SUMMARY: The SoundSport Free offering from Bose will give you the best quality audio of any truly-wireless headphones to date. The sound is rich, clear, and full. It easily surpasses the audio quality of Apple's offering and provides a far better fit for my ears. Video quality is highly flawed, however. Some apps (namely YouTube) have a serious audio delay of 0.5 to 1 second, making them all but unwatchable. Connection is rock-solid. The headphones have lost signal only once and this was prior to upgrading the firmware. The controls are on the right earbud and they're membrane-style. This makes it difficult to use and is an outmoded design. They are very large and stick out of your ear, so minimalists need not apply.
These use Bose's proprietary StayHear+ ear tips. Some will love them and others will hate them. They do not sit inside the ear canal like most earbuds. Instead, they sit just outside of the canal, funneling in sound. As a result, they do not provide a seal (more on this in a bit). The ear tips, which are silicone, have a wing on the top that sits inside the cymba of the ear to hold it into place. For my ears, they're very successful. Neither of the units have ever fallen out of my ear nor have they ever came close. They're extremely comfortable for my ear, but the wing tips do provide some pressure which can make them slightly uncomfortable after a few hours of wearing them. Given that they're fairly light (but heavier than most other truly-wireless earbuds), it most likely won't present as a problem for most people. For comparison, I was able to wear the Airpods for no more than 45 minutes at a time before my ears would be screaming in pain. I was able to wear the SoundSport Frees for 3 hours with only minimal discomfort. The Airpods are much lighter, but they have a far inferior fit for my ears and the hard plastic casing makes them supremely uncomfortable for me. I far prefer the comfort of the SoundSport Frees over the Airpods.
These things are huge! Everyone around you will know that you're wearing them. They very noticeably stick outside of your ear and look like you're wearing two old-school bluetooth headsets from the mid-2000's. If you're looking for minimalist design, these are not for you. However, Bose did a good job styling these to look fairly premium. The blue earpieces look rather stylish and, in my opinion, look better than the antennae coming off of the Airpods. This one's almost a toss-up, but I prefer the look of the SoundSport Frees over the Airpods.
The SoundSport Frees come with a charging case; however, the case is at least twice the size of the Airpods. These do not fit nearly as comfortably as the Airpods' case in your pocket. Bose did, however, make the charging pins magnetic which locks the earpieces into the case. The case is also hard plastic which will help keep your SoundSport Frees safe. The case will provide two additional charges, tripling the stated battery life (with a large catch -- it takes two hours to fully charge the SoundSport Frees).
The controls on the SoundSport Frees are almost entirely on the right earpiece. There is a volume-up, volume-down, and multi-function button. These buttons are membrane-style; this is quickly becoming a far inferior and outdated design, and it's easy to see why. You have to press very hard on the buttons on the SoundSport Free to activate them, and this is difficult to do when they're in your ears. Bose needs to carefully consider going to the tap-style controls of the Airpods and Samsung's offering. This is a better, more intuitive control scheme.
Admittedly, I am an audiophile. I have extensively listened to some of the world's best speakers and headphones (Bowers and Wilkins 800D, MartinLogan Summit Xs, SonusFaber Aidas, HifiMan HE1000s, etc), and I sold high-end audio for a long time. As a result, I simply cannot listen to low-quality headphones and speakers. With that being said, I do my best to scale down my expectations with the price. You simply cannot expect a $250 pair of earbuds to sound like $50,000 speakers.
Simply put, these are the best-sounding pair of wireless earbuds on the market and, possibly, in the top 5 sounding earbuds I've ever listened to. Bose has had a poor reputation in the home audio realm (and rightfully so), but they've found their calling in mobile audio. On first listening to the SoundSport Frees, I was very pleasantly surprised to hear excellent imaging. The next facet that really stood out was the authority of the bass: clear, balanced, and deep. Don't expect these to sound like Beats, however; these have a very flat curve (whereas Beats and other similar offerings are extremely bass-focused).
The mid-range is clear, warm, and forward, emphasizing vocals extremely well. Guitars sound friendly and inviting. The piano sounds rich and resonant. Overall, it's very good.
Treble is exceptional. You clearly hear small details from songs that you didn't hear before, like symbols, chimes, and the upper-register of the piano. Female voices sound sweet and clear. It's very, very good.
Overall, from an audiophile standpoint, these deliver the goods. If you simply want the best sounding truly-wireless earbuds on the market, look no further. Nothing even comes close in my opinion.
These have a serious, serious audio delay with some video apps. YouTube is an especially egregious offender of this. Even with the latest firmware update (1.4.5), there is very noticeable and, honestly, inexcusable amounts of audio lag. I simply cannot watch YouTube videos with these on. Other apps seem to work fine, but given that I watch most videos from the YouTube app (and I suspect most others do as well), this is a serious flaw. If you plan on using these for video, either choose something else (e.g. Airpods, which have zero audio delay), or wait for Bose to fully fix the problem.
ON THE GO: 6/10
How can I rate these so marginally when they're completely wireless earbuds? One word: isolation. These are a semi-open design, meaning that they do not block out most ambient noise. This is not a design fault, however; Bose intentionally made these semi-open for two reasons: to provide better imaging in the music, and as a safety feature. Bose states that this provides those working out a better awareness of their surroundings and, as these are really marketed towards athletes and those working out, I can understand that. It is important, however, to note that these simply aren't suitable for loud environments (subways, airport terminals, etc). A good deal of environmental noise will make it to your ear, requiring you to turn up the volume to almost unsafe levels. Additionally, these earbuds leak out quite a bit of noise. This is exasperated by the fact that the StayHear+ tips do not create a seal in your ear and, instead, rest on the opening of your ear canal. Overall, this design works very well for runners and not so well for those of us who want to wear them on-the-go.
Battery life is very good at 4-4.5 hours @ 75% volume. You can most likely squeeze 5 hours out of them if you listen to them at 50% volume, but due to the semi-open design, you most likely won't be able to listen to them at that volume. The provided charging case can triple that life as it's able to charge the SoundSport Frees twice before needing a charge itself. Bose provides a (very short) MicroUSB cable to charge the case. You cannot charge the SoundSport Frees without the case, so don't lose it.
The SoundSport Frees are IPX4 rated, meaning they can withstand direct splashes of water from any direction. This also makes them pretty sweat resistant. This is good if you get caught in a sudden rain storm, but I definitely wouldn't shower or swim with them. It's also important to note that Bose states in the user manual that the IPX4 rating will most likely wear with time, making them less sweat-resistant as it ages.
I really love the Bose SoundSport Frees. My only serious concern is with the audio delay in some apps. Bose is aware of the problem and actively pushing firmware updates to fix it, but as of the date of this review, I still have unacceptable amounts of audio delay in some apps and the sound isolation is poor. I am more than satisfied with the comfort and, especially, the sound quality. If you can live with the limitations and issues of the SoundSport Frees, I suggest you buy a pair.