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Bose ultra open earbuds review: The design is a game-changer

The earbuds don’t go inside your ears, and produce immersive audio while letting outside sounds in

Steve Hogarty
Friday 16 February 2024 13:05 GMT
Available in black and grey, the Bose ultra open earbuds look more like fashion accessories than tech
Available in black and grey, the Bose ultra open earbuds look more like fashion accessories than tech (The Independent)

The new Bose ultra open earbuds are a little different to the usual in-ear type buds the acclaimed audio company is known for. Rather than being inserted into the ear, they clip on like earcuffs to give you complete situational awareness as you listen to music and podcasts.

The tiny earbuds use a flexible silicone band to gently grip the back of the ear. Sound is then projected into the ear canal, meaning you can listen to what’s playing while still hearing everything happening around you.

A few vaguely similar products already exist – like the Huawei freeclip (£179.99, and even Bose’s own, discontinued sport open earbuds –  but the Bose ultra open earbuds feel like an entirely new product category. They’re smaller, more discreet, more stylish and comfortable, and sound considerably better than any open earbuds we’ve tested before.

The bass is disarmingly rich for an earphone that isn’t forming a seal, and the soundstage is wider, louder and clearer than that of regular bone conduction earphones – a similar style of earphone also designed to allow you to listen to music without blocking out external sound.

The Bose ultra open earbuds launched on 15 February for £299, and we’ve put them to the test by wearing them around the clock. Here’s our review.

How we tested the Bose ultra open earbuds

We tried the earbuds for a number of weeks (Steve Hogarty)

We’ve been testing the Bose ultra open earbuds for a number of weeks ahead of their launch on 15 February, wearing them in as many different locations as we could reasonably wander into. Testing took place outside on busy London roads, while at home in the relative quiet of our tester’s flat, at the office with colleagues, going about errands and while riding on cacophonous tube trains.

We used a full range of music genres to test audio quality, starting with bass-heavy Jamie XX before graduating to Scandi dance mixes, 00s pop hits, guitar-heavy rock and indie landfill. We also listened to podcasts and radio while running outdoors near traffic and along busy canal paths.

Bose ultra open earbuds

bose ultra open earbuds
  • Best: Open ear style earbuds
  • Battery life: Up to 7.5 hours
  • Charging case: Additional 19.5 hours of charge
  • Launch date: 15 February 2024
  • Water & sweat resistance: IPX4
  • Colours: Black, light grey
  • Why we love it
    • Impressive sound quality
    • Complete situational awareness when working out
    • Comfortable enough to wear all day
  • Take note
    • Not suitable for very loud commutes
    • Expensive at £299


The Bose ultra open earbuds are designed to keep you aware of your surroundings while still enjoying clear, high-quality sound. They’re built for those everyday situations when you don’t want to be completely isolated from what’s happening around you – when you’re waiting for your name to be called in a coffee shop, listening out for the doorbell, walking the dog, or working out along a shared cycle path or a busy road.

Each bud is formed of a driver that’s connected to a barrel-shaped battery by a flexible silicone band, which is soft enough to easily slip around the edge of your ear but firm enough to stay in place without slipping once clipped on. If you find the sensation of traditional in-ear earphones unpleasant – that tight foamy seal that plugs your ear holes shut and deadens all outside sounds – the Bose ultra open earbuds are for you.


The sensation takes some getting used to. At first, the buds feel constantly on the verge of falling out, but they sit comfortably along the edge of the ear even during exercise. And exercise is when the Bose ultra open earbuds really come into their own. Running with traditional in-ear earphones can leave you oblivious to cyclists, cars and other runners around you – we tend to run with just one earbud in – but these open-style buds give you complete situational awareness while still providing rich and immersive stereo audio.

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The Bose ultra open earbuds are sweat-resistant, but not water-resistant, so they’re suitable for wearing while working out. They’re some of the most stylish earbuds we’ve worn too, coming in black or light grey, and with soft edges and a polished metallic finish giving them the appearance of a fashion accessory rather than a piece of tech. Bose told us that it might offer gold and silver colourways at some point, suggesting that the fashion-first design of the earbuds is something the brand is keen to build on.

Sound quality

They also sound unexpectedly great for a pair of tiny drivers that sit outside of the ear rather than inside it. Bass tones are full and chunky, vocals clear, and lighter treble sounds, delicate guitars and drum fills are all crisp and sharp. Because they’re so small you naturally won’t get the same kind of fidelity you’d find with over-ear headphones, which have larger drivers and passive noise-isolation, but they’re pretty close to the quality you’d find in a similarly priced pair of in-ear buds.

A secondary backfiring speaker is designed to reduce the amount of sound leakage by firing noise-cancelling waves away from the ear. At lower volumes, this works well, even in quiet office conditions, but the open earbuds are still relatively leaky compared to traditional in-ear alternatives. Push the volume to over 50 per cent and in quiet conditions your music can be lightly heard by those nearby, which makes them not so ideal for listening to a guilty pleasures playlist around colleagues.

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At full volume, you can clearly hear your own music and podcasts over city traffic sounds when walking outdoors, but on busy commuter trains – we tested the Bose ultra open earbuds on the London underground – the lack of any passive noise-cancellation means your audio can sometimes be drowned out by screeching train wheels and general external hubbub. That’s a shame too, as the open-ear design is perfect for listening out for the latest Central line delays.

Those loud conditions aren’t what the Bose ultra open earbuds are designed for, but it does make them less appealing for some users than a pair of in-ear buds, like the cheaper Sony WF-1000XM5 (£240.20,, which offer exceptional active-noise cancellation and better audio quality while being bulkier, way less attractive, less comfortable to wear and less suited to rigorous physical activity.

Like other earphones in the Bose ultra range, the Bose ultra open earbuds come with an immersive audio feature. This uses binaural sound to create the sensation that your music is emanating from a spot a few feet in front of you, rather than from inside your own skull. Turn your head to the left or right and the source of the music stays where it is – an eerie effect that makes you feel like you’re at the world’s tiniest private concert.

As with other times we’ve tried it out, we found immersive audio to be an interesting effect but ultimately too distracting to use all of the time, particularly as it can make some vocals sound tinny and reverb-y. It also cuts into battery life, halving it from around seven hours down to around four. Still, it’s a nice feature to have and it’s impressive to see it implemented in such a small pair of earbuds.

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The verdict: Bose ultra open earbuds

The Bose ultra open earbuds sound great and deliver on the promise of offering immersive audio while giving you complete awareness of your surroundings. Lightweight, stylish and comfortable to wear all day, they’re also discreet enough that you can chat with cashiers, baristas or colleagues without feeling rude about not removing them. If your routine involves regular outdoor exercise followed by a trip to the shops, the design of the Bose ultra open earbuds is a game-changer.

By design, they’re less useful in very noisy conditions. While your music can be heard above most dins, the lack of any kind of noise-isolation makes the Bose ultra open earbuds less suitable for regular commuters who cherish the silence offered by in-ear style earbuds with active noise-cancellation. Whether the open-ear design is right for you depends on your own personal routines, but the Bose ultra open earbuds are the ones to beat in this emergent category of earphone.

Want to escape the noise in a virtual reality world? We have a guide to the best VR headsets

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