The SoundTrue Ultra is Bose’s first noise-isolating in-ear headset, and the SoundSport In-Ear is its only “open” ear-bud design option. The SoundTrue In-Ear and limited-edition Freestyle are still available, and they are simply the SoundSport in a different color scheme. These two designs, however, are becoming obsolete.
We figured this would be a good moment to revise our evaluations of Bose’s in-ear models to reflect the new offerings. Except for the far more expensive QuietComfort 20, all of the “open” in-ear versions have the same sound quality.
The SoundSport In-Ear with integrated remote/microphone costs $130 (£115 or AU$180), but purchasing without will just set you back $100. The Apple iOS version with the remote comes in a wide variety of fun, athletic hues, but the Android version and the cheaper, “audio-only” versions are both restricted in their color options. As Bose updates its products with new colors and accessories, the previously released hues are sometimes sold at a discount. (Please note that the green model seen in our review is really an earlier model, which is now available for a lower price).
A few dangling buds
This is Bose’s in-ear headset for those who don’t appreciate having eartips crammed into their ears, as is the case with all of their earbud-style headphones. Bose’s StayHear tips, which have a soft silicon wing shape and are available in three different sizes, keep the buds in place, even though they are meant to rest freely in your ears.
The medium size is perfect for me. Stay-Hear tips fit comfortably in my ears and held the headphones firmly in place, even while I was jogging. Because of their open design, these headphones allow in a lot of outside noise and aren’t ideal for usage in loud places (the $300 QuietComfort 20 eliminates out outside noise but may be worth it in certain cases).
The cord of the first generation Bose SoundTrue In-Ear measures 45.2 inches (115 cm). The cable is an appropriate length, neither too short nor too lengthy. The cable on the SoundSport, which also seems to be quite sturdy, is just 42 inches long. During most types of physical exercise, having a long extension cable hanging around your neck is not ideal, thus it was intended to be a bit shorter.
While the SoundSport and FreeStyle are sweat-proof, the SoundTrue In-Ear is not. The SoundSport in-ear headphones, according to Bose, “have a weather- and sweat-resistant construction, which delivers better durability and splash-resistance.” However, the headphones should not be worn when swimming or immersed in water.
Bose has released sports versions of this headset in the past, complete with an armband and a relatively short chord in addition to an extension cable. Those who preferred not to wear an armband case would have been dissatisfied (extension cables are never ideal). The 42-inch cable in the latest model is a no-frills addition. While the SoundTrue In-Ear and Freestyle come with a bigger, rectangular case, the SoundSport In-Ear comes with a spherical neoprene carrying case (including a carabiner).
The inline remote is similarly well-designed, and its tactile buttons are simple to use even without looking at them. This headset’s call quality was above average, and it performed well as a headset, while the Ultra’s noise-isolating design performed even better.
All of Bose’s current in-ear headphones, including these, use a standard straight connector rather than an L-shaped socket that would, in principle, be more secure. The tiny form of the straight plug means it should be compatible with a wide variety of phone covers.
From what I can determine, all Bose headphones with open earbuds utilize the same drivers, so don’t expect any noticeable difference in sound quality even if they have different names. The SoundTrue Ultra, however, uses an entirely new driver.
There are better-sounding and more noise-isolating options available for about the same price or perhaps a little more. Bose is known for producing high-quality audio equipment, especially headphones. The treble detail is only OK, and although the middle is rather good, we were less impressed by it. The treble is a little too harsh, reducing the dynamic range between delicate and loud sounds, and isn’t quite up to the task of bringing out the nuances in music.
To be fair, I consider all of Bose’s open in-ear models to be “safe” since they adequately reproduce the vast majority of musical styles. The sound quality should satisfy most listeners, not just audiophiles.
The SoundTrue Ultra, on the other hand, has a more refined and detailed sound. Especially in noisier surroundings, the noise-isolating design aids in delivering a more immersive listening experience. However, the open-bud design of the Bose headphones is the best option for cyclists and runners who need to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
The Ultra has been criticized by some for having an insufficiently loud loudness. Its maximum loudness is 10–20% lower than that of several competing in-ear headphones. Bose may have intentionally made the maximum volume a bit lower because this is the company’s first real in-ear to protect users’ hearing since this is the company’s first true in-ear (the volume was loud enough for me). However, the Ultras may not be loud enough for you if you’ve had any hearing loss in the past.
Chord noise from the Ultra’s cord rubbing against your clothing is a little price to pay for its excellent sound isolation. The SoundTrue, SoundSport, and Freestyle In-Ears all block out the cord’s thumping sounds but allow in the surrounding environment.
That being said, the SoundSport On-Ear isn’t something I’d recommend wearing on a plane or in the New York City subway, even though I do see plenty of people doing just that.
If you want in-ear headphones but don’t want to force a tip into your ear canal, I highly suggest the “open” kind of headphones made by Bose. Their StayHear tips are what make these headphones so comfortable, and they provide excellent sound for their design.
Many people hope that SoundSport In-Ear will soon become available in a wireless configuration. Even though I’m sure Bose has such a model in the works, I’d still recommend the SoundSport In-Ear to anybody seeking for a set of in-ear headphones that won’t fall out of your ears and has a respectable sound quality.