Bose's Ultra Open Earbuds Review: Impressive Sound, High Price


The cling-on (not Klingon) design feels odd at first, but the buds nearly fade away over time thanks to their relatively light weight of 6.5 grams each. They feel slightly precarious, but they held on for a variety of activities, from yard work to jogging. The steadfast hold is entirely down to that malleable curling hinge that keeps its grip while still feeling pretty comfy, with only a tinge of pinching after multiple hours.

The Ultra Open Earbuds’ single-key control system is well thought out, letting you play/pause, skip songs, take calls, and even control volume with relative ease through a series of taps and long presses. There’s an assignable shortcut for each side that lets you choose between commands like activating a voice assistant, switching Bluetooth sources, or choosing between stereo mode and Bose’s 3D audio system.

The latter works, for better or worse, in the same way as Bose’s noise-canceling Ultra headphones and the latest QuietComfort earbuds. The system employs digital processing to create a deeper sense of immersion from stereo sources, including the ability to track your head movements to keep the sound centralized as though you’re listening to speakers. As noted in my Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones review, I’m not a big fan—I’d rather the feature be cut and the price dropped—but it can be interesting to play around with.

Other notable features include a three-band EQ alongside a selection of audio presets, Auto Volume to dynamically adjust the sound based on your environment (though it doesn’t seem particularly accurate), and a solid 7.5 hours of playback time per charge. Android users will also get Google’s Fast Pair connection and aptX Adaptive for hi-res streaming. I was surprised to find the charging case does not include support for Qi wireless charging—something I expect in this price bracket. There’s also no multipoint pairing to seamlessly switch between connected devices, like your laptop and phone, though Bose says this is coming later.

I experienced multiple connection hiccups during my review, including a few where the left earbud disconnected completely, requiring me to put the buds in the case to reset them. I was not alone, as Bose sent out a firmware update (the second during my evaluation) to address several software quirks. It’s not a great look at this price, but so far the update seems to have created a much more stable connection with only occasional hiccups.

In the Open

The big pitch for open-ear headphones and adjacent devices like audio sunglasses is their blend of environmental awareness and sonic accompaniment for a wide variety of activities. This translates to options like chatting with your partner while you groove to your Discover Weekly playlist, jogging in traffic without sacrificing spatial awareness, or simply humming along through your daily routine at the office without missing a greeting from the CEO.

Photograph: Ryan Waniata



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