Truly wireless headphones (earbuds that aren't connected by any wire) are rapidly gaining popularity and nearly every audio manufacturer is beginning to release their own versions of them. Apple is currently ruling this space with the AirPods, in the US anyway, and it seems as though everyone wants a piece of that pie.
Bose has launched its first pair of truly wireless earbuds in India, called the SoundSport Free, and it's aimed at users with an active lifestyle. Naturally, being a Bose product, it does command a premium which in this case is Rs. 18,990. Armed with an IPX4 certification for sweat resistance and the promise of good audio quality, is the SoundSport Free worth the asking price?
Bose SoundSport Free design and features
The SoundSport Free earbuds have very good build quality and feel sturdy. Glossy plastic has been used for most of the construction, along with a bit of rubber lining for the buttons. We have the black version for review today but this pair is also available in Midnight Blue and Bright Orange, which look a lot more striking. The earbuds stick out from your ears a bit when you wear them. We found them to be fairly light at 15g each, and we didn't face any fatigue even after prolonged listening sessions.
The right earbud is the main one, and has all the buttons for media playback and voice prompts. Calls are only routed to your right ear. The bottoms of each earbud have a series of contact pins which are used for charging when they are placed in their case. The left earbud just has a single ‘Bluetooth' button, which is used to wake the pair out of sleep, disconnect an active connection, or enter pairing mode. Both also have single LEDs, which glow blue during the pairing process; white when they are connected; and red when the batteries are low.
Looking at the way in which the ear tips have been designed, one might assume that a bit of effort would be needed in order to insert them correctly, but it's a lot simpler than it looks. The ear tips, or StayHear+ Sport Tips, as Bose calls them, are designed to sit just outside your ear canal. They line up with the inner ridges of your ears, and provided you have the right size on, are very comfortable. We tried running with them in and even moving our head vigorously around in an attempt to dislodge them, but they stayed put. You get two additional pairs of tips in different sizes in the box.
In terms of features, the SoundSport Free has an IPX4 rating for water resistance, which means both units can tolerate light splashes of water but aren't designed to be submerged. The Bluetooth range can be up to 9m from the connected device, and the AAC audio streaming codec is supported in addition to the standard SBC.
The charging case that's included is compact, and according to Bose, can deliver an additional 10 hours of battery life (five hours per charge). The case can be charged through its Micro-USB port (a cable is included) and you can check its battery level using a row of LEDs on the front. While this case is fairly compact, it's nowhere near as small as Apple's case for the AirPods. The earbuds snap into the case with the help of magnets and two white LEDs tell you whether or not they're charging.
Bose SoundSport Free performance and battery life
The SoundSport Free automatically enters pairing mode the first time you take them out of their case. Unfortunately there's no NFC so you'll have to go to your phone's Bluetooth settings page to pair them. A voice prompt announces the name of the device you're connected to. You can store up to seven devices in the pairing list but can only connect to one at a time. The SoundSport Free will also automatically cycle through devices in its list, until it finds one that it can establish a connection with.
You can manage the list of paired devices, check the battery level, give your pair of earbuds a name, and update the firmware through the Bose Connect app. It's available for Android and iOS, and it offers the same features across both platforms. We tried it out on an iPhone 6s Plus and a Google Pixel 2 XL (Review) and it worked just fine on both. The SoundSport Free also has a feature called Find My Buds, which needs to be enabled within the app. It remembers the last known location of the earbuds and you can sound an alarm (a series of beeps that gets progressively louder) from the earbuds to help you find them. This even works when the earbuds don't have an active connection with your device as long as they're within Bluetooth range. There's also an alarm feature that works even when the earbuds are in their charging case, but the sound is muffled.
We used the SoundSport Free for close to a week and loved how easy the earbuds were to slip on and off. We didn't find them to be fatiguing even after commutes of more than an hour. The buttons for media playback are easy to reach but the problem is that they are a bit too stiff and need a bit of effort to press. A long-press of the Play/ Pause button activates Siri or Google Assitant, depending on what phone you use. The SoundSport Free also lacks some smart features such as the ability to auto-pause your media when you take one of the earbuds out of your ears.
Ambient noise isn't severely blocked, which means you can wear the SoundSport Free when walking down a busy road and still hear what's happening around you. Active noise cancellation would have been a nice feature, especially at this price, but that's not supported. Also, sound tends to leak at higher volumes, which isn't ideal for use in quiet spaces such as an office.
For a pair of earbuds that don't seal off your ear canal, the SoundSport Free produces an impressive amount of bass. There are good helpings of it throughout the volume range, and even at around the 90 percent volume level, the sound is controlled and doesn't get boomy. The maximum volume level is good and there's a linear progression in loudness as you go up the scale, although we noticed a big jump when going from 80 to 90 percent.
Other than good bass, the earbuds also deliver crisp highs and a fairly rich mid-range. Breaking Ties by OceanLab showcased the SoundSport Free's ability to deliver sharp and distinct vocals, while Craig David's I Know You was delivered cleanly, with punchy bass. The earbuds sound great with movies too. Blade Runner: 2049's haunting background score was reproduced very well. The right earbud can be used by itself if needed, especially for voice calls, but you can't do the same with the left one. The microphone in the right bud has good sensitivity. You also get a voice prompt announcing the name or number of whoever calls you.
The SoundSport Free is rated to last five hours on a single charge, and in our testing, we found that it actually surpassed this by a bit. You can set the earbuds to go into sleep mode after a particular interval, which helps conserve battery life. However, since you'd typically have them in the case once you're done with them, they'll begin charging automatically (provided the case is charged too). Going from zero to a full battery typically takes about two hours. When the battery level dips below 20 percent, you'll begin to hear warning prompts. The app doesn't show the individual battery levels of the earbuds, and they both shut off together.
The Bose SoundSport Free is truly wireless and sounds really good, but unfortunately, might not be attractive to a lot of people due to its high price. The earbuds look great, are comfortable to wear and sweat-proof, and they also produce well-balanced sound. Bass response is especially good for earbuds with this sort of ear tip design. If you're willing to splurge then the SoundSport Free definitely won't disappoint you. Active noise cancellation would have been nice considering the price premium, and we wish the control buttons required less effort to use. Overall, the Bose SoundSport Free is a good buy if have the budget for it.
Price (MRP): Rs. 18,990
- Built well
- Very good bass response
- Good battery life
- IPX4 sweat proof
- Sound leaks
- Buttons are stiff
- Design: 3.5
- Performance: 4
- Value for money: 3
- Overall: 3.5