Everyone deserves a second chance, or at least Bose hopes you feel that way. The Bose Sport Earbuds are the company’s sophomore true wireless workout earbuds, and are sure to be a mainstay among gym-goers. Did Bose actually make improvements from the original SoundSport Free, or did it just repackage old issues? Let’s find out in our full Bose Sport Earbuds review.
Editor’s note: this Bose Sport Earbuds review was updated on January 18, 2021, to address the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and add a microphone demo.
Who should get the Bose Sport Earbuds?
- Athletes should get these earphones because they’re IPX4-rated, and can bear even your most demanding workouts.
- Anyone can use the Bose Sport Earbuds, because the proprietary ear tips keep the buds in place no matter what. The embedded mics make it easy to take hands-free calls from anywhere, and you can charge them up in a pinch.
Are the Bose Sport Earbuds easy to use?
Bose selected plastic for its Sport Earbuds, which is a smart move since weight and durability are key to great workout earbuds. The earbuds’ design is very plain, but in a modern way. There isn’t a rough edge or corner to be found on the Sport Earbuds. The oblong shape protrudes from the ear, but it doesn’t draw nearly as much attention as the original SoundSport Free true wireless earbuds.
The Sport Earbuds are free of any buttons, and the outside of each housing serves as a touch panel. Initially, controls were very limited, but Bose has since added the ability for you to use the right earbud to make volume adjustments. You can pause playback by a double-tap of the right earbud, or by removing it. Only the right bud houses a sensor for automatic ear detection, which facilities automatic play/pause functionality. Another thing exclusive to the right earbud is mono listening. If your right ear is hearing impaired, you can’t yet use the left earbud alone, which is a real shame.
The StayHear Max ear tips are one of the best features the Sport Earbuds have to offer. At a glance, the ear tips look intimidating and are much larger than your standard sleeve, but they work wonders. No matter how much I shook my head, the earbuds stayed in place. They’re also extremely comfortable: the wing tips lightly grip your concha, and the ear tips create a relatively pain-free seal to your ear canals. (Ed. note: this won’t be true for everyone. Some people just can’t wear in-ears without some discomfort)
The case isn’t anything special, though it’s much more compact than the one included with the Bose SoundSport Free. Unlike most true wireless headset cases, the Bose Sport Earbuds case doesn’t rely on magnets to keep it shut. Instead, you have to press a button which releases a lever, opening the lid. While it’s not as satisfying to use as something like the Google Pixel Buds case, it’s more functional because it guards against accidental openings anytime you drop it.
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Four LEDs line the outside of the case and indicate the remaining battery levels, while a single Bluetooth pairing button rests inside. This is something you’ll end up pressing a bit, because the Sport Earbuds have their fair share of connection quirks.
How to operate the onboard controls
The Bose Sport Earbuds have far fewer onboard controls than the original Bose SoundSport Earbuds. The possible controls for the Bose Sport Earbuds are as follows:
|Action||Left side||Right side|
|Two taps||Skip songs||Pause/play music|
|Check battery percentage||Pickup/end phone call|
|Hold||Access smart assistant|
|Reject incoming calls|
Should you get the Bose Music app?
You should get the Bose Music app for firmware updates, and to assign a function to the left earbud, but otherwise it’s pretty useless. You can’t create a custom EQ; instead, Bose champions its Active EQ software, which can’t be disabled. Bose’s Active EQ is effective, but some tinkerers may be annoyed by this limitation. At first go, the Bose Music app didn’t play nicely with the Sport Earbuds, but Bose has since updated the app, making it a smooth experience with these earbuds.
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The Bose Music app can be used to switch between paired devices. Alternatively, you can just use your smartphone’s Bluetooth settings and disable call and audio streaming, but that is a little more involved than the Bose Music app options. You can also enable or disable the Bose voice prompts, if you find them redundant. The app also displays clear battery readings, and lets you customize the name of the earbuds. I don’t really care for the latter feature, but Bose does have some creative name options.
Do the Bose Sport Earbuds stay connected?
The Bose Sport Earbuds operate via Bluetooth 5.1 firmware. At first go, I wasn’t thrilled by the dubious connection stability, but Bose has fixed this with an update to firmware version 1.0.7-10904+620b71c.
Both the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs are supported, which is good news for iPhone owners since AAC plays well on iOS. If, however, you have an Android phone, your handset may have trouble maintaining high-quality AAC streaming to the Bose Sport Earbuds. If connection issues become too egregious, sometimes the best option is for you to force SBC streaming from the developer settings of your smartphone.
How is Bluetooth 5.1 different from Bluetooth 5.0?
Bluetooth 5.1 has more advanced location features than Bluetooth 5.0, in that it can pinpoint the directionality of your peripheral’s location, relative to its source device (e.g., the distance and direction between your earbuds and smartphone). Bluetooth 5.1 can improve the accuracy of features like “find my earbuds,” which isn’t supported by version 4.1.1 of the Bose Music app.
The 5.1 firmware has a revamped caching system which makes it even more energy efficient than Bluetooth 5.0. You can expect a minor bump in battery life between 5.1 and 5.0 Bluetooth devices. With this new caching system comes the ability to make faster connections, so automatically connecting to a smartphone should be near instantaneous, though it isn’t quite perfect with these earbuds. It also makes it easier to broadcast the Bose Sport Earbuds connection status if you’re trying to pair it to a device.
Bluetooth 5.0 and Bluetooth 5.1 both fall under the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) standard; they are not a part of LE Audio. LE Audio will initially be supported in Bluetooth Core Specification version 5.2, which we likely won’t see in consumer earbuds for quite some time.
How long does the battery last?
We subjected the Bose Sport Earbuds to a constant 75dB output, and they lasted 5 hours, 17 minutes before the batteries depleted. This is above average for true wireless earbuds, and you can always fast charge them when in a bind: 15 minutes in the case provides two hours of playback. It takes two hours to fully charge the earbuds, and three hours for the case. The Bose Sport Earbuds case doesn’t support wireless charging, so you can keep that Qi charging mat tucked away.
Do true wireless earbuds have battery problems?
Unfortunately, true wireless earbuds are subject to physical limitations which directly affect battery life and product longevity. See, your earbuds house tiny lithium-ion battery cells, much like your smartphone, and these degrade over time. More often than not, you use earbuds for one hour, maybe two, at a time before you place them in the case to be topped up completely. This constant partial-depletion, full-charge cycle hastens battery degradation, and results in earbuds that may be unable to hold a significant charge past the two-year mark.
Not all hope is lost, though. Apple is the first of its cohort to try and remedy the issue of short-lived true wireless earbuds. With the release of iOS 14, Apple made great improvements to the AirPods and AirPods Pro battery management. Instead of subjecting the earbuds to the typical charging cycle, software learns your habits, so the case can refrain from charging the earbuds to 100% capacity, unless necessary. The software takes a while to learn your daily schedule (e.g., a regular, weekly commute when you listen to music), but once it does, charging won’t exceed 80% until it anticipates your use of the headset. This should yield a longer life cycle for true wireless earbuds at large, if other companies choose to follow suit.
How do the Bose Sport Earbuds sound?
The Bose Sport Earbuds feature a tame frequency response for workout earbuds, and they reproduce vocals and string instruments accurately. Typically, anything billed as a workout headset receives a hefty dose of bass emphasis, but here, bass notes sound only slightly louder than mids. This makes it a bit easier to hear low-end sounds like a kick drum, without introducing much auditory masking. Bose cranked up the upper-midrange note loudness, which makes it easier for you to perceive harmonic resonances from your music. This is a pleasant frequency response for most consumers, though some may prefer louder bass.
Isolation performance isn’t excellent, or even good, really. It’s clear that Bose prioritized comfort and stability with its ear tips over blocking out all the external noise it could. This is actually a good thing in the context of workout earbuds, because it allows you to remain aware of your surroundings. Even if you exercise at the gym instead of outdoors, it’s important to be aware of what your fellow gym mates are doing, and could save you from injury.
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Lows, mids, and highs
Devon Cole’s song July For the Whole Year opens with a C-E-Am-F chord progression, which is produced to sound quiet and distorted. While these chords are strummed, finger snaps ring through clearly, thanks to the exaggerated upper-midrange response. Cole begins the chorus at 0:42, which happens to be when the initial bass drops. Despite Cole’s high vocal range, her vocal resonances remain audible on the downbeat. A great example of this is when she sings the phrase, “and the days got colder,” at 2:35.
The earbuds don't block out much outside noise, but this is more of a feature than a drawback.
During the final chorus, Cole harmonizes with herself while singing the lyrics, “July for the whole year.” Her background vocals are easy to hear, even amid the din of the song’s outro, which is an impressive feat for workout earbuds. Again, the bass notes may feel a bit underwhelming for your taste, but to get the best bass response, all you have to do is find the best-fitting ear tips.
Can I use the Bose Sport Earbuds for phone calls?
The Bose Sport Earbuds have a four-microphone array, which is impressive, but it’s still an embedded microphone system. Low-frequency sounds are heavily attenuated to reduce the proximity effect, but it’s taken to an extreme and can make those with moderately and extremely low voices sound “off.” Bose deserves credit where credit is due, though: the mics do a great job at reducing predictable, low-frequency background noise like the hum of a microwave or refrigerator as heard in the audio sample below.
Bose Sport Earbuds microphone demo:
Bose Sport Earbuds vs. Bose SoundSport Free
The Bose Sport Earbuds make huge improvements over the Bose SoundSport Free, but they’re far from perfect. Now, the SoundSport Free struggle to establish and maintain a connection in nearly every instance, but remnants of that issue followed the Sport Earbuds.
While some may prefer the more futuristic touch controls found on the Sport Earbuds, they’re far more limited than the SoundSport Free’s buttons. The company’s debut true wireless earbuds let you control playback, access your smart assistant, and control the volume. Now, the Sport Earbuds have automatic ear detection in the right bud, which automatically pauses and resumes music accordingly, but I’d rather have more comprehensive controls at the expense newer, less functional tech.
The Bose Sport Earbuds are among the most comfortable earphones around.
Neither headset’s app supports any kind of EQ, so the sound profile Bose provides is all that you get. The earphones have very similar sound profiles. If you like how the older model reproduces your favorite songs, you’ll be pleased with the Sport Earbuds. Bose’s Sport Earbuds are the better overall headset, despite the few onboard controls. Don’t forget that there are plenty of attractive alternatives like the Jabra Elite Active 75t.
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Should you buy the Bose Sport Earbuds?
The Bose Sport Earbuds go unchallenged as the most comfortable workout earbuds you can buy. Bose’s proprietary StayHear Max ear tips create a secure fit, without causing any discomfort from a strong suction-like sensation.
Even though Bose’s earbuds are very good, the company shouldn’t grow complacent: there are plenty of improvements it can make to its earphones via firmware update. We’ve seen other companies release big feature drops after the initial release of a product, and Bose already added features and improved connection stability, which is a good sign. I hope to see an EQ module added to the Bose Music app for these earbuds, which seems quite likely given how the company added one for the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 at the behest of its users.
Though there’s plenty of room for improvement, there’s a lot to love about Bose’s second-generation totally wireless workout earphones. If you want a versatile pair of earbuds that sound very good, you might want to snag these on promotion.
Editor’s note: this Bose Sport Earbuds review was written with firmware version 1.0.7-10904+620b71c, and app version 4.1.1.
Quiet the world with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds share the same design language as the Bose Sport Earbuds, but the housings and case are a bit larger. The QuietComfort Earbuds feature active noise cancelling that effectively drowns out low-frequency and midrange notes. I used these IPX4-rated earbuds on my stationary bike setup, and the hum of the resistance mechanism was nearly nullified.
Microphone quality is very good, as is sound quality. Just like the Bose Sport Earbuds, you can’t create a custom EQ for the QC Earbuds, but we may see this in a later update. If you want uniquely effective ANC earbuds with a comfortable fit, get these.