Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Function meets fashion

Billy Steele — Senior reporter, Reviews

Last month, Bose took an interesting approach to debuting a new product when it launched its Ultra Open Earbuds exclusively through a collaboration with fashion company Kith. Now, Bose is back with its own version, nixing the co-branding while keeping the same price. For both varieties, the $299 Ultra Open Earbuds sit outside of your ear canal and clip onto the ridge of your ear to stay in place. Due to the open nature of the design, active noise cancellation (ANC) is moot, but Bose does bring its Immersive Audio tech to the table for spatial sound.

Bose has gone the “open” route before, debuting the Sport Open Earbuds in 2021. That model has the over-the-ear hook that we’ve seen on some fitness-focused earbuds, only the company opted for a hard plastic hook that doesn’t bend or flex at all. This meant they weren’t the most comfortable and you couldn’t use them while wearing glasses or a hat. As open-type earbuds have become increasingly popular, mostly for the allure of “all day” wear by allowing you to stay in-tune with your surroundings, Bose developed this model that fixes all the issues of its previous design. There are some trade-offs with earbuds that sit outside of your ear canal, but you may be willing to overlook them in the name of style, comfort and functionality.


IMAGE: Engadget

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

Bose’s new open-fit earbuds are more of a fashion accessory than a wearable and come with some inherent trade-offs.


Bose Ultra Open Earbuds
IMAGE: Engadget

For the Ultra Open Earbuds, Bose created a two-piece design that consists of a rounded speaker chamber that sits outside of your ear canal and a cylindrical battery box that rests behind your ear. In between is a strip of soft-touch, flexible silicon that wraps around the edge of your ear for what the company calls a “light-as-air grip.” There are onboard controls too, as the battery barrel on both sides each holds a single, multi-function button.

Bose describes the Ultra Open Earbuds as “more fashion accessory than traditional wearable,” and they certainly aren’t inconspicuous. They provide a lewk that you’ll need to be okay with. During my testing, not everyone I encountered, even in my own home, was a fan.

“It’s really hard for me to look at you when you have those things on,” my wife said. “They’re a vibe.” On the bright side, that vibe got me out of a conversation with a door-to-door internet salesman quickly as they suggested I was “on call.”

Polarizing design aside, the Ultra Open Earbuds are extremely comfortable to wear. Earbuds that go into your ears are fine for a few hours at most for me before they become a test of my endurance. Open-type earbuds are different, of course, and these are certainly the most comfy of the sort that I’ve tested thanks to the lack of a hook. And that clip-on pressure is so light that you don’t feel any irritation there. There’s enough of a grip to hold the IPX4-rated earbuds in place though, even during workouts.

Bose Music App and Features

Bose’s new open-fit earbuds are more of a fashion accessory than wearable and come with some inherent trade-offs.
IMAGE: Engadget

Like most of Bose’s recent products, the Ultra Open Earbuds work with the company’s Music app for access to features and settings. There isn’t anything new here that wasn’t available on the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds that debuted last year, except for some guidance about how to put the Ultra Open Earbuds on. Most of the tools you’ll need are still front-and-center on the main screen, with things like battery life, sound modes, EQ, Immersive Audio and Bluetooth connections easily accessible. The Ultra Open Earbuds don’t have multipoint Bluetooth connectivity, so though the app does show multiple devices to stream from, you can only sync with one at a time. And since these are meant to be worn all the time, there’s no automatic pausing either.

The app also lets you reassign what the onboard button does, but only one gesture is available for customizing: press-and-hold. By default, it’s set to cycle between stereo and Immersive Audio modes. You can also employ it to change the Immersive Audio setting (Still, Motion, Off), switch Bluetooth connections, summon your voice assistant or simply disable it entirely. Left and right buttons can be configured individually, putting different tasks on either side. Bose does include onboard volume control despite only having one physical button on the earbuds. A double press then hold on the right increases the level while the same sequence on the left lowers it.

Sound quality

One unique aspect of the Ultra Open Earbuds audio-wise is the fact that you can wear them anywhere along your ear they sound and feel the best. This could be at the bottom of your ear or along the back edge. Bose says positioning around your ear doesn’t affect overall sound quality so long as the speaker component is placed first before wrapping the silicon “flex arm” around back. There are certain spots where the Ultra Open Earbuds feel and sound better, but it always takes a small adjustment to find the sweet spot when I first put them on.

Bose says that the Ultra Open Earbuds use so-called Open Audio in tandem with its spatial Immersive Audio tech for “a breakthrough experience.” According to the company, the former allows you to listen to tunes with “almost no sound leaks” to those around you. I found that this only holds true up to about 50 percent volume level. Above that, people around you in quiet settings will hear what you’re listening to. Not in great detail unless you crank the earbuds all the way up, but a general rumble is audible to those nearby.

Immersive Audio, Bose’s spatial sound technology, puts you in the acoustic sweet spot to improve the overall listening experience. This works really well on the QC Ultra Earbuds and QC Ultra Headphones where your ears are closed off and the sound is directed at them. With the Ultra Open Earbuds, the difference between stereo and Immersive Audio in terms of overall sound quality is subtle. And since Immersive Audio has such an impact on battery life, it’s probably best if you leave it off if you aren’t able to greatly distinguish between the two modes.

Bose’s new open-fit earbuds are more of a fashion accessory than wearable and come with some inherent trade-offs.
IMAGE: Engadget

In general, the Ultra Open Earbuds suffer the same fate as most open-type audio wearables. You sacrifice sound quality to keep your ears clear, which certainly increases overall comfort most, if not all of the time. Specifically, there’s a lack of dynamic tuning as the audio profile rests mostly in the mid range. Bass is subdued, as are the crisp highs from Bose’s other recent audio gear. These are still some of the best open-type earbuds I’ve tested in terms of sound, but their design leads to a less impressive listening experience compared to in-ear buds.

There is a decent low-end thump when listening to things like Com Truise’s synth-tinged electronic instrumentals. But, it doesn’t have the same deep bass punch as closed-off earbuds. There’s also still good detail in mellow selections like Kacey Musgraves’ “Deeper Well” but even then the sound is more compressed than usual, so the openness of the track is quite subdued. The overall audio quality depends on how the earbuds fit on your ears as I could improve things by holding them close to my ear canal, but they don’t stay there without assistance. Where they rest on their own, though, doesn’t deliver the best these buds have to offer.

There also seems to be a reverb-y echo on the Ultra Open Earbuds, like the two sides are slightly out of sync. This is the biggest knock on the sound quality for me as it’s very evident when listening to podcasts. It sounds like the host recorded in a school hallway even when the audio is pristine. It doesn’t make the earbuds unusable, but it’s enough to be noticeable, especially on isolated voices. I’ve reached out to Bose for more information on why this is happening, and whether there might be a fix coming. (Update: This is caused by Immersive Audio mode being active for podcasts. After some guidance from Bose, I disabled it, which fixed the issue.)

Call quality

Due to their design, the Ultra Open Earbuds are great for hearing yourself on calls. Your ears aren’t blocked, so you don’t ever feel the need to shout or worry about a subpar transparency mode. When you’re speaking, voice quality is decent, but only in quiet areas. If you encounter medium-to-high levels of ambient noise, which I simulated with a white noise machine and a louder-than-average bathroom fan, that background clamor is very apparent to the person on the other side.

Battery life

On the Ultra Open Earbuds, battery life is drastically impacted by the spatial Immersive Audio. Bose says you can expect up to four and a half hours with it turned on or up to seven and half hours without. Battery life also took a hit on the QC Ultra Earbuds and the QC Ultra Headphones when Immersive Audio was at work, so this isn’t a surprise. But, cutting the expected play time by about half is more of a decrease than what I experienced on…

Bose’s new open-fit earbuds are more of a fashion accessory than wearable and come with some inherent trade-offs.
IMAGE: Engadget


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