If you’re looking for the best headphones for running or the best sports headphones, chances are you’ve been looking at what the Bose catalogue has to offer. After all, it’s a brand that has built a solid reputation for producing some of the best sporty wireless earbuds on the market in recent years.
But should you consider the Bose Sport Earbuds? Their arrival follows hot on the heels of the excellent Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, of which we’re huge fans. The big question is how much of that brilliance has Bose been able to transplant into their cheaper siblings? Some elements have been sacrificed and tweaked, of course, to hit that cheaper price point; but is the same character still there? If so, we could be looking at a five-star shoo-in.
Design and build
The design and build of the Bose Sports Earbuds is a sort of mash up between the newer QuietComfort Earbuds and an older pair of Bose true wireless earbuds, the SoundSport Free.
The housings are smaller and a little rounder than the ones you get with the QuietComforts, although they still protrude just as far from your ears. They don’t look ridiculous, though, and are much more subtle in appearance than the SoundSport Free, although they’re nowhere near as slender as a rival such as the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live.
The Bose Sport Earbuds feel a little cheaper than their siblings, with a more rugged plastic used on the touch surfaces. This is to be expected, of course. They are also slightly lighter than the QuietComforts too, weighing in at 6.75g (versus 8.5g for the QuietComforts).
You’ve got a choice of three finishes: Triple Black, Glacier White or the Baltic Blue of our review sample.
Bluetooth version 5.1
Battery life 5 hours (15 with charging case)
Voice control Siri, Google Assistant
As has become the norm for Bose wireless buds recently, you are provided with only three different sizes of silicone eartips (small, medium and large). We’d normally criticise this selection as being quite limited, were it not for the fact we find it relatively easy to find a size that works. The combination of large, soft and pliable, silicone pads (Bose calls them “umbrella-shaped”) combined with equally soft wing tips, really helps the headphones sit securely in place without needing to be completely rammed into your ear canal. It also makes them comfortable over long listening periods.
The tips are also a cinch to swap around – other manufacturers could definitely learn a thing or two from ease with which you can slide one ear tip off and another one on.
The isolation you get from the Bose in-ears is good, although we’d be lying if we said we didn’t miss the effectiveness and layer of noise-cancelling provided by QuietComfort Earbuds. Yes, they’re more expensive, but it‘s not unheard of to get noise-cancelling earbuds even at this price point. Take the excellent Sony WF-SP800N as a case in point.
The Sport Earbuds have an IP4 rating, which means they’re sweat and weather resistant, so you shouldn’t suffer any problems if you’re caught in a slight downpour whilst out on your weekly 5K run.
Battery life is a pretty average five hours per charge, with the carry case providing a further two full charges for a total of 15 hours. This compares with six hours and two extra charges with the QuietComfort Earbuds and a whopping nine hours per charge from the Sony WF-SP800N. You should be able to bump a dead battery from zero to two hours with the help of a 15-minute quick charge over USB-C. Unlike with the QuietComfort, there is no wireless charging here.
The carry case for the Bose Sport Earbuds is slightly shallower and narrower than the one you get with the QuietComfort Earbuds. It is a touch longer though, because of the way the buds are positioned inside. A bank of five LEDs on the front indicates how much battery life is left in the case, and there’s a pairing button inside that you will need to press every time you want to connect the buds to a new source.
We find the pairing process a bit tricky and inconsistent. We attempt to pair them with an iPhone and MacBook, switching manually between them in the app when required. But the switching doesn’t run quite as smoothly as we feel it should have. The Sport Earbuds also seem to have issues simply reconnecting to one device and we are left trying to restart the pairing process on more than one occasion. We didn’t really have any such problems with the QuietComfort Earbuds.
It’s not helped by the fact you can’t be connected to two sources simultaneously, such as a laptop for listening to music and a phone for making or taking the occasional call. You have to switch manually within the Bose Music app. You’ll need to download the app to your Android or iOS smartphone before you use them for the first time.
The old Bose Soundsport Free used to have physical controls, but the Sport Earbuds follow in the footsteps of the QuietComfort Earbuds with touch controls built into the surface of the earpiece. The majority of controls that you need are catered for, including pause, play and skip forwards. Double tap the right earbud to play or pause or answer/decline calls. Tap and hold your finger on the right earbud to summon your voice assistant.
Double-tapping the left earbud skips forwards but, weirdly, there’s no way to skip back to the beginning of your track. Not exactly a deal-breaker, but a strange omission given virtually all rivals offer this functionality.
Thanks to a recent firmware update you can also assign the touch surface on the right bud as a volume control. Swipe along and down to turn them down and swipe up to, you guessed it, turn the volume up.
Call quality is solid enough by earbud standards. The mics are contained in the right earbud, which is the master, and your voice comes across relatively clearly in normal conditions. You do get some wind noise when using them outside, but not enough to put us off using them.
Given the performance of their noise-cancelling siblings, we had high hope for the Bose Sports Earbuds. And to a large degree they deliver. We can’t help but be impressed by their balanced approach. Every track we play through them is handled fairly and squarely. High frequencies don’t annoy or grate.
Low frequencies aren’t overcooked as they can be on poorer performing wireless earbuds. There’s a richness and fullness to bass notes, but they never sound fat and slovenly. The Bose’s enthusiastic and lively delivery makes sure they don’t overstay their welcome. On an initial listen they really draw you in.
Play Sting and the Police’s Can’t Stand Losing You and there’s a fine sense of weight to the plucked bass guitar as it struts out that reggae-influence. Drum thwacks sound solid and precise, propelling the song along at a steady speed. There’s a fullness and richness to Sting’s vocal that isn’t stuffy, but you do get the feeling it’s lacking a little in terms of outright expression. Better pairs of earbuds at the money sound a touch clearer and uncover a bit more detail.
Play End Credits from Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides and the orchestra sounds rich and detailed – although, once again, the very best peel back a few extra layers of detail and deliver dynamics with greater subtlety. The track doesn’t hit the same highs as it does when listened to through, say, the Sony WF-1000XM3. The strings don’t sparkle quite as much, and their dynamism seems a little stunted when you listen to the track through the Bose. The Sport Earbuds are still very listenable, they just don’t make music sound quite as special as the very best at this level.
The Bose Sport Earbuds are a good pair of wireless earbuds, but we’d stop short of calling them great. Their musical, powerful balance is easy to get along with and they will work well for sporty types who don’t really want a bass-heavy sound; but they don’t display quite the sophistication or subtlety required for a five-star rating at this price.
- Sound 4
- Build 4
- Comfort 5
Check out the best sports headphones 2020
Read our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review