Home Tech Bose Ultra Open earbuds review: unique open-fit and great sound

Bose Ultra Open earbuds review: unique open-fit and great sound

by Elijah
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Bose Ultra Open earbuds review: unique open-fit and great sound

BOse’s latest headphones are very different from its previous noise-cancelling champions, designed to let sound in from outside, rather than blocking it and attaching to your ear, more like jewelry than gadgets.

It’s the latest evolution of Bose’s open audio technology that uses small speakers to stream music into your ears without blocking them, last seen on the excellent, discontinued Frames audio glasses.

The Ultra Open Earbuds cost £300 (€349/$299) and join a small niche of open earbuds such as the £179 Shokz OpenFit or £149 Sony LinkBuds. But the Bose have two big advantages over their competitors: exceptional, full sound and an innovative fit that doesn’t interfere with glasses or other headgear.

The Ultra Open look and fit is unlike any other earbud. Slots along the top project noise-canceling sound to reduce noise coming from the headphones. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

A battery cylinder sits behind the ear and is connected to the L-shaped plastic speaker arm via a flexible silicone spring, which together holds the earbuds in place on the side of your ear.

The fit is very foreign and takes a little practice to get right, but once hooked they are light and comfortable. I was sure they would fall off while running, but they stayed locked no matter how much I sweated or how hard I shook my head.

The headphones charge via the metal contacts located under the battery. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The button on top of the battery cylinder takes care of the controls. Tap once, double, and triple to control playback, or tap and hold to activate your desired shortcut, which switches between modes by default. A long double press allows you to manually adjust the volume, which is difficult to make precise adjustments.

Instead, the headphones feature an automatic volume system that quickly raises and lowers sound to adapt to ambient noise levels. It works but is sometimes too sensitive, increasing quickly when you blow your nose or rustle a packet of chips for example. I only turned it on while running.


  • Water resistance: sweat resistant (IPX4)

  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 (SBC, AAC, aptX adaptive)

  • Battery life: until 7:30 a.m. (27h with case)

  • Earphone weight: 6.4g each

  • Headphone dimensions: 19x17x27mm

  • Charging case weight: 44g

  • Charging case dimensions: 42x65x26mm

  • Loading the case: USB-C

Quality sound

The Bose Music app for Android and iPhone manages settings, modes, updates and has an equalizer to adjust the sound. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

One of the best features is their sound quality. They produce full sound with solid bass and a quality usually associated with full earphones, not open types, which tend towards tinny. They can’t really hit the lowest notes and are improved by a good set of fully sealed earphones, but they sound more than good enough to do justice to most genres for a nice, rounded, easy-listening sound.

Because they don’t block your ear canal, you have full awareness of your surroundings, which is ideal for running or just strolling through city streets. The speakers feature a nifty port system on the top that cancels out some of the sound escaping your ears. It works well enough that only people very close can hear your headphones and only when they’re pushed all the way up.

Sound is projected out of the hole on the outside of the plastic arm that rests in the concha of your ear. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The headphones also feature Bose’s immersive or spatial audio mode from its latest noise-cancelling models, which simulates a pair of speakers placed in front of you giving some tracks a much wider, less compressed sound. They support higher quality audio with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound certified devices, which include a small selection of Android phones. Otherwise, these are standard Bluetooth 5.3 headphones, each of which can be used alone but can only connect to one device at a time. A Bluetooth multipoint update is in progress.

Call quality is good, with both ends transmitting clearly, but my voice sounded a little distant compared to the best, such as the QC Ultra earbuds and Apple AirPods Pro.

The battery lasts seven hours of constant playback in my testing, which is quite long for headphones but just short of Bose’s estimates. The case can charge the earbuds about 2.5 times, which is over 24 hours of total playing time. They also have a long standby time of 48 hours, which means you can wear them all day and use them for intermittent calls or audio without needing to recharge them.

The compact flip case takes three hours to charge via USB-C and fully charges the earbuds in 60 minutes. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian


Bose estimates that the batteries will last more than 500 full charge cycles, but they are not replaceable and the earbuds are not repairable, ultimately making them disposable.

A few spare parts will be made available. The headphones do not contain recycled materials. Bose offers discounts for returning broken products. It does not publish environmental impact reports of individual products, but publishes annual sustainability reports.


Cost of Bose Ultra Open Headphones £299.95 (349€/$299) and are available in black or white.

For comparison, the QuietComfort Ultra headphones cost £270the cost of Sony LinkBuds £149the cost of Shokz OpenFit £179 and the cost of Apple AirPods £169.


The Bose Ultra Open offers a new approach to open-ear listening that doesn’t compromise on comfort or sound. The behind-the-ear fit keeps them out of the way of glasses and other headwear, while still being secure and lightweight enough to forget they’re there.

These are by far the best sounding open earbuds and don’t broadcast sound to people around you as much as many of their competitors. But they also cost twice the price of some good competitors and, like most headphones, the battery is irreplaceable, ultimately making them disposable.

They won’t be for everyone, but for those who can afford them and want a set of headphones they can wear all day while still hearing the outside world, the Bose Ultra Open are the best available.

Benefits: new open fit, lightweight and comfortable, great sound, long battery life, good case, sweat resistance, solid controls, AptX Adaptive/Snapdragon Sound but only for some Androids.

The inconvenients: no sound insulation, very expensive, larger than traditional headphones, irreparable.

The exterior of the earphones has a smooth metal band that gives them a jewelry-like appearance. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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