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Bose SIE2/SIE2i review: Sweet but expensive sports headphones

The Bose SIE2 and SIE2 are in-ear headphones with a more rugged -- and sporty -- design than the company's popular IE2 headphones.

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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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

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Hoping to tap into the somewhat underserved sports headphones market, Bose has introduced a couple of sporty in-ear models, the SIE2 and SIE2i, which are basically rugged, sweat-resistant versions of its popular IE2 earphones.

Bose SEI2 (green)
7.4

Bose SIE2/SIE2i

The Good

The <b>Bose SIE2 and SIE2i earphones</b> fit securely and comfortably, are sweat-resistant, and their "open" design has its appeal. They also offer pleasantly full bass and include a Reebok "fitness" armband for wearing your portable music device.

The Bad

They're pricey. The included armband won't house the iPhone 5 or new iPod Touch, they let in sound, and no carrying case is included.

The Bottom Line

While they're no bargain, the Bose SEI2 and SEI2i have an appealing, sweat-resistant design, are very comfortable to wear, and offer decent sound.

The new models come in orange and green and feature Bose's StayHear tips, which I can confirm do a good job of keeping the earphones securely in your ears. Not surprisingly, these new, more rugged models cost more, and their elevated price tags are my only serious gripes against them.

Design
According to Bose, these guys have "acoustic ports positioned to resist sweat and water and are covered with a hydrophobic cloth to keep moisture out while letting sound pass through." Also, the inline remote and microphone included with the step-up SIE2i has "watertight button housings and a hydrophobic acoustic windscreen to reduce the effects of wind noise and moisture." It's also worth mentioning that Bose has teamed up with Reebok to include a "fitness" armband, so you can strap your phone or digital music player to your arm. But since this product hit stores before the release of the iPhone 5, that armband won't work with the latest iPhone and iPod Touch, which have longer bodies, just with earlier iPhone/iPod Touch models and other smaller smartphones and MP3 players.

The earphones come with three different sized sets of 'wings.' Sarah Tew/CNET

The first thing you should know is that these aren't noise-isolating earphones. You don't jam a foam or rubber tip into your ear, effectively cutting off much of the sound from the outside world. Instead, these earphones sit slightly on top of the ear, similar the way hard earbuds do. A silicone cover directs the sound into your ear canal but the tip isn't pushed all the way inside. As a result, you don't get the tight seal as you do with a noise-isolating earphone, but the upside is that your ear canal gets some breathing room. This design will appeal more to some people than others, but it's also important to highlight the fact that I didn't have any trouble getting the SIE2s to fit both securely and comfortably in my ears.

Two colors are available: green and orange. Sarah Tew/CNET

Part of the reason for that is Bose's StayHear silicone tips, which have little wings to "nestle inside the bowl of the ear while also naturally conforming to the ear's upper ridge." In the package you'll find three StayHear earpieces (S, M, and L). There's also a short extension cable included along with a clip to attach the cord to your clothing (I ended up using it because the cord has a tendency to flop around when you're active -- even walking). Those wings are funky-looking, but they do work and you should be able to find one size that fits your ears well.

An armband but no carrying case is included. Sarah Tew/CNET

While this style of earphones may not appeal to everyone, I liked their "open" quality and found it comfortable to wear the SIE2s for long stretches without feeling the need to adjust them or take them off. That said, you'll definitely hear more street noise than if you were using a noise-isolation earphone design -- which is good and bad. When I was running with them outdoors on a country road, it was good to be able to hear traffic coming toward me, particularly when I made my way up a hill and couldn't see over to the other side (and cars couldn't see me coming).

While these work quite well as everyday headphones (just like the IE2s), when I used them on the New York City subway, they did let in a lot of noise, which affected sound quality. (I prefer the Monster iSport Immersion earphones for my daily commute because they offer a very tight seal and secure fit).

The wings are designed to create a secure fit. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
I liked the sound of the original IE2s and these have a very similar sound profile, with pleasantly full, though not incredibly deep bass and decent but not great detail. That bass is probably the best thing about these guys; while the detail is OK, I thought the treble was a touch harsh, compressing the range between softer and louder sounds. In other words, these earphones don't really bring out the subtleties in your music quite as well as we might have hoped. Of course, you can't ask the world of earphones in the $100-$150 range, but we've heard models in this price class that outperform the Bose.

If you're looking at the step-up "i" version that includes the inline remote/mic, I did make some calls while wearing the SIE2i and found the sound quality to be good and the people I called said I sounded loud and clear. You'll pay a $30 premium for the headset feature, but if you plan on using them with a phone, it's convenient to be able to make calls and talk without having to remove your headphones (on an iPhone, the music pauses when a call comes in and resumes when you hang up).

Close-up of the inline remote on the step-up 'i' model. Sarah Tew/CNET

Like Bose's other "i" models, the SIE2i is made for Apple products and some of its microphone and remote features may not be compatible with Android and other smartphone models.

Conclusion
I review a lot of Bose products and while I tend to like most of them and really appreciate their ergonomics (when it comes to headphones, at least), I don't think I've ever called any of them a bargain.

Bose's standard IE2 and MIE2i models retail for $99.95 and $129.95, respectively. As noted, these new, more rugged models cost more. The SIE2 costs $119.95, while the SIE2i costs $149.95. Simply put, these shouldn't be that expensive (they should cost the same as the standard IE2 line, which should get a price reduction).

Now that we have that caveat out of the way, I can say that Bose has done a good job building an appealing sports earphone that's very comfortable to wear and fits securely in your ear. Many people don't like having eartips jammed into their ears, and these Bose are among the best of the looser-fitting, non-noise-isolating 'buds. They offer decent sound, with pleasant, plump bass, and they seem pretty durable (it's worth noting that while Bose products may be pricey, the company's usually very good about replacing headphones should something go wrong with them).

In terms of wired sports headphones, I think Monster's iSport Immersion earphones sound better (they cost around $99), but that's partially due to how they fit (read: jam) in your ear and seal out any noise. And yes, there are plenty of Bluetooth wireless headphones to choose from; most of them don't sound as good as wired models, but their appeal is in their cordless design. The Bose SEi2 and SEI2i, on the other hand, are strongest in the comfort department.

The good news is that Bose has a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try them out before deciding whether they're worth the money. For plenty of people, they will be. For others, not so much.

Bose SEI2 (green)
7.4

Bose SIE2/SIE2i

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7
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