The Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are the latest portable headphones from the master of noise cancellation. This pair doesn’t get you Bose’s ambient noise-blasting active noise cancellation, but you do get another Bose signature – superb comfort.
If only the sound matched up to how comfy these are, we’d be onto a winner. But sadly sonic issues mean the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear feel quite overpriced at £150.
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While the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear boast a new brand – these are the first ‘SoundTrue’ heapdhones we’ve tried – they look and feel a lot like a smaller on-ear version of the Bose AE2 we listened to last year.
As the name suggests, these are on-ear headphones, with much smaller pads than full-size over-ear ones. While none of Bose’s wired headphones are too loud in design, on-ear headphones are generally a bit smaller and more discreet than the over-ear kind. They’re perfect if you want headphones that won’t attract much attention.
Design is where the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear really succeed, but some of the new headphones’ versions might prove a bit polarising. Most of Bose’s headphones are either white, black or silver, but this time you also get to choose a more colourful option.
The Bose SoundTrue On-Ear come in black and white as usual, and there are more colourful turquoise and dark blue versions. We’re not 100 per cent sure about the colour-on-grey style, but we’re sure it was picked after plenty of research.
Other than this, the usual Bose look is back and much the same as ever.
Like other Bose headphones, the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are extremely light and extremely comfortable. There’s loads of flex and movement to the ear cups, and the headband has a fairly light grip.
While they do put a tiny bit of pressure on your ears unlike the over-ears editions, we could happily wear these all day. They’re among the most comfortable on-ear headphones in existence, using an ear pad style quite similar to the Bowers & Wilkins P3. The pads are little pillows with mesh over the sound outlet, letting the pressure spread over your whole ear.
We wouldn’t recommend the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear for vigorous exercise, though. While they stay in place fairly well thanks to their light weight, the headband is susceptible to moving a bit as the padding that meets your head is soft fabric, rather than the rubbery material used in headphones like the Beats Solo 2.
The fit is not ultra-steady – it’s just not what the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are about.
Much like the AE2i, these headphones use a removable cable, with a 3-button handsfree remote designed for use with iOS devices. Unlike some other Bose headphones, though, the cable system isn’t proprietary. Previous Bose headphones we’ve tested use a normal 2.5mm jack, but one that’s build into a plastic brick that slots into the ear cup to form part of its structure. Here the cable is a bit more standard.
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For someone looking to walk around with headphones – the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are just about perfect. However, noise isolation isn’t that hot. They reduce ambient noise a bit, but not on the level of a good over-ear pair, Bose’s ANC headphones or even the on-ear Beats Solo 2. It doesn’t seem to be a top priority of the design.
As long as you don’t mind the limitations of the light fit and the so-so isolation, the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are a real joy to wear. However, the sound quality is not quite up at the same level.
As is quite often the case with on-ear headphones made to accompany full-size pairs, there doesn’t appear to have been a great deal of attention paid to the tuning of the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear. It’s disappointing, especially given the name suggests sound quality is what they’re all about.
The mid-range is quite congested, with poor separation and too much lower-mid bloat. This is often what supplies a ‘warm’ sound, but here it’s a destructive influence that reduces clarity.
With vocals, it makes them sound a bit muffled even though there is otherwise enough treble presence. With actual music arrangements, it really spoils stereo imaging and makes the soundstage appear clogged. As such the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear do not come across as very wide-sounding or expansive.
We compared them to the Bose AE2, over-ear headphones that are actually available for a little less online, and found that the older model offers much better clarity and imaging, lacking the sort of low-mid paunch that trips these headphones up.
Aside from this mid-slash-upper-bass issue, the Bose SoundTrue On-Ear offer a fairly easy sound. The conservative treble doesn’t lead to any sound harshness, and while there is perhaps a mild bass overemphasis, it is not something that comes to characterise the sound.
The Bose SoundTrue On-Ear do not sound offensive by any means, but they are not really good enough in our book given the fairly elevated £160 price. You can get fairly serious headphones for this sort of money, and we do think even the Beats Solo 2 offer more satisfying, rich sound. And we weren’t entirely glowing about their sound at review.
The Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are headphones in the Bose mould in many respects. They offer near class-leading comfort, ensuring their first impressions are positive.
However, give them time to bed in and we imagine many of you will be a little disappointed with their sound. Congested mids ensure they don’t have the sort of clearly defined sound we expect at the price, and they don’t have stand-out characteristics in the treble or bass to make up the deficiency.
They just don’t really sound good enough, not when headphones like the AKG K451 sell for as little as £55. If they sounded as good as last year’s Bose AE2i – headphones of roughly the same price – we’d be a lot happier. But sadly, they don’t.
The Bose SoundTrue On-Ear are extremely comfortable – they are some of the most comfy on-ear headphones you can buy. However, the sound doesn’t stack up to the price, or rivals, and that’s a problem.
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