Bose has been in the audio game a long time, and the company has rightfully earned a reputation for quality sound … unfortunately, its products tend to be priced accordingly. Take the awesome-sounding QuietComfort 20i earphones, which will run you $279 (about £167, AU$302).
Don't get us wrong - they're worth it - but not everyone has stacks of cash sitting around to drop on luxury headphones. Luckily, Bose is aware of this fact and has expanded its product line accordingly. Case in point: the budget-friendly, $130 (about £77, AU$139) Freestyle earbuds.
Sure, any headphones that cost more than a Benjamin ain't exactly cheap, but considering you're getting a quality product, these headphones are well worth the small investment. To wit: the durable design.
One of our main gripes with earbuds in general is that they're often crafted with a flimsy cable and poorly designed connection points. The connection points are often where wires break and fray, and eventually turn your audio investment into nothing more than scrap metal.
The Freestyle's cord is made of flexible rubber that doesn't tangle nearly as much as others we've come across, and the housing at the plug and earpieces is reinforced and very bendy.
The Freestyle earbuds are also sweat- and weather-resistant, which means you can take these suckers out for a day on the slopes or an eight-mile run without having to worry about moisture-related malfunction. And the silicone "StayHear+" eartips, which feature a curved crescent moon design, hooks into the outer ear and keeps the earbuds in place, perfect for workout sessions. Initially, the design takes some getting used to, but it's quite comfortable for extended wear.
Plus, the bulky and awkward battery module doesn't weigh the Freestyle down – a major complaint we had while using the QuietComfort 20i. Of course, that also means this model won't give you Bose's signature noise-canceling capability, so it's not necessarily the optimal choice for taking with you while traveling.
Actually, one of our few gripes with the Freestyles is that they offer pretty much no passive sound isolation, because the eartips don't create a seal with the ear. While generally not a problem, we did find it difficult to hear spoken word content and quieter genres of music while walking down a busy city street.
Another downside to the Freestyle earbuds is that the media functions only work with iOS devices, so if you use Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry OS, you'll only be able to listen to music. Although Bose asserts that the mic will work with Android phones, it did not work with our - admittedly older - Samsung Galaxy S3 during testing.
iPhone users, however, will be happy to know that these 'phones offer full controls for media playback and calls, including play/pause, call answer/end and volume. These buttons along with the mic are found in a small module attached to the right section of the Y cable. There's also a small clip that lets you orient the mic closer to your mouth while making calls.
As far as features go, there isn't much beyond the mic and media controls, although some might argue that the style of the Freestyle counts as a feature. You can choose between two color options: Ice Blue, which features light blue and white earpieces and cable, or Indigo, which comes in deep blue and light green. Both are accented with red tangle sliders and shirt clips, and the overall effect is that these headphones are far from subtle in looks. If you're after the muted gray and black appearance, you may want to check out the MEI2i earphones instead.
Along with the headphones, you'll find a rather large, semi-rigid zippered case in the box. The style is designed to match the respective model, and the design is actually roomy enough to fit many phones, which may be considered a nice bonus for some.
It should go without saying, but the biggest perk of Bose-made earphones is the excellent audio quality. For one, there's the benefit that comes from these not creating a seal with the ear, and that's the exceptionally open sound compared to most earbuds. You feel less like music is being pumped directly into your head and more that you're being encompassed by the sound.
Our test playlist included everything from folk to metal to pop to electronic and the Freestyles performed great across all genres, with warm, pleasing mids; a deep but not overpowering low-end; and clear, sparkling highs. These are definitely an all-around solid choice for everyday portable headphones.
The Bose Freestyle earbuds offer a secure and comfortable fit at a mid-range price, and they don't skimp on audio, providing a solid soundspace no matter what you're listening to. iOS users will be well-served by the inline mic and music controls.
It's too bad the call or media features don't work reliably with all Android phones, and worse, Bose has no plans to offer a model that does at this time. Also, the Freestyles aren't the best option for those who listen to a lot of spoken word content while out and about, due to the lack of passive sound isolation.
Not all of us have hundreds of dollars to drop on portable headphones, and the Freestyle earbuds provide an excellent option in the sub-$150 price range without cutting corners on sound quality. These are a great fit for active listeners searching for everyday earphones.