While noise-cancelling headphones may be popular among business travellers, the large over-ear kind aren't always practical, especially if you’re heading to the gym or wandering out and about: and that’s where the smaller Bose SoundSport wireless headphones come in.
Offering significantly better sound quality than the basic earbuds included with most smartphones yet without the bulk (and price) of higher-end models such as Bose’s QC35 IIs, here’s how the SoundSport set stacks up.
Bose SoundSport wireless headphones: but there’s a cable?
In the SoundSport range, Bose offers two varieties: SoundSport Free (RRP $299.95) which are two detached, fully-wireless earbuds, and the ‘regular’ SoundSport wireless headphones (RRP $229.95), which also play audio over Bluetooth but have a short cord running between them.
That cable rests on your neck when in use and can be clipped to your shirt’s collar, and features an easy-reach control panel on your right-hand side with volume controls and a multi-function button, most commonly used to pause and resume playback:
While the higher-level SoundSport Free model does away with cables entirely, I actually like that the headphones are connected with this model, particularly when wearing the headphones in public places.
In aircraft cabins, for example, having the cord means you can simply and easily take your headphones out during safety demonstrations and meal services, without needing to find a home for them in the seat pocket or on the tray table, as they can simply rest on your person.
In busier places like public transport, the cable also provides a level of security when clipped to your collar, even if just to catch the headphones should they be bumped or fall out: much more preferable than having them topple to the floor, and potentially get stepped on.
Again, it also makes it easy to quickly remove and rest your headphones when you need to be paying closer attention to something else, such as when boarding or alighting a train.
A small carry case included in the pack also features a clip, suitable for attaching to belt loops.
On interstate or short-distance international day trips – such as a recent journey from London to Brussels, a mere 70-minute hop – that meant leaving my usual Bose QC35s at the hotel and packing the SoundSports instead, so that I’d still have my music on the plane but not be lugging around heavier headphones.
Bose SoundSport wireless headphones: design
I’ve long preferred over-ear headphones for their stability as I often find it doesn’t take much for normal earbuds to slip out: and this is where SoundSport is a little different.
Each set can be customised to one of three different sizes to match your ears through trial and error at home, by changing the ear tip to one of the alternative sizes provided.
After finding the right size for me, I found the SoundSports sit well even during physical activity like running outside or on the treadmill, while still being easily removable as needed.
The on/off button is also located on the upper part of the headphone itself – away from the other controls – so I’ve never accidentally turned off my tunes, which means I’ve also never enabled pairing mode without meaning to (achieved by holding the same button).
Bose SoundSport wireless headphones: battery life
Bose promises up to six hours of battery life from a two-hour charge, and I’ve found this to be quite accurate, given there’s only one way to use these headphones, and that’s over Bluetooth.
On the plus side, the headphones are charged via a single USB cable – which is the same as for the Bose QC35s – so as somebody with more than one Bose pair in my carry-on, this means not being weighed down with a separate cord for each device.
In fact, the connector is the same as for my Microsoft Surface too, so if I forget to pack the dedicated Bose cord, there’s no drama, as long as I don’t need to charge the Surface at the same time.
For me, I prefer this approach to the separate charging case that’s required of the SoundSport Free model – for which you’d need to cart around both a cable and a case – and fewer things in my carry-on means more space for other items, or a lighter bag: both wins in my book.
However, the biggest negative is that their Bluetooth-only nature means you can’t listen to anything when the headphone battery is flat, as there’s no way of connecting a standard 3.5mm audio cable.
That’s possible on higher-level models like the QC35s, where you can still listen to audio when the battery has been exhausted, albeit without noise cancelling enabled – so you won’t be able to connect these headphones to most inflight entertainment systems unless Bluetooth is supported.
Bose SoundSport wireless headphones: audio quality
Despite all the bells and whistles, these aren’t noise-cancelling headphones.
Their in-ear design does help reduce the impact of sounds outside, which makes them noticeably better than standard headphones, but the QC35s still have the SoundSports beat in the noise-cancelling stakes.
After listening to the same audio tracks on a pair of QC35s followed by the SoundSport, the SoundSports gave out some distortion in ‘busier’ parts of the music where lots of instruments and sounds were occurring at the same time, and performed better on simpler tracks featuring fewer elements, such as piano and voice.
That said, the sound quality was still impressive with reasonable low end, and unless you’re the type to listen very closely to intricate symphonies and the like, the SoundSports may well be acceptable.
Bose SoundSport wireless headphones: other features
Whether you’re exploring a city, are at the gym or just want to keep your hands free, these headphones can also make and receive phone calls over Bluetooth when attached to your mobile device.
Pressing the multi-purpose button answers and ends the call, and of course, your music is automatically paused while on the phone. These are compatible with apps like Skype, too.
Through the Bose Connect smartphone app, you can also play the same audio simultaneously over two pairs of Bose headphones at the same time.
For business travellers, that could be useful when rehearsing a presentation with a colleague somewhere public like a café or aircraft cabin, or when travelling with friends or family, to watch a movie or TV show together on a single device.
Bose Connect also handles firmware updates and allows you to adjust other settings like standby times, Bluetooth connections, or to toggle the headphones’ voice prompts on or off: leave them on and you’ll hear your battery percentage on power-up, and which device(s) you’re connected to.
All things considered, while I wouldn’t use the Bose SoundSports as my default, go-to headphones – particularly on long international flights, given there’s no noise-cancelling or easy way to connect them to most entertainment systems – on short hops, at the gym or when heading out and about, they’re perfectly acceptable.
Also reviewed: Bose QuietComfort 35 noise-cancelling headphones