Great sound Bulky
Comfortable fit Occasional connectivity issues
Bose is German for sound. Actually, that’s not entirely true. The company was started in Massachusetts and takes its name from its founder. However, the brand’s audio equipment has become so reputable and pervasive that it’s clearly one of the first you think of when it comes to sound systems and speakers. The SoundSport Free is Bose’s offering for fitness enthusiasts in the truly wireless earbud category.
The SoundSport Free is not for the meek. It comes in four color options: Black, Bright Orange, Midnight Blue and Ultraviolet. I opted for the Midnight Blue, which is still rather subdued, but the yellow accents provide some flash. The glossy exterior finish also gives the buds an upscale, premium look. The construction carries that forward with an IPX4 rating, meaning they won’t wilt from sweat, rain or if splashed with water.
Yet the most immediate reaction to unboxing these earbuds is generated by their dimensions: bulbous and substantial. Weighing in at 9.1 grams apiece, the buds are the heaviest of the group I tested that didn’t have an over-the-ear design. The upshot is the buds do feel sturdy and the bigger profile makes it easier to manipulate them, especially if you got large hands and fingers.
The cylindrical charging case is the size of a small energy drink—not huge, but it will take up noticeable real estate in a pocket. Five LED indicator lights adorn the outside of it. Press the button to open the case and the amount of glowing lights reveals how much charge is left. A full charge takes about two hours and delivers five hours playback, with an additional 10 hours from the case; a 15-minute quick-charge will result in about an hour of use time. All respectable numbers.
Inside the case are magnetic connecting pins which is a nice touch. It not only sucks the buds into proper charging alignment, but prevents them from spilling out when the case is opened. The buds will power on and connect immediately before they even hit your ears—a less fussy pair in this regard would be hard to find. But inconspicuous they are not.
The buds come with three different sized StayHear+ Sport tips to provide a customized fit. They don’t penetrate the canal like a true in-ear model; the wings spread out across the ear for a less intrusive experience. It doesn’t provide a perfect seal, but are nonetheless rather comfortable and grippy. They also insert rather easily and don’t fatigue the ear much with extended use. I never got that “ski boot” relief feeling in my ears when taking them off after lengthy workouts that I can suffer with competing models.
Given how much the buds protrude—they’re like Frankenstein bolts sticking out of your ears—they were remarkably steady. From ballistic and explosive gym movements to scampering across the court, I incurred little movement. Even when I tried to create a disturbance with extended head shaking, there’s just not much wiggle. However, if you take your shirt off after a workout with them still in your ears, get ready for dislodge city.
Being a Bose product, I had high hopes for the sound experience and the SoundSport Free delivered. As I’ve discovered with other true wireless Bluetooth earbuds, there are going to be a few concessions when it comes to music playback. But overall, I found the Bose to be particularly strong in this category. They provide a rich, full sound with plenty of the bass athletes covet to get motivated during workouts. It can seem almost too much in a quiet room, but it works quite well outdoors or in a busy gym.
Since they lack a true in-ear design, the buds won’t completely block out outside noise, resulting in some sound leakage. It’s a compensation for the comfortable fit, and not necessarily a demerit if you prefer some ambient noise to be more aware of your surroundings or carry on conversations at lower volumes. However, if you desire complete noise cancellation, you won’t find it here.
Manipulating music is mostly a snap. You can’t program the multi-function button—located on the right bud—but you probably wouldn’t need anything more than it already provides. Once the music starts, consulting your phone is unnecessary. Play/pause, song skipping, volume control, call answering and summoning Siri or Google Assist are all at the touch of a button. And since the buds are rather big, it’s easier to find those buttons than on most models. However, there are a little stiff and can take a heavy touch to respond.
The connectivity was mostly reliable, but suffered a few moments of indecision. I experienced static and some cutouts at the tail-end of my 40-yard lunge test. There were also a few instances when the left bud temporarily lost contact with the right. Phone calls were clear in quiet conditions, but the lack of a tight seal and mono sound—right bud only—made it more challenging when outdoors or exposed to some background noise. And if you want buds to stream videos I found many instances of audio/visual lag.
The accompanying Bose Connect app is a little ho-hum. There’s a useful tour of the earbud features, responses to faqs and integration with Apple Music and TuneIn internet radio. But most people have their music already lined up elsewhere on their smartphones. The “find my buds” option is a worthwhile convenience that lets you know the last location where your buds paired with the phone, and can request a high pitch tone to be emitted to help find them. The app also offers the unusual option of naming your earbuds. Or you can use the “surprise me” function to have the app do it for you. I landed on “Boom Train.” But the most noticeable drawback is there’s no equalizer to adjust as you can with some competing buds. I was perfectly content with the sound, but more discerning music lovers may want the option of altering certain facets.
The Bose SoundSport Free is one of the best-sounding true wireless earbuds around. It offers worthwhile features, solid battery life, smart controls and an overall premium feel. Despite jetting out from the ears, they also manage to be a comfortable, non-fatiguing and surprisingly secure. The connectivity could be more reliable and the app could use a few more useful flourishes. But otherwise, if you don’t mind the obtrusive appearance—you’d have to have elephant ears to make them look discreet—your workouts will never sound better.