Bose had a moderately successful true wireless debut with the SoundSport Free, and now the heritage audio brand has set its sights on creating one of the best workout headphones out there with the Sport Earbuds.
Redesigned for optimal fit and extended functionality, the Sport Earbuds brings more performance to the table than their predecessor. The inclusion of Bose’s powerful mic array and Active EQ technology also gives this model bigger sound and enhanced call quality. However, this set of buds is not the game-changer we anticipated, due to shortcomings in key categories, including features and battery life. Keep reading our Bose Sport Earbuds review to know more.
- The best running headphones you can buy
- Check out the competition with our Beats Powerbeats Pro review
Despite these flaws, brand loyalists who love Bose’s minimalist aesthetic appeal and warm sound will still find some great value out of these relatively affordable fitness buds.
Colors: Baltic Blue, Glacier White, Triple Black
Battery life (rated): 5 hours, 15 (with charging case)
Size: 0.74 x 1.05 x 0.83 inches (per bud), 3.5 x 2 x 1.25 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.24 ounces (per bud)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Bose Sport Earbuds: Price and availability
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Design
It’s easy to confuse the Sport Earbuds for Bose’s flagship model, the QuietComfort Earbuds. The matte-finished design with laser-etched Bose logo on the front makes them almost look identical, though you can identify the sportier version by its smaller form, the small vents on the front, and two of the aforementioned color options (Baltic Blue and Glacier White), which the QC Earbuds do not come in. Overall, these buds have an understated look that is less of an eyesore than its noise-cancelling sibling.
Construction-wise, the Sport Earbuds is solidly built and will withstand the daily abuse you’ll put them through. The frame is built from high-end composite plastic that is tough to penetrate, plus it is IPX4-rated for sweat and weather resistance. As great as this sounds, the reality is most consumers would prefer their wireless sport earbuds come waterproof, especially at the Sport Earbuds sub-luxury price point. We have seen several premium models (such as the Jaybird Vista and Jabra Elite Active 75t) and cheap models (like the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC) grant this. Why not Bose?
There are some small details that show Bose put some thought into developing the Sport Earbuds for practical use. I mentioned the vents on the front, but there are also vents placed at the bottom of the casing for the mics, which were done to boost call quality and virtual assistance support (more on that later). You’ll also notice the thick sensor on the inside part of the bud that automatically detects when the earbuds are removed.
Let’s talk about the charging case. First of all, thank the heavens that this isn’t the monstrosity that is the QuietComfort Earbuds case. This one is lighter, smaller, and more portable. At the same time, it still isn’t the most accommodating travel companion due to its thickness. But it is solid, meaning the buds will be stored safely. I also like the five LED battery lights and locking clasp on the front, along with the integrated Bluetooth button on the inside for manual pairing.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Comfort and fit
The sensor is an extension of the sound port and allows the buds to sit firmly on the concha. Bose’s StayHear Max silicone eartips help to enhance fit, creating a tight seal on the canal, while the flexible wings mold nicely into the folds of the outer ears. You will need to properly adjust them (a quick twist should do the trick) before setting out on your daily 5K runs. There are two extra sets of tips as well for smaller and larger ears.
Unfortunately, the Sport Earbuds isn't the most comfortable pair of buds to wear. The durable casing presses up against your ears the longer you wear the buds, and those with a low pain threshold will start to feel some discomfort after about 45 minutes of wear; I don’t recommend them for casual listening. This didn’t bother me much during workouts, though I did feel my ears pulsating a bit when in recovery mode, which forced me to take them off.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Touch controls and digital assistant
The touch controls on the QuietComfort Earbuds were 50/50 and are less favorable on the Sport Earbuds. You’re only given access to about four commands and they can only be enabled either through a double-tap (e.g. play/pause, answer/end call) or long-press gesture (e.g. enabled virtual assistant). To enable the fourth command, you have to go into the Shortcut setting in the app to toggle and assign it; this gives you the option to either hear battery levels or skip forward a track by double-tapping the left earbud. As with the QuietComfort Earbuds, the lack of single or triple-tap gestures is a missed opportunity.
One positive is that the touch panels are responsive, so you shouldn’t have any trouble enabling the short list of commands. The Sport Earbuds motion detection is pretty accurate as well, as music automatically paused whenever I took off one of the buds. There was some minor latency when placing the buds back on my ears to resume play; there was about a 2-second delay before music turned back on.
You should use the digital assistant as much as possible to operate the buds because the feature works incredibly well. Thank Bose’s powerful mic array for this, which does a fantastic job of picking up vocals, along with the great software integration that allows Siri and Google Assistant to register and respond to voice commands quickly. Being able to spout off inquiries during workouts, from requesting NFL scores to sending voice-to-text messages, was effortless.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Audio quality
Audio on the Sport Earbuds is satisfying, with Bose’s proprietary drivers and Active EQ giving the buds a warm, balanced soundstage that’s close to what you’ll hear from the Bose 700. This is pretty impressive, especially for the price. Even though I feel the SoundSport Free’s signature delivers more punch, the Sport Earbuds is better balanced, which allowed me to enjoy music fully and hear subtle nuances in recordings.
The growling bass on Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” is an adrenaline shot to your ears and will have you mean-mugging when ramping up speeds on the Peloton. Reverberation was impactful and smooth, leaving no distortion on the soundscape. Sticking with boomy selections, I went to some 90’s hip-hop go-tos for exercising and got plenty of energy blasting KRS-One’s “Outta Here,” as the infectious jazz bassline and pounding snares stimulated a second wind when finishing my run.
Shortly after my workout, I jumped into some Salsa and loved the frequency control on songs like Willie Colon’s “Guajiron.” Tonality was spot-on, as the buds delivered an accurate rendition of the natural sounds for each instrument; bongos hit hard, and the piano play was strikingly melodic. This showed me the Sport Earbuds could handle orchestral-heavy tracks with ease, which encouraged me to pull up some Jazz classics. The sense of liveliness on low-fi recordings like Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” was superb, with the lively sax play and vivid piano cords feeling like the musicians are performing in person.
Videos sounded just as good on the Sport Earbuds. When glued to my MacBook Pro screen for the recent 2020 presidential election 2020 updates, I was rewarded with loud, crisp-sounding vocals that made listening to political commentators on poorly connected Zoom calls tolerable. The level of clarity produced on podcasts was amazing as well.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: App and special features
If you thought the feature set on the QuietComfort Earbuds was pretty scarce, then expect greater disappointment with the Sport Earbuds. Outside of the digital assistant, any extended functionality it offers is made available through the Bose Connect app, and it isn’t much.
All that you’ll find are a volume adjuster, battery level indicators for both earbuds, music player controls (when streaming music), tips on how to wear and use the earbuds, and several toggle controls. Of those, you’ll only end up using are the In-Ear Detection toggle, plus the aforementioned Shortcut setting. There are no adjustable EQ, music presets, or Find My Earbuds features, nor are there any innovative modes like Jabra’s Soundscape, which is very useful for recovery and has 12 different ambient noise settings to help you relax.
What is more disappointing is that the Transparency and Self Voice modes are missing on the Sport Earbuds. Having no ambient listening mode makes no sense, especially since it is considered a standard feature on most modern wireless earbuds, casual or sporty, and provides outdoor exercisers better awareness of their surroundings. Since the buds do a really good job of isolating noise, you won’t be able to hear what’s happening around you, which isn’t helpful if you’re running in heavy traffic areas.
Something else that is MIA: multipoint technology. It wasn’t featured on the QC Earbuds, therefore, it’s not really a huge omission, but it would have been nice to have for when you want to pair the buds to two devices simultaneously.
Although, through testing, there was a moment where I managed to connect the Sport Earbuds to my Google Pixel 3 XL and MacBook Pro at the same time. But the connection dropped on my laptop after a minute and there was a lot of bugginess occurring when streaming Spotify on both devices. Maybe this is a feature in beta we stumbled upon that could be available in a future firmware update, but it remains uncertain for now.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Battery life and charging case
When officially announced, Bose informed us that playtimes on the Sport Earbuds would be middling: 5 hours on a single charge. This is basically AirPods-level battery life and a lot shorter than category leaders like the Elite Active 75t (7.5 hours) and Powerbeats Pro (9 hours). Seeing as there are no listening modes and that the buds house less powerful internals than the QC Earbuds, there is no reason for this.
I ended up having to recharge the buds several times, and I noticed the battery levels dropped more quickly than expected; we’re talking 10% to 15% per hour. I managed to squeeze in a few 1-hour workouts when fully charged, though it only took about three days before I had to toss the buds into the charging case.
Speaking of which, the charging case only holds 15 hours total (3 extra charges) and falls far short of the competition. At least the Powerbeats Pro and AirPods cases get you 24 additional hours, while the Elite Active 75t case is higher at 28 hours. If you’re only planning to use the Sport Earbuds for workouts, that isn't the worst thing, but this won’t cut it on long business trips. Also, the case does not support wireless charging.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Call quality and connectivity
The QC Earbuds have set the standard for call quality in the category, and though the Sport Earbuds don’t offer the same results, the model is still a reliable calling headset, as long as you don’t use them in drafty environments. The few calls I took indoors sounded fine, with many of my colleagues saying I sounded loud and clear, for the most part.
Outdoors was a mixed bag, and I don’t fault the Sport Earbuds completely. I was dealing with heavy winds throughout testing (the joys of living in Florida during hurricane season), so it was difficult measuring quality. My wife barely heard me when running outside in brisk conditions, and though she was able to make out sentences when winds calmed down, the call quality wasn’t as super-clear as on the QuietComfort Earbuds.
One of the Sport Earbuds’ greatest strengths is wireless performance, which is spearheaded by Bluetooth 5.1. Keep in mind this is one of a few models at the moment supporting the latest Bluetooth protocol. This gives users faster, stabilized connectivity and solid range. I didn’t experience any dropout or stuttering when within a 35-foot radius of my connected device. This allowed me to move freely from room to room and continue streaming Spotify in peace, while enjoying my jams uninterrupted out on my run trails.
I can’t stress enough how important the Bluetooth button on the charging case is, especially if you’re dealing with a finnicky mobile device, much like I did with my Pixel 2 XL (yes, I own a 2 XL and 3 XL, this isn’t a typo). While re-pairing was instantaneous on all of my other devices, my 2XL would act up at times, but pressing the Bluetooth button always fixed the problem.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: Verdict
The Bose Sport Earbuds is a step forward, but still requires more improvement. Bose certainly fixed some of the problems of the SoundSport Free, such as the heavy, unstable design, inadequate noise isolation, and poor connectivity. Sound remains solid with Bose’s warm signature feeding your ears rich bass, and the mics have been strengthened to make calls and virtual assistant support more serviceable.
But I'm still taken aback by the lack of battery life and special features on the Sport Earbuds. In short, they fall short. I’m not saying Bose had to make its buds as feature-laden as Jabra or Sony’s models. However, the company should have added something as basic as a Find My Earbuds option or Transparency mode. These are two features that Bose may want to prioritize next firmware update.
If you’re someone who pledges their allegiance to Bose or consistently shops for the brand’s latest releases, and want sporty headphones to fuel their workouts, then the Sport Earbuds seem like an ideal match. Just know there are other options out there that get you more performance for nearly the same price or less.