When Bose first released their wearable Bose Frames, I was a bit sceptical. The dependable audio company opting out of the bone-conduction approach many other competing open-ear headphones use was an odd choice. On the other hand, it’s Bose – good sound is expected. The company said that they avoided the prevailing approach to wearable audio for performance reasons, instead make use of a custom transducer, turning an electronic audio signal into sound to create acoustic chambers directed to the ears.
It worked, and while the first-gen Bose Alto and Rondo Frames were impressive, they sounded much too flat and distant to be anything more than a promising start.
For the new, second-gen styles – Tempo, Tenor and Soprano – Bose has refined the audio design, powered up the custom transducer, and doubled down on comfort and fit. The result: much better.
While the Tenor and Soprano are closer to the first-gen, the more expensive and sports-friendly Tempo kicks things up quite a bit.
Designed so the interchangeable lenses can be replaced with prescriptions or other Bose-supplied options, the sunglasses are comfortable and aerodynamically built. The focus on listeners who exercise is quite obvious, moving away from the lifestyle focus of the four other models and closer to a sports build with large temples and a tougher, polycarbonate look to the lenses. They are unisex, so are designed to fit a range of head types comfortably, and they come with several different nosepads so users can find the fit that best suits them.
They sure fit much better than the Wayfarer-like Alto, which was impressively thin for a pair of glasses with some audio tech inside, but felt blocky on the nose.
22mm drivers are stuffed into the arms without making them look chunky or obtrusive as they sit on the ears. Notably, this is a substantial increase in oomph over the Tenor and Soprano styles because the Tempo was designed with runners in mind, as well as cyclists who may have more traffic and wind noise to contend with.
A modest, but reasonable, IPX4 water-resistance rating sits behind the scratch-resistant plastic build. That’s enough to shrug off light rain and some sweat, but they fall short of most sports-friendly in-ear earphones and over-hear headphones.
As far as on-board controls go, you’re looking at physical buttons on the right temple. Both power and pairing functionality are combined in the one button, as well as the ability to pause music, skip track, veer backwards, and answer or end calls. That’s a lot of function stuffed into just one button, and while it keeps the body looking clean, it’s rather annoying having the get the number of presses right before you get the desired result. Luckily volume control and summoning your device’s voice assistant is separate, relying on a touch-panel just outside of the right temple. Rounding out the visuals is a USB-C port for charging and a status indicating LED.
This is where things get interesting, because Bose’s sound designers have obviously worked hard to make the Tempo sound deeper and richer than before. Disappointingly, there’s no EQ on the Bose Music app to dial in your preference, but the native signature does quite a good job at highlighting how good wearables can sound when they are engineered correctly.
As mentioned above, the 22mm drivers create sound pockets and direct them precisely towards the ears, pushing in a profile that is best when its focused on the mids and highs. Something like Sam Cooke or Marvin Gaye sound as fine as I think they possibly could for open-ear headphones, but as expected, bass is rather thin and lacks the punch of more traditional earphones. At max volume, the bass is much too distorted, but at mid-range its quite likeable. It’s definitely better sounding than the first-gen of Frames I tested, with clear and crispy sounds that I could easily hear over traffic when jogging around the block.
Instrumentals are bright and clear with nice separation, but I wouldn’t want to use the headphones for hip hop or electronica, which rely on more nuanced bass and sub-bass lines. Unfortunately, those are the styles of music that make up the majority of your typical millennial’s gym playlist. Although if you’re more of a Max Richter and Miles Davis kind of person, there’s a lot to love here.
Plus, there’s also the cheeky function of secretly listening to music when you’re pretending to do something else. The sound leak isn’t horrible, so unless another person is very close to you, it’d be hard to tell you’ve got tunes in your ears.
And of course the biggest benefit here, and why Frames even exist at all, is that they provide an open approach to earphones, which allows for better situational awareness for runners and cyclists who don’t want their experience to be dominated by music, but rather maintain a balance between the outside and inside worlds.
You can expect an easy 8 hours off a single charge from the Frames Tempo, with a charging time of 0-100% in just one hour. That’s impressive for a device that’s this small, managing to pack in a reasonable battery without thickening the profile. I found Bose’s promised battery time to be consistent at mid-volume across a number of weeks, easily giving me quite a few quick jogs without having to plug it back into the USB-C.
Verdict & Value
The Bose Frames are beginning to make more sense now, moving away from gimmick territory and into something that justifies its own sector. They are open-ear, so limitations in power will exists, and you won’t get anywhere near the same level of depth as a good pair of in-ear headphones. But these do just fine if you want music to be playing while being fully aware of your surrounds on a run or ride.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Vastly improved sound; comfortable fit with different sized nose pads; great battery life for the size with fast charging; fashion-forward.
Lowlights: Still hoping for improvements in the bass on the next generation; expensive for what you get.
Review based on unit supplied by Bose.