(ad gifted) I need music to run but admit I’m not keen on blocking out the whole world while I do it – AfterShokz Bone Conduction Headphones aim to solve the problem using bone conduction technology to bring the sound for your music player to your ears.
But, what the heck are bone conduction headphones? What are the pros and cons of bone conduction headphones? Do they do what they say and which AfterShokz product is for you?
To find the answer to all of this, we popped on a pair, read a lot of science and found out what you need to know about bone conduction technology and the AfterShokz products that use it.
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How Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work?
Sound is basically a set of vibrations that enter the ear and are diverted through the eardrum to the cochlear of the ear. This then translates them into electrical signals which are then picked up by the nerves in the brain and translated into what we hear as sound.
Using bone conduction misses out the eardrum part of this process.
Unlike normal headphones, bone conduction headphones don’t actually sit in or on your ears, but on your face just in front of your ears (see look carefully at the pic of the sporty girl above).
The music is then conducted through to your cochlear via vibrations picked up by the bones of your skull – it’s pinched from military technology apparently.
This allows you to hear your tunes, but also what’s going on around you.
Pros of Bone Conduction Headphones
1) You’re Definitely More Aware of What’s Going On
As you’ll see in the testing part of this post further down, you absolutely are more aware of what’s going on around you when you’re using bone conduction earphones.
However, you are still more distracted than you would be with nothing in yours suggests a 2017 study from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
They found that people listening to a story with bone conduction headphones were less able to determine where a sound was coming from wearing the headphones than those without.
So, they’re way better than wearing earbuds, or over-ear headphones, but they aren’t perfect so don’t get complacent.
2) They Don’t Fall Out
Unless my iPod earbuds are positioned exactly I can find myself fiddling with them for ages. This circumvents the problem.
3) They Might be Better For Your Ears
Recent research from India has shown that earbuds pick up bacteria and if you don’t clean them often these bugs could trigger ear infections. Because these don’t go in your ears that’s not going to happen.
4) They’d be Great in Events
A lot of races now ban headphones completely, but in those that don’t, bone-conduction headphones give you the best of both worlds – you can listen to music but also listen to instructions from the marshals, banter from those around you and any cheers from the crowd or entertainment you might run past.
5) You Can Use Them if You’re Hearing-impaired
This is a huge plus point. Because the sound is transmitted directly to the cochlear of the ear bypassing the eardrum, they’re suitable for people who have hearing loss due to eardrum damage.
If your cochlear functions, you will be able to use bone conduction headphones – they also work for people with hearing aids.
6) No Wires, but Hard to Lose
When I first tested Aftershokz in 2012, there was no such thing as Airpods – or any kind of in-ear headphone, you had wired headphones and that was it.
As you probably know wires can be desperately annoying (I spend ages untangling my headphones before I get on a machine at the gym), but losing an Airpod is an expensive mistake – and one that’s easy to do which is why I won’t commit to in-ear headphones.
These are a great in-between situation. No wires to get tangled, but they’re large enough not to randomly lose in your kitbag or the gym changing room floor.
Cons of Bone Conduction Headphones
1) You Hear Passers-By!
And if you live in the vicinity of a school full of oiks like I do, the lovely comments about the suitability or otherwise of your boobs for running are not blanked out. I advise combining them with a Panache sports bra to mitigate the potential for grief.
I also now know that the orthotics in my trainers squeak, really, really badly. If this sounds like you too check out some solutions here.
2) You Have to Recharge Them
If you are an organised person this is not a problem, if you are me, this could potentially lead to silence halfway through your work out.
They also have limited battery life. Most of the time this won’t matter as it’s between 6-8 hours, but if you’re a slower runner doing something like a marathon (I have a 5.40 marathon time) and everything is not fully charged at the start you could run out of steam when you need it most.
Admittedly, most of the reviews I’ve read of all the Aftershokz products say that they underestimate their battery life.
3) Sound Quality is Not as Good
For any super musos out there The Boyfriend – who listens to his music on speakers that make the house shake – says the bass quality isn’t perfect.
Admittedly, things have improved a lot in this department since the first Aftershokz I tested in 2012.
4) Too Loud is Still Harmful
Are Bone conduction headphones are better for your ears than in-ear headphones? Theoretically, yes but don’t be fooled into thinking that you can turn things up super loud with no consequences, some hearing experts say there’s still a risk from bone conduction earphones used too loudly.
Gradual hearing loss occurs when the hairs that line the ears are damaged, and the vibrations of loud music transmitted through the bone can still do this.
On top of this, if you turn the volume up too loud you’ll feel the vibrations of the music more intensely on your face – and this can actually be quite tiring after a while.
5) People Around Can Hear Them
This won’t matter if you’re running outside in them, but if you’re sitting on the train do be aware that sound does emit from headphones – so, either own your cheesy playlist or keep the volume low in quiet indoor places.
I can’t decide if this should really be classed as a con. Bone conduction earphones do cost more than a simple pair of earphones – but, actually, the AfterShokz entry-level prices actually are pretty reasonable – and, even the premium product is comparable to Airpods in pricing.
My AfterShokz Review
My first thought was these were made by a man – or at least a woman who doesn’t have both a ponytail and glasses.
The headphones are basically at either end of what looks like a headband. The ‘speakers’ sit on your cheekbones, the headphone goes around the back of your head – when you have a ponytail and glasses there’s already a lot going on back there.
It took a little bit of fiddling to get them in place and even as I headed off down the road my glasses were a bit skewy – which when you’re as blind as I am, makes your vision a bit off.
In fact, it’s how I imagine jogging drunk would feel like!
Once I’d wiggled everything about though I was pleasantly surprised at how clearly my music came through.
Despite this, though you’re definitely more aware of what’s going on around you with them in – you can clearly hear traffic and I dodged two of those runner/car combat zones where they are reversing out of their drive and you have to screech to a halt because neither of you is aware of the other because I did hear their engine.
However, don’t let them lull you into a completely false sense of security – unless the music was on VERY low, I couldn’t hear my own footsteps while I was running, which means you also wouldn’t hear anyone running up behind you. You still need to keep your wits about you.
Overall though, they’re good if you run in highly trafficked areas and for the reasons discussed in the pros and cons above they will be my new go-to headphones for events. If you run in secluded places, it’s still best to leave the headphones (of any description) at home though.
The biggest stumbling block for me is the need for recharging. Invariably when I get home from a run, particularly a long run, all I want to do is get in the shower – I don’t remember to charge something. There is a sports watch and tracker graveyard in my office for this very reason – I now run with a simple digital watch with a 2-year battery life so I don’t get caught out!
Also, check the stand by time for the batteries. If you’re only doing a long run once a week, you might find that as you put them on, they’re already dead even if they were half-charged when you got home.
You’d have to get into a routine of charging, ideally the night before you want to use them. Organised people will not think this is a concern – I am not organised!
Generally, though, I loved using bone conduction technology and the pros absolutely outweigh the cons – particularly when it comes to events.
Which AfterShokz Are Best For You?
The AfterShokz range has four products varying in price and features, here’s what’s what so you can decide on the best bone conduction headphones for you…
AfterShokz say these are their most advanced headphones – they also have the best specs of all the devices so you really know what you’re getting if you buy these.
They have an eight-hour battery life, a 10-day standby time and take 2 hours to fully charge. They weigh just 26g and have a titanium frame. They’re water-resistant so okay for training in the rain – but not waterproof (so don’t swim in them – more on swimming in a minute).
Aeropex sits at a 30-degree angle to the face which AfterShokz say helps with clearer bass sound than you’ll achieve from their other headphones and also better clarity for voice – great if you like to workout listening to podcasts or audiobooks or need to take phonecalls, quite literally on the run.
They come in four colours.
AfterShokz Air is their mid-range product. They’re water-resistant (although not to the same standard as Aeropex), have a six-hour battery life and take two hours to charge. I can’t find a standby charge stated anywhere on the specs but in other reviews I’ve read they suggested it could be as long as an impressive 20 days.
They weigh 30g and have a titanium frame.
They are Bluetooth enabled and have an inbuilt microphone.
The sensitivity is a little lower than that found in Aeropex – 100 +/- 3DB compared to 105 in Aeropex. The microphone is also slightly more sensitive in Aeropex.
You can buy them in four different colours.
The entry-level model and AfterShokz’ biggest seller, these were the product I tried, although they’ve had an upgrade since I tried them and now have a microphone to allow calls on the move.
They have the same battery life and water resistance specs as Air. They don’t list the battery charge time or the standby time.
There are three sound quality settings depending on what you’re listening to. Overall sensitivity is 96 +/- 3DB. They don’t list numbers for microphone sensitivity.
They weigh 29g and have a partial titanium frame.
They only come in one colour – but it’s not bright pink so this is probably not going to be a major concern!
Triathletes, heads up – these headphones aren’t just water-resistant, they are water-proof (rated IP68 which means it can stand being in water of up to one metre of depth without ingress) so you can wear them during swim training.
They have a built-in media player (4GB) memory so you load your music to them rather than pairing them to a secondary device. They’re compatible with numerous music formats including MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV,AND FLAC.
Now I admit at this point I got a bit lost with the technicality and so, if you’re as much of a tech numpty as I am and have no idea on how to upload music or rely on Spotify for your tunes, this is not the product for you as you can’t stream directly to the device and apparently, you do have to check a few things before you download to make sure everything is compatible and plays.
They also aren’t Bluetooth compatible so no answering your phone while you’re on them.
They have an eight-hour battery life and take two hours to charge. Standby time is not listed.
They weigh 30g and have been designed to work with swim hats and goggles.
To see more information and prices on the AFTERSHOKZ Xtrainerz then click here – and as I said, if you’re a bit of a tech numpty you’re going to want to read the reviews carefully to make sure you understand exactly how to get your music on them. Or maybe it’s just me that’s a complete idiot and everyone else will completely understand it immediately, in which case, just ignore me and enjoy swimming with sound!
So there you have it – a quick guides to the advantages of bone conduction headphones and the disadvantage of using bone earphones over other types. I hope it answered all your questions.
What does ad-gifted mean? It’s the first two words you see in this piece and that’s so you know that I was gifted the product by the company to try for this blog.
This was back in 2012, so long before bloggers had to disclose things, but as I update this post in 2020 with new information it’s good practice for me to tell you about it.
Even though we use the word ad, the company didn’t pay me to write the piece and they didn’t see the original version – or this updated one – prior to publication. All views in it are my own.
Main image c/o Aftershokz used with permission
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.