In the past, other WIRED writers have loved real wireless buds, but I’ve been skeptical. In fact, I viscerally dislike them. They hit a specific Uncanny Valley of technology that threatens to cross the line between implant and implement.
I’m not the only one. While testing the Bose SoundSport Free, my toddler daughter repeatedly asked me to take them out. And I can’t blame her. I’ve been known to pick up my infant before I hug my father-in-law, just so that the baby will snatch his wireless bud out of his ear (sorry!).
Moreover, the design doesn’t seem to make sense, especially for workout headphones. It’s one thing if a bud is dislodged when you’re sitting at your desk, but when you’re running and sweating? What if they fall in a thorny bush? Or a pile of dirt, or into a puddle of MRSA sweat at your gym? No thanks.
Since wearing them, I’ve been reluctantly converted by the Bose SoundSport Free. They fit securely and comfortably; they’re convenient and easy to use. And they sound so friggin’ good! I’ve written that sound quality might matter less with workout headphones, but when you can get it, you might as well enjoy it.
Like many of Bose’s products, these ‘buds are outrageously expensive. Even writing that a pair of workout headphones costs $200 makes me gag a little bit. But in nearly every way but price, they performed spectacularly.
This Case is the Place
The headphones come with a clamshell charging case, three sets of winged sport tips, and a USB cable. It took two hours to charge the first time, and Bose states that the earbuds have a five-hour run time. I got down to 70 percent after three hours, which seems like a slightly longer runtime than stated. But in a week of dog walks, gym trips, and trail running wearing the buds, it was hard to run them down farther down than that.
That’s because I was terrified to leave such expensive buds out of the case, in a house filled with dogs and kids where tiny objects tend to go missing without a trace. I found diligently returning them every time I was done was the best way to ward off the same gremlins that steal half of your favorite pair of socks.
When I carefully replaced the buds in their little house, they started recharging, since the case also stores enough battery life for two full charges. You can check the case’s battery life by pushing the opening clasp to illuminate the built-in status LEDs. Even though Bose has a companion app that lets you locate your earbuds, sometimes it was only able to locate one bud or the other reliably.
Despite my initial skepticism, I found these Bose ‘buds comfortable to wear, even for three straight hours. Unlike in-ear buds, which often require an involved and irritating trial period wherein I poke one little rubber blueberry in my ear canal after another, the Bose ear tips are larger. They rest just outside the canal and are held in place with wings.
The rubber of the wings was much softer and more comfortable than other buds that I’ve tested, and the medium size out of the box worked well. It was so convenient, and such a relief to not have to test different bud sizes by jogging in place in my living room in front of my bewildered dogs.
They stayed in place while hiking, running, walking, and climbing. They’re IPX4-rated, so they didn’t react at all to my sweaty ear folds. They did let in ambient noise, but I appreciated that quality. I like being able to hear dogs and cyclists approaching when I’m outside.
Oh yeah, and the sound. The sound! The first time I heard the intro to Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” come thundering in, I almost did lose control. Everything, from L7’s growling guitars to silky Celtic fiddling, sounded rich, full, and vibrant.
In particular, the bass sounded fantastic. I could almost feel Beyoncé’s “Formation” pulsing in my chest. These sounded good enough to transition from workout headphones to an everyday desk set.
And of course, they’re by Bose, so everything has a sleek, premium look and feel. The smooth black case feels great resting in your hand, and the earbuds click satisfyingly in place thanks to some magnets. The app even suggests great nicknames for your buds when you set them up. Little Miss Dynamite? Why yes! That’s me!
Though their rockin’ sound helped win me over, there are still a few issues worth mentioning. The on-bud controls are stiff and difficult to push. I had to take them out to turn them off and turn the volume up and down, or answer calls. If you’re anything like me (by which I mean a total klutz), this is when you’re going to lose one—while trying to answer a call, untangle two dog leashes, and walk at the same time.
Thankfully, Bluetooth never dropped out on me, even when climbing and walking around 30-foot boulders away from my phone. That said, I have seen comments that some customers have experienced lag or sound dropping out while watching videos on phones or tablets. Bose has updated the firmware on the SoundSport Free since it was released last year, so I updated my tester. I didn’t notice any lagginess while watching videos on my computer, but I did notice a barely-perceptible lag while watching videos on my iPhone 8. I don’t usually watch movies on my phone, so this didn’t bother me. But at this price point, there shouldn’t be any bugs at all.
I understand that these aren’t for everyone. They’re 1.5 inches deep and 1.25 inches tall–about as wide around as a quarter. They’re not small, and they stick out of your ears. So yes, you will look a little weird. And I know they’re rugged, high-quality buds, but they’re so expensive. I couldn’t keep myself from treating them like tiny precious objects, closing up that tiny clamshell sarcophagus with as much care as if it held the remains of a long-lost pharaoh. I felt a little bit like a pretentious dweeb when wearing them, but maybe that’s part of the package when you buy a Bose product.
You might miss noise filtering if you have a busy city commute. And if you stream movies on your phone, that lag might get annoying, if you even notice it. But if you love amazing sound quality, comfort, and convenience, the Bose SoundSport Free are worth a look. I finally understand why people can be convinced to pay so much for these things.
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