Personal audio equipment has come a long way over the past few years. From the high quality Bluetooth headphones that allow you to enjoy your music without having to deal with tangled wires, to the superior noise cancellation technologies that help isolate you from the busy world around you, it’s clear that we’re living in the next generation of portable audio.
But it doesn’t matter how impactful your sound is, there are certain times when you don’t want your music to isolate you from the world. When you’re riding your bike, for example, being able to listen to traffic is extremely important. Short of wiring up a Bluetooth speaker, how are you able to enjoy your music while still maintaining the ability to listen? Bone conducting headphones give you the best of both worlds.
These headphones are designed in a very unique manner. To understand how they work, you first need to understand how the ear works. Whenever you hear sound, what you’re actually hearing is vibration. When a car engine starts, the moving parts are pushing air. Each particle of air, in turn, pushes the one next to it. Eventually, these air particles hit your ear drum. Headphones work by using large disc shaped cones attached to a coil to push the air, simulating the original sound. Bone conducting headphones work a little differently. Instead of vibrating the air, they vibrate your actual bones to transfer sound to the ear drum. The vibrations are so subtle that you barely hear anything, and yet audio seems to come out of nowhere. Because they are not obstructing your ear canal in any way, you’re free to hear the environment around you.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find a good pair of bone conducting headphones. The technology is still new compared to standard audio drivers, and many headphones simply leave something to be desired. But if you’re willing to dig, there are still a few high-quality devices on the market. Today, we’ll be looking at our two favorite pairs of bone conducting headphones. Then, we’ll help you choose the one that’s right for you.
Aftershokz Trekz Titanium Conduction Headphones
As a brand that specializes in bone conducting headphones, this company is one of the first we’d turn to when we’re looking for a top tier audio experience. Their patented driver technology has proven time and time again to be superior to the inexpensive drivers used in other models, and their top tier Trekz model is the crème of the crop.
Although the Aftershokz Trekz do have the vague layout as a pair of athletic headphones, there is something a little different about this model that gives it an aggressive look. The angles are sharp and somewhat unexpected, but still curved just enough so that they don’t seem too over the top. Nothing about the headphones come across as sloppy, it all feels intelligently designed. Obviously, driver placement plays a large role in how the headphones are shaped. But it is so different from what you expect, that they almost come across as rebellious. But inside the slightly distended bands is a whole combination of wireless hardware that makes these headphones something you won’t want to leave home without.
One of our least favorite parts of headphones is the cable. Although it serves a very important technical role, it always seems to get in the way. If you’re shopping for bone conducting headphones, the main selling point is the fact that they don’t serve as an obstruction to your daily life. For that reason, we’re glad to see that the Aftershockz Trekz are completely wireless. It uses a premium Bluetooth chipset compatible with the latest standard, delivering high quality audio straight from your mobile device to your ears without any compression loss. If you have any smartphone made in the last 3 years, you’ll be able to take advantage of this high quality through EDR (extended data rate) transmission.
Using an older phone? The Aftershockz Trekz are partially backwards compatible, but PremiumPitch+ requires that you use a Bluetooth 2.0 compatible phone. Fortunately, almost every phone made in the last 5 years will work. But it’s important to double check this before you make a purchase.
There are some significant advantages to the newer chipset. For example, you can pair these headphones to multiple devices. Let’s say, for example, you’re using them to listen to some music off of your computer. Your phone can be paired at the same time, so when a call comes in the music will pause and give you the opportunity to take the call. This also makes sharing the headphones a breeze, as you won’t have to worry about repairing them to another device.
The Aftershockz Trekz use a very low power Bluetooth radio, allowing them to provide you with a seriously impressive battery life. Bone conducting headphones generally require quite a bit more power, so when we saw that the manufacturer was claiming 6 hours of music or talk time, we were a little skeptical. But in our tests, we found that these claims where absolutely true. This isn’t “6 hours of music on the lowest volume” or “2 hours of talk and 4 hours of standby.” We got six hours of straight music with very high volume, almost on the dot. Talk time is feasibly a little longer, but you’re not likely going to be talking on the phone for six straight hours, and standby does use a little power. In our usage, we found that we were generally listening to music in between calls. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been wearing the headphones.
The one thing you need to be prepared for is the fit. These aren’t your everyday headphones, and there is a small adjustment period. In order for these headphones to work, they need to make decent contact with your head. The main resting place of these headphones is just above your jaw, slightly below your temple. They do fit a little tighter than some, and there is good reason for this. Other bone conducting headphones use less pressure, but this sacrifices sound quality.
That being said, the adjustment period to these headphones is very quick. The neck band wraps around your head, but doesn’t put any pressure. After a few minutes of using these headphones, it will be easy to forget they are even there.
Last but certainly not least, how do these headphones sound? We’ve heard a lot of bone conducting headphones in the past, and our disappointing experiences made us hesitant to try out this pair. But after a few minutes, we have to say that we were floored. While these aren’t audiophile grade, they are much better than any other pair of headphones on the market. The bass is much more present, bordering on thunderous.
Treble was also quite clear, giving the sound a level of clarity we weren’t used to. But when you’re listening to these headphones, you don’t just hear ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ and ‘midrange’. Instead, what you hear is music. Although it’s a little hard to describe, there is a certain quality about high quality headphones where they almost make themselves invisible. In our eyes, this is what we look for. Headphones are not an instrument, and they shouldn’t change the way your music sounds. Instead, they are simply an vessel that transports you to a familiar place. For this reason, we can’t recommend a pair of bone conducting headphones that provide better sound quality for the money.
Aftershokz Bluez 2S Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones
We’ve already sung the praise of Aftershockz, but this buyers guide wouldn’t be complete without the Trekz’ little brother. These headphones have many of the same great qualities we like about the other model, but with a few small tweaks that allow them to perform better in certain scenarios.
At first glance of the Aftershokz Bluez 2S, you might not notice many differences between this set of headphones and the previous model we looked at. But once you hold them in your hands, you’ll notice a striking difference between the two. The build is entirely different. While the first model was made from a flexible material, this one is much more rigid. Made from titanium, there is very little that can damage these headphones. This improves durability and makes it suitable to use in a variety of conditions. It’s water resistant, so sweat from your workout or getting caught in the rain doesn’t spell out the death of your prized headphones.
As we’ve come to expect, this pair of bone conducting headphones is also fully Bluetooth compatible. It uses the same PremiumPitch+ technology, so you’ll need to have a Bluetooth 2.0 compatible device.
The Aftershokz Bluez 2S use the same battery as the other model, so you can expect the same impressive battery life. Six hours for phone calls, six hours talk time. Almost completely on the dot. You won’t have to charge it after every single workout, and it will easily last you the duration of a long hike. It last several days on standby, so if you’re using them infrequently you can just chuck them in a drawer, and they’ll be ready to go when you are.
Because these are designed to be fitness headphones, the fit is a little looser than other models. They’re secure enough to stay on your head, even when running or jogging. But part of the support comes from the rigid band. They press gently into the side of your head and above the ear, and the band rests on the back of your head. They are a little more comfortable than the previous model, making them our first choice for athletic activity.
Although the Bluez 2S are a little more comfortable, the sound quality does suffer a bit. Compared to most bone conducting headphones, they’re still very impressive. But the sound is not quite as clear. For certain types of music, you won’t even notice. They’re very bass heavy, making them perfect for electronic or rap music. The highs are a little receded, but with most modern pop you won’t really notice.
Which Bone Conducting Headphones Are Right for Me?
After our tests, it’s pretty clear that these are the two best bone conducting headphones for the money. Which one suits your needs best depends primarily on how you plan to use the headphones. If you’re looking for something to use purely as a workout headphone, the Aftershokz Bluez 2S is your best option. They fit a little tighter, but they’re resistant to sweat, extremely durable, and have excellent battery life.
But for most users, we’d recommend the Aftershokz Trekz. These headphones have the best possible sound quality of any pair of bone conducting headphones, so you can rest assured you’re making a good purchase.
Not willing to make any audio compromises? Check out our review of the Beoplay H9 Wireless Over-Ear headphones. These are some of the best headphones on the market, and the only way to receive the ultimate in premium audio.