Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: Bose makes a number of compromises to give the Sport Open Earbuds their unique look and fit, and expects whomever wears them to give up a few things as well. It's a trade that could work out well, or feel uncomfortably awkward depending on your point of view.
Good sound quality
Natural ambient listening
Physical button controls
Decent water and sweat resistance
Decent battery life
Separate charger from case
Lacking in bass response
No flexibility in fit or comfort
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Bose has paid attention to those who consider themselves active people before. There are at least a few earbuds catering to that crowd already, all of which generally follow a similar design philosophy, which is to keep as much of the sound in the inner ear as possible.
The Sport Open Earbuds reverse that in the sense that there's no actual contact with the inner ear. It's the outer ear that matters here, and the open concept also comes with little flexibility in how they fit and feel.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds What I like
The Sport Open are very much unlike the Bose Sport Earbuds and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, both of which use actual ear tips that nestle in to seal the ear canal. Here, the ear hook is the determining factor because it means the earbuds can only really fit one way.
Calling them "earbuds" feels like a misnomer to me because there is no contact with the inner ear, but they are true wireless and effectively serve the same function as others. The idea is pretty simple to understand, which is that, by opening up the ear to background noise, audio can still find its way to your eardrum and leave you feeling safe and secure in knowing what's going on around you. For runners, that's a big plus, and one of the reasons ambient modes are so prevalent with earbuds now.
The lack of any adjustment means there are no tip sizes to think about. There's one way to put these on, and the Bose Music app pretty much confirms that. Once paired, the app acts as a portal of sorts, visualizing the onboard controls and offering a limited settings menu. There is no equalizer, so whatever sound comes out of these is what you can expect.
I was skeptical the Sport Open Earbuds would be resonant, yet was pleasantly surprised at how full they sounded. There wasn't this distant feeling or weird reverb that you might associate with music traveling a further distance to get to your ears. To be clear, these are not bone conduction headphones. They don't vibrate the cheek or jawbones to send audio to the inner ear, avoiding the ear canal and eardrum completely. Bose's OpenAudio technology uses classic airwaves to push the audio into the ear canal, albeit in a way that reduces how much bleeds out to those nearby.
It works better than expected, but you are sacrificing bass to get it. Sealing the ear canal is critical to getting the best bass response, and the very design here is anathema to that. In quieter environments, there was at least some to help balance out a track. More, perhaps, than you might think, given the distance from the speakers to the ear canals.
In louder places, the bass is the first thing to be drowned out, but the audio still comes through fairly well. And you won't necessarily have to crank up the volume to full, though you can expect to go a few notches higher to ensure you're hearing everything loud and clear. With no noise cancelation or ambient mode here, everything is passive, so you make do with what you have.
I felt the same way about phone calls, where performance mirrored that of audio playback. I was impressed at how well the microphones picked up my voice and the clarity with which callers came through. But again, your background decibel level will hold sway over how audible everything is. Plus, if you're not careful, you may have callers coming in loud enough for those within closer proximity potentially hearing something. It's not as bad as, say, putting someone on speaker while walking around in public, but there's always the possibility of inadvertent eavesdropping.
I grew to like the onboard physical button controls because they were straightforward and left little room for mistakes. A single press on the right plays/pauses audio, while a double-press skips a track, and triple-press repeats it. For calls, a single press answers or ends one, while a double-press declines an incoming call. On the left earbud, holding that button brings up the phone's voice assistant. A single press tells you the battery level.
Bose rates battery life at up to eight hours per charge, but you won't get near that number if you're using these outside. You're looking at more like six hours, if that's the case, which isn't bad, though a tad surprising when looking at their size. It's understandable from the standpoint that the onboard speakers have to work hard to do what they do, but the overall battery life is also pertinent because there's no charging case. The included case is purely for storage and transport. There's a separate charging dock you have to avoid losing, too.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds What needs work
The lack of a charging case feels vexing because it's such an unsuual omission for any true wireless earbuds. I'm unsure whether Bose did it this way to make the case smaller, but in any case, you will have to keep the charging dock handy when you need to fill back up because there's no other option. No wireless charging, no battery in the case itself.
For a pair of sporty earbuds, Bose could've probably raised the level of protection. An IPX4 rating is hardly terrible, but it's not exactly ruggedized, either. What helps is that, unlike other earbuds, the Sport Open have no real contact with the ear canal, thereby reducing the amount of sweat getting to them. It's still a shame, though, because Bose built them to feel sturdy. The smooth finish should be good at helping perspiration slip off, though it can also make these a little slippery to handle when taking them off.
The more defining features are the ear hooks themselves. There is zero give to them. These aren't rubberized or malleable to let you bend or twist them just enough to fit the way you want. The only modicum of wiggle room might be the bridge that loops over the ear, but even then, we're talking about very limited leeway. If they don't feel right off the bat, you may not get to a comfort zone with these all that easily.
I suspect Bose built the Sport Open this way because it envisions people wearing them for shorter periods. For example, runners likely won't keep them on for a full day. But what about casual listening scenarios? For me, personally, the problem was in the ear hook's thicker end and how it pressed up against the back of my ear over time. More than once, I took them off after a couple hours because my ears were sore or uncomfortable. Everyone's ears are different, so it's a subjective point, but it's also not something you can really fix.
It's also a shame Bose didn't do more for these through its Music app. There's a Shortcuts section inside that only reveals one feature, which is to press the left earbud's button for a battery check. Ancillary or supporting features are virtually non-existent, and as noted earlier, you can forget about an EQ to change up the sound.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds The competition
The Sport Open Earbuds aren't entirely niche, or at least to a point where runners are the only wearers Bose has in mind. Finding the best running headphones isn't always an easy task, even if several options are available. How they fit while running is half the battle. Bose took a different approach to pursuing a more active crowd by going with such a unique design choice.
If you wanted to go with something more traditional — and especially if bass is a must — the Jaybird Vista could fit the bill. The Jaybird app's EQ is also one of the best out there, radically changing how the earbuds can sound with countless options. The Bose Sport Earbuds are another option if ear tips are more your speed. And if your budget is really tight, but you prefer ear hooks, you could try the Mpow Flame on for size, so long as you're cool with them not being true wireless earbuds.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds Should you buy them?
You should buy this if ...
- You want truly wireless earbuds
- You prefer ear hooks
- You don't want to bury anything in your ear canal
- You like physical button controls
You should not buy this if ...
- You want a companion app or equalizer
- You want a case that also charges the earbuds
- You want more ruggedized protection
- You prefer ear tips and good bass response
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds are as much, if not more, about comfort than they are about the actual audio they can produce. These aren't about being the best-sounding earbuds, they're about being the most reliable in certain active cases. Getting to that point requires feeling comfortable when wearing them. They'll stay on securely, you can count on that, it's just a question of whether your ears will like them hanging around for too long.
3.5 out of 5
You will also have to be cool with the other quirks, like a case that has no battery and an app that feels like a glorified quick start guide. There aren't too many like the Sport Open Earbuds to compare to, so the narrower focus makes sense. If you can accept all the pros and cons that come with them, then you may like what you get here. If you can't, look elsewhere.
Unusual buds hanging out
Bose goes to the drawing board and comes up with unique wireless earbuds that cater mostly to the active crowd because of their sturdy build and ear hook design. The quality is there, including on the audio side, but you have to feel confident that they'll fit well because there's no real wiggle room to play with.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.