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Bose SoundTrue In-Ear review: A very comfortable in-ear headphone becomes a better value as it's phased out

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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 reviewed here and the special-edition Freestyle -- essentially the SoundSport with a different paint job -- kicking around at a good discount. But both of these models are on the way out.

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Bose SoundTrue In-Ear

The Good

The Bose SoundTrue In-Ear headphones are secure and very comfortable 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, and they're not sweat-resistant.

The Bottom Line

As the very comfortable Bose SoundTrue In-Ear nears retirement, it's become a better value with some nice price chops on certain colors.

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 SoundTrue In-Ear in Cranberry (Red).

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The SoundTrue In-Ear is priced at $130 (£115 or AU$180) with an inline remote/microphone and $100 without it. But now that it's being phased out, you can get both versions for up to 30 percent off online, depending on the color (black, red, or white), which makes them good values.

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).

The SoundTrue In-Ear reviewed here 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 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 headphones' StayHear tips create a secure, comfortable fit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Bose's SoundTrue In-Ear isn't sweat-resistant but the SoundSport is. 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."

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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What you get in the box.

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 headphones 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 headphones 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 headphones make most music genres sound reasonably good, which is why I like to call them "safe" headphones. Most people outside of audiophiles should be pleased with the sound quality.

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The SoundTrue In-Ear comes with a rectangular case, while the SoundSport comes with a circular neoprene case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

By comparison, the SoundTrue Ultra is a cleaner-sounding headphone 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 headphone, 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.

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The inline remote and microphone.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With a sound-isolating in-ear headphone 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 SoundTrue In-Ear probably isn't a headphone 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.

With Bose revamping its in-ear line, the tough question for a lot people will be which model to get. If you don't plan on using your headphones for exercise, you can save some money by going with this SoundTrue In-Ear, as its being phased out. But the Freestyle and the 2014 version of the SoundSport (Bose has new colors for 2015) can be had a for a little more and will be worth the extra dough for those who want to add sweat-resistance.

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Bose SoundTrue In-Ear

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Sound 7Value 8