Bose SoundTrue Ultra review: Bose's best-sounding in-ear headphone yet

Close up of the three-button inline remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

Bose used to get accused of having bloated bass in its headphones and speakers, but the The SoundTrue is an even-handed, very clean-sounding headphone that's designed to make all music sound good. The bass may be a little lean for some who crave some extra thump to their low-end, but it was punchy enough for me. I thought the treble was smooth and the midrange (vocals) clear and warm without being too laid back.

I gave the headphone to fellow editor Ty Pendlebury, CNET's home audio editor, who's pretty picky with his headphones. I was a little surprised by how much he liked the Ultra -- both for its comfort and its sound. He doesn't like bass-heavy headphones and leans toward rock music, and the Ultra's sound profile was right in his wheelhouse.

With certain tracks, such as Miguel's "Coffee," I thought the headphone's bass could be a little fatter, but for the most part I didn't miss the extra bass and the tight seal helps retain the low-end that's there (at least you don't lose any bass to sound leakage).

The StayHear Ultra tips are the headphones' secret sauce.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In this price range, I like in-ears like the Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2 , Etymotic HF5 or Beyerdynamic's DX160 IE , but the Bose is more comfortable than that headphone. I had Focal's Sphear headphone on my desk (I'd referred it to Steve Guttenberg, the author of CNET's Audiophiliac blog, who liked it a lot), so I compared it to the Bose.

The Focal is a more revealing, exciting headphone, with more bass. I like it a lot, too, but it's perhaps a little too revealing. It was really good with jazz tracks like Michael Brecker's "Midnight Voyage" and had more immediacy and presence than the Bose. However, on certain tracks the Focal's added transparency magnified the flaws in poorly produced tracks and gave the music an edge that bordered on grating. Sonic accuracy can be a double-edged sword.

The Focal did play louder than the Bose, and some people have complained about that the SoundTrue Ultra's volume level isn't high enough for them. Its top volume is about 10-20 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 these may not play quite loud enough for you.

I've also seen some comments about cord noise when the cord rubs against your clothes. Yes, there is some, which is par for the course for an in-ear noise-isolating headphone. And while I wouldn't say the noise is excessive, if you're used to the open design of the SoundTrue In-Ear, you will notice it more.

Conclusion

I liked the SoundTrue Ultra a lot -- both for its comfort and sound. It is a little pricey at $150, but if you're looking for a pair of clean sounding, really comfortable in-ear noise-isolating headphones that stay in your ears, the Ultra should be on your short list.