Apple AirPods vs. Bose SoundSport Free: Best True Wireless Option?

Cam Secore
Updated 01/07/2019

After months of testing, I determined Apple AirPods are the best true wireless earbuds overall because of the W1 Chip and comfortable fit. However, if you’re an Android user or want premium sound, I recommend Bose SoundSport Free.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing two true wireless earbuds (Bose SoundSport Free vs. Apple AirPods) while evaluating six categories: sound, software, fit, design, battery, and exercise compatibility.

airpods vs bose

Apple AirPods

10
  • Sound: They sound average. If you’re disappointed, you’ve missed the point of AirPods.
  • Software: The W1 Chip removes friction that typically comes with Bluetooth.
  • Fit: If the original EarPods (included with iPhone) fit your ears, these will too.
  • Design: You’ll forget you’re wearing them until the battery dies. The case is perfect.
  • Battery: They last five hours, but the charging case provides an additional 25 hours.
  • Exercise: They won’t cut out or fall out during light activity but they aren’t sweatproof.

Best for you if...

You’re an iPhone user and Apple’s original EarPods fit you well. The sound quality isn't special, but it’s adequate. AirPods aren’t for you if you’re looking for premium sound, or if you’re an Android user because you can’t benefit from the software. These work with light exercise but not intense workouts.

bose soundsport free vs airpods

Bose SoundSport Free

9
  • Sound: There’s incredible depth and clarity that's unmatched by any true wireless earbuds.
  • Software: The app is excellent, and Bose makes the most of Bluetooth.
  • Fit: They’re made of soft silicone and more comfortable than most.
  • Design: They’re well built. But they’re huge, bulky and awkward looking.
  • Battery: You get five hours of playback with an additional 10 hours from the case.
  • Exercise: They are sweat and weather resistant and won’t fall out.

Best for you if...

You’re an Android user or an iPhone user who wants premium sound quality. You’ll get crisp sound, solid comfort, and they won’t fall out during intense workouts. You want the true wireless version, but Bose sells a corded version for $150 with the same fit and sound for those on a budget.

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My Experience

best true wireless headphones

Apple introduced AirPods on Sept. 7, 2016, the same day they axed the headphone jack.

Critics ripped Apple before giving AirPods a shot.

They said AirPods would fall out easily, get lost and look weird. In reality, AirPods stay in better because there’s no pull or weight from the cord, and you can find lost AirPods in the app.

Once AirPods were in the ears of the people, they were an instant hit. I’ve had AirPods for over a year, and I’ve loved them since day one.

The other headphone companies realized Apple was onto something and made similar true wireless solutions.

To get a reliable baseline, I bought Amazon’s highest-rated pair of wireless earbuds under $100, the Parihy PA-01. These are rated four stars, but they can’t compete with the higher-end options. You get what you pay for, and you’ll have to spend more if you want high-quality earbuds.

Apple has a huge (and unfair) advantage over competitors because they can simultaneously control the software on iPhone and AirPods. Apple restricts software access to other companies, and they’re not looking to do anyone favors because they own Beats.

AirPods are my favorite tech product in a long time. I’ve used them every day for over a year. It’s the perfectly executed device. I was expecting AirPods to be priced over $200 and would have gladly paid because they’d be worth that cost. $159 turns out to be a great value.

But I’ll be keeping my Bose for bike rides and when I want to jam.

Notes

  • Because they’re not attached to each other, they’re easier to lose if dropped in snow, leaves, couch cushions, under the bed, etc.
  • They have mics and a voice assistant, but the voice assistant is slow to start.
  • They all cost about the same. Price shouldn’t be a consideration. AirPods have been $159 from the beginning, while Jaybird and Sony have recently come down to that price point. Bose SoundSport Free headphones are the most expensive at $199, but the extra $40 is worthwhile if you want the best.
  • You may miss the cord because it’s more apparent to people that you’re wearing headphones when there’s a cord dangling. For instance, when I’m working at home with my headphones on, my roommates know not to bother me.

Apple AirPods

10

Sound (C+):

  • The sound quality is fine. It’s better than the EarPods that come with iPhone, but they don’t offer noise cancellation or anything close to a premium sound. However, if you’re disappointed with the sound quality, you’ve missed the point of AirPods. They are about ease and convenience.

Software (A+):

  • Apple’s W1 Chip removes friction that typically comes with Bluetooth and it’s a game changer. The W1 Chip is the most important new feature in any technology product released in the last five years. (You can use AirPods with Android devices, but the W1 Chip won’t do you any good).
  • The setup is a complete departure from the configuration of most Bluetooth headphones. When you open the AirPod case, your iPhone, Mac, and Apple Watch immediately recognize the AirPods and are connected. You never need to go into the Bluetooth settings.
  • Unlike the other true wireless options, there isn’t a “master” earbud. Due to Bluetooth limitations, only one bud talks to the phone, then that bud talks to the other. With AirPods, both are connected to the phone simultaneously, and the connection between the phone never drops. I haven’t seen a drop out in the year I’ve been using AirPods.
  • There are no power buttons. AirPods recognize when they’re in your ears. When you have music playing while wearing both, and take one out, the music pauses. The music plays again once the AirPods put back in. But if you prefer, you can listen with just one AirPod in too.
  • They work with iCloud, making switching between Apple devices seamless and automatic. You don’t touch the settings, just tap AirPods from whatever service you’re listening to.
  • You get the battery status of the case AND the AirPods in three different locations: the headphone selector, the notification screen, when opening the AirPods case.
  • AirPods make a noise when you press the Find My Phone app when you misplace them.
  • Phone calls work wonderfully, and the person’s voice gets played through both AirPods.

Fit (A+):

  • If the original Apple EarPods (included with iPhone) fit your ears, these will fit the same. (Many people can’t get the iPhone EarPods to stay in their ears, so test first before buying.)
  • These babies refuse to fall out of my ears. I intentionally tried to get them to fall out by running, jumping and doing other activities and they wouldn’t budge.
  • They’re the easiest to put in your ears. You’ll know exactly how they go in without explanation, whereas with the others there’s a slight learning curve. (My mom still can’t figure out how to get the SoundSport Free headphones in her ear correctly.)

Design (A+):

  • The charging case is half the size of the others and will fit in any pocket.
  • The AirPods snap in with magnets.
  • The white color of the AirPods and lightweight are the perfect combination.
  • I wear them for five consecutive hours and because they’re so light without stress on the ears. Sometimes I’ll have them in my ears after the music stops because I forget they’re there. I want technology to disappear in the background, and this is it.

Battery (A+):

  • You can use AirPods all day! They last five hours on one charge, but the charging case gives an additional 25 hours of battery life. And you can plug the AirPods into the case for 15 minutes to get an additional three hours of juice.

Exercise (C):

  • I run, bike casually, and shovel snow with AirPods and they don’t fall out of my ears due to sweat or movement, and they don’t cut out. AirPods aren’t technically sweatproof, but I haven’t had issues, but I can see how it would be an issue for people who sweat excessively.

SoundSport Free

9

Sound (A+):

  • They sound amazing and blow the others out of the water in this regard. You get an incredible level of depth and clarity that I’ve never experienced in wireless earbuds. They’re not noise-canceling, and you can hear your surroundings (that’s intentional).

Software (B-):

  • The release was shaky by Bose’s standards. Users reported lag issues between video and audio. These problems were patched with the latest firmware update. Bose gets the most out of Bluetooth, but there are frustrating limitations. For instance, phone calls only work with the “master bud” (right), and you can’t pair with multiple devices and switch quickly, but they get most things right.
  • Like AirPods, there’s no on/off button. They’re on when they’re out of the case. This makes things easier. They shut off automatically when they’ve been inactive or are put in the case.
  • Changing audio sources isn’t as seamless as AirPods, but it’s light years ahead of others on the market. When connected to a device, hold the Bluetooth button for a few seconds, and it’ll disconnect and enter pairing mode. It remembers previously-used devices.
  • The app is great. You can see all of your Bluetooth connections, change the standby timer, look at cool tutorials, and play a sound on your buds if you lose them. (It’s much louder than AirPods’ finder and is great for finding them when they’re buried in the couch cushions).
  • Overall, the connection is good, and you won’t experience many dropouts. The only time I had an issue was when I had my phone in a thick coat pocket while shoveling.

Fit (B+):

  • They’re made of soft silicone and sit ON your ear canal (similar to AirPods) rather than inside the ear canal. This makes them more comfortable.

Design (C-):

  • The buds feel solid yet light and they’re the only pair to have a dedicated volume button. The charging case feels great, has a battery life indicator, and the buds snap into the case nicely. Everything is extremely well-built but Bose falls short when it comes to aesthetics.
  • These are huge, bulky, and look awkward with how far they stick out of your ears. I’m normally a stickler for attractive design, but with everything else SoundSport Free earbuds bring to the table, it was a worthwhile sacrifice considering the brilliant battery, fit and sound.

Battery (B):

  • You get five hours of playback with an additional 10 hours from the case.

Exercise (A):

  • They are sweat and weather resistant (with an IPX4 rating), and they won’t fall out, even with the most rigorous of exercises.
 

4 Comments

  • Lyn says:

    This is a fantastic review and you’ve really helped clarify the pros and cons of both. Thank you 🙂

  • LEE says:

    You are spot on! I trust you. I actually went with the Bose Sport wireless, same sound and fit as Free. ($119) My two most important buying factors – Sound quality and comfort. Jabra elite 65t may sound a bit better than air pods, but not close to Bose, and they’re just not comfortable enough. I will say aesthetically the Jabra are very nice looking.

  • Jesse says:

    It is all about what you need them for. I did extensive research on both. But found I like to run allot in my buds. For me the Bose sound sport free work better for me. The reason simple. Bose are not going to be loose when you are working out. They are sweat resistant and sound amazing. They also cost more though. So research it. simple. Go with what works for you.

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