some great clarity on Zoom calls), but you need to be in a silent setting in order to enjoy them.
On the right earbud is a two-mic array designed to focus on your voice and reduce background noise. It doesn’t work well because many of my friends could hear what was happening around me. Jumping on calls outside was worse, as the wind resistance on these buds was poor and struggled to clear up my voice in drafty conditions.
Where Bose continues to step up its game is in wireless performance, blessing all three of its latest models with Bluetooth 5.1. Connecting the Sport Open Earbuds to devices was seamless, with the buds immediately entering pairing mode when turned on and showing up on the available devices list right away. Range was steady as well, allowing for 35 feet of wireless listening, which is 5 feet longer than what Bose advertises. Ideally, I would have loved to see multipoint technology here, to connect the buds to two devices simultaneously, but I gave up on that dream after examining the near-featureless Bose Music app.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds review: Verdict
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds is both a unique and frustrating pair of running headphones that will likely only appeal to a very tiny audience. If aesthetics and sound mean that much to you in a pair of Bose wireless earbuds, then sure, these buds will fill that need. On the other hand, if comfort and extended functionality hold more value, then I advise checking out category leaders like the Powerbeats Pro and Elite Active 75t, as well as budget gems like the Epic Air Sport ANC.
To Bose's credit, the Sport Open Earbuds' distinctive audio delivery approach works much better than you might think just from looking at it, rewarding listeners with pleasant bass feedback and crisp vocals. I also appreciate the Sport Open Earbuds’ responsive controls and stable connectivity. I still prefer the fuller results that come from a traditional in-ear model, though.
There's also a sense that you should be getting so much more for the sub-luxury price point. That includes a portable charging case, better call quality, enhanced fit, smart controls, and far more features than the Bose Sport Open Earbuds currently offers.
A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.
I love them in most ways. No other headphones stay in my ear, so this was a great solution. I don't use them that often , but the battery actually discharges when not in use. This is unbelievable to me. They were charged to 100% and 2 days later without using them at all they were down to 90% ...WHAT? I did that as a test, because i hadn't used them for a week before that and they were down to 30% :(Reply