By : Theo @ Samma3a
The packaging of the Soundsport Free is in typical fashion of Bose products. The light-grey coloured outer-sleeve and overall styling is immediately identifiable as a Bose product.
Removing the outer-sleeve leaves us with an almost entirely black box. Lifting the “dual lids” of the main packaging presents us with some full-colour images, some literature to remind you to download the Bose Connect app, and in the centre of it all is the charging/storage case (in which the Soundsport Free are already stored), the USB cable, and the extra wingtips provided.
Bose really didn’t include anything more than the bare essentials with the Soundsport Free. The charging/storage case is similar in concept to the cases provided with comparable products such as the Sony WF-1000X, Apple Airpods, and Google Pixel Buds. The idea here is that the case has an internal battery, which is then used to keep the earbuds charged up whilst stored in the case. The case itself isn’t so much an accessory as it is a necessity to the function of the Soundsport Free.
Other than that the charging cable included is just your standard micro-USB cable, and then there’s also two addition sets of wingtips.
The wingtips are to accommodate different sized ears, and so we get a pair of Large and Small wingtips, as well as a set of Medium tips which are pre-installed on the Soundsport Free.
The design of the Soundsport Free is a little on the quirky side. Overall they follow the same general form factor as may other true wireless earbuds, but with a few key differences.
First up is the shape of the actual housing. In here are all the electronics and the speaker, but the shape of it is a little weird. The case has a sort of taper to the design, which is actually a fairly common thing to see in these products. But, what’s different with the Bose is that the taper is pointed away from the user’s mouth, rather than towards it. This is the opposite to what we’ve grown accustomed to with previous products. As such, when you first start pickup the Soundsport Free to place it into your ear, don’t be surprised if at first you end up trying to place the left earbud in your right ear and vice versa. Just look at the wingtips – the actual eartip piece that goes into your ear should face forward, and the “wings” should curve upwards.
Bose did a good job of keeping the weight down, and so have given the Soundsport Free a pretty comfortable feeling in the ear. The wingtips certainly help to keep each earbud in place, but each piece also isn’t heavy enough to make the wingtips feel noticeable.
Comfort aside, the design of the housings does give a strange profile when inserted into the ears. The housings are actually rather bulky, and so they do stick out and away from the ears by a fair margin. This doesn’t hinder comfort, though.
But, perhaps the Soundsport Free’s rock solid BT connection is due to the way the earpieces stick out from the head. Throughout my testing I didn’t once get any unexpected drops in the connection. This is something worth mentioning as this “totally wireless” design wasn’t something that worked flawlessly in previous products of similar design.
The right earbud also houses 3 buttons which allow you to play/pause music and change the volume. Oddly enough, I found the placement of the volume buttons to be less intuitive as I was expecting. For whatever reason, the first time I went to change the volume up, I had inadvertently pressed the volume down button instead. Perhaps it’s due to the aforementioned taper of the housing that I had instinctively expected the buttons to be swapped around.
The other problem with these buttons is that they’re not particularly easy to find and press, especially the play/pause button as its recessed relative to the volume buttons, and requires a fair amount of force to press.
Ok, let’s start off with a somewhat negative aspect of the sound. As mentioned in the design, unlike most in-ear type of headphones, the Soundsport Free doesn’t really create a seal in the ear due to the semi-open design of the actual housing. This does mean that isolation isn’t particularly good, and so does affect the sound quality.
As external sounds leak in, the actual music (or whatever you’re listening to) then has to compete with the intruded sound. This isn’t a problem in quiet environments, but once you take the Soundsport Free into some sort of public setting, then this “flaw” quickly becomes apparent. There are scenarios where this could be an advantage though, such as running out on the pavement or in a park, as you’d likely need to be aware of surroundings. In a gym though, you’ll be hearing the club’s music along with your own.
And yet, despite this lack of a seal, the first thing that struck me about the sound of the Soundsport Free is how it didn’t sound anything like I had anticipated. Usually I’d expect a Bose product to give me a very identifiable “consumer” sound signature, meaning that it’s got boosted lows and mediocre highs. The Soundsport Free, however, it actually has a reasonably well-balanced signature. This is surprising, as a lack of seal usually means that the bass frequencies take quite a knock, whilst the high frequencies tend to sound harsh.
But, in the case of the Soundsport Free, the low end digs pretty darn deep, and a boost can still be heard, but not nearly boosted enough to qualify as a “bass-head” pair of buds. In fact, they’re still perfectly acceptable to even myself, taking into account that I prefer a more neutral frequency response with just a hint of warmth. The Soundsport Free does have some warmth to it, but not so much as to annoy me. I think Bose did a great job here as they boosted the lows just enough to give it a more engaging thump, but kept it civil enough to not muddy or mask the rest of the spectrum.
Moving onto the mids – again the Soundsport Free performs quite well. Vocals have a lovely, relaxing liquidity to them, making you just sink into the music. This smooth character does come at a cost, however, as it means that retrieval of some micro details does tend to take a bit of a hit. But again, unless you’re in a quiet environment, you’re unlikely to even notice the “loss” of these details.
The highs are where things get quite a bit more interesting. The Soundsport Free certainly has a decent amount of clarity, and yet the tuning that Bose had employed create for a wonderfully smooth and non-fatiguing treble response. Again there is an apparent “loss” of micro details, but really, it’s not bad at all. Listening to Melissa Menago’s Little Crimes, for example, I know that the song opens up with the sound of rain hitting puddles on the floor outside, but the Soundsport Free lacks the definition of this sound that I’m used to with other IEMs. If I didn’t know what that sound was supposed to be, then it might have taken my brain a few seconds to figure it out. It’s these subtle little details that don’t come across quite as clearly as I’d like, but it’s nothing terrible.
The Soundsport Free has what I’d like to call “an all-day sound”. It’s got enough clarity to enjoy all types of music, but smooth enough and without any annoying peaks to avoid sounding fatiguing over longer listening sessions.
OK, so $200 is a little on the steep side of the spectrum, but for what Bose has been able to accomplish with the Soundsport Free, they seem worth it…at least relative to the competition anyways. No, we don’t get active noise cancelling like we do with the Sony iteration of this type of product, but what we do get is a great sounding set of buds that offer a rock solid BT connection.
Both of those factors should be considered as fundamentally important to any and all wireless earbud products, and it feels like the Soundsport Free is the first of the lot to really nail down those to aspects. Yes, it’s got a quirky design which can perhaps be a bit of an eyesore, but an aesthetically pleasing design doesn’t do squat for performance or reliability. Personally, I don’t like to make a compromise between style and performance. My preference is function over form, and that’s exactly what the Sounsport Free provides.
The TECH MERIT rating system is designed to take as many aspects of the device into account as possible. As such, we have a basic rating, as well as a final rating. The basic rating rates the product purely as a high quality portable audio device, and is generally a good indicator of how it stacks up to its rivals in terms of standard features and specs. The final rating, however, grants bonus points for any extra features and specs that aren’t quite as common, and is a great way to judge the product as a complete package.
Look and feel: 8 / 10
More than 3 pairs of eartips included: YES
Protective case: YES
Quality control: 10 / 10
Seems durable: YES
Microphonics: 9 / 10
Comfort: 10 / 10
Relatively balanced signature: YES
Soundstage: 8 / 10
Detail retrieval: 8 / 10
Sibilance: 10 / 10
Instrument separation: 8 / 10
Isolation: 9 / 10
Hiss: 9 / 10
Small size: 10 / 10
Relatively low power required: 9 / 10
Weight: 10 / 10
Competitive price-point: YES
Relative value: 9 / 10
Basic Rating: 9.1
Removable cables: YES
Number of cables included: 2
Premium cables: –
Pairs of eartips above 3 pairs: 3
How premium the case looks and feels: 8 / 10
Battery life above 8 hours: –
Volume/remote controls: YES
Metal body: –
Interchangeable filter system: –
Premium look and feel: –
Use of exotic materials: –
Bluetooth connection quality: –
1/4” adapter included: –
Cable management: YES
Aircraft adapter: –
Final Rating: 9.5