Apple Airpods vs. Bose SoundSport Free: Which Wireless Earbuds Win?

Apple AirPods have made truly wireless earbuds a mainstream staple for mobile users, while also paving the way for notable alternatives like the Bose SoundSport Free to gain a foothold in the ever-growing portable audio market. Listed just below the sub-luxury price range (under $200), each one packs adept controls, proficient sound and stellar connectivity into a compact, unique design.

All marvels aside, you want to know which earbuds pair best with your iOS or Android device. No sweat. To help solve your conundrum, we pitted the two against each other to determine the better buy.

Apple AirPods vs. Bose SoundSport Free: Specs Compared

Apple AirPodsBose SoundSport Free
Price$159.99$199.95
ColorsWhiteBlack, Bright Orange, Midnight Blue, and Ultraviolet
What's In the BoxCharging case and Lightning cableCharging case, two pairs of StayHear+ ear tips, and micro USB cable
Battery Life5 hours, 24 hours (charging case)5 hours, 10 hours (charging case)
Size1.59 x 0.71 x 0.65 inches1.25 x 1.2 x 1 inches
Weight0.14 ounce, 1.34 ounces (case)0.32 ounce, 2.8 ounces (case)

Design

Three things heavily factor into the design of Bluetooth earbuds: aesthetics, comfort and style. Neither the AirPods nor the SoundSport Free complete this trifecta, but Bose checks two of the three boxes.

The SoundSport Free boasts a sportier, more deluxe appearance, with durable matte-black casing and IPX4 water-resistant protection perfect for active listeners and fitness buffs. The different-size ear fins present a customized fit, locking into the concha to keep the earbuds stabilized when running. Another cool detail is the rubberized finish around the earbuds that keeps the buttons safe from moisture damage. Our only issues are that the bulk and heft of these earbuds (0.3 ounces, 1.3 x 1 x 1.2 inches) make them uncomfortable to wear after an hour.

Apple fans praise the AirPods for its ultra-modern design, while others claim they look like tampons without the string. However, the form factor isn't the AirPods biggest problem here – it's the build quality. They feel fragile, and stepping on them at the wrong angle will definitely break the plastic casing. Are they comfy and lightweight at 0.1 ounces, 0.7 x 0.7 x 1.6 inches? Absolutely! Do they rest gently on the ears? You bet. But that's about it.

Bose sells its earbuds in multiple colors, including Black, Midnight Blue, Bright Orange and Ultraviolet. Every design is highlighted by a glossy exterior and signature Bose logo. Apple sticks to the same clean, all-white profile that easily accumulates scratches if not stored with care.

Winner: Bose SoundSport Free

Controls

Both the AirPods and SoundSport Free have distinctive, yet flawed, control schemes. Based on responsiveness and simplicity, we give the edge to Apple.

The auto-pause feature on the AirPods is cool for stopping music on the fly without doing so manually. Apple's W1 chip makes functionality prompt and swift, allowing you to answer calls, play/pause/repeat/skip a track or summon Siri with light double-tap gestures on either earbud. Unfortunately, you can designate only one command per earbud, forcing you to go through the settings every time you want to change the controls. Furthermore, there isn't a gesture programmed for track navigation or volume.

Physical buttons rest atop the SoundSport Free. The left bud houses a power/pairing button, whereas the right bud has two volume buttons flanking a multipurpose button to play/pause (tap 1x), enable native digital assistant (hold down), skip forward (tap 2x), skip backward (tap 3x), fast forward (tap 2x and hold second press), and rewind (tap 3x and hold third press). The learning curve isn't as much of a turnoff as the stiffness and poor tactility of the buttons. Pressing down on them applies unwanted pressure to your ears.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Setup

Apple's W1 chip is a beast specifically programmed to make pairing the AirPods seamless with all of its devices, especially the iPhone. You just keep the AirPods case near your handset, tap the Connect button on the pop-up screen, and that's it. Pairing to a secondary device is simple as well; keep the AirPods in the case, hold the setup button on the back, and wait until the status light flashes white before pairing as usual.

Connecting the SoundSport Free is no different than any pair of Bluetooth headphones. Which is fine, but it does little to enhance or speed up the process. Removing either set of earbuds from their charging cases will also enable Pair Mode.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Noise Isolation

If you're seeking earbuds that can block out ambient noise, then look elsewhere because the AirPods and the SoundSport Free aren't designed for that. The slick plastic coating on Apple's in-ear monitors causes a lot of slippage, preventing the buds from creating a tight seal. You'll be distracted by nearby chatter and loud sirens when sporting them outside. The AirPods suffer from sound leakage, too.

Bose's wing tips help keep the SoundSport Free comfy and firmly seated on your ears. However, they don't create a proper seal to silence noise. Everything from car horns to rain hitting windows can be heard. Blasting music at high volumes won't make much of a difference.

Winner: Draw

Sound Quality

Bose has earned a sterling reputation over the years for its premium audio performance. Apple hasn't, and while the AirPods stand out as the company's best earphones to date, they still fail to match the depth and transparency of the SoundSport Free.

Much like its noise-cancelling brethren, the QuietComfort35 II, the SoundSport Free delivers a full range of sound, which is remarkable for a pair of truly wireless earbuds that launched back in late 2017. They're great for listeners who want to accentuate bass at a slightly high volume, along with well-balanced mids and highs. Instrument separation is another area where the earbuds excel, letting you catch unique sounds on a recording that would go unheard on most other earbuds/headphones.

Apple gets credit for vastly improving audio on the AirPods over the universally loathed EarPods that come with the latest iPhones. The sound signature isn't as warm as bass lovers would want, but the lows and mids are tuneful, giving most songs a lively presence. Vocals are also clean and pleasant when listening to podcasts and videos. Highs do feel recessed, making the orchestral tracks feel drier. Besides that, those with a discerning ear might notice crackling coming from the earbuds when streaming music.

Winner: Bose SoundSport Free

Apps

Only one of these wireless earbuds supports a companion app – the SoundSport Free – making it the winner in this category by default. The Bose Connect app doesn't have tons of options like Jabra or Jaybird's apps, but it offers enough to extend serviceability.

MORE: Best Music Apps - Paid and Free Apps to Listen to Top Songs

The Find My Bud feature is a godsend for those who commonly misplace their buds, displaying the last time and place you used them. Besides that, you're given standard features like a Standby Timer, firmware support and playback controls. Even without an equalizer to tweak the sound profile, Bose has more to offer mobile users than Apple.

Winner: Bose SoundSport Free

Digital Assistant Support

Google Assistant and Siri are available for use on the SoundSport Free, while Siri is the only option for iOS devices. Those who manage to get Apple's earbuds running on an Android device (read here) will discover the feature isn't available. Even with that being the case, Siri integration on the AirPods is outstanding and provides the better voice command experience.

Enabling Apple's AI bot is an effortless task, and when up and running, Siri's command and word recognition is spot-on. Being able to control playback via voice is useful, especially when your hands are occupied. Only in drafty conditions will Siri misinterpret what you're saying, as the mic doesn't hold up well against the wind.

The digital-assistant capabilities on the SoundSport Free shouldn't go overlooked. The mic does register inquiries accurately and performs slightly better in the wind. Google Assistant operates well, but Siri shows latency on macOS. Not to mention, toggling the digital assistant is infuriating since it requires holding down the MF button for a second, hurting your ears after a few tries.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Connectivity

Apple takes this round. The W1 chip in the AirPods is built on Class 1 Bluetooth standards, lending itself to some of the same benefits as Bluetooth 5.0, including faster speeds, greater range and improved battery life. The earbuds connect instantly to your last audio device and support a range of up to 35 feet before cutting out. More important, bud-to-bud connection is strong and keeps music pumping through the left and right channels with very little interference.

We're thrilled to see the SoundSport Free run Bluetooth 5.0; not many earbuds in the category support the latest wireless protocol. The maximum range also hovers around the 35-foot mark, plus the earbuds pair to devices quickly, although not as fast as the AirPods. Another drawback is the left earbud drops out at times.

Note that the AirPods and the SoundSport Free can pair to only one device at a time.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Charging Case

At 1.34 ounces, the AirPods' charging case is attractive, lightweight and more pocket-friendly than competing buds. The lid is easy to open, while the integrated magnets inside keep each earbud snug and secure. You'll find a Lightning port at the bottom to charge them when not in use.

And by way of multiple charges, it can extend the AirPods battery life to an impressive 24 hours (estimated). The earbuds have fast charging, with a 15-minute charge generating up to 3 hours of listening time. Our only knock is the plastic exterior scuffs up easily.

Bose's capsule-inspired case is sturdy and made from the same materials as the earbuds, but larger and heavier (2.8 ounces) as well. Carrying it around will weigh down your pockets.

The case has a micro USB port located in the back, but we would have preferred USB-C charging. The case offers only two additional charges, which equates to about 7 extra hours. Fast charging is also available, but unlike the AirPods, a 15-minute charge earns you a measly 45 minutes.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Battery Life

Battery life is a lopsided battle that falls in favor of Apple. The AirPods get you close to 4.5-5 hours on a single charge, which is enough time to enjoy playlists on a short flight or to and from work for a few days.

Bose claims 5 hours on a full charge for the SoundSport Free, but it's more like 3.5 hours. Cranking the volume high and taking phone calls suck up juice fast, so we recommend setting the Standby Timer to 5 minutes to preserve battery life.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Call Quality

As a calling headset, neither are much to brag about, but we found the AirPods more consistent for phone calls and Skype sessions. Voice-dialing operates smoothly, plus you get to hear conversations through both earbuds. The mic picks up clear vocals and produces decent clarity in quiet settings. Being outdoors is a different story, as ambient noise and wind produce muffling on the other end.

MORE: 14 Cheap Wireless Headphones (Under $100), Ranked Best to Worst

Taking calls on the SoundSport Free resulted in acceptable sound, but the earbuds struggle to block out background commotion. Walking through the streets, most people I spoke with heard cars passing by and noticed a bit of dropout. The wind resistance on these isn't as strong as on Bose's other headphones, either. And the buds work in mono, meaning you'll hear callers only from the right earbud.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Value

When pitted against each other, the AirPods ($149) and the SoundSport Free ($199) each make compelling arguments to justify their respective price tags. With the AirPods, you're getting extensive battery life and incredible iOS/macOS integration that keeps the earbuds running flawlessly across all Apple devices.

Based on our testing, the SoundSport Free has the audio performance and aesthetics to back up its higher price. However, the SoundSport Free earbuds are not quite $50 better than the AirPods.

Winner: Apple AirPods

Overall Winner: Apple AirPods

The Apple AirPods and the Bose SoundSport Free are solid-performing earbuds with plenty of features to satisfy mobile users. However, neither is without flaws. When taking consistency and convenience into account, Apple's all-white in-ear monitors prove to be the better investment.

Apple AirPodsBose SoundSport Free
Design (10)68
Controls (5)43
Charging Case (10)107
Setup (5)53
Noise Isolation (10)88
Sound Quality (20)1518
Apps (5)25
Battery Life (10)107
Digital Assistant Support (5)43
Connectivity (5)53
Call Quality (5)53
Value (5)54
Total Score7972

Bose's first truly wireless earbuds offer great sports features and even better sound quality. They're just very uncomfortable to wear for long stretches. Shorter battery life also means you'll be recharging these close to every other day. If those are cons you can live with, then the SoundSport Free is worth a shot.

In the end, the AirPods just have more going for them, thanks to great iOS/macOS integration, speedy connectivity and the mini-charging case, which is clutch for storage or battery life.

Credit: Tom's Guide