Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: The best-sounding open-ear buds yet

Are these the best open-ear buds you can get?

Bose ultra open earbuds
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

Bose's attempt at the open-ear form factor is a great success from our early testing, The sound is incredible, the earbuds are comfortable and easy to wear, and they don't shift during runs despite a few threatening wobbles. The high price tag is a barrier though.


  • +

    Very little sound leakage

  • +

    Intuitive to wear and use

  • +

    Immersive Audio capabilities


  • -

    Premium price

  • -

    Uneven-feeling weight distribution

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Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: One-minute review

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are Bose’s attempt at transferring its premium audio expertise and signature bassy sound into an open-ear form factor, and by any metric it succeeds. The best bone-conduction headphones and open-ear headphones generally place an emphasis on a secure fit over sound quality, as it was assumed serious audiophiles wouldn’t be looking for open-ear headphones. Instead, open-ear headphones have been positioned primarily as workout headphones, allowing you to hear traffic and pedestrians while you run or cycle, or listen to tunes during swims. 

However, more and more brands are realising that, despite the fact that they’re predominantly used for workouts, open-ear form factors have other lifestyle applications, both in the office (for example, being open to collaboration and replying to a colleague while you’re listening to music or having a virtual meeting), and in the street (it turns out that being more aware of your surroundings isn’t only useful while you’re exercising). 

So, we’ve now got an offering from Bose that aims dual drivers at your ears, using Bose Immersive Audio, to give you the best sound quality it can pack into  headphones that don’t sit in your ear canal. The sound is very good; the best I’ve tried from air-conduction or open-ear headphones, with their immersive sound-stage technology providing spatial audio that’s ideal for home media, as well as pumping tunes during a 10K. 

The experience of being in work meetings is also quite nice, and there’s no disconnect between listening to what the person on my laptop is saying while also being able to hear my office surroundings. 

The design is neat, with the headphones hooking onto the side of your ear’s helix rather than over the whole ear itself, with the battery cylinder tucking behind your ear. They do feel a little wobbly thanks to the uneven weight distribution, but have so far refused to actually fall off, even during my first five-kilometer run with the buds. Full judgement will be saved for a full review, but for now… they’re very impressive, albeit a little overpriced. 

Watch our video on the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds here:


♬ Funk Hip Hop Music(814197) - Pavel

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Specifications

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Water resistantIPX4
Battery life7.5 hours (playtime), 48 hours (standby)
Bluetooth typeBluetooth 5.3
Weight6g / Charging case: 43g
Frequency response20Hz-20kHz

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Price and availability

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • Available now
  • Priced at $299 / £299 / AU$449.95
  • More expensive than AirPods Pro 2

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are available now, priced at $299 / £299 / AU$449.95. That’s quite the price tag: they cost the same as the Bose Quietcomfort Ultra earbuds and more than the AirPods Pro 2, and it’s clear that Bose considers the Ultra Open Earbuds a premium product just like the aforementioned buds. 

In terms of sound quality and build, Bose is right on the money – but given the slightly unsteady feel of the fit, the price did nothing to soothe my nerves while I was out jogging with them. I was terrified one of my expensive earbuds would drop off my ear and down a drain, although my fear obviously never came to pass.

You're also locked into the open-ear form factor, whereas at a similar price point, the AirPods Pro 2 provides the option of transparency and noise-cancelling. 

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Design

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • Interesting, intuitive design
  • Fantastic audio credentials
  • Secure fit, even if it feels precarious at times

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds have an interesting design, similar to the Huawei FreeClip, hooking into your inner ear and directly around your ear’s helix, rather than around the point in which your ear meets the side off your head like the Shokz OpenFit. The ‘battery barrel’, as our Bose rep referred to it, sits behind your ear, and each contains a tactile button which lets you switch between listening modes and adjust the volume. 

The hook part contains dual drivers that project sound directly towards your ear canal and up into your inner ear, creating a more complete listening experience than bone conduction headphones are capable of. 

Bose calls its design OpenAudio, and it allows you to crank up the volume while offering very little sound leakage, which many other cheaper buds and open-ear headsets are very guilty of. I’ll come back to this later; but it absolutely works, and the sound quality, especially on Immersive Audio settings, is wonderful. 

Snapdragon sound boosts lossless and low-latency capabilities, which sounds impressive for the open-ear headphones category which starts and ends with “how secure is the fit” for most entrants. It's definitely the best sound quality on any open ear bud I've tried so far, even Shokz Openfit. I couldn't believe they weren't in-ear at first.

In regards to the fit, each bud is easy and intuitive to put on after just a few tries, although, as mentioned, they do feel a little weird, with the positioning of the battery barrel at the rear, making them wobble slightly, which occasionally feels precarious.  However, although easily dislodged by hand, they're designed to sit safely and securely on the ear. Only once, during a particularly vigorous, sweaty threshold run, did I actually feel them slipping away. Every other time they've come loose, I've accidentally knocked them with my hand. Care does need to be taken here.

  • Design score: 4/5

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Features

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • Immersive Audio offers best-in-class open-ear listening
  • Still and Motion listening modes
  • Easy volume and mode-switching

In order to control the earbuds, you use the tactile buttons on the rear of the barrel. You press once to switch between immersive and stereo listening modes, and press twice and hold to toggle the volume – left to turn the volume down, right to turn it up. A double-press without holding allows you to skip tracks. Easy-peasy. 

The really impressive bit is Bose’s Immersive Audio soundstage, which you can access on the Bose app, and which offers Still and Motion modes. The Motion mode allows you to turn your head and move around within a soundstage, creating the impression that sound is coming from a particular direction. 

A Bose representative talked me through the functionality and it’s a great feature, and worked well during my brief initial listen. I have since tried it while using Netflix on my phone, and the soundstage boosts the experience considerably, offering surround-sound-style directional audio capabilities that defy the open-ear form factor. It really elevates them from sports headphones into an all-purpose lifestyle set of buds. 

It’s all made possible by Bose’s OpenAudio functionality, and bolstered by a load of high-tech audio smarts such as Snapdragon sound and what’s described as a ‘tightly-controlled acoustic structure’. It’s combined to make the audio on the buds best-in-class for the open-ear form factor: the sound is incredible and satisfyingly bassy, and at times I forgot the buds were open at all – it was just that good. 

You can toggle the sound settings in the Bose app, tweaking and adjusting to get your desired listening experience. There's obviously no noise cancelling option: if you wanted that, you wouldn't be reading this review. This is your headphones on permanent transparency mode, and it's great, but there are times I yearned for the ability to block out the world. 

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Performance

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

(Image credit: Future)
  • Stayed in well, despite misgivings
  • Holds battery and charge as described
  • Holds up in social situations and long runs

I've been using the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds for about one month. In that time, I've used the earbuds on quite a few runs, listened to music during my commute, and taken virtual meetings at work. In that time, I've paired them to both phone and laptop, swapping between the two without much issue. I've had exactly one instance during which one earbud failed to connect to my phone, but unpairing and pairing the earbuds again got it working fine. 

As mentioned above in the Features section, the sound is incredible, and I frequently forgot I was listening to a bud with open ears. I put that down to Bose's excellent work with the drivers, with one speaker pointed directly down my ear canal, and another pointing at the auricle, or outer part of my ear, to replicate the way our dish-shaped ears capture sound. 

A big part of the appeal of open-ear buds (and the reason I'm writing this review, rather than a member of our dedicated audio team) is that the open-ear form factor is perfectly suited for, and usually aimed at, people who enjoy working out outdoors. The best bone conduction headphones are solidly aimed at runners, cyclists and swimmers, and most of the best open-ear buds are similar. The increased awareness offered by leaving your ears open is great for people like runners and cyclists, who need to be mindful of dangers such as traffic, pedestrians pets and more.

However, increasingly, open-ear headphones are being adopted as a lifestyle choice. Similar to Apple's AirPods Pro 2, which automatically lowers the volume in transparency mode when its microphones pick up that you're having a conversation, you can wear your earbuds while ordering at your local coffee shop, have conversations with your colleagues while wearing the buds with no trouble. It took me a while to get out of the habit of taking them out, but once I learned to press the right-hand button to pause my playlist, I found I could go all day wearing the earbuds without any trouble at all. 

During my briefing, the Bose team did stress they were suitable for jogging and other workouts, showing footage involving runners. I'm usually using my Shoz OpenRun for serious training, but I have taken the Bose Ultra on several 6-7 km runs and one 20 km long route. Initially, I was worried the loose clip design was going to result in the buds falling out every few minutes, but only twice did an earbud come out: once while I was fiddling with the volume and running simultaneously, and another during a really intense, fast run designed to test my VO2 max.

Otherwise, they've stayed in very well, remaining incredibly comfortable and my confidence in them is much improved. The loose design would worry me if I was wearing a cycling helmet, as the strap may dislodge them: while they stay in well of their own accord even during most vigorous movement, it doesn't take much physical force to send them spinning from your ears. 

On the battery front, the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds live up to their claims. I got about six hours of use out of the buds before I got a low battery warning. The case, which is said to hold 19.5 hours of further playback, was also accurate to that estimation. It charges via USB-C, but unfortunately there are no wireless charging capabilities here. 

  • Performance score: 4/5

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds: Scorecard

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ValueThey're high-quality, great-sounding buds, but a lot of money.3/5
DesignAmazing sound design as usual from Bose, with an innovative shape.4/5
FeaturesImpressive audio quality, two modes, immersive soundstage options.4/5
PerformanceGreat sound, long life, and a surprisingly secure fit (as long as you don't knock them)4/5

Should I buy?

Buy it if...

You want to stay aware of your surroundings

Perhaps you want to have conversations without removing earbuds, or want to jog while remaining aware.

You care about sound quality

These are the best-sounding open ear buds we've ever tried, bar none. 

You're a steady jogger

If you're looking for headphones for running, they're very unlikely to dislodge during slower jogging.

Don't buy it if...

You want headphone flexibility

Want to block out the noise around you? Tough luck, you'll need multiple sets of headphones for that. 

You're on a budget

Get an older pair of <a href="" data-link-merchant=""">Shokz OpenRun instead, which cost less than 1/3 of the price.

Also consider

Also consider


Shokz OpenFit

A more secure fit for intense workouts.

<a href="" data-link-merchant=""">Read our full review


OpenRock Pro

A lower price and comfortable fit, but worse audio.

<a href="" data-link-merchant=""">Read our full review

Matt Evans
Fitness, Wellness, and Wearables Editor

Matt is TechRadar's expert on all things fitness, wellness and wearable tech. A former staffer at Men's Health, he holds a Master's Degree in journalism from Cardiff and has written for brands like Runner's World, Women's Health, Men's Fitness, LiveScience and Fit&Well on everything fitness tech, exercise, nutrition and mental wellbeing.

Matt's a keen runner, ex-kickboxer, not averse to the odd yoga flow, and insists everyone should stretch every morning. When he’s not training or writing about health and fitness, he can be found reading doorstop-thick fantasy books with lots of fictional maps in them.