Listening to music on the go without reaching for least a pair of in-ears might seem like a tall order, yet these sunglasses with AR capabilities from Bose offer an ideal solution. You’re not isolated from your surroundings, ensuring you’re constantly aware in a busy urban landscape and attentive to traffic and fellow humans. What’s more, with a hands-free function as standard, that annoying distraction of an audio cable and an integrated microphone clashing never need ruin another phone call again.
- Ear couplingAudio Sunglasses
- Weight without cable50 g
What's in the box
- Eyeglass case
- Charging cable
- Fabric pouch
These are the kind of innovations Bose clearly had in mind when it decided to combine designer quality sunglasses with audio capabilities. In the case of these beauties, the relevant electronics and speakers are worked into the temple part of the frame, ensuring that sound emitted is within close enough range of the listener’s ears. The concept, simply called “Bose Frames”, has hit the market with an initial pair of models. There’s the “Alto”, which takes its aesthetic influences from the signature Wayfarer style of brands like Ray-Ban, as well as the ‘Rondo”, which offers a more rounded frame style. It’s the first model variant, the Alto, that’ll be testing here in this review. Integrated technology and functionality is identical across both models, as is the RRP. However, there’s a noticeable size difference between the two. The Alto, with its key frame measurements of 51mm/18mm/162mm, is the larger of the two versions. The slightly smaller Rondo’s measurements come in at 49.5mm/15.5mm/154mm.
Both sunglasses are connected to a media source via Bluetooth. Bose indicates a battery life of around 3.5 hours for both models, with the charging process taking around two hours. We can confirm these values held up to scrutiny during our test. In addition, Bose offers a freely downloadable app, “Bose AR”, for both Android and iOS devices. This app can be used to change various settings, such as language and automatic standby parameters.
Upon first glance, it’s immediately obvious that Bose isn’t a sunglasses specialist. With contemporary sunglasses and spectacles, hinges that can fold beyond the standard 90 degrees are a staple of even the simplest eyewear. Not so with these Bose frames, unfortunately. If you do fold them over the intended angle limit (something that can happen quite regularly as a force of habit for the average spectacle wearer), the hinge will inevitably break. The plastic used in the construction has a somewhat flimsy quality, feeling brittle and too light in density. It’s not the solid yet smooth material usually associated with quality vinyl glasses. The cheaper plastic also means that the black colour of the frame is not completely opaque. Instead, bright light sources can pass through, resulting in not the most pleasant of aesthetics. Admittedly, premium spectacle and sunglasses frames cost a significant amount, perhaps even in the region of these Bose frames, without offering the sound capabilities of them.
Appearances aside, let’s focus on the really important stuff. Do these Bose Frames pull it off and supply superb sound, all the while leaving your ears unadorned as you make your way through the urban jungle or enjoy a scenic stroll?
The answer, in a nutshell, is no. Sound is clearly lacking in presence, frequency and dynamics by the time it leaves the frame temples and reaches the ear of the listener. Things are quiet, too mid-focused and low when it comes to bass. In general, the Bose Frames have a narrow, and rather quiet, volume range where sound could be described as good. If you adjust the volume to maximum levels, there’s a noticeable compression of the audio material, while the already weak bass vanishes completely. You’ll notice that the frequencies are always there when you cover the temples of these frames with your hands, creating an artificial ear-enclosing auricle of sorts. Should you do this, you’ll notice that bass sounds are distinctly more audible.
Despite rather lacklustre sound delivery, there’s still plenty of fun to be had listening with these Bose Frames. This is mainly down to two factors. The first, there’s an undeniable sense of freedom to enjoy thanks to not having anything plugged into your ear canal or clamped over them. Furthermore, there’s zero cable noise to cause disruption, no matter how much you turn your head. The second positive perk of these sound capable shade is that you don’t lose engagement with the surrounding environment when they’re worn. You don’t feel as though you’re wearing headphone tech, but rather that you’re listening to music from a very nearby source that doesn’t change in intensity as you move around.
The Bose Alto is best suited for music and audio content that makes little use of bass frequencies. Acoustic recordings, smaller ensembles, instrumental recordings, audiobooks and podcasts should all do well with these. In addition, this device delivers an amazingly wide stereo field, with the feeling that the audio is playing around you, rather than funnelled into your ear.
On the underside of the right frame arm there’s a small golden button that’s used to switch the device on. After you’ve hit the on button, a voice notification informs you about battery status. This button can also be used to accept calls, stop music playback and, when held for longer, will initiate your preferred virtual assistant, be it Google or Siri. What’s more, on the inside of this frame arm there is a magnetic connector to which the supplied charger is connected. Once you’re done with the Bose Alto for the day, they can be switched off by folding them and placing them upside down. Very nifty indeed.
The Alto is capable of impressing when it comes to telephone applications. As you have your ears free of tech, you can suddenly hear yourself speaking clearly during the conversation, something missing from hands-free communication while wearing in-ears or bulkier headphones covering the auricles. Of course, the one thing those types of device offer over the Alto is some degree of sound suppression. Here, incoming sound radiates more freely into your surrounding environment. It’s not hugely noticeable, especially if you’re on the move, but it may be an issue when you’re riding on public transport or taking a call you’d prefer to keep confidential.
There’s no doubt that the concept behind the Bose Frames series is an innovative one. Not only do you have extraordinary levels of freedom to look forward to when listening to music and audio content, you can also enjoy phone communications where your own voice is clearly audible and conversations are altogether more pleasant. However, when it comes to sound capabilities, the results are rather modest. This is particularly so of the bass range, which definitely flags up the limits of the design. However, if you’re intrigued by the functionality of the Bose Alto and don’t have too high expectations regarding audio reproduction, the convenience and comfort offered by these hands-free audio sunglasses will certainly hit all the right notes.