Workout Headphones Review: Bose SoundSport Plus Headset

Anyone familiar with high-end audio will immediately recognize the name Bose. Long known for uncompromising sound reproduction, Bose has benefited from its years of significant expertise by creating a headset for the active lifestyle enthusiast who wants to immerse themselves into an impeccable sonic experience while engaged in fitness and leisure-related activities. Is the SoundSport Plus headset ($199.95) worthy of the Bose brand? Read on to find out.

Related: Best Workout Headphones for Running, Hitting the Gym & More

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One of the most notable physical features of the SoundSport is its angled ear bud approach to anchoring in the ear canal. Most headsets I have worn are direct, straight connections of the electronics assembly to the earbud stem. However, this approach often creates a less comfortable fit at best and at worst, a painful one. The angled approach employed by the SoundSport helps offset the relatively bulky plastic base housing the headset electronics. To better anchor the headset in place, earfins fit along the ridge of the outer ear while the ear bud and stem are counterbalanced by the heavier external base. While I am not a fan of earfins, the SoundSport earfins are much softer and pliable than ones I've used previously. They are also smaller and are used more for equalizing the stabilization of the inserted headset than leveraging to keep the headset firmly dug into the ear. This remarkably subtle balancing act allowed me to wear the SoundSport for more than a few hours without being compelled to readjust or remove them as a result of discomfort. They also felt even more lightweight thanks to this engineering design feat. Unfortunately, this balancing act comes at the price of the headset looking obnoxiously splayed out when worn. Indeed, most would conclude that when worn, the SoundSport Plus looks just plain goofy! So if you're looking for a headset that makes you look cool and hip, this isn't the one to wear. Another benefit of this unattractive bulk is the fact that the microUSB charging port is built into the headset base, therefore not requiring any custom charging clips or easy-to-lose add-ons that get in the way of a battery recharge. Speaking of which, battery life comes in at some very respectable five hours or so.

Visual aesthetics aside, and most importantly, how does the SoundSport Plus actually sound? Hmmm. I am conflicted on this aspect. One the one hand, they are probably one of the best headsets of this size I have worn that get the bottom-end bass just right. Deep, deep bass is all-enveloping and earns the Bose trademark for clearly delivering this low-end with such astonishing accuracy. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the high-end. The headset's audio specifications look great but the sound at the high end for me seemed muted and muffled, as if someone threw a blanket over expensive external speakers. I hoped that the companion Bose Connect app would allow me to tweak the sound envelope parameters to suit my tastes, but the app currently does not offer such utility. 

The Connect app does include a couple interesting features that make the SoundSport package stand out, including heart rate and a really nice "Find My Buds" feature to help locate where you might have misplaced the SoundSport Plus headset. I was a bit dismayed however when I discovered that the touted heart rate feature was limited in that it required me to stop by what I was doing, pull out my phone, launch the app, select the heart rate option and wait a few seconds while the headset transmitted my pulse rate for display. The SoundSport has remarkable spoken audio prompts (even performing a beautifully rendered text-to-speech translation of the name of my iPhone during the pairing process), so it perplexes me to no end why Bose didn't offer the ability to announce heart rate values at either fixed intervals or trigger conditions such as if my heart rate exceeded my target heart rate for example. While heart rate data captured by the headset can be shared with other popular fitness apps such as Runtastic and Endomondo, the omission of such an audio prompt feature is a huge letdown.

Another unique feature not often seen in companion headset apps is the ability for Bose to deliver firmware updates over the air to the SoundSport Plus headset. In fact, the first time I launched the app it informed me that a firmware update was available. Little did I know it would take over half an hour to download and install the firmware update on the headset. This process took even longer than upgrading my iPhone to iOS 11!

Final Verdict

Are the SoundSport Plus a headset worthy of the Bose label? Not yet. This is a diamond in the rough and needs a second generation polishing to get to where the level of design and sound quality match the expectation that is associated with the Bose brand. There are good ideas and perhaps with a few app and firmware updates, the headset will rival the best wireless headsets available. The headset has great potential and I look forward to what future iterations of the SoundSport Plus will bring, but unless you are a huge fan of the Bose brand, I suggest holding off until the next generation of this headset comes to fruition to address the audio shaping, exterior design, and not-yet-fully-realized heart rate features that need further refinement to give it an overall higher rating that the SoundSport Plus deserves.

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Mike Riley is a frequent contributor to several technical publications and specializes in emerging technologies and new development trends. Mike was previously employed by RR Donnelley as the company’s Chief Scientist, responsible for determining innovative technical approaches to improve the company’s internal and external content services. Mike also co-hosted Computer Connection, a technology enthusiast show broadcast on Tribune Media's CLTV.