Bose is back with a new suite of headphones. The company is reinventing itself with more fashionable, slightly cheaper and more lifestyle-friendly models, and the middle of that range is where you'll find the SoundTrue on-ear headphones.
What Is It?
Designed for and aimed at the urban commuter or style-conscious yoof, the SoundTrue updates Bose's expected premium level of audio quality nous with a fresh design and some fancy colour options. Available in black, white, 'mint' blue or mint and black (with a crazy pattern), the $229 SoundTrue is also available in a larger over-the-ear design.
Folding away into a very compact package for temporary storage at the end of your train or plane or bus journey, the SoundTrue headphones I tested sit directly on the wearer's ears in the same way as the Beats Solo2, although they're significantly smaller thanks to the oval design (which more comfortably sits on your ears, I think).
As you'd expect if you've ever used Bose headphones before, the SoundTrue's inline microphone-toting cable is removable, and only attaches to the left earcup. You can also remove and replace the memory foam earpads, each of which is tailored to the particular headphone it is sold with -- the white SoundTrues get a grey leatherette earpad with a blue fabric insert, for example, while black SoundTrues get a black and red geometric design.
Being relatively small, the on-ear SoundTrues might not be perfectly suited to large heads, although the headband does telescope out over a reasonably wide range. The memory foam of the earpads does a good job of conforming comfortably to the wearer's ears, too, so there's no undue pressure on the ridges of your ears while you're wearing the headphones for an extended period of time.
What Is It Good At?
The audio that you'll get from the Bose SoundTrue on-ear headphones is typical of the Bose unpowered range; a relatively flat and non-peaky frequency response doesn't give any huge preference to either deep booming bass or sharp treble. There's no doubting that the headphones are capable of both with a little bit of on-device tweaking and equalisation, but straight of the box you should expect a more measured and balanced sound that doesn't seem especially musical but has a lot of potential to shine with the right high-quality audio.
The SoundTrue headphones, true to Bose's existing ear- and headphone lineup, are very well built. The earcups' hinges are made using metal components rather than plastic, which would be more likely to break under stress over time. The variety of colours on offer is a distinct departure from Bose's somewhat staid image, and I hope the company continues to diversify and make more headphones that appeal to a non-business, non-professional, infrequent-flyer audience.
The plastics used in the rest of the construction of the SoundTrues are great -- typical hard-wearing, solid and light Bose fare. The headband is flexible not only outwards but also in twisting, so you can easily move one earcup in front or behind of your ear if that's how you tend to wear headphones. As well as the earcups' hinge that lets them fold more to a more portable state, there's a second pivot point that lets them fold flat. You'll have to use the hinge and the pivot to get the SoundTrues into the carry case.
The audio cable's inline remote control is designed for iOS devices, although Android can also use the play/pause/skip central toggle. (You'll still need to change volume on your Android device directly, though.) The cable is a little thinner than the thick Kevlar-coated cord of the QC20i's or other high-end Bose, which is a little disappointing, but it doesn't often get tangled.
You can buy additional replacement earpads and carry cases, too -- although initially only the black models of each will be available, but this should change in the future. This gives you the opportunity to chop and change and accessorise with different colour schemes, if you're willing to pay another $15 or $25 on top of the already high asking price. I think a pair of black earpads would go nicely with the white SoundTrue on-ears that I tested.
What Is It Not Good At?
$229 is a lot to pay for relatively small, compact on-ear headphones with no noise cancelling and no Bluetooth. I said the same of the new Beats Solo2 headphones, in that this kind of model has a definite market -- audio purists who find those extra features an unnecessary inclusion -- but at the end of the day you are spending a lot for a basic pair of headphones in the SoundTrue on-ear.
Moreso than the lack of Bluetooth or noise cancelling, $229 is a lot to pay for small headphones that don't entirely stand out from the crowd in audio quality. If you buy the Bose SoundTrue, it should be because you value the portability and the excellent construction, not the brand name alone. That's not to say the SoundTrues sound bad at all -- they definitely don't.
This is the most minor of complaints, but the carry case that comes with the SoundTrue feels a little cheap and flimsy despite its leatherette exterior. When other brands can include a soft woven fabric case or a nicer leather-wrapped bag for their headphones, or even a sturdy hard case, Bose's accessory case seems like a slight afterthought.
At times, with a low quality or streaming music source, the Bose SoundTrue headphones can sound a little dull and uninteresting. You really do have to use a nondestructive equaliser on your music, and listen to some high quality tunes in the first place, to get the best out of the SoundTrue. This is true of any headphones, of course, but it's more evident with the SoundTrue's flat frequency response.
Should You Buy It?
Bose's new SoundTrue headphones are somewhat more expensive than I'd like, and slightly more expensive than their sound quality justifies, but this is typical of Bose as a brand. You know what you're getting into when you walk into a Bose store and try out its headphones.
If you don't mind paying the slight premium for the SoundTrue over other on-ear and over-the-ear headphones from competing brands, you'll get a very portable pair of cans that are extremely well built, are backed by Bose's excellent support and spare parts network, and have moderate and balanced sound quality that isn't at all harsh for extended listening.