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Bose has taken its sweet time getting into the truly wireless headphones game, but with the SoundSport Free the American high-end audio company has made a triumphant entry to the market.
The most impressive aspect of the SoundSport Free is undoubtedly the sound quality, which is often a weakness of genuinely wireless headphones. Bose has managed to make them sound crisp and almost as crystal clear as a pair of over-ear headphones, thanks in part to making the earbuds a little bigger than most other comparable options. In the past I’d say that if sound quality is of paramount concern to you, steer clear of Bluetooth buds, but the SoundSport Free have proven me wrong.
Those bigger buds do have their downsides, though: the headphones stick out more than I’m used to and aren’t quite as secure as other sports headphones. This wasn’t a problem during free weights or bodyweight exercises in the gym, but when running or doing vigorous HIIT workouts the SoundSport Free couldn’t be relied on to stay put for longer than five minutes without needing adjusting, especially once my ears were sweaty.
The StayHear tips, available on many of Bose’s headphones, are a big reason to choose the brand. The soft silicone is comfortable to wear for hours at a time and the hook means the buds stay in place for most of your activities. However, when running, the chunky design of the SoundSport Free means the StayHear tips aren’t quite enough to keep the buds locked in your ear.
The buds also seemed to catch the wind, resulting in a constant whistling sound. It wasn’t too annoying and didn’t drown out music or podcasts, but it was definitely more noticeable than on other truly wireless headphones. In my experience, the Jaybird Run or Jabra Sport Elite are better suited to running than the SoundSport Free.
I’d also be apprehensive about using the Soundsport Free for cycling, because the small chance of them dropping out and hitting the road behind you is too great a risk when they cost £180. And while you can listen through just one earbud, you’re limited to the right one, because that’s the one that connects. This is a problem if you’re cycling in the UK, where it’s preferable to use the left bud so your right ear can be open to traffic.
The buds don’t block out all external noise, but are certainly loud and well fitted enough to drown out the sounds of the gym. You can up the volume, play/pause and skip tracks using the buttons on the right earbud. I found these a little tougher to press than I’d like, especially during workouts when it took a fraction longer to find and push the right button than with other headphones.
The SoundSport Free connects easily and quickly to phones, computers and smartwatches, and by pressing the button on the left earbud you can quickly un-pair them from one device and pick another.
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Battery life is about as good as you’ll find in truly wireless headphones at five hours, and the case adds another ten hours. And if you discover you’ve run dry just before a training session a 15-minute charge gives you 45 minutes of use. I always feel slightly short-changed by portable battery/cases that only add a couple of charges – Bose’s case is pretty big, so why not have a battery in it that adds 40 hours of life? The Sol Republic Amps Air case has 45 hours of juice in it, and the Apple AirPods case adds 20 hours or so.
The Bose SoundSport Free headphones certainly have their flaws, but they are the best-sounding truly wireless headphones I’ve come across. They’re perfect for the gym, work, travelling and any other activity that isn’t too vigorous, but if you’re a runner or just love jumping around it might be wiser to trade in sound quality for a more secure fit.
£180, buy on amazon.co.uk (opens in new tab)
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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