The Apple AirPods started a revolution in wearable audio, but there are plenty of great alternatives. Although their designs are on the larger side, Bose has meticulously thought about how the SoundSport Free sit in listeners' ears to make them a comfortable option for long listening sessions. Not stopping there, these $250 earbuds have sound quality that rival wired earbuds with the ability to offer full but not overpowering bass and clean and succinct high notes. The ear hook design will keep them firmly seated while running; however, with only decent noise isolation, using them in a noisy environment like a gym may not be ideal if you are trying to tune out the world. With an easy pairing process, these earbuds are great -- if you're willing to pay a premium.
The first thing that you are sure to notice is that the Bose SoundSport Free headphones are somewhat large, even though they don't feel as bulky as some other in-ear headphones. Although they are similar in size to the Erato Muse 5, the Bose earphones use a different design for putting them in your ears.
Unlike the Erato Muse 5, which pushed on my ear if they were properly seated, Bose's first attempt at truly wireless earbuds were designed to have the bulk of the earbud sit outside the ear canal. A "nozzle" sits in your ear canal, and helps spread out the weight of the earbud.
Additionally, unlike many traditional earbuds that use an interchangeable tip, the SoundSport Free combines a soft silicone sleeve, a silicone tip and a built-in ear wing to keep them in place in your ear. There are three sets of these "sleeves" in the box in small, medium and large.
According to Bose, the SoundSport Free earphones have an IPX4 rating, which means they can be splashed from any direction without suffering any damage – not dunkable but certainly acceptable for headphones that will accompany you to the gym or on a rainy commute home.
When not in use, the buds are stored in a muted plastic oval container that's about the same size as a roll of quarters and uses magnetic charging.
Comfort, Fit and Connectivity
While the driver units are quite large, I was a bit surprised they were as comfortable as they were, even over multiple two-hour listening sessions. I'm traditionally not a huge fan of ear wings, but the soft silicone design was executed quite well. And assuming you're using the correct sized tip, the SoundSport Free should stay put during a jaunt on the treadmill and subway ride home.
True to Bose's claims, these buds stay connected out to 30 feet, though they occasionally hiccupped at about 27 feet. One minor issue I found: If my hands or arm ever blocked the earbuds, the connection was momentarily interrupted but quickly re-established itself. However, only the right earbud connects via Bluetooth to the source device and then connects to the left earbud.
One thing I like about the SoundSport Free is that it continues to play music until you pause it yourself; other wireless earbuds, like the AirPods, pause music when you take one of them out of your ear.
When designing the SoundSport Free, Bose must have read through the gripes people had about using earlier generations of wireless earbuds and made sure these were shipped without issues.
There are only four buttons; a volume up and down with a multifunction button in the middle on the right earbud and a Bluetooth button on the left earbud for connectivity functions. Because the buttons are on the top of the earbuds, they don't put unnecessary pressure on the inner ear like others do with a button that pushes inward. Holding the multifunction button for 1 second will allow users to engage either the Google Assistant or Siri, depending on the platform. Track forward or backward are either two or three quick pushes.
Additionally, there is a companion app used to help pair the buds to a phone or tablet that was easy to use. The app can also control whatever media is playing on the phone you're using, from an MP3 to Spotify to YouTube. If you misplace your buds, the app can also help find them with the location of the last place seen and can trigger an audible alarm to help you locate them.
I tossed the SoundSport Free buds in my bag and headed to my local gym to get a workout in and see if they could stand up to some vigorous physical activity. While running on the treadmill and elliptical machines, followed by some jumping jacks and walking lunges, the design allowed the Bose earphones to really stay put, barely moving at all. After properly seating the soft flexible hook in my ear, these buds never gave me pause that they would fall out, even with a design in which the majority of the earbud is outside your ear.
Additionally, it was easy to raise and lower the volume while running on the elliptical machine. Depending on how vigorous your workout is, it may be a little more difficult to advance or reverse the tracks, since it requires a quick two- or three-click action, but it's certainly possible.
It is not surprising why so many companies are making completely wireless earbuds, especially sport buds. It simply makes it MUCH easier to work out without worrying about catching a cable on a machine and having an earbud violently ripped out of your ear canal. Additionally, compared to neckband-style wireless earbuds, you don't have part of the band or one of the in-line battery packs bouncing up and down, whacking you in the back of the head or neck, as would be the case with the Beats X or V-Moda Forza Metallo Wireless I recently tested.
Having tested numerous wireless headphones over the past few months, I can say that the Bose SoundSport Free have quickly become my favorite to date. When I first put them on, I was amazed at how great these earphones sounded, delivering relatively balanced audio while still putting punch in all the right places.
Bass lines were smooth and tight without muddying other instruments in a song, no matter the genre. During one guitar a solo jam, the walking up and down on the neck of the guitar was clean and lively.
While listening to "Shuffle A Dream" by Little Dragon on the SoundSport Free, the melodic bass line felt full, and all of the ethereal echoes and background cymbals were easily discernable.
I also listened to an instrumental, "Welcome New Warmth" by Michel Sardaby, an old-school jazz track with a funky melody. On thee opening notes of this '70s track, I could hear the reverberation of the bass guitar string through the SoundSport Free, followed by a groovy keyboard laying down the melody.
"Faded" by Alan Walker combines multiple elements in the song ,including an opening piano sequence, a light and airy vocal track by Norwegian pop starlet Iselin Solheim, followed by an electronic beat drop. While listening to this track on the SoundSport Free, at no point did any one portion of the song overpower any other. The vocals stayed wispy and light while the bass drop maintained a bold, electronic beat with a slight bit of distortion mastered into the track.
The one issue that I had with the Bose SoundSport is that the noise isolation is a bit lacking. Bose offers other great noise-cancelling headphones, but if you are in a noisy environment with the SoundSport earbuds, some of the outside world might leak into your listening session. There was a huge rainstorm happening outside during my testing and even at a higher volume, I could hear the deluge of water pouring off the roof onto the pavement below. Depending on your activity, this may not be a bad thing. Although tuning out others at a gym might be tough unless you max out the volume, running on the street should allow you to hear cars around you so you can avoid dangerous situations.
While using them at the gym, I had the same issue of noise isolation. Even with the volume at full on the buds and roughly 70 to 80 percent of maximum volume on my phone, I could still hear outside noises; the squeaky mechanism of the elliptical machine next to me, the "“inspiring" music playing over the club's PA as well as announcements that the club was closing soon, and other patrons talking and laughing with each other.
According to Bose, the SoundSport Free earphones are good for up to 5 hours on a single charge, which I found to be fairly accurate. The earphones usually lasted between 4.5 and 4.75 hours, but I was listening to these buds at a higher volume.
The hard plastic case that comes with the SoundSport Free serves a dual function to keep the buds protected and charged, holding two charges for an additional 10 hours of use. The case features a battery indicator gauge of five lights on the front and is activated when you either open the case or press the button just hard enough to activate the lights.
Additionally, the companion app used to initially help pair the buds can show their exact charge percentage.
The Bose SoundSport Free earphones were a bit of a surprise on many levels during my testing. The first thing that struck me and will likely strike you is when you open the package, these buds are relatively large.
However, equally surprising was how comfortable they were to wear, as the design allows only the nozzle to be in your ear canal. The almost quarter-size driver comfortably sits outside. Initially, it made me a little self-conscious that people would look at me similar to the way people stared at the first massive 6-inch cellphones. But those reservations quickly faded as I was wooed by the beautiful tones coming out of these earbuds and the software that just seems to work.
Having tried a number of in-ear wireless headphones in both bud form and neck band form, I had previously experienced some quirky designed products with less-than-stellar performance. However, the Bose SoundSport Free earbuds truly stepped up to the plate regarding sound quality, comfort and usage. While the ear hook design will stay securely in your ears during the most rigorous workout, sound from adjoining equipment may seep in during a routine. My only hesitation is the $250 price tag but, honestly, I wouldn't have a problem recommending the SoundSport Free.
Credit: Tom's Guide