★★★★★ £180 • From www.bose.co.uk
The Bose SoundSport Free headphones sound upbeat and fun; we just wish they fitted better
A decent-sounding pair of wireless headphones, but the price is high and design is poor
LAST YEAR SAW the release of the Bose SoundSport Wireless (Shopper 358), which sounded good, but didn’t quite live up to the name: a behind-the-neck cable connected the left and right in-ear units, so the headphones didn’t deliver the kind of true wire-free experience you might want when you’re trying to exercise.
The SoundSport Free, then, look like the perfect update, being wireless earphones with no cable connections at all (similar to Apple’s AirPods). Connecting via Bluetooth, they could be the perfect match for those who want to go running, cycling or to the gym without feeling a cable bouncing on the back of their neck.
Unfortunately, the design means they don’t get off to the best start: each bud sticks some way out of your ear, so you can often hear the wind catching on them. Their weight is also noticeable, with each earbud coming in at 15g.
At £180, they’re expensive, too. To be fair, thatt’s a pretty normal price for a pair of headphones like these – the near-identical Jabra Elite Sport cost £175, while the less sporty, ANC-enabled Sony WF-1000X come in at £200. Unusually enough, it’s Apple that offers a cheaper option, with the £159 AirPods. In any case, £180 is a lot to spend on in-ear headphones, so it’s even more important that they get everything else right.
ON THE CASE
The SoundSport Free come with three sets of StayHear+ Sport tips, designed to keep the buds in your ears during workouts. They would benefit from another set for those with smaller ears, however, as with larger, poorerfitting tips, the whole earbuds can wiggle around a bit under more strenuous exercise, which is both uncomfortable and distracting.
There’s also a portable charging case, capable of providing two full charges. A single charge provides around five hours of playback, so if you fully charge up the case and earphones you can listen for up to 15 hours without having to track down a wall socket.
Recharging uses a proprietary connector, so you won’t be able to charge the earphones without the case. A full recharge takes around two hours; there’s also a 15-minute quickcharge option, which will keep you going for around 45 minutes. Five LEDs on the cylindrical case indicate how much charge remains, which is a convenient UI touch.
You get three colours to choose from, namely black, midnight blue and bright orange. It’s worth choosing a colour you like, as these earphones are quite large and conspicuous; they recall the Frankenstein Ultimate Ears TF10, which attracted an uncomfortable number of curious looks on public transport.
Even if you’re not bothered about how you look, you might care about that aforementioned wind noise – we found them more or less unusable while cycling. Noise was less of a problem while jogging, but the slightly bulky design of the earphones still caused them to bounce around in our ear canals, which wasn’t a pleasant experience. The IPX4 rating means they’ll be able to withstand a splash of rain or sweat, but unlike the Soul X-Shock they’re not properly waterproof. There are a few controls built into the two earphones: the left unit has an on/off button, while the right unit offers a volume control and a play/pause button, which do double duty as skip/previous controls. We found these buttons awkwardly placed, and stiff to the extent that we had to use our fingernails to press them reliably. The SoundSport Free connect to your phone over standard Bluetooth LE; you don’t need any special software. However, the optional Bose Connect app includes an audible Find My Buds feature, which is useful, since these units can easily get lost in a gym bag or behind the sofa. You could even leave them in a different room, as their operating range is very good: we were able to keep listening even when our phone was 15 metres away, through several walls.
These earphones lack the high-quality aptX audio codec, but they still sound great, with a
The slightly bulky design of the earphones caused them to bounce around in our ear canals while jogging
warm, fun sound signature. The bass is pronounced, while the mids are clear-sounding, if a tad pushed back. The highs have a nice sparkle at the top end, and the overall soundstage is impressively spacious.
Upbeat genres such as pop, rock and reggae benefit the most from this. Each guitar strum is tangible, while percussion is clear and vocals sit powerfully in the foreground.
That said, these earphones don’t work so well with less strident productions. On live recordings, for instance, the mid-bass response becomes overpowering, and the whole sound becomes slightly muffled. Sub-bass response is limited, too.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
In all, the Bose SoundSport Free aren’t audiophile-grade earphones, but they are capable of providing a good sound that’s fun to listen to. The wireless range is good, and the Find My Buds feature is a definite plus.
They’re undeniably expensive, and the bulky design is a big potential turn-off: even discounting the considerable wind noise, anyone with smaller ears may struggle to make these earphones stay comfortably in place. That’s not much better a situation than having a neck cable slapping against your skin.