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Bose SoundSport Wireless review: The Bluetooth sports headphone to beat

Battery life for the SoundSport is rated at 6 hours, which is fairly decent for this type of small headphone (though not great overall), and 5 hours for the SoundSport Pulse. Both SoundSport wireless headphones come with a simple neoprene carrying case, but Bose will also sell an accessory case that has a built-in battery for on-the-go charging that'll cost $50. That battery case provides three full charges, or up to 18 hours of battery life.

Bose will sell a separate accessory case that has a built-in rechargeable battery for $50.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Smooth operation

I used the the SoundSport Wireless for over a week, taking it to the gym, using it on the streets of New York, and doing two runs with it on Randall's Island. I used the large StayHear+ eartips and was able to get a comfortable, secure fit.

With a lot of in-ear sports headphones, I find myself having to make little adjustments to relieve some discomfort or get a more secure fit, especially while running, but with this headphone the adjustments I had to make were minimal. They were easy to put on and take off, they powered on and paired quickly to my phone, and worked as well as any Bluetooth headphone I've used.

The sound quality is very good for an in-ear sports Bluetooth headphone. There've been some complaints about it not playing loud enough, but I didn't have that issue with the iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge I tested it with. (Bluetooth performance on computers tends to be a little dodgy and perhaps some of the volume complaints are related to computer connectivity.)

The headphone doesn't sound as good as Bose's $130 SoundTrue Ultra wired headphones, which I like a lot and offers cleaner, more dynamic sound, with better defined bass. But that's the nature of Bluetooth. You lose a little something. In the case of the SoundSport Wireless, the loss isn't huge. There's some clarity missing (the highs are a little recessed), but you get lots of bass and the midrange sounds pretty natural and warm. It's also a fairly open-sounding headphone.

What's interesting about the sound is that this headphone seems to be optimized for outside use. Inside, in a quiet room, the bass can sound a little bloated, which gives everything a slightly dull edge. But when you're walking around outside, the bass sounds toned down because it's competing with ambient noise, whether it's the wind or traffic or whatever. If you didn't have that extra bass the headphone would sound thin outside. The way it's tuned, it sounds smoother and better balanced outdoors.

I didn't think it sounded better than the Jaybird Freedom, which also delivers excellent sound for an in-ear Bluetooth headphone -- though that model costs 33 percent more. But it bests the Beats PowerBeats 2 Wireless, Plantronics' BackBeat Fit and Monster's Adidas Sport Adistar. The latter two models cost less than the Bose.

All that said, what ultimately makes the Bose the superior headphone and easy to recommend is its fit and comfort level. No, it's not perfect -- and it won't be a perfect fit for everyone -- but it's one of the few "premium" in-ear Bluetooth headphones that I think will work for the vast majority who buy it.

The step-up SoundSport Pulse Wireless ($200) arrives in September and has an integrated hear-rate monitor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The SoundSport Wireless' highlights:

  • Available in two colors at launch (black, aqua), with citron (yellow) version coming in September
  • Price: $150, £140, AU $249
  • 6 hours of battery life
  • Water- and sweat-resistant
  • Auto-power off feature
  • Accessory charging case costs $50
  • Works with Bose's free Connect app for Android and iOS devices
  • NFC tap-to-pair technology for devices that support it
  • SoundSport Pulse Wireless with built-in heart-rate monitor ships in September for $200, £170, AU $299; comes in red and has 5 hours of battery life

Editors' note September 27: After a small percentage of SoundSport Wireless units experienced problems with heavy sweat, Bose removed this product from stores in July 2016 and updated its design (read the full story here). If you've had any issues with the SoundSport Wireless, Bose will replace your unit free of charge with the updated model, which is now shipping. CNET has received the updated version of the headphone and is currently testing it. If there are no issues with the updated SoundSport Wireless, we'll reinstate the Editors' Choice award that the product initially received.

Editors' note December 1: After some testing, we've determined that earlier problems with the Bose Soundsport Plus have been resolved, so its Editors' Choice award has been reinstated.

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