Bose is a lot like the Kardashian media empire: you either love it or hate it. Regardless of where you fall, you probably have a strong opinion on the matter. Back in 2016, we lauded the Bose SoundSport Wireless, and it still sits pretty as our best all-around pick for Bluetooth running headphones. But there’s a newer, shinier kid in town: the Bose SoundSport Free. Though, they don’t perfect the true wireless experience, the SoundSport Free meet most athletes’ specific audio demands.
Who are these for?
- Athletes. The Bose SoundSport Free, unlike the SoundSport Wireless, are IPX4-rated. Bose supplies their proprietary StayHear+ ear tips, which effortlessly keep the ‘buds in place. You’re more likely to get vertigo from trying to shake these out than experiencing an unintended ejection.
- Users with USB-C-only inputs. If you identify with this, we offer our sincerest condolences for your loss of the 3.5mm headphone jack. All kidding aside, these are a solid alternative to a dongle and provide the benefit of Bluetooth mobility.
- People who simply hate wires.
Upon opening the SoundSport Free, it’s apparent that a sizable portion of your $199 is funneled back into Bose’s packaging design department. Inside, is a tubular charging case, a micro-USB charging cable, two alternative pairs of StayHear+ ear tips, and the SoundSport Free earbuds.
Build & Design
Maybe the people over at Bose have abnormally large ears, or maybe they get their kicks from making their customers look ridiculous. Whatever it may be, these look goofy. But, hey, on the plus-side: next time I have a breakout, I can reach for the SoundSport Free and know that they’ll distract passersby from my acne-prone face.
Looking beyond the bulbous build, the SoundSport Free provide one of the most secure fits, due to the StayHear+ ear tips. The wing tips are grippy, flexible, and comfortable. Ambient noise easily permeates the seal, but that’s more of a “pro” with workout earbuds, making them safer than something like the RHA MA750 Wireless. This way, users can run outside with these and still hear traffic and other pedestrians.
Though they’re constructed from plastic, the Bose SoundSport Free are durable. An IPX4-certification and high-grade materials mean that these can withstand most workouts, save for aquatics. The included charging case is sturdy, too. Plus, it provides two additional full-charges to the earbuds, but more on that later.
Though the connection isn’t quite as dicey as a game of Yahtzee, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Let’s start with the good. The SoundSport Free are a breeze to pair, and they reconnect instantaneously. The difficulty lies in maintaining a stable connection. Like other true wireless earbuds, connecting is a linear, rather than simultaneous, process. All you really need to know is that the left earbud loses connection a few times every hour, and because they don’t support aptX (yet), there’s audio-visual lag.
The Bose Connect app supports the company’s Bluetooth products and has a peculiar option to nickname your device. Its “surprise me” function is intriguing to say the least; with options like “Butterball,” “Storm,” and “Trench” it was hard choose. Naturally, I went with “Pope of Mope.”
Aside from its Zoey Deschanel-like quirkiness, the app provides useful features, like find my ‘buds.
Aside from its Zoey Deschanel-like quirkiness, the app provides useful features like “find my ‘buds.” A warning prompts users to remove the earbuds before playing the ascending beep, making it easy to locate when they’re lost in the same or an adjoining room. It’s not all good, though: the app has a tendency to crash. I had to uninstall it a couple of times and hope to see stability improvements with future updates.
Long story short, the battery life is why you’d buy the SoundSport Free over other truly wireless earbuds.
Bose lists the earbuds’ standalone playback time at five hours, whereas alternative true wireless earbuds only last for three to four hours. I was able to get a consistent five-and-a-half hours—head and shoulders ahead of the pack. Since the charging case adds 10 hours of battery, longevity shouldn’t be an issue, especially if you’re diligent about placing the earbuds back in the case. Which you should, because despite their protuberant style, they’re easy to misplace. Of course, battery life varies with how loudly you’re listening, so users can probably squeak out a little extra listening time by keeping the levels in check.
The charging method of choice, micro-USB, is surprising, given the original price tag of $249. If Bose isn’t going to give us consumers USB-C charging, at least give us dual-functionality with the charging case like the SOL Republic Amps Air.
The SoundSport Free continue a departure from Bose’s street-reputation of being bass-less. Like their predecessor, these earbuds pump out a strong low-end. The highs and mids are exaggerated too, but still reproduce an appealing sound. At first listen, highs seem acutely detailed. A more attentive listen reveals that this is a consequence of treble accentuation and can sound sibilant (that familiar hiss) and fatiguing after extended periods.
Bose does a fine job reproducing a deliberately altered sound signature that appeals to exercise enthusiasts. It’s serviceable for workouts, but isn’t going to be my first, second, third . . . or even fourth choice for daily listening.
It’s clear that the bass is engineered to please athletes, but Bose’s StayHear+ tips demonstrate the vulnerabilities of an improper seal. In Emily Blue’s song Blackberries, the bass line receives substantial amplification, and the occasional bump refracts down the ear canal. Granted, for the most part, bass is simply just loud and is physically unable to maintain a steady thump. Bose emphasizes the low-end for good reason, but their attempt falls flat a bit.
Indiscriminate radio stations across the U.S. are blasting AJR’s Sober Up. The catchy tune—which I admittedly enjoy—relies heavily on Ryan Met’s vocal lead. Relative to the bass and treble, the mids are the least emphasized part of the SoundSport Free signature. This is good and bad.
I really like the natural-leaning reproduction of Met’s voice. Unfortunately, the subordinate relationship between the midrange and low-end, means that it takes too much mental energy to appreciate it. If these weren’t workout earbuds, this would be receive more criticism, but given the intended use for the SoundSport Free, it’s easy to look past.
In Baseball by Hippo Campus, the filtering of the highs is most apparent during the first verse. Nathan Stocker’s guitar picking comes through clearly, even as it takes a backseat to the bass. High-pitched frequencies resonate, as his fingers travel up and down the fretboard. This is appealing within the context of Baseball; however, in Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the violins quickly lose their charm, instead, becoming irritating.
There’s no way around it, the $199 price tag suggests opulence, and though nothing about these is the literal definition of “awesome,” they continue the SoundSport Wireless’ legacy of being decent at everything, making them stand head-and-shoulders above the competition. By far the most notable features of the Bose SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds are 1) the included StayHear+ ear tips, which provide an outstanding fit, and 2) the exceptional standalone battery life of five-and-a-half hours.
As always, there are plenty of more economic options undercutting the market, but truly-wireless earbuds are still a very young segment going through some extreme growing pains. If you’re particular about your purchases, and want to invest in a company with brand power and a strong product to match: the IPX4-certified Bose SoundSport Free are the choice to make.