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Why I run with these Bose earbuds instead of bone-conduction headphones

The newest Ultra Open earbuds from Bose feature fantastic sound quality and reliable ambient awareness, perfect for outdoor listening.
Written by Nina Raemont, Associate Editor
Bose Ultra Open Earbuds against city scape
Nina Raemont/ZDNET

ZDNET key takeaways

  • At $300, the Bose Ultra Open earbuds are a great alternative to bone-conduction headphones. 
  • The earbuds are ideal for runners who want to enjoy their music while remaining aware of their environment, thanks to Bose's OpenAudio technology. 
  • A lack of touch controls means you need to keep your phone close for navigation.

Living in the city, I'm not the biggest fan of using noise-canceling headphones or earbuds while I exercise in the park, walk around on busy streets, or commute on the subway. But I'm a music lover who cares a lot about the sound quality of what I listen to.

Sure, bone conduction headphones exist, but they often have a one-size-fits-all approach, either feeling too loose or bulky on the head. You could also enable transparency mode on your noise-canceling earbuds to better hear your surroundings, but I often can't hear my music over the New York City chaos. 

Also: Why I ditched my bone conduction headphones for these 'wired' earbuds

That's why when Bose sent me its new Ultra Open Earbuds, I was excited to try an alternative to both of the above options for my outdoor activities. Could these earbuds be a runner's best friend? Here's my verdict.

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Starting from the outside, the short and stout case makes it very pocketable, but the fun happens when you open it up to reveal the Ultra earbuds within. The earbuds have a G-shaped design that resembles a clip-on earring, which I've never seen before. They cling to your outer ear and the curved cylinder on the bottom wraps around it to anchor it into place. Shake your head all you'd like: these earbuds are not budging. 

Also: These Bose earbuds are my favorite for noise cancellation

To create a sound that is both loud and private (there is a little sound leakage), the earbuds utilize Bose's OpenAudio technology, which is part bone conduction and part air conduction. Bone conduction occurs when sound directly vibrates the bones in the inner ear, and air conduction happens when sounds are transmitted through the air and into the ear canal. If the vibrations from bone-conduction headphones tend to make you dizzy or uncomfortable, these are a great alternative.

A hand holding one of the Bose Ultra Open earbuds

The Ultra Open earbud is shaped like a G.

Nina Raemont/ZDNET

I took the Ultra Open earbuds on four outdoor runs and found they excelled in low to moderately noisy environments, like a busy street. I could hear every detail of my music and every honk and siren from the cars on the road. When I listened to Car Seat Headrest's Can't Cool Me Down, I was well aware of the sounds around me and still enjoyed every detail in the song. 

While running in the park to Olivia Rodrigo's Brutal, I turned on Immersive Audio, Bose's spatial audio feature, which enables a multidimensional listening experience. With this feature turned on, the song's guitar riffs and Rodrigo's layered harmonies sounded like they were all around me, which electrified my run.

Also: I found the perfect headphones for anyone looking to get into high-res audio for less

These earbuds are not as performant in areas where you'd want noise-canceling technology, like on a subway or plane. Since they don't (and can't) cancel noise, you won't hear all of your audio while wearing these in exceptionally noisy places. I wore the Ultra Open earbuds on the subway while listening to a podcast and heard most of what my favorite podcaster was saying, but many sentences were drowned out by the clanging metal cars. 

Bose Ultra Open earbud on an ear
Nina Raemont/ZDNET

I'm not the type of user who wears earbuds even when I'm not listening to music, but with the ear-hanging design of the Ultra Open, I listened to my music on the commute to Trader Joe's and kept them on as I shopped. These are the most comfortable and casual earbuds I've worn and could easily wear them for a whole day and not feel fatigued.

Also: I tested Sennheiser's new mid-range headphones and they're so close to perfect

For battery life, the Ultra Open can last up to 7.5 hours before needing a recharge, so even power users shouldn't have to stress about endurance. One issue I've had with Bose earbuds in the past is that when the battery begins to falter, so does the connection. That's no different with the Ultra Open earbuds, so I'd recommend regularly charging them to avoid this. Also, the earbuds lack pause and play touch controls, which I had gotten used to on my old pair, so you'll have to keep your phone handy to start and stop your music. 

ZDNET's buying advice

If you are looking for a pair of earbuds that puts spatial awareness at the top of the priority list, the Bose Ultra Open earbuds are the way to go. I'd recommend these to outdoor exercisers, but I'd also recommend them to anybody who listens to music everywhere they go but wants an earbud that won't take them out of their environment. 

However, if your day-to-day takes you to environments where you do desire noise-canceling, consider your other options. If you want earbuds with stellar transparency mode and effective noise-canceling, consider the Apple AirPods Pro 2, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra, and for less money, the JLab JBuds ANC 3.

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