It may be surprising to those sitting on the sidelines, but the exercise and sports headphone category is one of the fastest growing segments of the business. So it makes sense that big headphone companies are adding sports headphones to their lineups.
Building great sports headphones is harder to do than many of these companies initially anticipate.
Sports headphones must, above all else, survive the daily pounding of running, sweating and rough treatment. They must also be comfortable and stay in place regardless of how aggressive your movements.
And, oh yeah, it would be great if they actually sounded good.
Those requirements only leave a handful of models on the playing field. Rating among the top contenders is the recent Bose SoundSport wireless earbud headphones.
FOOTLOOSE AND WIRE-FREE
Bose has made solid sports-oriented headphones before but the newest SoundSport wireless earphones improve upon both the fit and construction over previous models while adding great wire-free Bluetooth connectivity to the equation. Hooray - no more drooping cables dangerously snagging on the barbells or accidental jerking disconnects due to headphone cord tangles.
The left/right Bose SoundSport earpieces are joined by just a thin flexible cable that measures about 24 inches from earbud to earbud. A built-in shirt clip is affixed to the cable mid-point for securing any cord slack to your clothing. The cord can be worn either in front or behind the neck as desired.
Even without affixing the shirt cable clip, the cord is totally silent and non-microphonic when rubbed or touched, another must-have quality for any good exercise or active-use headphone.
The SoundSport earpieces themselves are fairly large and protrude noticeably outward from the earlobes, meaning wearing a sports helmet with these in-ear headphones is probably a no-go. The right earpiece housing contains a recessed/protected USB port for charging and a small tactile button used to activate the wireless Bluetooth pairing process to your source.
THE BOSE STAYHEAR DESIGN - JUST THE TIP
Included are three sizes of the newest Bose ‘StayHear’ ear tips which feature a wing-like nub that helps to secure the ear tips into the pinna of the outer ear. The surprisingly comfortable, easy insertion into the ears is nicely non-invasive but still manages to remain securely in place even during extra-active sports or gym work. For folks who do not like the deep earplug-like sensation of average in-ear headphones, the Bose SoundSport tip design offers an ingeniously comfortable alternative.
Certainly one advantage of this comfortable, shallow ear tip fit is that you’ll be more able to detect sounds around you - which may be a good thing navigating busy city streets or jogging around the neighborhood.
Just below the right SoundSport earpiece is a hydrophobic 3-button controller and smartphone mic which transmits and receives calls with good voice clarity and a noticeable lack of that annoying whooshing sound in the background. Hooray, another win.
The SoundSport will pair and recognize up to eight different sources, allowing easy back and forth auto-connections between your PC, laptop computer, digital music player and smartphone, for example.
Sonically, the Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds have decent musical detail. Although the tone is completely intelligible and smooth without hard edges or any shrill emphasis, these are (of course) not designed to be ‘audiophile-level’ in-ear headphones and the lack of deep dynamics is plainly evident in the slightly thin, wiry sound. It's a decently satisfying performance for the category, but audio lovers will likely miss a sense of fidelity and low-end punch. Finicky audiophiles, be forewarned.
GET LOUD MUCH?
Perhaps a bigger concern given the sports application is the volume limitation that our Headphone.com review team experienced using the Bose SoundSport wireless headphones with a variety of Bluetooth sources.
Depending on the device, the maximum volume level was typically just loud enough to overcome very loud music pumping through big speakers in the gym. On some Bluetooth sources, the volume could have easily been louder and distracting loud ambient sounds from the external environment were plainly audible.
But on the positive side, the Bose SoundSport wireless earbuds minor volume limitation may be considered a really good thing to preserve your long-term hearing acumen.
Undoubtedly, the SoundSport volume ceiling can be impacted by the fit style of the Bose StayHear earpieces/eartips which, again, typically sit in the outer part of the ear canal as opposed to being fully inserted deeper into the ear. Hence, the earpiece design does not really use the ear canal itself as a resonant isolating/amplifying chamber like deeper-fitting in-ears.
BOSE TAKES ON THE BIRD
Compared to the other popular wireless exercise earphones currently available in the category, the JayBird X3 wireless in-ear headphones, the Bose SoundSport had a more comfortable fit but the superbly slim-profile JayBird earpieces won the race to the tape with its superior streamlined design and ability to fit under sports helmets. The deeper earpiece fit of the JayBird also delivers better isolation and ambient noise-blocking ability.
And although it's not a vast difference, we’d also give the sound quality nod to the JayBird X3 due to its slightly warmer, punchier tone and better bass response compared to the very evenly balanced, albeit somewhat un-dynamic sound of the Bose
Both models appear to be excellently well-built with tough moisture-resistant construction that will survive the test of time under heavy-duty gym work and outdoor use in difficult weather conditions.
For exercise-loving listeners or serious outdoor enthusiasts who use their headphones in demanding settings, these two wireless earbud models represent the cream of the Bluetooth sports headphone crop in our opinion.