Bose SoundSport Free review: A better-sounding alternative to Apple’s AirPods

£180
Price when reviewed

Bose is one of the biggest names in personal audio – but it’s not known for leading the way when it comes to technological advances. The SoundSport Free headphones are a case in point. After Apple’s AirPods brought the concept of completely wire-free earphones into the mainstream, it’s taken Bose over a year to come up with its own version.

Still, they’re here now, and on paper they look like a pretty decent alternative. In fact, they look a lot like Bose’s existing SoundSport Wireless headphones, except that the cable tethering the left and right earbuds together is gone.

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Bose SoundSport Free review: Design and features

The earbuds themselves could well have been cast from exactly the same moulds as their tethered SoundSport siblings. Each earbud has a rather large, protruding body with a rubberised bumper surrounding the outside and a Kevlar-effect panel on the outside.

They’re fitted with similar silicone tips, too – a distinctive design that holds the earphones in place by hooking into the outer part of your ear. You get three sizes in the box, to fit most ear types – but it would have been nice to have the option of regular earplug-type tips too.

That omission means these earphones aren’t ideal for everyone, because the supplied tips don’t completely block out sound from the outside world. That’s a good thing for runners, as it means you can hear what’s going on around you. But if you just want to kick back and enjoy your music – perhaps on your daily commute – you’ll have to tolerate a certain amount of distracting external noise.

The package also includes a charging case, which tops up the earphones’ batteries when you drop them inside. Bose claims that a full charge will give you up to five hours’ usage at moderate volume – but turn up the volume and the lifespan drops to below three hours. A fully charged case allows for two full recharges, so you can expect around 12-15 hours of listening before you need to reconnect to the mains, which isn’t too bad.

You don’t need to worry about forgetting to turn them off at the end of a session, either: left unattended, the earphones automatically switch themselves off pretty sharpish.

The SoundSport Free will work with any Bluetooth music source without the need for special software, but it’s worth checking out the optional Bose Connect companion app (available for both Android and iOS). This eases pairing, lets you adjust the volume, gives access to the user manual and handles firmware updates.

Perhaps most usefully, it can also help you locate lost earbuds by displaying the last location they were used on a map and sounding a tone from each earbud when you’re within Bluetooth range.

In use, the headphones are reasonably comfortable, and sporting types will be pleased to hear that they do stay in place reliably, despite the slightly protuberant design. They’re IPX4 water- and weather-resistant too, so you don’t need to worry about them getting sweaty or wet in the rain.

There are a few buttons on the earpieces too – volume and play/pause on the right, pairing on the left. These are easy to locate and press, and it’s good to see the digital assistant support, too. A long press on the play/pause button on the right earbud activates Siri or Google Assistant, depending on the phone that’s connected.

Overall, as usual with Bose headphones, it’s a very user-friendly design. In particular, I love the way they announce precisely how much battery capacity you have remaining every time you pop them in your ears.

There are a few negatives, though. While the SoundSport Free earphones are comfortable enough to wear while you’re sitting still, set off on a run and they start to feel a touch heavy in the ears. And if you’re sprinting or cycling, wind noise becomes an issue, owing to the way the units stick out from your head.

Bose SoundSport Free review: Sound quality and connectivity

The sound quality of these earphones is pretty good. There’s strong bass, warm mid-range and a detailed top-end that, thankfully, isn’t too harsh on the ear.

Additionally, the SoundSport Free earphones feature Bose’s trademark volume-sensitive EQ, which automatically accentuates the bass at low volumes, and rolls it off when you turn it up.

In use, this works pretty well: the bass can overwhelm things in some circumstances, but with the majority of material you get a full-bodied sound, free of distortion, at all volume levels. Overall, the SoundSport Free are an enjoyable listen, and certainly sound a whole lot better than Apple’s AirPods.

I found the microphone pretty good for phone calls too, picking up my voice in all sorts of conditions, both indoors and out.

And connectivity is superb. I had no trouble reconnecting and switching between multiple devices with a quick press of the button on the left earbud. Occasionally, I did find that one earbud failed to automatically reconnect on waking up from standby, but a tap of the pairing button fixed that every time. A mild inconvenience, and certainly no deal-breaker.

Bose SoundSport Free review: Verdict

Overall, the Bose SoundSport Free are decent earphones. They sound a lot better than Apple’s AirPods, battery life is pretty good and connectivity is solid. They’re also very friendly to use, and it’s easy to switch between devices. All very positive things.

They’re quite pricey, though – and, more problematically, the bulk and protrusion from your ears mean they’re not ideal for exercising outdoors. To that extent, it feels like Bose has somewhat missed the point of wire-free headphones – and after it’s had a year to get the design right, that’s disappointing.

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