Bose SoundLink on-ear Bluetooth headphones

What you can expect from these Bose is great sound quality and comfort, and a high price

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Bose SoundLink
  • Bose SoundLink
  • Bose SoundLink
  • Bose SoundLink
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Form factor
  • Earcup design
  • Bluetooth
  • Battery life

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Imbalanced sound

Bottom Line

The SoundLink on-ear headphones tick a lot of boxes, but aren’t without flaws. Bose is asking for $329 ($399 in NZ), and for that you get a well-rounded experience.

Would you buy this?

A compact form factor, lightweight build, suede-like material, and very soft earcups make the Bose SoundLink on-ear headphones enticing — and that’s before you even turn them on to experience convenient and easy-to-use Bluetooth, great sound, and respectable battery life.

But Bose is Bose, and that means the proposition of comfort and output comes at a premium price; the SoundLink has a recommended retail price of $329 that will get you nitpicking, and that’s when the true colours of these headphones begin to shine: they’re great, but could (and perhaps should) be a lot better.

Design and user comfort

Bose has a habit of impressing us with the physical design and comfort of its headphones. We recently reviewed the Bose SoundTrue over-ear headphones and dubbed them the most comfortable we’ve tried. We are also in the process of reviewing Bose’s new signature pair, the QuietComfort 25 over-ear headphones, and are finding them a pleasure to wear as well.

On-ear headphones suffer a stigma: ‘they will crush your ears in an attempt to stay in place’. In many cases, it’s true. For example, the V-Moda XS on-ear headphones have quite a solid frame and therefore apply significant pressure to the sides (and top) of the head to ensure a steady fit; fatigue becomes apparent after about an hour. Marshall’s Major on-ear headphones do the same.

Bose has successfully mitigated a tight clamp by combining a flexible headband with earcups covered in copious cushioning (which are coated in soft leatherette). The result is a gentle fit that proves no bother over several hours. We did experience a bit of warmth over time, but that’s expected with headphones of this sort.

While they’re a pleasure to wear, the SoundLink lack the premium feel which should come as standard at their price point. It’s a common theme within Bose’s portfolio, but it’s not alone; many companies rely on plastic with minimal metals to bring down the weight of products, prompting questions of durability. Considering the investment required to own these headphones, we recommend handling with care. Use the supplied carry case, and don’t throw them about; they won’t survive the same beating a pair of V-Modas will.

Bluetooth and battery life

Pairing the SoundLink headphones is simple. Once charged, push and hold the small power switch (located on the exterior of the right earcup) all the way up until the Bluetooth indicator light beside it flicks on. The headphones will show as “Bose OE SoundLink” on your source. A voice prompt will confirm each step of the pairing process. According to Bose, these headphones can be paired with two devices at the same time, but we managed to have three connected simultaneously.

If the voice prompts bother you, you can turn them off by pressing and holding both the volume up and down buttons at the same time for three seconds while the headphones are on.

Bose claims that the SoundLink’s lithium-ion battery will deliver up to 15 hours of ongoing playback from a full charge. During our real-world tests, we used the headphones sporadically over a period of seven days. Monday to Friday consisted of about 4hr of use per day, and a lot of standby in between those listening sessions. On the weekend, we only reached for the headphones for about 1hr in total. Following this period, we found the battery to be at 30 per cent (according to the headphones’ voice prompts), which is a very impressive performance. More frequent users will obviously reach for the charger more often, but having to charge even every four days in our scenario is excellent.

The SoundLink headphones can also be used with the supplied audio cable when the battery dies.

Audio performance

The SoundLink deliver audio at high calibre, but not without favouritism. A preference for the lower end of the sound spectrum results in very well rounded, dynamic, and vibrant reproduction of these frequencies. Lows don’t necessarily envelop the higher frequencies, but prove more prominent during songs which play across the board. When presented alone or with a mix of mids, highs prove detailed and generally crisp.

During songs of the electro and dance genres, we found the bass to be powerful, but not overwhelming. Detail across the spectrum was high, although below ideal. The wide variety of frequencies that were condensed into each song introduced a hint of fading between the entrance and exit of juxtaposed beats and melodies. This audio blur was more prevalent in some songs over others. We had the same experience with metal, rock, and hardstyle.

Slow it down, though, and clarity begins to thrive at the hands of excellent sound segregation. City and Colour’s Grand Optimist is reproduced with accuracy. Each instrument acts alone, complementing its companions for an immersive sound experience.

Bose has packed the SoundLink headphones with plenty of punch. The 50 per cent volume mark is more than ideal for the office environment, while 100 per cent is simply loud. Better still is that quality is not sacrificed for volume; at full blast, you’ll experience a slight drop-off, but keep it at 95 per cent and you’ll feel the real deal. The design of the earcups contributes to some passive noise cancelling, but on the flipside, the headphones do leak sound at higher volumes.

Should you buy them?

Bose is a premium brand at the mid to high end of the consumer audio market. With that comes a steep price tag. But while the SoundLink on-ear headphones may not be the best audio product at their price point, they create an experience that isn’t just about sound. It’s reminiscent of the Apple iPhone, which is not just about hardware or software, but the combination of multiple factors to create an experience.

When it comes to these headphones, it’s about the comfortable form factor, convenient Bluetooth, and excellent (but not perfect) sound. Yes, $329 is undeniably expensive for what you get, but if you can find these headphones at a cheaper street price, give them a test run.

Related

Bose SoundTouch Portable Series II Wi-Fi speaker

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