Bose FreeStyle Earphones: Australian Review

Bose has never been an especially fashionable brand for headphones. They're usually serious, finished in blacks and bright silver. The new FreeStyle, though, is a more modern, more stylish take on some high quality earphones from one of the world's most iconic headphone companies.

What Is It?

Take the excellent Bose QuietComfort 20i in-ear headphones, take out the active noise cancellation gubbins, lose the inline battery pack and integrated amplifier, spray on some awesome-looking speckled paint and jazz the whole package up a bit and you've got the new FreeStyle. Aimed at a younger and more fashion-conscious audience, the FreeStyle comes in two colours -- the speckled white and blue with red accents, and the 'indigo' in purple and green.

Bose's new FreeStyle 'phones sit somewhere in between an in-ear headphone and a regular earbud; the silicon eartips included in the packaging have a tapered port that sits within the wearer's ear canal, but that same eartip doesn't fully seal against the ear canal. This makes for excellent sound quality (great low bass notes, for example) but without complete ambient noise cancellation (a la Ultimate Ears UE900, or similar).

Other fancy features include the same tangle-free Kevlar-wrapped cord as Bose's other high-end in-ear and over-the-ear headphones, and an inline volume control and microphone that is compatible with iOS devices (although the mic and play/pause/skip button will work with Android as well).

The FreeStyle is apparently a 'special edition' model from Bose, and it's not immediately obvious how long the company will continue producing them -- presumably it's based on how popular they are with customers. If you want a fashionable pair of earbuds and you like the Bose brand name, buy a pair and it'll be a sign to the company that people do want them to try new things.

What Is It Good At?

The design of the FreeStyle is different from left earphone to right, and it is a beautiful design. Using what looks like the leftover paint from other Bose headphone production runs, my 'blue' test pair had a blue left earphone casing with a white stem, white speckles and black Bose lettering, and a white right earphone casing with a blue stem, blue speckles and white Bose lettering. The cord is white and blue in long, diagonal stripes and the volume control and shirt-clip are a brilliant red. I'd wager that these are the most attractive headphones Bose has ever made; I think they look superb.

That same brilliance extends to the build quality. In standard Bose fashion the outer earpiece casing and earphone stem are made of hard-wearing thick plastic that isn't especially heavy, and each silicon eartip is comprised of a super-soft outer shell and a more stiff internal skeleton. There's no removable or replaceable parts on the FreeStyle apart from these eartips, but the quality of the connection between earphone and cable suggests that you won't be needing to book them in for a repair job any time soon.

For what is essentially a regular ol' earbud masquerading as an in-ear monitor, the sound that comes out of the Bose FreeStyle is surprisingly well-rounded. Where the new SoundTrue goes for relatively flat and humourless sound reproduction, the freestyle is a little more musical and outgoing, with a bit of bass extension and brassy treble straight out of the box. They're amenable to a bit of audio tweaking, too, but there's just the right level of detail across the frequency range -- I found the FreeStyle earphones well suited to streaming high-quality Spotify tunes without noticing every nuance or compression artifact, for example. For everyday wear, they're well suited to the job.

Maximum volume is impressively high from the Bose FreeStyle, and there's thankfully no obvious audio breakup even with strong booming bass and sharp treble notes. You might find the brassy top end a little fatiguing at max power after a while, but these headphones are perfectly capable at moderate to high volume levels without missing a beat (literally).

What Is It Not Good At?

The included Triport silicone eartips bundled with the FreeStyle -- there are three, in small and medium and large -- have an exterior segment that settles into the valley of your ear above your ear canal, holding the FreeStyle headphones more securely and comfortably than regular in-ears, which put all their weight into your ear canals. These eartips are great, except for the fact that even the largest size doesn't do an excellent job of blocking the wearer's ear canal and sealing against ambient noise. The headphones are missing the flange of the more expensive QuietComfort 20i, and it is to their slight detriment.

Like (almost all) other Bose headphones, the FreeStyle is expensive. And, being at the cheaper and less-fully-featured end of Bose's product range, there's a sense that you are paying slightly extra for the Bose brand name when you're making that purchase. Make no mistake, the FreeStyle is very well built and looks great, and sounds pretty good to boot, but Bose is an expensive brand.

The carry case included with the Bose FreeStyle is entirely adequate for the purposes of storing the earphones when you're not using them, but the case itself seems a little cheap, as if it's made of slightly downmarket materials. It could have done with a bit of padding or quilting or something to make it a little more fancy; I made the same complaint about Bose's new SoundTrue headphones, for what it's worth, so it's not an issue restricted to the FreeStyle.

Should You Buy It?

The Bose FreeStyle is the company's most fashionable pair of headphones by a significant margin, even moreso than the equally new SoundTrue. That's the chief selling point of these headphones, though -- their $179.95 price puts them somewhat out of the league of other in-ear headphones of the same class, some of which offer significantly improved ambient noise cancellation.

The biggest competitor to the FreeStyle, though, I think, is Bose's own QuietComfort 20i in-ear headphones. The QC20i cost significantly more at $399, but add excellent active noise cancellation and have superior ambient noise cancellation at the same time. They sound slightly better too, courtesy of the integrated amplifier. If you don't need nor want noise cancellation, or you don't want to be closed off from the world, and fashion is important in your earphone choice, the Bose FreeStyle is worth considering.

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