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Bose Freestyle Earbuds review: A sporty in-ear headphone that floats comfortably in your ear

The Freestyle headphones are Bose's latest in-ear models. How do they compare to their predecessors?

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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This is the Freestyle, Bose's new $129.95 (£114.95, AU$179.95) earbud-style headphone, which comes in Indigo and Ice Blue, and complements the existing IE2 , SIE2i , and MIE2i in-ear headphones but does not replace them.

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Bose Freestyle Earbuds

The Good

The Bose Freestyle headphones are secure and comfortable as well as sweat-resistant, and their "open" design is appealing. They also offer pleasantly full bass and include an integrated remote and microphone and a nice carrying case.

The Bad

They let sound in, so they're not good for noisier environments; not all the remote's features will work with Android and Windows phones.

The Bottom Line

While it may not be the best-sounding headphone for the money, the Bose Freestyle's superior design and comfort level make it a go-to choice for anyone seeking a sporty and stylish in-ear model.

If the headphone looks familiar, that's because it's not so different from its cousins. What you're looking at are some small design improvements and a rebranding of an existing product rather than a truly new product. In some ways this is Bose's attempt to loosen up a bit and appeal to a younger audience with more fun, eye-catching color choices (naturally, some people may not like those color choices, so hopefully Bose will expand those choices in the future). The earphone itself is probably most similar to Bose's SIE2i sports model but has a different, arguably superior cord design. Like that model, the Freestyle is also sweat and water-resistant.

The SIE2i comes with a default shorter cord for those who want to use the headphone with an armband (an armband case is included), as well as extender cable that ends up making everything a little too long. The 45.3-inch (115 cm) cable on the Freestyle is a medium-length cable that feels long enough without being too long.

Bose FreeStyle Earbuds product photos

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Floating 'buds

As with all of Bose's earbud-style headphones, this is the in-ear headphone for people who don't like to have eartips jammed into their ears. The buds are designed to sit loosely in your ears, but they're held in place by Bose's StayHear tips, which feature a soft silicon wing-like design and come in three different sizes.

I really like the fit -- the medium-size Stay-Hear tips worked well with my ears and kept the buds locked in. I think most people will find these earphones very comfortable, but because of their open design, they do let a lot of sound in, so they're not good for noisy environments (Bose also makes the QuietComfort 20 , an impressive high-end noise-canceling version of this headphone, but it costs $300).

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The integrated remote is higher up on the cord (and better placed) than the remote on the SIE2i. Sarah Tew/CNET

In terms of features, there's an integrated remote with microphone for cell phones calls (it's placed better on the cord than the SIE2's remote). This is an Apple-friendly headphone, so not all the remote's features will work with Android and Windows phones, but you can still make calls with the headset. Call quality was good.

A nice carrying case is included, which it should be at this price point. I'd like to have seen an L-shaped plug, which tends to be more durable, but it's not the end of the world that Bose has gone with a straight plug design.

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What you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

The Freestyle uses the same drivers as Bose's aforementioned earbud-style headphones, so you're not getting a sound upgrade.

The sound is decent, though you can get headphones, including the Beyerdynamic DX160 iE, that sound better for the money and offer better noise isolation. Bose does a good job making smooth sounding headphones that are pretty well balanced with good bass performance. While the midrange is also pretty decent, we weren't that enamored with the treble detail (it's OK). As with the SIE2i, the treble's a touch harsh, compressing the range between softer and louder sounds, and isn't able to bring out the subtleties in music quite as well as one might hope.

That said, the Freestyle makes most music genres sound reasonably good, which is why I like to call it a "safe" headphone. Most people outside of audiophiles should be pleased with the sound quality.

Conclusion

At $129.95, the Freestyle is a bit expensive -- it should probably cost closer to $99 -- but it is less expensive than the SIE2i ($149.95) and offers many of the same features, including a water-resistant design and inline remote with microphone.

At the end of the day, while it may not be the best sounding in-ear headphone for the money, the design and comfort level are great, and it's a really good headphone for people who want an in-ear headphone but don't want to have to jam a tip into their ear canal.

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Bose Freestyle Earbuds

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 7Value 7