Few of the true wireless earphones we review have open designs, meaning they don’t seal off your canal. The $199.95 Bose Sport Open Earbuds, therefore, start off on a bold mission, as it’s difficult for earbuds that lack an in-canal seal to provide a consistent, balanced audio experience, as well as to provide a reliably secure fit. Can the Sport Open Earbuds, with their added ear hooks, break the curse by creating a secure fit and providing a consistent audio experience with reliable ear-to-ear balance? Impressively, the balance here is excellent, and the open design allows runners to hear their surroundings. As for bass depth, however, there isn’t not much to speak of.
Securing the Open Design
Available in black with a glossy outer panel emblazoned with the Bose logo and ear hooks that have a more eggshell finish, the Sport Open Earbuds are chunky. They’re shaped sort of like quotation marks, but the most unique aspect of their design is the side of the earpiece that faces your ear canal. It’s large and flat, with a small opening where the audio fires out. Some earbuds try to angle toward or nuzzle up against the ear canal opening slightly, but the Sport Open Earbuds don’t attempt that at all. Instead, the design is meant to sit perfectly securely, and then it’s up to the drivers to muster enough power to deliver bass depth.
The fit can feel odd. The hooks clip onto your ear, and the flat portion hovers outside of it, directing audio toward the canal, but sitting relatively far away from it. These seem more like speakers that clip onto your ear than earbuds, not entirely unlike the Bose Frames Tempo shades.
If you wear glasses, getting the ear hooks to comfortably share the same space takes a little effort. It’s not impossible, but throw in a mask for pandemic times, and your ears become hitching posts for a variety of objects. Without glasses, the fit feels a little more natural. However, to achieve a fit I felt wouldn’t come loose during exercise, I had to twist the earpieces back quite a bit, which was a little uncomfortable. Everyone has different ears, so this experience won’t be universal, but the point is that the Sport Open Earbuds have a unique fit system that will suit some more than others.
Each earpiece has a single button that serves as the power/wake control, as well as a multifunction button. Pressing it once on the right ear controls playback, twice skips forward a track, and three times skips backward a track. The right earpiece’s button also answers/ends calls. The button on the left ear, when held, summons your device’s voice assistant, and when pressed, gives you a battery life update. The controls are easy enough to operate, but the division of functions seems a bit lopsided, and is missing a way to adjust volume.
An IPX4 water resistance rating means the Sport Open Earbuds can withstand light splashes, some rain, and sweat exposure, and can be wiped down with a damp cloth. But they can’t be submerged or rinsed under a faucet for cleaning, and the charging base isn’t water resistant, so the earbuds must be totally dry prior to charging.
Instead of a charging case as is standard with almost all true wireless earbuds, the Bose earpieces dock into a relatively compact charging base that’s hardwired to a USB-A cable. Charging cases have built-in batteries that tend to hold an extra two or three full charges in them, letting you charge your earphones without needing to be near an outlet. That isn’t the case here, as the charging base needs to be plugged in to start charging the earpieces.
Considering that Bose estimates battery life to be eight hours on a full charge, a charging case isn’t quite as vital here as it for pairs with, say, four to five hours of battery life. Of course, this all depends on your actual usage—mainly, your volume levels. And if your usage nets you a battery life closer to five hours, the lack of a battery case might eventually prove to be a substantial annoyance.
The earbuds work with the Bose Music App, a one-size-fits-all app for a variety of Bose products. Its clean interface makes it easy to operate, but it essentially acts as a manual, with a description of what all the controls do, and basic tips on usage. Other than that, there’s not much to it.
The Sport Open Earbuds are compatible with Bluetooth 5.1, and support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, but not AptX.
Good for Hearing Your Surroundings, Less So for Bass
There’s no denying that an open ear design can be beneficial for working out, particularly for runners who need to be aware of their surroundings. But open designs typically present challenges for audio performance. Namely, bass depth tends to drop off, or sometimes it distorts because the manufacturer boosts bass performance to make up for the open design, but the drivers can’t handle it.
The overall ear-to-ear balance here is impressively stable. So Bose solves one of the two inherent issues with earbuds—the left and right ears sound like they’re outputting the same amount of bass and overall volume. This almost never happens with earbuds, so kudos on that front. As for bass depth, the lows sound okay and the low-mids sound rich, but sub-bass isn’t really part of the discussion.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Sport Open Earbuds deliver decent bass depth, but when the deep subwoofer-range bass kicks in, the lows sound more like taps than thumps. This isn’t surprising, as it’s very difficult to create any real bass depth without sealing off the ear canal.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track can sound thunderous on bass-forward in-ears, but through the Sport Open Earbuds, the sound is less full and round, and more a little thinned out. It’s Callahan’s baritone vocals that command most of the attention, with plenty of low-mid richness to create a fuller sound. As for high-mids and highs, this is a naturally bright, crisp sound signature, so they are always in play. Callahan’s vocals may sound rich, but there’s also plenty of high-frequency detail in there. The acoustic strums and higher-register percussive hits are bright and clear. If the vocals didn’t get some added richness, this would be a thin sound signature. As it is, it’s still on the less bass-focused end of the spectrum, but the low-mid boosting brings out some of the richer aspects of mixes.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives plenty of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchiness, while the vinyl crackle and hiss take a step forward in the mix, indicating there’s plenty of boosting and sculpting happening in the highs here. The sub-bass synth hits, as we might expect, are more implied than delivered, and the drum loop lacks the kind of thump it might have in an in-canal scenario. The vocals are delivered cleanly, with ideal clarity and no real added sibilance. This is simply not a pair of earphones for those looking for a big bass sound, but if high-mid clarity is more your thing, the Sport Open Earbuds offer plenty of it.
Orchestral and jazz tracks sound, by far, the most rewarding through the Sport Open Earbuds. These recordings retain their brightness, putting the focus on higher-register brass, strings, and vocals, but the boosting in the low-mids serves the lower-register instrumentation quite well, imbuing recordings with an extra sense of spatial depth. The lower-register instruments have some body that they sometimes seem to lack when listening through in-canal options. So that’s a win for this design on classical and generally acoustic or live recordings that don’t require deep bass response to convey fullness.
Keep in mind that you will have no issue hearing your surroundings during playback, especially if volume is kept to reasonable levels. However, anyone nearby will also have no trouble hearing your audio. This is an open system, so it’s inappropriate for scenarios where leaked audio would be problematic.
The mic offers solid intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone, we could understand every word we recorded cleanly and clearly. There was a smidge of Bluetooth distortion fuzzing up the edges, but it was subtle. The audio signal was strong, and seemed to emphasize high-mids for clarity.
Niche Earbuds for Runners
You have to hand it to Bose, which consistently dreams up unique design solutions and isn’t afraid to go out on a limb. The Sport Open Earbuds are by no means flawless, and if your music tastes steer you toward tracks with lots of deep sub-bass, these drivers simply can’t make that happen. But for those with more classical, jazz, or acoustic-focused tastes, the Sport Open Earbuds offer a unique sonic experience that allows you to hear the outside world while exercising.
Bose has solved ear-to-ear balance and consistency issues common with an open design. If the drivers here could actually reproduce sub-bass, it would be a game-changer. As is, these are faily niche earbuds for exercise enthusiasts who don’t need a ton of bass. For more traditional, in-canal-style true wireless options in this price range, consider the $170 JBL True Wireless Flash X, the $180 Jaybird Vista, or the $230 Jabra Elite 85t, all of which deliver much stronger bass response and come with battery cases.
The Bottom Line
The true wireless Bose Sport Open Earbuds overcome some of the classic issues with this type of open design that lets your hear your surroundings, but they lack deep bass and don’t come with a battery case.
Bose Sport Open Earbuds Specs
|Active Noise Cancellation||No|