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Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear Headphone review: The on-ear wireless headphone to beat

The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear is pricey, but it is one of the best -- if not the best -- on-ear wireless headphone.

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.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
4 min read

Bose fans have been waiting for the company to release a noise-canceling headphone that also has wireless capabilities. The SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear isn't that headphone, but it is the company's first model with Bluetooth truly integrated into it and is one of the top -- if not the top -- on-ear Bluetooth headphone currently available. Even so, it's pricey: $250 in the US, £220 in the UK and AU$329 in Australia.


Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear Headphone

The Good

The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear is compact, comfortable and sounds excellent for a Bluetooth headphone. It also works well as a headset for phone calls, its buttons are easy to operate by feel, and battery life is good at 15 hours.

The Bad

It's somewhat expensive and the sound in wired mode isn't great.

The Bottom Line

The Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear is pricey, but it's also one of the best -- if not the best -- on-ear wireless headphones to date.

Bose's earlier over-ear AE2w -- now called the SoundLink Bluetooth Around-Ear -- simply added a removable Bluetooth component to an existing wired headphone (the AE2, which is now called the SoundTrue Around-Ear ). The AE2w is an excellent Bluetooth headphone, but the Bluetooth module does look a little grafted on and doesn't make for the sleekest design.

Thankfully, the new SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear doesn't have any such Frankenstein qualities. It's basically the wireless version of Bose's SoundTrue On-Ear wired headphone , but it isn't quite as compact and doesn't fold flat in its carrying case, so the overall package is bigger.

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear Headphone product photos

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Still, at 5.4 ounces (153 grams), it's quite light for a Bluetooth headphone and like its wired siblings, quite comfortable to wear, with memory foam earcups that conform comfortably to your ear. I wouldn't say those earcups are incredibly durable, but the fabric at the center of the pad seems a little thicker than the fabric found on Bose's earlier on-ears.

The headphones fit snugly on your head, but will move around if you shake your head vigorously or jump up and down. They're not really meant to be used while running, but you can certainly use them at the gym while you're lifting or doing lighter cardiovascular exercise. I wouldn't sweat on them too much, though.

It's currently available in two colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control buttons are well placed on the right earcup and to answer calls, you tap the middle control button, which also allows you to skip tracks forward and back when you're playing music.

There's a new two-way microphone system and something Bose calls Adaptive Audio Adjustment technology, which automatically changes volume based on speech level and ambient noise. Whatever it does, it does well, because I had no problem making calls on the noisy streets of New York. I also had no problem pairing the headphones with both iOS and Android devices and experienced a minimum of wireless hiccups.

Along with the carrying case, you get a cable for using the headphone in wired mode, plus a Micro-USB charging cable. Battery life is rated at 15 hours, which is good (by comparison, the Beats Solo2 Wireless is rated at 12 hours).

It folds up to fit in a carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET


As for the sound, this is one of the best Bluetooth headphones I've heard and at the moment anyway, it's arguably the best on-ear wireless headphone. I can't say it sounds as good as certain wired on-ear headphones in this price class, such as the Beyerdynamic T 51p . But for a Bluetooth headphone it sounds pretty natural, with strong but not overpowering bass and good clarity. You get a touch of what we call Bluetooth artifacting, but most people probably won't hear any of that.

We compared it to a couple of Beats Bluetooth models -- the Beats Solo2 Wireless , the Apple-owned brand's $300 on-ear Bluetooth headphone, and the Studio Wireless , Beats' $380 over-the-ear model.

The larger Studio Wireless gives you better sound isolation, has some active noise-cancellation, and sounds slightly better than the Bose, with richer, more spacious sound. I also like its fit better than the Solo2 Wireless, but the caveat to that statement is that I generally prefer over-ear headphones to on-ear models.

A cable is included in case the battery runs dry and wireless streaming shuts down. Sarah Tew/CNET

Moving to the Solo2 Wireless, the Bose's most direct competitor, we found the Bose offered more balanced sound with more warmth in the midrange. While the Solo2 produced more bass, instruments sounded a little more distinct on the Bose and the overall listening experience was more pleasant to our ears.

To be clear, the Beats Solo2 Wireless is a strong Bluetooth headphone -- and its faster sound may suit some listeners musical tastes better -- but we came away liking the sound of the Bose a little more. We also thought it was a more comfortable headphone (it's lighter by about 2.2 ounces or 62 grams).

That said, the one area where the Bose falls short of the Beats is wired listening. As I said, you can listen to the SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear in "wired" mode should the battery run dry. But it really doesn't sound all that good. The Beats Solo2 Wireless, however, sounds essentially like the $200 Solo2 when you plug a cable into it (Beats says it designed the headphone to employ minimal amplification).


Good Bluetooth headphones don't come cheap and the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear is pretty pricey at $250, £220 or AU$329. The good news is that it's not only cheaper than the Beats Solo2 Wireless, but it arguably sounds a little better and is more comfortable to wear.

While its design won't appeal to everyone -- just as Beats' signature design also turns some people off -- this is an excellent on-ear wireless headphone that should appeal to people looking for a less bulky Bluetooth headphone to wear at home, at the office or on the go.


Bose SoundLink Bluetooth On-Ear Headphone

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 8Value 8