Bose Frames review: Made in the shades

Call them a whole new take on headphones: Bose Frames are sunglasses with tiny Bluetooth speakers built in.

bose frames primary

On-the-go music lovers will be intrigued by the new Bose Frames—at least while the sun’s up. This $200 personal audio device consists of Bluetooth micro speakers integrated into the bulked-up arms of eyeglass frames.

These “sunglasses with a soundtrack,” as Bose calls them, are stylish though not stylistically groundbreaking (the Alto version conjures the look of the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer), and they deliver surprisingly substantial sound without requiring you to plug anything into your ear canals (the speakers sit just forward of your ears when you put them on).

The pitch is similar to the one Bose made for its SoundWear Companion neck-band speaker in late 2017: A personal listening experience that doesn’t cut you off from the world. You’ll still hear the traffic; you won’t miss “Hey buddy, you dropped your wallet” warnings; and you won’t be putting out any antisocial “don’t bother me” vibes.


<p>Surely Bose will eventually offer users the opportunity to have prescription lenses mounted inside its Bose Frames.</p>
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Surely Bose will eventually offer users the opportunity to have prescription lenses mounted inside its Bose Frames.

One problem with the SoundWear concept, as Frames  senior project director Mehul Trivedi confided in a recent press briefing, is that the cloud of music floating around your head might irritate the people around you. SoundWear, Trivedi said, is best used “where you’re off on your own, hiking, biking or running.”

How Bose Frames are designed

Bone conduction headphones, which send sound to the inner ear through the bones of your skull, are another lightweight, non-invasive means of delivering personal audio. But those can be irritating for some, so the engineers at Bose took a different tack. They start with custom stereo transducers (“our smallest, slimmest speaker,” according to Trivedi) and package them in multi-ported acoustic chambers in the arms of the sunglasses. “Precise geometry directs sound to the listener’s ears at full volume, but suppresses the leakage in other directions to just one percent of that,” Trivedi said.

This is something of a twist on the near-field noise-cancelling technology deployed in Bose’s QuietComfort line of headphones. Instead of sampling and phase-cancelling the sounds of the outside world, the “far-field” tech in the Bose Frames uses ports and processing to sample and squash any sound leaking out of the shades in unwanted directions. Passers-by hear nothing.


<p>A lot of high-tech innovation is hiding inside the arms of these seemingly mild-mannered sunglasses.</p>
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A lot of high-tech innovation is hiding inside the arms of these seemingly mild-mannered sunglasses.

It worked quite well in my testing. Keep the Frames’ volume at a comfortable 50 percent or lower, and someone standing three feet away will hear barely a peep, even in a dead quiet room.  Stroll down the street or ride a bus, awash in ambient noise, and you can crank the Frames to their moderately loud, wind-in-your ears max without disturbing your fellow travelers.

The Frames keep the design simple and as light (1.6 ounces) as some conventional sunglasses by having just one button on the right arm that’s single-, double-, or triple-tapped to turn on power, open the microphone for commands, play/pause music, and skip forward or back on a playlist. You can also initiate, answer, and juggle phone calls with that self-same button, so long as you keep your taps straight. Volume can be raised or lowered—tediously—by voice command. Honestly, it’s quicker to just grab your phone and work the levels there.

How Bose Frames sound

The Bose Frames produce a satisfying, brightly articulated, 3D-ish sound field, an airy presentation that I found worked well with the light and medium density pop, jazz, and classical music I’ve been tapping into on my iPhone X.