Best Bose Earphones Review (Buyer’s guide)
With such a pricey line-up, choosing the best Bose earphones can be a tough choice. Their products feature some great designs although they certainly aren’t cheap. We’ll weigh up the different options below to help you determine which is the best model for your requirements.
Four Bose in-ear headphone options
There are currently four core models of Bose earphones available. They are the QuietComfort 20 ($249), SoundTrue Ultra ($129), SoundSport ($99 or $79, depending on the version) and the newly released SoundSport Wireless ($149).
The QuietComfort 20 provides active noise cancellation, comfort and excellent audio quality. Unfortunately the cable comes with a reasonably sized control module which brings their weight up to 44g, which is more than double the weight of an average pair of earphones. The SoundTrue Ultra has passive noise isolation provided by the design of the eartips. They are spot on when it comes to comfort, and provide a balanced sound that suits a wide array of musical styles. The SoundSport has a feature set which makes them a very effective model for sports uses. They provide a slightly bass-heavier sound than the SoundTrue Ultra and are not designed to provide strong noise isolation. The SoundSport Wireless is a Bluetooth design with six-hours battery life. The earphone has similar sports features as the wired version. Bose have updated the eartips however, as we will discuss below.
Top of the line Bose Earphones: The QuietComfort 20
The Bose QuietComfort 20 is a superb product that presents a very well-rounded package that ticks a lot of boxes. The two biggest sticking points are the noise isolation control module on the cable and the high price tag. The QC20 Bose earphones include an inline mic and three-button remote for calls and controlling your music. They are available in both iOS and Samsung/Android versions. This is to ensure that users can make full utilisation of the mic and remote.
The QuietComfort 20, SoundTrue Ultra and SoundSport all feature wings on their eartips which help hold the earpiece in place by curling around the inside of the ear. The QuietComfort 20 and SoundTrue Ultra have updated StayHear eartip designs which provide sound isolation. The eartips project into the ear canal and effectively block external noise.
The wired SoundSport has an earbud design, which sits on the ear rather than entering the ear canal. The eartips do project a little into the ear, but not as far as the other models. As a result the passive noise isolation is not as strong. Bose updated the eartip design for the recent SoundSport Wireless release. The eartips on the Wireless model are closer to the SoundTrue Ultra than the wired SoundSport. This increases the amount of isolation but don’t expect high levels of passive isolation from either SoundSport model. Keep in mind this is not necessarily a bad thing. Many sports users want to remain alert of their surroundings, particularly while running or walking in urban areas. All four models of Bose earphones are very comfortable, they have definitely got this part of the design right.
The QuietComfort 20 is a very attractive option if you want the active noise cancellation and don’t mind the high price tag. They include an inline mic and four-button remote for controlling music, calls and enabling voice commands. To ensure full compatibility with these features, Bose offer both iOS and Samsung/Android versions.
Noise cancellation requires integrated battery
The noise cancellation is enabled by a built-in rechargeable battery. It takes approximately two hours to charge and has a 16 hour battery life. The noise cancellation is excellent and they are among the top earphones with this feature included, regardless of brand. You can enable Aware mode via the remote if you want to tone down the cancellation to remain aware of your surroundings. Aware mode retains some noise cancellation. If you want to switch it off completely you can do so the battery compartment.
The battery is located close to the 3.5mm jack at the end of the cable, so you can tuck it into your pocket or bag. While light, it’s still a decent-sized addition to the cable, as it measures 8.9cm H x 3.2cm W x 0.95cm D. Not everyone will want the extra weight and bother of carrying that around. Recharging the battery is also a bit of a hassle. Both are necessary evils though if you want noise cancelling earphones. It’s also worth noting the battery cannot be replaced. It can be charged to full capacity approximately 500 times, after which the capacity will begin to reduce.
QuietComfort 20 produces balanced sound
The sound of the QuietComfort 20 is clear, balanced and generally suits a wide array of music and styles. At the $249 price-point you can definitely get better audio performers, as a lot of product’s price is wrapped up in the noise cancellation technology. The QuietComfort still sounds great though, and it’s arguably the best sounding in-ear headphone offered by Bose. The earphone has a slightly boosted treble and bass, which is well-suited to contemporary music. The noise isolation helps make the listening experience very immersive. A slight hiss is caused by the noise cancellation although it’s only really noticeable in-between tracks.
The cable on the Bose QuietComfort 20 measures 1.32m and weighs 44g. It terminates in an angled jack. It’s a two-tone cable and doesn’t tangle up. In the latter area the QuietComfort outperforms the SoundTrue Ultra and SoundSport, which can be somewhat prone to tangling. There’s a clothing clip, USB charging cable, a soft case and three pairs of ear tips included with the product. The earphones have an understated, classy look. The only colours available are black and white.
Mid-priced option: The Bose SoundTrue Ultra
The Bose SoundTrue Ultra is the mid-priced model in the range. It includes an inline mic and three-button remote. Bose offer both iOS and Samsung/Galaxy versions so you shouldn’t run into any issues with compatibility. The earphones have a balanced sound with great clarity throughout the frequency spectrum. The bass sound is not particularly prominent. Not everyone wants big bass but some users will definitely prefer something with more low end than the SoundTrue Ultra. The eartip seal is great and as a result you get to hear your music rather than external noise, despite the fact there’s no active noise isolation.
The SoundTrue Ultra has a symmetrical cable that measures 1.22m and terminates in a straight jack. The mic and remote is located fairly close to the ear along one of the cables running to the earpiece. The cable splits at a T-shaped junction. This design wasn’t the best choice as it makes it more prone to internal breakage. Apart from this issue the build quality is fairly solid. The product is sweat and water resistant. It can be somewhat prone to cable noise though so it’s not ideal for sports purposes. Apart from the unusual design of the eartips the earphones have a minimalist design. They are available in Charcoal, Frost and Cranberry for iOS and Charcoal for Samsung/Galaxy. In terms of extras buyers get a three pairs of eartips, a clothing clip and a fashion conscious, wallet-like carrying case.
More affordable: The Bose SoundSport
The Bose SoundSport is the most affordable product in the line-up. It can be purchased as an audio-only model for $99.95. There’s also a headset model with a three-button remote and mic which costs $129.95. There are both iOS and Samsung/Galaxy versions available. If you don’t want a remote and mic, then the only option in the Bose line-up is the audio-only version of the SoundSport. It’s a good move to include this option as some users will want a sports earphone to have minimal weight or encumbrances. The Y-shaped symmetrical 1.22m cable is tough but not tangle-free. It terminates in a straight 3.5mm jack.
The silicon eartip design of the SoundSport is comfortable and as mentioned above, provides little in the way of sound isolation. As with all the Bose earphones the fin-shaped eartips keep the earbuds firmly in place, and as such they are excellent for sports uses. They are also sweat and water resistant. The audio quality is balanced overall and fairly clear, although without the superb clarity of the SoundTrue Ultra. The SoundSport do have a more prominent bass output though, so this will please some buyers. The bass is satisfying but it doesn’t get into ridiculous Beats-style bass levels though, which is probably a good thing.
The SoundSport is the only model in the Bose earphones line-up that has a more flashy appearance. iOS users have the following options: Charcoal, Neon Blue, Frost, Energy Green, and Power Red. Samsung/Android users have been left out of the party though and their only colour option is Charcoal. Buyers get three pairs of eartips, a clothing clip and a circular soft carry case. The case has a karabiner so it can be attached to clothing or bags and also has a mesh area for storing spare eartips.
Hassle-free workouts with Bose SoundSport Wireless
Let’s face it, cables can be a hassle when you’re trying to workout. The Bose SoundSport Wireless are a pricey way to free yourself from cables but there’s a lot to love about the design. The earphones are linked by a short cable with an inline remote and mic located near the right earpiece. Three eartip sizes are included and the earphones are very comfortable. They also stay firmly in place, which is essential for its intended use. Buyers will also receive a USB charging cable and a soft neoprene carrying case. At $149 a hardcase would have been a better inclusion so your investment doesn’t get crushed in your gym bag.
The SoundSport offers six hours of wireless operation and takes two hours to charge. It’s certainly enough for a workout although it probably means it would be a little risky to rely on this model as your sole set of headphones. The response is bass-focused and has accompanying boosted upper mids and highs. As it operates on Bluetooth, it won’t be out-competing the wired models. However the sound quality is excellent for a wireless earphone. Bose offer the model in Aqua and Black.
Upon the initial release a small but vocal collection of buyers reported that the SoundSport Wireless were not actually sweat-resistant as claimed. In July Bose went to work at redesigning the earphones to tackle the issue. They plan to have the updated model out in stores by the end of August. Most users didn’t have any problems but if you tend to sweat more than the average Joe I would think twice about picking this model.
Best Bose earphones: The verdict
So which Bose earphones model should you choose? The QuietComfort 20 has the advantage of active noise isolation although it’s also rather expensive. It’s an excellent audio performer with an overall balanced sound suitable for contemporary music. It has a tough, durable design and tangle-free cables. It has a somewhat bulky integrated battery and requires recharging to activate the noise isolation.
The SoundTrue Ultra is a good all-rounder earphone with mic and remote that offers excellent passive noise isolation. It can be prone to cable noise and the T-junction cable split design choice is questionable. The earphones produce excellent clarity although some users might find them a little light in the bass department.
The SoundSport is the only wired product in the line truly suited for sports uses, and it performs very well in this area. It has a slightly boosted bass response. The SoundSport is the most affordable Bose in-ear headphone and also has the most distinctive look, depending on your colour choice. It does not provide very strong sound isolation due to its earbud design.
The SoundSport Wireless is a pricey option but it has a lot going for it. The Bluetooth operation makes it a breeze to use for workouts, and the comfort is top-notch. It has a tailored response with powerful bass, which is perhaps assisted by the redesigned eartips. Consider whether six-hours of battery life is enough for your requirements though. There’s also the possibility of damage to the earphones for users who experience heavy sweating, although Bose have pledged to remedy the issue.
If you want to see what the competition has to offer, our article on the best Sennheiser CX Earphones for iPhone & Android weighs up the options available from the German manufacturer. The Sennheiser CX line is more affordable although the top tier model, the CX 5.00G, does compete in Bose’s territory.