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Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Flashy, expensive and surprisingly effective

Our Rating :
£299.95 from
Price when reviewed : £299
inc VAT

The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are the best of a burgeoning class of open-fit wireless earbuds, but they’re pricey


  • Comfortable and eye-catching
  • Engaging audio with Snapdragon Sound
  • Auto-volume works very well


  • Open fit impacts Immersive Audio
  • Expensive compared to rivals
  • Some durability concerns

Bose is renowned for its class-leading noise cancellation, but the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds intentionally let external sound in rather than keep it out.

They’re the most fully featured take on open-ear wireless earbuds yet, and their audio performance is superior to similarly styled competitors. But they’re also expensive, so you’ll need deep pockets to add them to your audio arsenal.

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: What you need to know

Open-ear headphones are becoming increasingly popular as consumers struggle to balance the demands of an always-on lifestyle. The Ultra Open Earbuds leave your ear canals unblocked, meaning you can wear them comfortably all day and remain engaged with the world while consuming content.

They also tap into a growing trend: tech products that double up as fashion accessories. Bose makes no bones about the fact that the Ultra Open Earbuds are designed to look more like a piece of jewellery than a traditional pair of earbuds.

Away from their awareness-enabling design and flashy appearance, the buds offer a similar selection of features to the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. They operate over Bluetooth 5.3 and support Snapdragon Sound, meaning compatible Android devices such as the Nothing Phone (2) can take advantage of high-resolution and lossless streaming over aptX Adaptive. Android users also get the benefit of Google Fast Pair. iPhone owners, meanwhile, have to make do with SBC or AAC.

Bose Immersive Audio, which debuted on the QC Ultra Earbuds and the over-ear QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, also makes a return, bringing spatial sound to your audio regardless of source or platform.

There’s no Bluetooth multipoint or wireless charging, but Bose says the former is set to be added via an over-the-air firmware update in the coming months. Battery life is stated at 7hrs 30mins, with the accompanying charging case providing an additional 19hrs 30mins of use. Those figures drop to 4hrs 30mins and 12hrs respectively with Immersive Audio engaged, while standby time is quoted at up to 48hrs.

Using a mixture of the Stereo and Immersive modes and spending a fair bit of time with the buds in my ears but not doing anything, I managed to get nine days of use out of them in total. Once dead, ten minutes on charge will net you roughly two hours of audio playback, while a full charge takes an hour.

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Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Price and competition

Bose first dipped its toe in the open-ear pond with the now-discontinued Bose Sport Open Earbuds in 2021. Since then, we’ve seen a large number of big-name players enter the arena with varying levels of success.

Sony launched the LinkBuds in early 2022, using ring-shaped drivers to leave your ear canals free to take in ambient sound. Audio quality was solid and you can still buy them for £115, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so as they’re unusable in certain conditions due to the amount of sound they let in.

More recently, there’s been a rise in options like Bose’s Sport Open Earbuds, which have drivers outside your ears and are secured in place using earhooks. Our favourites include the supremely comfortable Shokz OpenFit (£179) and the bass-focussed JBL SoundGear Sense (£130); for a more extensive selection, check out our air-conduction headphones roundup.

The Ultra Open Earbuds’ most obvious competition comes from the Huawei FreeClip, which were released in December 2023. Like Bose’s offering, they’re easily mistaken for a piece of jewellery but are a lot more affordable at £180. They have a couple of features the Ultra Open Earbuds lack, most notably wireless charging and multipoint pairing, but they don’t have spatial audio, and the build and audio quality aren’t as impressive.

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Design and features

The Ultra Open Earbuds are cuff-shaped and comprise two sections joined by a silicone-coated “flex arm”. Each bud has a section housing a 12mm driver and this rests just inside the concha of the ear, while a barrel containing the battery lies against the back of the ear.

There are two colourways available: black, and white smoke. Both have a brushed metallic finish that reflects light and draws the attention of passers-by. If you’re after understated earbuds or aren’t comfortable with people thinking you’re wearing flamboyant earrings, these aren’t for you.

The buds are rated IPX4 for water resistance, so can be used in the rain and will withstand a sweaty workout without any issues. Their open fit makes them a particularly appealing choice for runners and cyclists for whom awareness of potential hazards is important.

I was grateful for the awareness they provided at home and in the office, but less so when travelling between the two. Being able to hear why the Elizabeth Line had slowed to a crawl was certainly useful, but when a young rascal started gunning his way through a game of Call of Duty: Warzone, I was ruing my decision to leave my noise-cancellers at home.

Compared with the Huawei FreeClip, the design is bulkier, and I found the Chinese brand’s buds slightly more comfortable to wear. There was very little in it – I was still able to wear the Ultra Open Earbuds for hours without discomfort – but I was more aware of their presence, and their chunkier frame meant I wasn’t able to sleep with them in.

My other slight reservation about the design is that I can see the flex arms losing their spring over time and affecting the fit. The arms were fine during two weeks of rigorous testing, but it’s difficult to say how they’ll hold up over months and years.

They are, however, very easy to use. Bose has opted for depressible buttons on the top of the battery barrels rather than touch controls, which means it’s impossible to accidentally trigger commands. Every core command is covered, too, with playback, track skipping and volume controls handled by single, double and triple presses and double press and hold actions.

You can also assign shortcuts to single press and hold actions on both buds via the Bose Music app. There are four shortcuts to choose from, allowing you to cycle through audio modes, change the type of Immersive Audio, switch between Bluetooth sources and access your voice assistant. The source switching option is a new addition and particularly useful given the absence of multipoint Bluetooth pairing.

Another new feature accessed via the app is Auto Volume. This dynamically raises or lowers the volume of the buds to ensure a consistent listening experience regardless of the level of external noise, and it works brilliantly. However noisy my environment, I was able to hear what I was listening to and the volume level always felt comfortable.

The app, which will be very familiar to those who own other Bose headphones, also provides access to basic EQ settings: a three-band graphic equaliser you can tweak yourself, along with four presets (Bass Boost, Bass Reducer, Treble Boost and Treble Reducer).

While I appreciate the app’s simplicity and ease of use, I found it frequently disconnected from the headphones. Although I’d rather that than the Bluetooth connection issues I experienced with the QC Ultra Earbuds, but it was still annoying.

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Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Sound quality

Open-ear earbuds typically struggle to match buds with silicone eartips in this department, as the absence of a passive seal results in inferior sound isolation. The Ultra Open Earbuds can’t completely escape that limitation of their design but they overcome it better than their competitors.

Their drivers are capable of generating very high volume and can direct sound precisely into your ear canals. These factors, combined with the effective Auto Volume feature, ensure the buds perform admirably in most scenarios.

There were still some situations where external distractions proved just that little bit too much for the Ultra Open Earbuds, however. On a boisterous Northern Line train, I was able to enjoy the Bob Marley: One Love soundtrack but struggled to make out nuances in certain songs even after manually increasing the volume to maximum. I was still able to hear every word of The Rest Is Football podcast, though, which was a pleasant surprise.

The Ultra Open Earbuds deliver plenty of detail and are particularly strong in the frequency band where most vocals fall. Zara Larson’s voice was articulated cleanly on her collaboration with David Guetta, On My Love, while Rag’n’Bone Man’s vocal on Lovers In A Past Life was full of character. Both are songs that balance a wide-ranging vocal component with a backing track that regularly fluctuates in pace and volume, and these shifts in tempo and dynamics were handled very nicely.

Bass reproduction is surprisingly rich given that this is typically the area that suffers most from the lack of an in-ear seal. The bubbly bassline on The Ganja Kru’s Super Sharp Shooter was warm, tight and well defined, and only found wanting when ambient noise became unbearably loud.

Those with a Snapdragon Sound-compatible phone and a subscription to a premium streaming service such as Tidal HiFi Plus or Qobuz will get the best out of the Ultra Open Earbuds. AptX Adaptive handles high-resolution files with aplomb, facilitates lossless streaming and adjusts performance based on the level of Bluetooth traffic in your environment for a consistent listening experience. But regardless of your companion device or streaming platform, the Ultra Open Earbuds are an enjoyable listen, balancing energy and enthusiasm with insight and information.

Their delivery of Bose’s new spatial sound format – Bose Immersive Audio – isn’t as successful as that of their stablemates the QC Ultra Earbuds, however. The format seeks to create a feeling that audio is coming from outside the headphones and the effect is impactful in quiet conditions.

But I found it far less pronounced and convincing as the level of ambient noise increased; with audio cues flying at me from every direction, the virtualised soundstage started to sound rather muddled. As such, I found myself using it more sparingly than I did while reviewing the Ultra Earbuds.

Sound leakage is another potential issue, but as long as you’re not blasting out tunes at an obscene volume you’ll avoid the ire of those around you. The Open Earbuds seem to direct audio fairly accurately into your ears, thus minimising the amount that those nearby can hear. A colleague sitting a metre away in a reasonably quiet office only became aware that I was listening to something when I turned the music up to 70% volume, which was quite a bit higher than I needed in those conditions.

Bose Ultra Open Earbuds review: Verdict 

The Ultra Open Earbuds won’t be everyone’s cup of tea aesthetically, nor are they as versatile as the noise-cancelling QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. Those buds let you switch from near silence to full transparency at the press of a button and would be the pair I’d pick if I were looking for a pair of Bose earbuds for general use.

There’s no denying, however, that the Open Earbuds achieve what they set out to do, and in some style. They balance awareness of your surroundings and the delivery of engaging sound better than any other earbuds that have come before them, and they’re a joy to wear. If you’re interested in joining the open-ear revolution and the price tag doesn’t put you off, the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are currently the pick of the bunch.

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