Back in 2016, we lauded the Bose SoundSport Wireless, and now there’s a newer, shinier kid in town: the Bose SoundSport Free. Although it doesn’t perfect the true wireless experience, the SoundSport Free meets most athletes’ audio demands including water-resistance and a secure fit. If you don’t mind the comically large housings, these earbuds are a great addition to the Bose ecosystem.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on January 23, 2020, to account for price changes.
Who are Bose’s true wireless workout earbuds 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.
What is the Bose SoundSport Free like?
Upon opening the SoundSport Free, it’s apparent that a sizable portion of your money is funneled back into Bose’s packaging design department. Inside, is a tubular charging case, a microUSB charging cable, two alternative pairs of StayHear+ ear tips, and the SoundSport Free earbuds. 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 and jut from the ear.
Looking beyond the bulbous build, the SoundSport Free ‘buds provide a very stable fit, 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. It provides two additional full-charges to the earbuds, which isn’t great for its size-to-battery ratio.
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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, Android users are bound to experience audio-visual lag. iPhone users, however, benefit from AAC Bluetooth codec support, providing high-quality wireless streaming.
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The Bose Connect app supports the company’s Bluetooth products and has a peculiar option to nickname your device. 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.
Bose lists the earbuds’ standalone playback time at five hours; our objective testing measured a consistent 5.5 hours of playtime before I had to pop them back into the case which supplies an additional 10 hours of listening. While this isn’t up to snuff compared to more modern total wireless earbuds, longevity shouldn’t be an issue for those 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, microUSB, 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 JLab Epic Air Elite.
The SoundSport Free’s sound signature is a departure from Bose’s notorious weak bass response. Like their predecessor, these earbuds pump out a strong low-end. Treble and midrange frequencies are exaggerated too but not to the same degree. 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 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.
AJR’s song Sober Up relies heavily on Ryan Met’s vocal lead and, relative to the bass and treble, the mids are the least emphasized part of the SoundSport Free signature. This is good and bad: they sound accurate but are quickly masked when an unrestrained kickdrum makes itself present. If these weren’t workout earbuds, this would 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.
How do the Bose SoundSport Free compare to other earbuds?
The Bose SoundSport Free was a unique product when released back in the fall of 2017, but we’ve seen a rapid uptick in truly wireless earbuds. As any Freakonomics fan will tell you: as competition increases, prices eventually decrease. We’ve seen more affordable and comparably priced workout earbuds enter the market, and the Bose SoundSport Free just can’t keep pace with the others. The large earbud housings look ridiculous in comparison to the IPX6 rated Master & Dynamic MW07 Go, and even compared to the sportier Jaybird Vista.
Additionally, what the Bose SoundSport Free once championed its extended playtime which ran circles around the competition two years ago. However, now we’re seeing total wireless earbuds that handily exceed six hours of playback with more playtime afforded from an even slimmer charging case. Suffice to say, the SoundSport Free is showing its age.
iPhone users should save for the Apple AirPods Pro or Beats Powerbeats Pro
If you’ve been considering the SoundSport Free earbuds for their AAC support, you’d greatly benefit from saving and waiting until you can afford either the AirPods Pro or Powerbeats Pro. Both headsets integrate Apple’s H1 chip for greater energy efficiency, hands-free Siri access, and streamlined use across iOS devices. What’s more, the AirPods Pro are the first of the AirPods line to have an official IP rating (IPX4), so you can sweat in them to your heart’s desire without worrying about water damage. Coincidentally, the Powerbeats Pro ‘buds are also IPX4-rated.
Neither pair of earbuds juts out from the ear as much as the SoundSport Free and both support fast charging. For the Beats workout earbuds, you get 1.5 hours of listening from just five minutes in the case, which is pretty remarkable.
Should you buy the Bose SoundSport Free?
The low-end of the SoundSport Free signature is loud but unable to maintain a solid thump. If you’re heavily invested in the Bose family and appreciate the reliable nature of Bose products, then yes, the Bose SoundSport Free is a fine true wireless option. The earbuds can do everything well and are comfortable despite featuring such a large form factor. Again, though, it’s difficult to enthusiastically recommend the SoundSport Free two years after its release since there are so many worthwhile, economical alternatives available. For those on a tighter budget, we at SoundGuys highly recommend the $79 Creative Outlier Air for their water-resistance, aptX and AAC codec support, and battery life.