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Bose Sport Open Earbuds
January 20, 2021
Original: $199 USD
56 x 48 x 19 mm (earbud)
41 x 112 x 71 mm (case)
Outdoor athletes have few truly safe options when it comes to workout earbuds, and Bose is bringing a fine solution to the table with the Bose Sport Open Earbuds. These earbuds are explicitly for outdoor enthusiasts who want a soundtrack to underscore their adventures. The non-occluding design may look strange, but the Sport Open Earbuds works well and sounds better than bone conduction headphones.
We spent two weeks straight with this headset to inform you of all its strengths and weaknesses.
Editor’s note: this Bose Sport Open Earbuds review was updated on December 21, 2022, to address frequently asked questions, update the score with results from our reader poll, and update formatting.
- Outdoor athletes are the target audience for Sport Open Earbuds because the buds don’t block your ear canals, which keeps you aware of your surroundings at all times. Audio quality is good and certainly better than most bone conduction headphones (which these aren’t).
- Bike commuters should get these earphones because they take up less space than a JBL Clip 4.
- Anyone who lives in an urban area will benefit from the completely open design of these earbuds.
Is the Bose Sport Open Earbuds easy to use?
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds is unlike other pair of wireless earphones because the buds don’t include a charging case. Instead, Bose supplies you with an oblong, thin carrying case with a felt interior. The textured finish makes the case easy to grip, but it also attracts plenty of dust, dirt, and lint. There’s nothing remarkable about the case; it just works.
In lieu of a charging case, Bose provides a proprietary USB-A charging cradle with three-pin connectors for each earbud. It’s easy to properly dock the earbuds since both the earpieces and cradle cutouts are marked with an “L” and “R.” Aesthetically, Bose’s decision to separate the battery from the case makes sense as a hybrid case would have been massive, but this method still feels inconvenient.
The earbuds look a bit like snails, with bulbous ear hooks and rounded housings. They dangle from the top of your ears and are careful not to touch your ear canals. This deviates from typical open-fit designs like the Apple AirPods 3 and Samsung Galaxy Buds Live, both of which have an unsealed fit that still blocks your ear canals. The chunky ear hooks keep the buds in place, which is good for security but not great for comfort. The section where the plastic hook meets the earbud pinches the helix and can become painful after about an hour of wear.
Bose’s open earbuds use precisely directed dynamic drivers to funnel sound down your ear canals, and that sound directly interacts with your eardrums. Bone conduction technology, like that found in the AfterShokz Aeropex, differs: the earpieces sit on top of your cheekbones and bypass the eardrum, instead of sending vibrations directly to the cochlea.
If you are hearing impaired, specifically with eardrum damage, bone conduction headphones are a more accessible choice. You can read all about the best bone conduction headphones.
What are the Bose Sport Open Earbuds controls?
A button on the bottom of each earbud lets you control playback, field calls, and access your preferred smart assistant. You can enable touch controls through the Bose Music app. The glossy panels are touch-sensitive and you can adjust the volume with a single tap on either panel (right increases volume and left decreases volume).
|Input||Left button||Right button|
Hear battery level (shortcut)
Play/pause; answer/end call
|Left button||Right button|
Skip track; decline call
|Left button||Right button|
Press and hold
Access smart assistant
Is the Bose Sport Earbuds good for exercise?
Even during cycling, rock climbing, and casually playing basketball, these earbuds stay in place. The thick ear hooks effectively stabilize the earphones no matter how many times you jump or fall. The IPX4 rating makes them nearly impervious to sweat damage, and the button on each earbud is easy to find by feel.
Should you get the Bose Music app?
The Bose Music app (iOS/Android) offers little in the way of features, but Bose is known for dropping substantial updates to its headsets; it added a custom EQ module to the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Currently, version 1.1.2 of the app lets you enable and disable the touch panels, review a slideshow of controls, switch between previously connected source devices, view the remaining battery levels, and choose a shortcut for the left earbud button.
It’s not the most useful or feature-packed app. As with any application tied to your data, we implore you to read the terms and conditions before you download it.
Does the Bose Sport Open Earbuds stay connected?
Yes, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds uses Bluetooth 5.1 to stay connected over a nine-meter wireless range. The earphones support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Android smartphone owners may be bummed to realize these buds don’t support aptX, but you’re unlikely to hear the benefits of high-quality codecs with this unoccluded fit. There is a noticeable audio-visual lag when streaming video from an Android phone though, which isn’t an issue when using the earbuds with an iPhone.
The earbuds don’t support Bluetooth multipoint, so you need to manually disconnect from one device before connecting to another. Alternatively, you can use the Bose Music app to switch between source devices.
Mono listening isn’t completely supported either: when you power the right (primary) earbud on, it automatically powers on the left earbud. You can technically skirt around this as long as the right earbud is within nine meters of your phone. Under these conditions, the earbuds will play your media, regardless of which earpiece is in your ear. This quirk is similar to the Microsoft Surface Earbuds.
Yes, you can connect the Bose Sport Open Earbuds with Windows using Bluetooth.
How long does the battery last on the Bose Sport Open Earbuds?
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds has an official battery life of 8 hours. In our testing, we found the earphones fall slightly short of this, but not by much. When the Sport Open Earbuds are playing music at a constant output peaking at 75dB(SPL), the batteries last 7 hours, 21 minutes. This is well above average for true wireless earbuds, and if you listen to lower volumes, you’re likely to get closer to the 8-hour mark.
It takes two hours to fully charge the earbuds, and just 30 minutes on the cradle supplies 180 minutes of playtime. Again, the magnetic carrying case doesn’t actually charge the earbuds, so you have to keep track of that inconvenient dock.
Most true wireless earbuds go through a constant deplete-charge cycle, which hastens the battery degradation process. Since the carrying case is purely to protect and keep track of the earphones, the Sport Open Earbuds are only charged when you intend to charge them. Sure, the cradle is inconvenient, but it could end up extending the life of these earbuds, relative to other truly wireless earbuds.
From an environmentally conscious perspective a non-charging case means one less battery to require recycling at the end of the device’s lifecycle. It also means prolonging the lifespan of the earbuds, as demonstrated in our article on AirPods life extension. The obvious downside is that if you’re on the go and your Bose headset dies, you have to wait until you’re home with the charging cradle to revive it.
Does the Bose Sport Open Earbuds block out noise?
Due to how the earbuds fit without blocking any part of your ear canal, there is absolutely no isolation performance to speak of, hence no isolation chart. While we bemoan this and chalk it up as a drawback of the Apple AirPods, and earphones with a similar design, the ability to hear your surroundings and music simultaneously is the selling point of the Sport Open Earbuds.
Hold up! Something’s different:
This article’s frequency response chart was measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements, isolation performance plots, and standardized microphone demos. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white). Each new mic sample begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
How does the Bose Sport Open Earbuds sound?
These earbuds don’t occlude the ear, and while this design has its safety benefits, it negatively impacts bass reproduction. There’s virtually no sub-bass or bass, but the midrange frequency response is consistent, which is good for vocals and string instruments. Bose’s 16mm drivers amplify treble quite a bit, making it easier for you to hear detail from your music, though you might find this tuning a bit too loud. The buds are designed to channel sound toward your ear, not beyond it, though anyone nearby will hear your music if you crank the volume past 75%.
Lows, mids, and highs
In King Princess’ song Hit the Back, Mikaela Straus’ vocals sound clear when it’s just their voice and the slow piano chords. The bass drops at 0:51 and it sounds underwhelming through the Sport Open Earbuds. A quick drumroll leads the song into its final chorus at 2:30, and the lacking bass response is painfully obvious. Syncopated claps occur throughout the song and sound surprisingly clear.
Again, these aren’t the earbuds to get for audiophile athletes. If more consumer-friendly audio is among your top priorities when it comes to workout earbuds, you should instead consider the IPX4-rated Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 or IPX7-rated Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
Can you use the Bose Sport Open Earbuds for phone calls?
The right earbud houses a dual-microphone setup, which is fine for quick calls, but it isn’t the best headset microphone that’s crossed the SoundGuys desk. People on the other end of the call are bound to tell you that you sound “off.” Take a listen to our demo below and rate it, doing so helps contextualize the microphone performance across a range of products for our other readers.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds microphone demo (Old):
How does the microphone sound to you?
As of December 20, 2022, nearly 46% of respondents have rated the above sample as just “okay,” which is about what you’d expect from wireless earbuds.
Yes, though that depends on the volume you’re listening at. If you keep the volume below 75%, chances are much lower that a passerby can hear your audio or understand what’s being said on the other end of a conversation.
Should you buy the Bose Sport Open Earbuds?
If you frequently exercise outside and feel lost without your music, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds is the next piece of gear for your kit. If you want a more versatile, comfortable pair of earphones with better microphone quality, check out other top contenders.
To all of you non-athletes, don’t immediately write off the Sport Open Earbuds: these are a very safe option for anyone who likes to break up their days with neighborhood walks. Whether you live in a city or out in the country, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and remain aware of your surroundings. These earphones give you the best of both worlds since they play stereo sound while letting you hear the outside world, and the sound quality is much better than software-powered ambient passthrough modes.
If these earbuds still don’t seem like the right fit for you, don’t worry: that’s where our next section comes in.
Editor’s note: this review was written with headset firmware version 1.1.2-21274+132ebd5 and version 4.3.4 of the Bose Music app.
Though both the Bose Sport Earbuds and Sport Open Earbuds are intended for athletes, the latter is more niche. If the bulk of your training happens indoors, the Bose Sport Earbuds are the better value: the StayHear Max tips comfortably seal to your ear canal and the attached wing tips maintain a secure, comfortable fit. The Sport Earbuds have a stronger bass response because of the sealed design and also happen to have a better mic system than the Bose Sport Open Earbuds.
Unlike the Sport Open Earbuds, the standard Sport variant includes a USB-C charging case that fast charges the earbuds and provides 10 hours of reserve battery. The Bose Sport Open Earbuds have a greater standalone playtime, but you need to keep track of the charging cradle at all times.
The hybrid button/touch control system of the Bose Sport Open Earbuds is nifty, but the touch controls are just too sensitive and could really use recalibrating. This is a disappointing contrast to the Bose Sport Earbuds’ perfect touch panels, which accurately register touches, even imprecise ones. As of the initial publication of this Bose Sport Open Earbuds review, you have more freedom to configure the Bose Sport Earbuds controls than you do with the Open Earbuds.
Again, if you’re an outdoor adventurer who likes to listen to music the Bose Sport Open Earbuds are a great option, but all other athletes can save a few bucks and go the way of the Bose Sport Earbuds.
What should you get instead of the Bose Sport Earbuds?
iPhone owners who want to stick to an ear hook design: the Beats Powerbeats Pro if you aren’t set on true wireless earbuds. This set of Beats earphones houses the Apple H1 chip for functions like audio sharing, voice access to Siri, and more.
If the ear hook look isn’t for you, but you do want an open design, check out the IPX4-rated Sony LinkBuds WF-L900. The unusual mini donut-shaped buds offer an open fit so you can hear your surroundings while you listen to music. It also featured Adaptive Sound (which you can turn off too) during those instances when awareness is less of a concern. For such an odd shape, it fits quite comfortably and the controls all work. Of course, it suffers from some of the issues the Sport Open has, such as auditory masking prompting you to crank the volume.
Consider something a bit more versatile like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro or Jabra Elite 85t. Samsung’s earbuds have an IPX7 rating and are jam-packed with features (a handful of which are exclusive to Samsung devices). Both the Jabra Elite 85t and Galaxy Buds Pro offer very good active noise canceling and both pairs of earbuds seal to your ear. Samsung and Jabra’s microphone systems sound far better than the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, and their respective apps provide many more features than the Bose Music app.
Frequently asked questions about the Bose Sport Open Earbuds
This depends on the thickness of your glasses’ arms. Unless you have wireframes, you’re unlikely to be able to comfortably wear the Bose Sport Open Earbuds with your favorite spectacles because the hook is too thick, which is unfortunate since plenty of us wear sunglasses outside.
A reader noted: “Bose doesn’t call these bone conduction, but they are. Shokz sit on the temporal bone a bit farther forward.”
The Sport Open Earbuds aren’t designed to be bone-conducting. Rather than using transducers that cause the cheekbones to vibrate, Bose’s OpenAudio technology uses speakers, which transmit sound waves through the air and into the listener’s ears. The earphone-on-bone vibrations emitted by these earphones are negligible.
Since the Bose Sport Open Earbuds don’t occlude your ear canal, wind noise will impact your ability to hear audio. However, if you’re biking at a leisurely pace in a non-windy environment, it shouldn’t drown the audio out completely. If you’re wearing a helmet (as you should), try a wind noise reducer, which can also protect your ears from noise-induced hearing loss.