Live: The Best Black Friday deals PS5 restock tracker Black Friday sales you can't miss New COVID variant found in South Africa Xbox Game Pass Ultimate The Beatles: Get Back documentary
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Bose Sport Earbuds review: Excellent sound and fit with one downside

While Bose's noise-canceling QuietComfort Earbuds are getting a lot of attention, the less expensive Sport Earbuds are appealing in their own right.

I first wrote about the Bose Sport Earbuds way back in June 2019. Back then, Bose was calling them the Earbuds 500 and I got to try on a nonworking prototype. At long last, more than a year later, they're about to hit stores. At $179 (£180, AU$300), they're the more affordable, non-noise-canceling alternative to Bose's flagship QuietComfort Earbuds, which retail for $279 (£250, AU$400). While Sport models have some downsides -- their quality during phone calls could be better, for example -- they feature excellent sound, are lighter and smaller than the QuietComfort Earbuds and also slightly more comfortable to wear. 

Like

  • Excellent sound
  • Comfortable, secure fit
  • Rock-solid wireless connection
  • IPX4 splash-resistant
  • Smaller and lighter than QuietComfort Earbuds (and the case is more compact)

Don't Like

  • Buds are smaller than QuietComfort Earbuds but they still protrude from your ears a fair amount
  • Voice calling could be better

The Sport Earbuds have the same IPX4 splash-resistant rating as the QuietComfort Earbuds, are equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 (my connection was rock solid) and share a similar design aesthetic, with three color options available. To be clear, they have no active noise canceling and an hour less of battery life -- five hours instead of six -- as well as no wireless charging. While they do stick out from your ears, they're noticeably smaller and lighter than the QuietComfort Earbuds and their case is about 30% to 40% smaller. The case still isn't as small as the cases for such competitors as the AirPods Pro, Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus, Galaxy Buds Live and Jabra Elite 75t. But it feels reasonably compact.

Read more: Best true wireless earbuds for 2020: Apple AirPods, Google Pixel Buds and more

I found them slightly more comfortable to wear than the QuietComfort Earbuds, which work fine for sporting activities. But the Sport Earbuds will be better for runners: For biking both the Sport Earbudsand QuietComfort Earbuds stick out from your ears and create wind noise -- the Galaxy Buds Live are better for cycling.

The touch controls are responsive although fairly limited. You can double tap the left earbud to advance tracks, tap the right bud once to pause, and tap and hold the right bud to access your voice assistant. There are no volume controls on the buds themselves.

Now playing: Watch this: Bose QuietComfort Earbuds: Best noise canceling
6:04

Two major selling points

Really, the two biggest selling points for the Sport Earbuds are their fit and sound. The earbuds include three different sizes of Bose's new StayHear Max eartips, which have integrated an wing that allows you to get a really secure fit. Most noise-isolating earbuds are designed to nestle in your ears. With Bose earbuds -- and that includes the earlier SoundSport Free -- the StayHear tip is what does most of the nestling and the main portion of the buds end up protruding from your ears. It's not the greatest look, but some people love the way Bose earbuds fit, and with the large tips I was able to get a tight seal that passively seals out a lot of ambient noise and allows you to get optimal sound quality.

Sport Earbuds (left) compared to QuietComfort Earbuds (right). 

David Carnoy/CNET

Bose has made an effort to reduce the size of the Sport Earbuds after some people complained their predecessor, the SoundSport Free, were just a little too big and heavy. And they are smaller. But Bose could only shrink them so much without sacrificing too much battery life and performance, so they're just not as discreet looking as some competitors.

The Sport Earbuds don't sound quite as dynamic and their bass doesn't go quite as deep as that of the QuietComfort Earbuds, but they're well-balanced with nice detail and punchy bass. I found the Sport Earbuds a touch brighter. (There's currently no equalizer in Bose Music companion app for iOS and Android.) And while it's quite possible some of you who might think the Sport Earbuds sound better than the QuietComfort Earbuds -- everybody's ears and brains are different -- I slightly preferred the QuietComfort Earbuds' sound, though I'd be happy to listen to either model.

Owners of the SoundSport Free should note that the Sports Earbuds' sound is significantly better, with improved clarity and bass definition. 

The Sports Earbuds are smaller and lighter than the earlier SoundSport Free.

David Carnoy/CNET

As for how they compare to competing products in their price range, they do sound slightly better than highly rated earbuds like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus and Jabra Elite 75t. They just offer a little more clarity and more powerful bass with better definition. Those models have a more discreet design, however, and offer superior voice calling performance.

Call quality assessment

The SoundSport Free was criticized for only having mono sound for calls -- meaning, the audio of a phone call only came through the right earbud. The Sport Earbuds have stereo sound during calls, though the microphones are housed only in the right bud, so that's your only choice if you want to make calls with only a single bud. Call quality was pretty good -- I could hear callers well and they could hear me -- but if I went into noisier environments, the volume of my voice would sometimes drop a bit.

In fact, Bose says that the SoundSport Free has two microphones in the right earbud for voice pickup, versus a total of six mics on the QuietComfort Earbuds. (At least some of those are used to handle the active noise canceling on the latter model.)

I think Bose's engineers could make some improvements via a firmware upgrade -- or at least I'm hoping they can. But for now, voice calling is only fair to decent but falls short of its competitors. It should be a bit better for a $180 set of earbuds.

The Sports Earbuds case is significantly smaller than the QuietComfort Earbuds' case but it doesn't feature wireless charging (only USB-C charging).

David Carnoy/CNET

Spend the extra $100 or not?

As I said in my review of the QuietComfort Earbuds, if great noise canceling is what you're after -- or you just want the flexibility of having it -- you shouldn't hesitate to spend the extra money on the QuietComfort Earbuds. But if you don't need active canceling or find it grating (some people are sensitive to it), the Sport Earbuds do deliver excellent sound and a comfortable, secure fit. That said, I do think with all the new true wireless models coming out, Bose will ultimately have to get these down in bit in price (to less than $150) to make them more competitive.

bose-sport-earbuds-water-resistance

The earbuds have an IPX4 (splashproof) water-resistance rating.

David Carnoy/CNET