Cutting the cord and going truly wireless with a pair of in-ear headphones might be the ultimate in portable audio - but, in our experience, it’s tricky to execute.
Not only is it tough to generate excellent sound quality in such tiny spaces, manufacturers have to pack in extra components such as amplifier, battery (with acceptable battery life), Bluetooth receiver, mic and various controls.
And they have to present it all in a package that won’t make you look like a Cyberman. Are these Bose SoundSport Frees up to the job?
Built with sporty types in mind, the SoundSport Frees are both sweat- and water-resistant, and have a suitably rugged feel to them.
Their appearance could be best described as chunky. They protrude from your ears a bit more than some rivals, and you could argue that some of the competition (such as the Sony WF-1000Xs) look both more stylish and more discreet.
The glossy Triple Black finish of our review sample is the most modest option available – the contrasting finish options of Midnight Blue or Bright Orange are a little shoutier, but not offensively so.
The headphones are neatly held in place by Bose’s StayHear tips which feature little wings that rest against the inside of your ear for extra stability.
They come in small, medium and large sizes, which means they should fit most ears (though one member of our review team found them uncomfortable after an hour or so).
MORE: Sony WF-1000X review
Despite their obviously sporty overtones, the SoundSport Frees still have more than enough in their locker to appeal to gym-bunnies and casual commuters alike.
They boast five hours of battery life, which should be enough to get you to work and back and still leave enough in the tank for a HIIT session.
The solid plastic carry case doubles as a charger and gives you an extra ten hours of power.
Drop the headphones into their relevant moulded slots and they’ll charge using the contact patches which run along the bottom of each earpiece. The headphones are held in place magnetically, so they won’t move around inside.
On the front of the case you’ll see a row of five LED lights. Press the release catch on the front and they’ll light up to show you how much juice is left.
You can’t physically switch the headphones off. Placing them in their case automatically cuts power but, if you don’t have the case to hand, you can use the Bose Connect app to set a timer to switch them off .
On the right earpiece there’s a full array of controls for playing music from your smartphone. While some rivals only offer basic track skipping and play/pause functions, the Soundsport Frees offer these plus the ability to change volume.
The buttons are built into the top edge. Press the raised bumps at either end to move the volume up or down.
Press the flat surface between them once to play, pause or answer a call. Functionally it all works fine, although the volume buttons are a bit fiddly and don’t feel especially pleasant to touch.
To start the pairing process you’ll need to download the Bose Connect app for Android and iOS devices. The app walks you through each step, offering you the opportunity to rename the headphones and seek help should you have any queries about using them.
The Boses also offer a feature called Find My Buds. It's similar to to Apple’s Find My iPhone: if you happen to misplace either of your SoundSport Frees, the app shows their location on a map and pings a distress signal if you’re in the vicinity.
While some in-ears burrow into your ear canal for extra isolation, the Bose SoundSport Frees manage to create a good seal without feeling like you’ve just undergone invasive surgery.
Unlike the Sony WF-100Xs, the Frees aren’t noise-cancelling - so you will hear more of your surroundings, especially the higher freqencies. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your requirements.
The Bose SoundSport Frees deliver a flavour much in keeping with other Bose wireless in-ears (such as the SoundSport Wireless). It’s a bold-but-balanced sound with rich and weighty bass.
The Frees deliver a solid and unwavering presentation which works well across a wide range of music genres. Highs aren’t wrapped in cotton wool, nor do they sound excitable or bright.
We play The Weeknd’s The Hills and the SoundSport Frees show they don’t lack any low-end authority. The tune’s deep and foreboding bassline hits with serious force, driving the song along with a real sense of purpose. It’s tight and well-defined – the shifts in weight and depth are easy to differentiate.
Highs sound crisp, but the fact they’re a bit rolled-off means there’s no harshness to mess things up.
Switch to Up Is Down from the Pirates of the Caribbean at World’s End soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and the headphones capture the swell of rolling bass and percussion superbly, delivering the song as a single entertaining package.
Vocals are expressive and full of life – the SoundSport Frees capture the powerful, dynamic range of Dan Owen gospel-flecked Hideaway.
So far, so good. But unfortunately the Boses have an Achilles’ Heel. We find the left and right earpieces lose their connection to each other on numerous occasions. The headphones usually reconnect to each other almost instantly, and some of Bose’s rivals also suffer a similar fate, but it is far from ideal.
We test a second pair to check whether this is an isolated incident and, though they prove a little more stable, the issue doesn’t disappear sufficiently for us to give them the benefit of the doubt.
The truly wireless in-ear market is booming at the moment, and the Bose SoundSport Free are good enough to give the very best a run for their money. They sound great and their array of features puts some rivals to shame.
But that pesky drop-out puts a dampener on the whole experience, and that must mean on this occasion we can’t give these our full backing.