This is a fairly long and in depth article, so we’ve put a nice little table of contents up here for ease of navigation.
1 History of Bone Conduction
2 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
3 Top 7 Bone Conduction Headphones
4 Top 4 Bone Conduction Headphones Reviews
5 The Future
6 Final Thoughts
History of Bone Conduction, And 5 Industries Thriving With This Technology
Bone conduction allows you to hear sound through the vibration of the bones of your face (jaw bones and cheek bones). This means that the sound waves are bypassing the outer and middle ear (where the eardrum is located) and directly stimulating the inner ear (hearing organ).
Bone conduction technology has been around for many years as a tool to help those with hearing loss. Even Beethoven, who was hearing impaired, used bone conduction to listen to music by biting down on his composer’s wand that was touching the piano.
The following 4 major industries have benefited from bone conduction technology:
Hearing aid(s) users. Since 1977 over 100,000 hearing loss patients have been fitted with a bone conduction device known as a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid). It just so happens that these headphones are also an ideal choice for people wearing in-ear hearing aids. That’s right, if you’ve never tried it, it’s definitely possibly to wear headphones while wearing hearing aids.
Military communication. The military was one of the first early adopters of bone conduction technology, implementing behind-the-ear style headsets for communication on the battlefield. This was a significant improvement to field communication because it allowed the user to retain full awareness of ambient sounds (since the headset sits behind and not in the ear) while also enabling the ability to transmit wirelessly through bone conduction.
Many local tactical units have also adapted this technology thanks to companies like Invisio.
Sports headphones. Bone conduction headphones have become increasingly popular in the music industry. What has been incorporated into the hearing healthcare industry for many years is now being utilized in the music media industry as a different way to listen.
In 2008, Audio Bone become one of the first mainstream bone conduction headphones to enter the sports headphones scene. They claimed equivalent sound quality while also allowing the user to hear ambient noises since the headphone didn’t actually cover any part of the ear. This technology has become increasingly popular among the every growing headphone community, particularly runners or cyclists who want both music and exposure to ambient sound (i.e. cars driving by) for safety.
Scuba diving. Using bone conduction underwater is totally awesome, there is no other way to say it. While this technology was actually patented as far back as 1996, in the video below you’ll see that Casio was one of the first to popularize this technology in scuba diving with their Logosease device.
This device is essentially an underwater transceiver that utilizes bone conduction coupled with ultrasound at a range of 32 kHz to enable wireless communication as long as you are within visual range.
Ambient noise solution. Even Apple is beginning to understand the benefits of creating earphones that allow the user to be fully aware of their surroundings, and improve speech recognition in ambient conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Before we get to our top list of headphones, let’s quickly go over some of the most frequently asked questions.
1. Will bone conduction headphones work for me if I have a hearing loss?
Possibly. If you have a conductive hearing loss or unilateral hearing loss, then yes. Essentially as long as you have one (1) functioning cochlea.
2. Which bone conduction headphones are the best?
Currently our favorites are the AfterShokz Trekz Air. See our table below for a look at the rest of our Top 7 :)
3. Will the sound quality be as high as “regular” headphones?
Unfortunately not. Let’s clarify though. Bone conduction isn’t necessarily worse than air conduction (the way most headphones transfer sound). The issue is that this type of bone conduction is not implantable (obviously). So, you are not getting a truly direct transmission, which makes for a poorer sound quality.
4. What are the big differences between these headphones and “regular” headphones?
Other than bone conduction, this technology also requires a power source for even the wired versions. This means there will be some type of “battery pack.” However, technology has advanced to the point that it’s difficult to notice in the latest wireless bone conduction headphones.
5. Can bone conduction make your hearing worse?
Yes. Just like with any headphones, if you turn them up too loud you could damage your hearing further.
6. Can bone conduction headphones be worn with hearing aids?
Absolutely! In fact this is one of the preferred style of headphones for people with hearing aids. You will have a little difficulty if you are using a behind-the-ear hearing aid because the band may conflict with the headphone, but other than that you should be good to go.
Top 7 Bone Conduction Headphones
|Everyday Hearing Rank||Picture||Name||Type||Price|
|1||AfterShokz TREKZ Air Open-ear Wireless Headphones||Wireless||$$$$|
|2||AfterShokz TREKZ Titanium Open-ear Bluetooth Headphones||Wireless||$$$|
|3||Vibrabeats Vidonn F1||Wireless||$$|
|4||Aftershokz AS500 Bluez 2 Open Ear Wireless Headphones||Wireless||$$|
|5||Liwithpro Open Ear Bone Conduction Headphones||Wireless||$$|
|6||Aftershokz AS450 Sportz M3 Mobile Bone Conduction Headphones with Microphone||Wired||$$|
|7||Panasonic RP-HGS10-G Open-Ear Bone Conduction Headphones||Wired||$|
Bone Conduction Headphones Reviews
We’ve been lucky enough to test all of these headphones and have put together some details below about the top 4.
Number 1 – AfterShokz TREKZ Air
This was a tough call, while the TREKZ line by AfterShokz is far and away the best option, deciding between the Air and Titanium was difficult. Ultimately we like the newer and slightly lighter (20% to be exact) Air over the Titanium.
The Air look like a slimmer version of the Titanium. The new wrap-around design is 20% lighter and a lot more flexible, allowing for a more custom fit.
They come in three different colors:
- Forest Green
- Midnight Blue (pictured above)
- Slate Grey
They use Bluetooth v4.2 multipoint pairing (read about it more below in the Titanium review), and will be compatible with your iOS or Android device. We tested with and iPhone 8s and Galaxy S8 to be sure.
Pretty much anything you can do in 6 hours (because the batter life for continuous music and calls) you can do with the AfterShokz Air.
The big difference over the Titanium is the improved dual noise canceling microphones to help reduce wind and static for your music and calls.
Number 2 – AfterShokz TREKZ Titanium
AfterShokz is a well reputed bone conduction headphone manufacturer and they recently showcased the wireless version of their previously popular wired AfterShokz TREKZ Titanium at CES 2016.
The Titanium got a little bit of a face lift over their predecessor.
They come in three different colors:
- Ocean (Blue/Black)
- Ivy (Green/Black) (pictured above)
- Slate (Gray/Black)
They also use a silicone coated, titanium band that makes them fairly flexible without damage.
This may be my new favorite feature of the Titanium: multi-point pairing. Often times I’ll wear the headphones paired with my phone, but occasionally also want to pair them with my TV or laptop to watch something.
They use Bluetooth 4.1 technology to allow pairing to multiple devices. This is something most older headphones do not have.
One feature we continue to like is the IP5 rating, which makes the Titanium sweatproof and perfect for sports/working out.
The Titanium fit very similar to the Bluez 2s (read more below). As we mentioned though, the band is a little more flexible, in part because the technology is housed closer to the ears, as opposed to behind the neck/head.
One of the reasons AfterShokz is our top pick, is the fit. They’re comfortable in pretty much every environment, to the point that after about a week of wearing them you don’t even feel them anymore.
For more, check out this quick video:
Number 3 – Vibrabeats Vidonn (Wireless)
We recently got the opportunity to test out the new Vibrabeats Vidonn
We paired the Vibrabeats to a Galaxy S9 and had no issues. It’s just as simple as holding the volume up button for 5 seconds.
The instruction manual mentions “your body may resist the Bluetooth signal…we advise to put the smartphone on the right side or front of body.” Honestly, this is aggravating. I wear a pair of LG Tones almost daily and run into this issue (usually when I’m more than 5 feet from my phone if I turn my head the wrong way it will interfere with the signal).
Fortunately I think Vibrabeats exaggerated the worst case condition a bit. I went for a walk and stretched with my phone in my left pocket and had no issues. It wasn’t until I added a bit of distance (just like with my LG Tones) that I started to have a signal issue. And honestly, this is going to be an issue with most (almost all) Bluetooth devices.
Comfort and Fit
We’ve been testing bone conduction headphones for over 7 years now, and holy cow have they come a long way.
In the past the issue with wireless bone conduction headphones was the battery. It made them clunky and heavy, so heavy they’d pull your ears down and it’d be terribly comfortable.
Vibrabeats Vidonn are probably in our top 2-3 for lightweight comfort and fit. They’re very similar to the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium terms of feel, but not quite as lightweight as the AfterShokz Trekz Air.
I did mention the controls above. You can see in the photo below the play/pause and answer calls button is super easy to access right on the end. You can also see the volume/power button is underneath the band and will sit right behind your ear.
I almost hate talking about sound quality when it comes to bone conduction headphones. They’re just not made for audiophiles, and they’re always going to fall short of regular headphones for the simple reason that they are “open ear headphones.”
You get the perk of being aware to ambient sounds (i.e. an oncoming car while you’re running or biking) and you sacrifice a bit of sound quality for that. You can make up for it by using the 3M ear plugs they include, which make them more of a noise isolating headphone, but that kind of defeats the purpose unless you’re just walking around your house.
Do they sound bad? No.
Just know they’re built for different reasons than just sound quality.
(Grab them direct from Vibrabeats here)
Number 4 – AfterShokz Bluez 2s
We’ve tested pretty much every pair of bone conduction headphones available, and AfterShokz is hte premier company for open earphones. So, it shouldn’t come to much surprise that number two on the list is another pair from AfterShokz: the Bluez 2s.
Refer to our review above, as the Bluez 2s perform very similarly to the TREKZ Titanium.
We found the main difference to be where the technology is housed on the headphones. You’ll notice that the Bluez 2s have a “fatter” neckband on the backside, while the TREKZ have larger bands near the ear hooks.
We find the TREKZ to be a little more balanced, but also understand that some people (especially if you’re wearing another hearing device) don’t like any additional bulk near the ear. If that’s the case, then the Bluez 2s may be right for you.
Lastly, four additional features the TREKZ have that the Bluez 2s do not:
- Titanium coated, silicone rubber frames
- Multi-point pairing
- Bluetooth 4.0 versuse Bluetooth 3.0
- PremiumPitch+, which offers a wider dynamic sound range, deeper bass and 50% less sound leakage than Bluez 2
Last year we started following a company named Zungle who was creating a pair of smart sunglasses with built in Bluetooth and bone conduction technology.
We just checked their crowdfunding status and they are fully funded and predicting shipping dates of April 2017.In fact you can still pre-order here. If this sounds interesting to you (it sounds pretty awesome to us!) check out the video below for more details.
In addition to Zungle, but not shipping until July 2017 is Vue. Vue is more focused on everyday glasses, but also has a sunglasses option. Pre-order and read more here, or check out the video below.
Bone conduction technology has really taken off and improved over the past 7-10 years and we expect that it will continue to do the same as there is a wide audience for this type of technology.
Overall, these wireless bone conduction headphones are a great solution for those wanting to enjoy audio without cutting yourself off from everything around you.
Because the headphones utilize the bone conduction mechanisms of hearing, they are a great way for someone with a conductive hearing loss or single-sided deafness to enjoy audio streaming. They are also a good solution for those with any type of in-the-ear hearing aids.
If you end up grabbing one of the above headphones make sure you write us and let us know what you think or leave a comment below.