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Bose SoundSport In-Ear Headphones review: A sweat-resistant, earbud-style headphone that's ultracomfortable and stays in your ears

The sweat-resistant version of Bose's popular in-ear headphone has come in a few different variations over the years. Here's our full review of the current model.

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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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Over the years, Bose has had a few different variations of its in-ear headphones -- and a few too many model names to choose from -- but now it's condensed the line to include only the "open" ear-bud style SoundSport In-Ear and SoundTrue Ultra , its first noise-isolating in-ear headphone. You can still find the SoundTrue In-Ear and special-edition Freestyle -- essentially the SoundSport with a different paint job -- kicking around at a good discount. But both of those models are on the way out.

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Bose SoundSport In-Ear Headphones

The Good

The Bose SoundSport In-Ear 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.

The Bottom Line

While the Bose SoundSport In-Ear may not be the best sounding in-ear headphone for the money, the design and comfort level are great, and it's ideal for people who want this sort of headphone style without the need to jam the tips into their ear canals.

With the new changes to the line, we thought it a good time to update our reviews of Bose's in-ear models. All the "open" in-ear models sound the same with the exception of the powered, active noise-canceling QuietComfort 20 , which costs considerably more.

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The SoundSport's color options.

Bose

The SoundSport In-Ear is priced at $130 (£115 or AU$180) with an inline remote/microphone and $100 without it. The Apple iOS version with the remote is available in several sporty colors but the Android version has a more limited color selection, as does the less-expensive "audio-only" model. As Bose introduces new colors and tweaks the included accessories, you tend to find the older colors available at a discount online. (Note: The green model in our review is actually an image of the older green model, and it's available for less than the current green model).

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, even when I was running. I think most people will find these earphones very comfortable, but because of their open design, they do let a lot of ambient sound in, so they're not good for noisy environments (The QuietComfort 20 cancels out incoming sound but costs $300).

Bose's original SoundTrue In-Ear has a 45.2-inch (115 cm) cable. It's a medium-length cable that feels long enough without being too long. In contrast, the SoundSport's seemingly durable cable is 42 inches, or about 3 inches shorter. It's designed to be a little shorter because you don't want to have too much cord dangling down when you're doing most forms of athletic activity.

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The inline remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The SoundTrue In-Ear isn't sweat-resistant but the SoundSport (and FreeStyle) are. Bose says: "The SoundSport in-ear headphones feature a weather- and sweat-resistant design, which provides improved durability and splash-resistance -- but they should not be submerged in water or used for swimming."

In the past, Bose did sport versions of this headphone that came with an armband and a very short cord, plus an extension cable. It wasn't the best option for people who didn't like to use an armband case (it's never great to use an extension cable). This current model keeps things simple with the 42-inch cable. There's no armband accessory anymore, but the SoundSport In-Ear comes with a round neoprene carrying case (plus a carabiner) while the SoundTrue In-Ear and Freestyle ship with a larger, rectangular case.

It's also worth pointing out that inline remote's design is well done, with the tactile buttons easy to operate by feel. Call quality was also good, and this headphone works well as a headset, though the Ultra works even better thanks to its noise-isolating design.

The headphones, like all of Bose's current in-ear headphones, have a straight plug rather than an L-shaped plug that, in theory, should be more sturdy. The straight plug is compact, so it's designed to work with most cell-phone cases.

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The SoundSport In-ear comes in multiple color options for iOS devices.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

As far as I can tell, Bose uses the same drivers in all of its open earbud-style headphones, so despite their different names, they all sound the same. However, the SoundTrue Ultra has a completely different driver.

The sound is decent, though you can get in the same price range -- including the bit more expensive Ultra -- that sound better and offer better noise isolation. Bose does a good job making smooth-sounding that are pretty well balanced with good bass performance. While the midrange is also pretty decent, we weren't that enamored of the treble detail (it's merely OK). The treble is 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, all of Bose's open in-ear make most music genres sound reasonably good, which is why I like to call them "safe" . Most people outside of audiophiles should be pleased with the sound quality.

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The included carrying case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

By comparison, the SoundTrue Ultra is a cleaner-sounding with a little more depth and clarity to it. The noise isolating design also helps deliver more immersive sound, particularly in environments with some ambient noise. That said, if you bike or run and want to be able to hear traffic around you for safety reasons, Bose's open-bud design would probably be the better choice.

Some people have complained that the Ultra's volume level isn't high enough for them. Its top volume is about 10 to 20 percent lower than a lot of in-ears on the market. Since this is the company's first true in-ear , I believe that as a precaution Bose set the top volume a little lower to prevent people from damaging their ears (the volume was loud enough for me). But if you've already had some hearing loss, it's possible the Ultras may not play quite loud enough for you.

With a sound-isolating in-ear like the Ultra, you also get some cord noise when the cord rubs against your clothes. The open design of the SoundTrue, SoundSport, and Freestyle In-Ears eliminates the cord noise but lets ambient noise in.

In other words, the SoundSport In-Ear probably isn't a you should wear on a plane or in the New York City subway, although I see plenty of people wearing them in those environs.

Conclusion

I've always recommended Bose's "open" in-ear headphones to people who want an in-ear headphone but don't want to have to jam a tip into their ear canal. For the type of design they have, they deliver very good sound, and their comfort level is hard to match thanks to the StayHear tips, these headphones' secret sauce.

A lot of people are waiting for a wireless version of SoundSport In-Ear. I think we can assume Bose is working on just such a model, but until it arrives, the SoundSport In-Ear remains a safe choice for people looking for a pair of very comfortable in-ear headphones that sounds decent and stays securely in your ears.

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Bose SoundSport In-Ear Headphones

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 7Value 7
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