Bose Ultra Open Earbuds stand out from the crowd with design and sound quality

Open-fit earbuds are perfect for outdoors when cutting yourself off from the outside world is not ideal

Cuff style ear buds, white buds on a pink background
Bose Ultra Open Earbuds
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Price: €349
Where To Buy: Bose

It is inevitable in the tech world that products eventually fall into step with each other – design-wise at least. Take smartphones. Aside from the odd folding phone here and there, the devices are largely the same – slabs of glass and metal – or plastic, depending on your budget – and that is about it.

Ear buds have fallen into much the same pattern. Either you get the type with the stems, à la Apple’s AirPods, or the ones without, like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds.

But the Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are not your standard earbuds. These cuff-like open-fit earbuds stand out from the crowded marketplace with their design and sound quality.

The idea behind open-fit buds is simple: you can listen to your music, podcasts or other audio content and still be aware of what’s going on around you. That makes these buds perfect for outdoor activities – walking, running, cycling – where cutting yourself off from the outside world is not ideal.


But first you have to figure out how to use them. The cuff design means these buds fit differently, wrapping around your ear and sitting just outside the ear canal rather than fitting inside your ear. There are two parts to it: the barrel that contains the battery and a button control; and the metallic cuff with the speaker that hangs off your ear. Both are connected by a flexible silicone link that allows the bud to wrap around your ear.

That design means you can wear the earbuds without them getting in the way of glasses or earrings, as some can. And, at 6.5g each, they are remarkably comfortable.

I put them on upside down to start with. It’s not immediately obvious what way they need to be placed, but luckily, the Bose Music app has a guide on how to fit the buds correctly.

On the other hand, you need to adjust their placement to get the best sound. They can move up and down your ear to get the best fit and sound performance, but the optimum position appears to be a diagonal fit.

Sound-wise, the Bose Ultra perform well in normal sound conditions. This is what you would expect from Bose and its audio expertise. The sound is rich, and with the Bose Music app, you can tweak the equaliser settings, boosting bass and treble or dialling it back.

If you are outside, the auto-volume setting in the app can come in handy. It will keep your audio at a consistent volume by adjusting it based on the ambient sound, increasing volume when the background noise increases, and decreasing it in quieter environments. It can be overly sensitive at times – turning on a tap briefly caused the volume to jump – but it can be helpful for commuting or when walking outdoors.

One of the downsides about open-fit earbuds is the sound leak. Stand too close and you can hear what is being played on the buds, which is not ideal when you are on a confidential call.

There was surprisingly little with the Bose Ultra, with only a small bit of sound leak at the highest volumes, and even then you had to stand extremely close to hear it.

Bose’s Immersive Audio makes an appearance here, too. It’s the company’s version of spatial audio, with modes for when you are moving around, and when you are sitting still. You can calibrate it in a few seconds, but I prefer to go without, not least because it drains battery life that much quicker.

The buds also work well for phone calls, with clear audio on both ends.

How much you like these buds depends on what you expect from them. There is no active noise cancellation, so you will hear everything that goes on around you. If you don’t like to seal yourself off from the outside world, they are perfect; if you prefer to block out as much external noise as possible, they will not work for you.

They also don’t have an automatic shut-off when you take them off your ear – not a deal breaker, but it is a little irritating.

Officially, battery life is more than seven hours, with the case providing a quick boost when you need it. But be warned: using auto volume or the immersive sound option will kill that battery life by a few hours. Neither are essential features though, so if you prize battery life over optional extras, you can squeeze the full seven hours out of the buds.


The Bose Ultra Open Earbuds are really comfortable and, for open-fit earbuds, surprisingly good on the audio. You can wear them for hours without feeling any negative effect, and because they don’t look like earbuds, you can leave them on in places that you might otherwise feel compelled to remove them, even if you aren’t actually listening to anything.

They worked well in all but the most noisy environments, with auto volume helping to deal with some background noise if you were on the move.

Once you get the positioning right, and it can take a few tries, you can forget you are wearing them.

Both audio quality and call quality are good, and the button control can be customised in the app to trigger the relevant digital assistant for your device.


The good thing about open-fit earbuds is that you can hear what is going on around you. The bad thing is, you can hear what is going on around you. In noisier environments – traffic and so on – the earbuds can struggle a little. If you turn on the auto volume, the sound will automatically adjust, but it doesn’t always work as well as you would hope.

The auto volume can be a bit glitchy at times, too, kicking in unexpectedly and raising the volume too much.

No wireless charging in the case seems like an omission, particularly given the price – €349 puts them up there with the premium earbuds – and the other audio devices the Bose Ultra are competing with.

Everything else

The immersive sound has options for motion and sitting still, and can be calibrated in a few seconds to get the best out of the feature. The buds are IPX4 rated, so they will withstand sweat and a bit of rain.


Good sound quality and comfortable earbuds, but the auto volume can be a bit overly sensitive and the buds can struggle in noisier environments.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist