Updated: January 24, 2017
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 10 Bone Conduction Headphones
4 Top 3 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 Titanium. See our table below for a look at the rest of our Top 10 :)
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 10 Bone Conduction Headphones
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 3.
Number 1 – AfterShokz TREKZ Titanium
These are far and away the best option in our opinion. 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. They’re extremely comfortable and surprisingly lightweight.
Just when you think AfterShokz couldn’t possibly improve their product anymore, they come out with some new tweaks to really put their bone conduction headphones over the top.
You can find our full review below.
The TREKZ 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 TREKZ: 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 TREKZ sweatproof and perfect for sports/working out.
The TREKZ 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 2 – 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
Number 3 – Damson Headbones (Wireless)
We recently got the opportunity to test out the new Damson Head Bones. We first learned about the Damson Head Bones when we were researching bone conduction headphones.
Now that they have finished their Kickstarter funding and are officially on the market, we were eager to give them a try. These are wireless bone conduction headphones that utilize Bluetooth to stream audio through your cheekbone to your inner ear. Instead of sticking earbuds into your ear canal, the head bones sit in front of your ear, on your cheekbone. The small vibrations of the headphones allow you to hear whatever it is you are streaming, without cutting you off from the sounds in your environment.
Our initial reaction when we took them out of the box was that they looked pretty big. We are used to using the wired Aftershokz Sport bone conduction headphones, which are much smaller. However, a bigger size is to be expected with wireless headphones because there are no corded components. It’s a trade-off that must be considered when deciding between wired and wireless. And if you’re looking to use these actively (i.e. sports, working out) then it’s a trade-off that’s worth it.
We really liked the way the head bones came with a carrying case and folded up. The other bone conduction headphones we have tried don’t collapse for easy transport.
We had some difficulty pairing the head bones to our iPhone. The power button is the same button as the pairing button. When pressing the pairing (power) button, you will first hear an audio signal that says “on” after 3 seconds. You must continue to hold the button down for an additional 5 seconds before you hear “pairing.” This was not clearly explained in the instructions and took us a few tries to figure out.
We tested the head bones with an outdoor phone conversation, music, and podcast streaming. We can definitely see how wearing the head bones is much safer than wearing conventional headphones, as we could easily hear the audio streaming, as well as the noises in our environment. The only time we were unable to hear the audio streaming was when walking on a busy road with traffic. However, in our opinion, the ability to hear oncoming traffic far outweighs the inconvenience of missing a short portion of audio streaming.
The music and podcast streaming worked perfectly, however the phone conversation was a little spotty. A few times during the conversation, I was unable to hear the speaker. It seemed to temporarily lose connection. My iPhone was placed in my jacket pocket during streaming.
The fit of the head bones is good. They sit directly over the cheekbones and can be adjusted slightly. The only complaint we have is that the neck portion hangs down pretty low, which rubs on the back collar of the shirt. When turning my head back and forth, the headphones move around on my cheekbones a bit.
However, as with all bone conduction headphones, you can where your hearing aids with these with zero interference. So, that is a definite plus in the fit department.
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.