A more expensive and better sounding alternative to Apple's AirPods (2023)

Apple AirPodsmay havedominated the fully wireless headphone marketsince its launch, but some attractive alternatives, including the Bose SoundSport Free, have hit the market in recent months.

A more expensive and better sounding alternative to Apple's AirPods (1)


Bose SoundSport Free

The good

The Bose SoundSport Free, a set of fully wireless headphones, offer richer sound than Apple's AirPods and a more secure fit. The buds are waterproof and durable, battery life is decent, and a charging case gives you two extra charges on the go.

The evil

The buds stick out a little from your ears. The case is a little big compared to the AirPods and Jabra Elite 65t.

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the bottom line

While the Bose SoundSport Free might not be perfect, thanks to a few software updates and a price cut, it's become one of the best-sounding fully wireless headphones on the market.

Free is essentially the wireless version ofbosepopular and highly ratedWireless SoundSportheadphones. It's one of the best fully wireless models available, and it's only gotten more attractive now that Bose has dropped its price from $250 to $200 (£180 or AU$300).

Marketed as a true sports earphone, the SoundSport Free has a few advantages over the AirPods. For starters, the buttons fit more securely. Yes, a certain percentage of AirPod users can fit enough to wear while running; they work great for these people. But many others, myself included, are unable to run with their AirPods. They just don't stay in my ears.

Like SoundSport Wireless, SoundSport Free is equipped with Bose StayHear+ Sport tips. The best thing about them is that they comfortably hold the earbuds in your ears and isolate a good amount of ambient noise, maximizing your sound quality without actually pinching the tips in your ears.

A more expensive and better sounding alternative to Apple's AirPods (2)

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A more expensive and better sounding alternative to Apple's AirPods (3)

Instead of a built-in remote, control buttons, including volume controls, are built into the buttons themselves. They're a little small and a little stiff, but they worked better than I thought. I had no trouble skipping tracks by double-clicking the middle button with my fingernail. The only real design complaint I have is the same one that applies to the SoundSport Wireless: the earcups sit a little outside the ears and aren't exactly discreet.

The SoundSport Free also sounds better than the cheapest AirPods ($159, £159, AU$229) andJabra Elite 65t($170, £150, AU$300), with more bass and an overall richer sound. For those familiar with the "wired" SoundSport Wireless, the SoundSport Free has a similar sound profile. As I said about this model, it lacks some clarity (the highs are a bit sunken in), but you get plenty of bass and the mids sound quite natural and warm. They also sound quite open and play pretty loud, at least for me.

Indoors, in a quiet room, the bass can sound a little bloated, giving everything a dull feel. But when you're walking outside, the bass sounds muffled because it's competing with ambient noise, whether it's wind, traffic, or whatever. If it didn't have that extra bass, the headphones would sound thin on the outside. The way it's tuned, it sounds smoother and more balanced outdoors and in noisier indoor environments (like a gym). I thought they sounded a little better than thejay raceFully wireless headphones, which I also like.

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robust design

Since the headphones are larger, Bose was able to fit them in with properly sized batteries. While they don't have Apple's custom W1 Bluetooth chip, in my tests they delivered (like the Bose AirPods) claimed 5 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. The included charging case provides two additional full charges for up to 10 additional hours of battery life. Bear in mind that the case is significantly larger than the AirPods and is not as light.

The headphones are sweat resistant, withIPX4 water resistance rating. While Bose doesn't advertise total waterproofing, the buds survived full immersion without issue in my tests. They appear to be of sturdy construction.

Due to their small, self-contained nature, there is a perception that fully wireless headphones are easy to lose. They are. To that end, there's a new "Find My Buds" feature in the Bose Connect app that shows when and where they were last used to help locate them if they get lost. He also uses that app to update the firmware for the buds, a 30-45 minute process (seems like an eternity).

One of the reasons I mention firmware is becauseBose issued software updatesare intended to fix some minor issues that users were experiencing; They mostly involve audio syncing when using certain video apps and the left button drops out.

Bluetooth is inherently slow, and this lag can be even more noticeable when dealing with a fully wireless set of headphones. So what happens is, unless the device and app you're using has a built-in video delay, the audio might lag a bit. Sometimes it's barely noticeable and other times it's very noticeable.

Personally, I've never had any problems syncing audio and video using aiPhone XySamsung Galaxy S8 Plus. I watched iTunes and Google Play movies downloaded to my devices, streamed Netflix and Amazon Prime movies, and watched YouTube videos. Initially, there was the occasional touch of delay, but after watching it for a minute or two, it all synced up just fine. Perhaps not entirely perfect, but it was comparable to what I've experienced with other Bluetooth headphones, and I had no trouble seeing it.

My personal experience aside, the aforementioned software updates seem to have fixed the audio and video sync error for others.

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A more expensive and better sounding alternative to Apple's AirPods (7)

The other, more persistent complaint that some people have had is that the left button falls off. (Check out this long support thread on the Bose website.) From the beginning, I had minimal dropouts and interference, but CNET editor John Falcone had a few dropouts walking the streets of Brooklyn wearing aiphone 6. But after updating the SoundSport Free firmware and switching to an iPhone X with the latest software update, the headphones worked perfectly for him.

I can't say why this is still an issue for some people. With this type of completely wireless headset, you can expect some dropouts and interference. None of them are perfect, not even the AirPods and the Jabra Elite 65t, which I really liked. But they should occur infrequently and we only flag them as an issue when we have more than one or two dropouts in a listening session. These dropouts didn't materialize in our recent testing of two different SoundSport Free review samples. Like I said, the connection has been pretty solid. (At the time of writing I am using firmware version 1.4.5.)

I've also seen some criticism of the way the SoundSport Free acts as a headphone jack: sound only comes out of the right earcup, making it a mono situation. It's a little disappointing not to get stereo sound, but the Free works great as a mono headset. Bose has clearly traded it in for better performance, but AirPods and many other fully wireless headphones let you take calls in stereo.

reduced ratings

As I said in the intro, this is one of the best fully wireless headphones available right now. It fits in my ears comfortably and securely, sounds good, and has worked well for several months of using it both as a sport headphone at the gym (and while running) and as an everyday headphone. It's hard for me to go back to using the SoundSport Wireless, with its tether cable between the earcups, after using these fully wireless headphones, which says a lot about how good they are.

Like the AirPods, which also had some bugs that were eventually fixed with firmware updates, I initially gave the SoundSport Free a 3.5 star rating. However, now that Bose has improved the product through a series of firmware updates and reduced its price by $50, I'm upping the rating to 4 stars. It's still not a perfect product, but it's one of the best in its class and probably the best sounding fully wireless headphones around.

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Bose SoundSport free

score breakdown

Project 8Characteristics 7As 9Valentina 7

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