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Why the Bose Sport Open Earbuds are unlike any other

Science

(CNN) —  

The Bose Sport Open Earbuds solve a very specific problem: What if you want high-quality earbuds for hitting the gym or the track but don’t want anything actually going in your ears? These sport headphones feature a unique open design, which allows them to rest just above your ear canal to pump out high-quality tunes while allowing you to stay aware of the world around you.

The Sport Earbuds deliver some of the best sound in their class while effortlessly letting in outside noise, and they offer truly epic battery life for long days of running, hiking or lifting weights. However, the buds’ design may not be very comfortable for everyone, and they’re held back by a somewhat frustrating charging setup. Here’s what we think of these one-of-a-kind exercise earbuds after more than a week of use.

Who these are for: The $199 Bose Sport Open Earbuds are for those who want high-quality workout earbuds that don’t go inside of your ears and make it easy to hear your surroundings.

What you need to know: These earbuds use a unique off-ear design, which combines with Bose’s OpenAudio technology to deliver rich and full sound while still letting in lots of outside noise naturally.

How they compare: The Bose Sport Open Earbuds are a compelling alternative to Apple’s $249 Powerbeats Pro, our current pick for the best true wireless earbuds for working out. Bose’s buds offer better sound quality and comparable battery life, but they aren’t as comfortable as the Powerbeats, and they lack a charging case.

The Bose Sport Open Earbuds are unlike any pair of buds I’ve ever worn — and that’s by design. These unique workout headphones rest just above your ears instead of going inside of them, allowing outside noise to flow in naturally while you listen to your favorite songs and podcasts. It’s a smart idea that mostly works well in everyday use, though it comes with a few caveats.

Like Apple’s Powerbeats Pro, the Bose Sport Open buds feature ear hooks that wrap around the back of your ear to keep them secure while you’re lifting weights or racking up miles on the elliptical. However, while the Powerbeats have a flexible rubber design that easily conformed to my ear, the Bose Sport Open are made of a hard plastic that I found to be slightly stiff.

I eventually found a somewhat comfortable fit after fiddling with the Sport Open Earbuds for a while, and I never felt like they were in danger of falling off. But I always felt a slight amount of pressure while wearing Bose’s buds, and getting them to tuck behind my ear every time I put them on always felt cumbersome. And while this issue isn’t unique to Bose’s earbuds, I found it difficult to wear a pair of wraparound earbuds while also having a face mask strap — sometimes two — affixed to my ears.

Comfort issues aside, the design of the Sport Open buds does have some serious benefits. While strolling my busy Queens neighborhood, I could easily hear the sound of nearby cars, construction sites and pedestrians even with music blasting. While in-ear buds such as the AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro have transparency modes for letting in outside noise via their microphones, nothing quite compares to being able to hear your surroundings naturally with your own two ears. If you’re the type of person who goes on runs in bustling metropolitan areas, this feature will likely be a huge boon to you (as long as you’re cool with the Sport Open’s fit, that is).

The Sport Open Earbuds can withstand a rainy day run (or an especially sweaty workout), as they carry an IPX4 water-resistance rating for enduring splashes of water. I put this to the test by soaking Bose’s buds with a few quick splashes, and they continued to blast music with no issues.

Despite the fact that they don’t go in your ears, the Bose Sport Open Earbuds still manage to deliver clear, satisfying sound regardless of what genre you’re listening to. The headphones use Bose’s OpenAudio technology, which sends sound waves via the air rather than through your bones to keep everything sounding crisp while also minimizing the amount of audio that will bleed into the outside world.

When jamming Charlie Hickey’s “Ten Feet Tall” on the Sport Open Earbuds, the singer-songwriter’s soaring vocals and background harmonies came through clearly without overpowering the track’s dreamy electric guitars. Switching gears to some heavier rock, the deep bass, menacing guitars and guttural yells of Touche Amore’s “Lament” hit like a brick on Bose’s buds without getting fuzzy or distorted.

The Sport Open also fared well with electronic and hip-hop tracks, as the snappy drums, spacey synthesizers and emotional vocal croons of Kid Cudi’s “Lovin’ Me” all came through sharp enough to keep my head bobbing.

In fact, despite their off-ear design, I found the Sport Open to deliver much fuller overall sound than the in-ear Powerbeats Pro. Just keep in mind that the Sport Open’s audio can bleed out quite a bit at higher volumes, so you might not want to wear them indoors while other people are sleeping.

The Bose Sport Open connect to the Bose Music app for iOS and Android, though there’s not much you can do with them software-wise. The app lets you adjust the buds’ volume, check their battery life, toggle shortcuts and pull up a few tips on how to use them. There’s no adjustable EQ for customizing the sound quality, and not many options for changing what each earbud’s onboard button does. The Sport Open’s built-in controls work well — a single tap pauses music, a double tap skips tracks and a triple tap repeats songs — but it would be nice to have a bit more customization.

If you’re looking for a pair of earbuds that can last a full day on the trails, the Sport Open Earbuds deliver and then some. Bose’s buds are rated to endure eight hours on a single charge, but we were able to eke out around nine hours of continuous music playback at about 70% volume. That matches what we got out of the Powerbeats Pro, and runs circles around the AirPods Pro (which will get you up to five hours).

It’s a good thing the Sport Open Earbuds last so long, because they don’t offer the best charging options. Instead of offering a charging case like most wireless earbuds, the Sport Open charge via a stationary charging base and include a separate, nonpowered carrying case for your pocket. This makes the process of charging the Sport Open Earbuds slightly annoying, and means that you can’t juice them up while you’re on the road. There is a slight benefit here — the Sport Open’s carrying case is much slimmer than the Powerbeats Pro charging case, but we would have preferred an option to keep charging the buds while on the move.

The Sport Open Earbuds held up fairly well during phone calls. While a colleague noted that my voice sounded slightly distant and hollow, he mentioned that he was still able to hear me clearly during our 15-minute chat.

The Bose Sport Open Earbuds are the most unique workout earbuds out there — and among the best you can buy right now. They pump out impressively full sound to keep you fired up while getting sweaty, all while making it easy to stay aware of your surroundings, thanks to their off-ear design. The nine hours of battery life certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

However, the Sport Open Earbuds’ hard plastic design can feel a little uncomfortable at times, and the lack of a charging case makes them less than ideal for long trips. If you want a better fit and the ability to charge on the go, the Powerbeats Pro are still our pick for the best true wireless earbuds for working out. But if you like the idea of a pair of earbuds that won’t invade your ear canal while helping you stay alert, the Sport Open Earbuds deliver big on their very unique selling point.