Review: Bose Soundtrue On-Ear headphones

That's right: Bose can be hip and styling, too.

It's a forgotten fact. The headphone market has increasingly come to be dominated by the likes of Beats by Dre and Skull Candy, companies that are known for quality looks and distinctive sound alike. In 2014, nobody hears what you hear in your headphones, but they do see the brand and color of the cans you wear.

That's placed Massachusetts-based Bose in an interesting spot. Once upon a time, the company seemed known for muted, calm stylings, for potent audio devices that blended in. But this year's SoundTrue line is meant to stick out. SoundTrue, which replaces the aging AE2 and OE2 lines, seems meant to appeal to that younger, Beats-loving crowd, while still delivering the mature, precise sound that has long defined the Bose brand.

I spent quite a bit of time with the SoundTrue On-Ear headphones, largely because they're tremendously unique. Their size and structure seem designed with the traveler in mind, built around ideas of "small" and "light" instead of bulk. They're eye-catching as well, albeit in a far different way than their competition.

The SoundTrues seem best for on-the-go users who demand portability and versatility, for those who fly frequently, or those who do far more with their headphones than listen to music.

They're colorful in a fun way: The unit I reviewed had a strong white exterior with a gray headband and blue highlights, far louder than anything Bose has delivered before. This color scheme - and several of the other available - sit on the borderline between clever and slightly immature.

Even as Bose caters to younger users with its style, it stays true to itself, delivering a product unlike any on the market.

That's instantly noticeable when you scrutinize the SoundTrue's compact frame. These headphones are so small that it's almost inaccurate to even call these "cans," and they weigh next to nothing. You'll barely notice the SoundTrues on your head, and even during long sessions of usage, you'll notice almost no ear fatigue. The cushioned headband is balanced nicely, and while the units definitely feel flimsy at first, they're durable enough to survive a pretty serious twisting.

The SoundTrues also fold flat, fitting easily into a soft case. While it's disappointing that’s all you get, that's par for the course in this price range ($179), and the slim profile of the case means there's a chance you can fit it inside a roomy coat pocket.

Despite their diminutive size, the SoundTrues output impressive sound. Overall, it's pretty typical Bose sound, albeit from a far smaller package. As with all Bose devices, clarity and versatility are the highlights, and bass is never boosted.

The result is a pair of headphones that performs well in a variety of situations. It's a set of cans that shines with Eminem's "Monster," presenting the special balance between Rihanna's vocals and Eminem's rap lines, while still delivering a solid bass line.

That bass consistently falls short of a thump, though, which will still turn off some hip-hop fans.

Still, the emphasis on clarity in the mid’s and highs is appreciated, especially in a world where headphones are used for far more than music. Plenty of other headphones I demo struggle during movie playback, distorting the voices during, say, the explosions in "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." Not so with the SoundTrues, even at the highest volumes.

It's the telltale sign that these are Bose headphones. The company has changed its look, yes.

But it hasn't changed its signature sound.

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