Saturday, October 14, 2017

Bose SoundSport Free In Ear Headphones Review: Wire Free, Superb, Rich, Immersive Sound. Like Bose Speakers!

Article by Sam Winebaum, Editor

Bose SoundSport Free
$250. Available now, see end of article
App: Android and iOS

RoadTrailRun will soon have a round up of all the new  2018 run ready headphones.  We could not wait to review what we think is the best sounding earphones of 2018, the Bose SoundSport Free.

The Bose SoundSport Free is a sweat and rain resistant, completely wire free in ear headphone. They have a 5 hour battery life with 10 hours more from the case with its convenient LED meter on the outside. Press the lightly latch on the sturdy, handsome case and up to 5 lights show your battery level.

The battery level is announced to the right bud when you remove from the case. They take 2 hours to fully charge but a 15 minute charge will get you 45 minutes of play time. 

Big rich sound, and the Free has it in spades, means that there needs to be large acoustic chambers and space for the batteries.
They do look big and one might wonder how well they stay in. Not to worry, the fit and comfort is impeccable, but you need to make sure you fit them correctly using the included choices of StayHear+ Sport tips. And don't be afraid to try the three different sizes, and for each ear. I had to as one of my ears is smaller than the other. Despite their size, the buds are very well balanced and the StayHear+Sport tips keep them comfortable and secure with no pressure anywhere either in the ear canal or from the tips.

Caution is advised when wearing a winter hat or taking off a layer as they could catch taking these off and buds could go missing. I wish wire free earphones had a small passthrough nub and included small loops of thin kevlar type cord so a keeper cord of some kind could be attached.

Sound and Music
The Sport Free has the best sound of any wire free bud I have tested this year and is also has superior sound to any wired sport ready Bluetooth headphone I have tested, even I think to Bose's own SoundSport Wireless which I tested last year. Bose is truly one of the leaders, if not the leader in serious audio, and has been for audiophile speakers, pilot headsets, headphones, and ear buds leveraging their many decades of research and experience.

The sound is rich and immersive with a depth of character, great bass when appropriate[and for all music genres I tested.  They truly sound like great speakers and not "mere" earphones.  You feel the sound is coming to you as if your were in a room and not through a small earpiece. Volume can be cranked up and is not highly limited as some earphones At all volumes levels or type of music they are never strident, distorted or painful due in part to Bose's Volume Optimized EQ technology.

Connections with the music player,  be it phone or watch stashed anywhere on the body, even at the back, have not once dropped or broken up so far.

From a safety standpoint, unlike some ear phones such as the AfterShokz Trekz Air (RTR review soon) which uses bone conduction so your ears are completely open to outside sounds, or more conventional earphone which do not block the ear canal completely,  The Free passes through very little outside sound.  So, it is important to be visually aware of ones surroundings on the road or trail.

You can run with just the right ear bud and maintain all music,  run app cues as well as all call control features. Remember to take the case or left one with you as if they auto power off based on your settings say if you shut the music off for a while, the only way I have found to re power and reconnect is to press the left Bluetooth button or put them back in the case (see below under Power and Connection).  I also found given how rich the sound is, that the single ear experience is quite strange and even off putting. While not completely or actively sound isolating they also make a good choice for noisy interior environments such as the gym or for plane flights.

Bud Controls
The Bluetooth button initiates connection to your phone if it does not connect automatically on removing the buds from their case. It is also used to wake and connect after an auto power off based on your settings.

The multi Function button does multiple things. Quite frankly to many things and lots to remember to take full advantage of all the options. Further it is small, recessed, and on the go hard to press. Why it is not a protruding more tactile button or another separate button to split functions between phone and music, I don't know, but suspect it is may be that one can us with only the right bud in and access all controls while leaving the left ear bud free to hear your surroundings and in some cases to comply with driving laws mandating only a single earpiece.
The volume up and down buttons are also very small and require very firm presses to work. Again slightly bigger and less pressure to click would be good. 

Power and Connection
Connecting to your audio source occurs when you remove them from the case which powers them on with your phone nearby. Connection is instantaneous or nearly so. If you remove them from the case without phone, or in our case also Fitbit Ionic watch (RTR review) with its built in music player nearby, I found connecting to the Ionic in particular can occasionally be confusing and not reliable. I will be exploring the issues encountered with the Ionic in particular further and will update.

There is no power on or power off button on the Free, all powering on and off occurs by putting them in or removing from the case. You can have them power off automatically with user configurable times from 5 minutes to 3 hours as well as never. If they auto power off, for example if you took them out or temporarily went out of range of your phone and want to reconnect, just press the left Bluetooth button to reconnect as while they have battery they do remain in a standby mode.

Bose Connect App

Find My Buds
The Bose Connect app includes a very handy Find My Buds feature, vital for these $250 buds you'd hate to loose.

If either or both of your lost buds are within Bluetooth range of the phone, the general Bluetooth spec being up to 300 feet but if walls are in the way less, you can locate them on a map and have them start to ring with a rising tone to either or both buds -your choice, a tone that would hurt your ears if the buds were in them but just loud enough to be heard in a bag so the buds are capable of serious volume.
I tested this by leaving them them on the seat of my closed car and garage and then activating Find while at my street, about 150 feet away, beyond which they were out of range of the app Find feature. I was not able to hear them through my car door, but they were easily if not screamingly loud chiming away when I opened the car door.

Even if you are beyond range, if you know approximately where you lost them you can move around and eventually detect them when you get in range. If they are not connected, for example if you lost them and they now are out of range or they run out of battery, the app will remember where that last known location and map it.

Interestingly, if they auto power down based on your settings they go into a stand by mode and can be awakened by the Find feature to locate them as long as you have battery left and are in range.

To name name your buds, set power off settings time, turn audio audio prompts on or off and chose language for prompts, and update firmware you need to be within 30 feet of the Free taking into account that walls can interfere and reduce that distance.

Pricey at $250, you get what you pay for with the SoundSport Free:  no wires, great comfort and stability, superb sound that is second to none, decently long battery life extended by the superb case and its 10 hour additional charge and rapid charge features and critically they also include handy way to locate them if lost.  Highly recommended.

Link to Bose SoundSport Free manual here

For Sam's bio see our Reviewers Bio Page here

The Bose Free was loaned at no cost.The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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Sam Winebaum said...

Thanks for the catch Brian! Corrected.

Anonymous said...

Amazing headphone. I think this is also suitable for tv to use.