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Bose Sport Earbuds review: Comfort at a cost
Bose Bose Sport Earbuds
What we like
What we don't like
We know better than to rule Bose out of anything, but the old SoundSport Free earbuds left us wary. Its new Sport Earbuds are a true sophomore attempt at workout buds, but do they make improvements over the first attempt? Let’s find out in our in-depth Bose Sport Earbuds review, and see if they’re worthy of becoming a gym-rat mainstay.
Who should get the Bose Sport Earbuds?
- Athletes should consider these earbuds for their IPX4 rating and ear tips that stay locked in through even the toughest of workouts.
- Anyone can pick up the Bose Sport Earbuds, especially if you want a pair of truly wireless buds that’s unlikely to fall out.
Are the Bose Sport Earbuds easy to use?
Bose went for an all-plastic construction with these earbuds, which keeps these lightweight and durable. They’re not flashy buds by any means, but the simple design feels very modern and premium. You won’t find a rough edge or corner anywhere, and the Sport Earbuds don’t stick out from your ears nearly as far as the SoundSport Free earbuds did.
Both earbuds are completely free of buttons, but the outside of each serves as a touch panel to keep you in control. It’s easy to pause playback with a double tap on the right earbud, or you can simply pop it out of your ear to the same effect. However, only the right earbud has automatic ear detection, so you’ll have to bear that in mind for mono listening. In fact, you can’t use the left earbud for mono playback at all — a disappointment if you’re hard of hearing on the right side.
|Action||Left side||Right side|
Check battery percentage
Pickup/end phone call
|Left side||Right side|
Access smart assistant
|Action||Left side||Right side|
Reject incoming calls
|Left side||Right side|
|Left side||Right side|
While the mono playback setup is a bummer, the ear tips are a stroke of genius. Bose’s new StayHear Max — mind the pun — ear tips may look intimidating at first, but that’s their secret. The extra material increases surface contact with your ear, and I couldn’t shake them free no matter how hard I tried. They’re also extremely comfortable with the wingtips. The material lightly grips your ears, which makes for a good seal without any pain.
The case you get with the Bose Sport Earbuds is nothing particularly special, but it’s smaller than the case found alongside the SoundSport Free. It skips the popular magnet design of most wireless earbuds, instead opting for a physical button that releases a lever. It isn’t as satisfying to use as the Google Pixel Buds case, but it does a great job against accidental drops.
On the outside, you’ll find four LEDs that indicate your remaining charge, and a single Bluetooth pairing button rests on the inside. Unfortunately, you can expect to become good friends with the pairing button over the life of your buds.
Do you need the Bose Music app?
Another pair of earbuds, another required app. Luckily, there aren’t actually that many uses for the Bose Music app when it comes to the Sport Earbuds. You’ll mostly use it for things like firmware updates and programming your controls. You can’t create a custom EQ — it’s Bose’s Active EQ, and only the Active EQ. I didn’t mind it so much, but some users might be annoyed by the limitation.
See also: The best Bose headphones (Sound Guys)
It’s not all bad, however, because the Bose Music app can help you to swap between connected devices. Sure, you can use your phone’s Bluetooth settings to the same effect, but that tends to be more labor-intensive than Bose Music. You can use the app to manage Bose’s voice prompts, rename your earbuds, and get a clearer picture of your battery life.
How strong is the connection?
Initially the Bose Sport Earbuds had connectivity issues when outside, but that has since been resolved with firmware version 1.0.7-10904+620b71c. Now, the Bluetooth 5.1 connection is great whether inside or outside. My earbuds stay paired with my Galaxy S10e any time I’m within the nine-meter radius. The firmware update also fixed auto-reconnect issues that I had: at first, the earbuds failed to reliably reconnect to my smartphone, but they now do so immediately upon opening the case.
Learn more: Bluetooth codecs 101
Bose’s Sport Earbuds support both the SBC and AAC codecs, which is great news for iPhone owners. The AAC connection should play nicely on iOS, which is more than we can say for all Android users. If you find the connection problems to be too glaring, you may have to revert back to the SBC codec.
What makes Bluetooth 5.1 different from Bluetooth 5.0?
While the two versions are generally similar, Bluetooth 5.1 offers far better location features. It can pinpoint the direction and distance from your earbuds to your phone, which can help to track down missing earbuds. Unfortunately, the current version of Bose Music doesn’t support a find my earbuds feature.
The new firmware also brings a boost in energy efficiency. A revamped caching system helps to make faster connections, which should help when you need to reconnect to a device. All of this is to say that you should see a slight bump in battery life over Bluetooth 5.0 devices, and it should become easier to pair to a new device in a hurry. Both Bluetooth 5.0 and 5.1 fall into the Low Energy standard, but they’re not part of LE Audio.
How is the battery life on the Bose Sport Earbuds?
Every time we test a pair of headphones, we subject it to 75dB of constant output, and the Bose Sport Earbuds are no exception. They last 5 hours, 17 minutes on a single charge, which is near average for true wireless earbuds. You can also recharge quickly if you need to fit one more set into your workout — 15 minutes of charging will net you two hours of playback. It takes two hours to fully recharge the buds or three hours for the case, but there’s no wireless charging to be had.
True wireless earbuds have battery problems
Unfortunately, the Bose Sport Earbuds fall victim to many of the same battery problems as other wireless earbuds. They pack small batteries that slowly degrade over time. Each time you partially deplete your charge and top it back up, you’re putting the battery through stress. The problem is that you need the case in order to safely store your earbuds. This is far from a unique problem though, more of a warning.
The good news for everyone is that all hope is not yet lost for the future of tiny batteries. Apple has been making strides with battery management in iOS 14, though the improvements are limited to the AirPods and AirPods Pro right now. It’s found a way to keep your earbuds from charging back to 100% until it anticipates your usage.
How do the Bose Sport Earbuds sound?
Bose’s Sport Earbuds emphasize bass and upper-midrange notes, but not to an egregious degree. They produce vocals and instruments accurately, instead of diving into the deep end of bass like other fitness competitors. Bass is only slightly louder than mids, which makes it easier to catch kickdrums without losing too much musical detail. Overall, the frequency response should be pleasing for most listeners, but bass heads may want to look elsewhere.
Bose’s isolation isn’t great, but it’s not meant to be the best around. It’s pretty evident that Bose went for comfort with the Sport Earbuds rather than peak performance. However, the lower isolation may actually be a benefit in the gym — it’s important to hear what’s going on around you to keep yourself and others safe.
Can I use them for phone calls?
The Bose Sport Earbuds have a four-microphone setup, which is impressive for their tiny footprint. It’s still an embedded setup, so it’s not without limits. Lower frequencies fall victim to the proximity effect, which can mean that deeper voices sound a bit off. It’s not all bad — the microphones do well to reduce common background sounds like the hum of a refrigerator.
Give the audio sample a listen and hear for yourself:
Bose Sport Earbuds vs Bose SoundSport Free
The Bose Sport Earbuds make plenty of improvements over the older SoundSport Free earbuds, but they’re not perfect by any means. The SoundSport Free earbuds often struggle to maintain a Bluetooth collection, but that’s less of an issue with the new version.
Some listeners may enjoy the sleek new controls on the Sport Earbuds, while others may prefer the tactile controls are great on the SoundSport Free. Bose now lets you tinker with the volume on the Sport Earbuds, but this feature didn’t debut with the headset. The new Sport Earbuds get the edge in sound quality, thanks to other improvements like Active EQ. Before you go out and grab a pair, don’t forget that there are plenty of high-quality alternatives to look into.
Bose Sport Earbuds review: The verdict
If you want the most comfortable pair of workout earbuds around, the buck stops here. The Bose StayHear Max ear tips are crafted for a secure, comfortable fit without a strong suction-like feeling which is easily the highlight here.
See also: The best workout earbuds of 2020
The Sport Earbuds are very good, and the company has already fixed many of our initial gripes about the headset — mainly connection related. Bose can’t rest on its laurels here, and we hope to see additional features like a custom EQ with upcoming firmware updates. We’ve seen others roll out large, Pixel-esque feature drops after release, so it’s certainly possible that Bose will aim for the same.
There’s room for improvement to be sure, but there’s a lot to love about Bose’s second-generation fitness earbuds. If you value comfort, versatility, and you want earbuds that won’t fall out, make sure to snatch these up.