Hands On: Aftershokz Bone Conduction Headphones

Sick of listening music through your ear canals like a chump? It turns out you can actually hear via the bones in your skull instead.

Rather than sound travelling as vibrations through the air and into your inner ear, it can be transmitted through the bones in your head.

We ditched the old ear-buds and tried out bone conduction technology to suss out the advantages and disadvantages.


The Bone Conduction Experience

Aftershokz makes two different types of bone conduction headphones – one wired and one wireless. Both work in the same way – instead of little tiny speakers that are jammed into your ears, the headphones have large rubber pads that rest against the bones of your skull.

Playing music sets them vibrating and the fun begins.

Listening to music via bone conduction is weird in so many ways. The sound seems to somehow come from inside your head and feels richer yet muted at the same time.

It’s important to nestle the headphone pads right up against the bone in front of your ear, otherwise you won’t get the full effect. It does take a bit of experimentation to find the best spot, especially if you wear glasses.

At first it seemed like the sound was only inside your head – like standing in a room full of music that only you can hear. But it turns out if you crank up the volume the headphones are actually very audible to people nearby. While bone conduction does the heavy lifting, a lot of sound does make it into your ears the usual way.

Ultimately the sound quality is not really better or worse than normal headphones — just different. It’s rich and warm, yet a little muddy and doesn’t seem to handle higher notes too well. Bass is interesting in that it actually vibrates your face, so feels a lot more forceful.

While music sounds a little odd compared to normal, voices (such as when using the headphones as a hands free) actually sound better than normal. This is particularly handy if you are into audio books.

The main benefit is that the headphones leave your ears totally free and don’t block any outside noise at all.

If you have the cranked up you could still miss what’s going on around you, but you’re not as cut off as with ear buds.

The headphones do produce a fair bit of external noise, so you won’t be too popular if you crank them up in crowded areas. By the same token, they won’t help block out other noise on the train or a plane either.

The main use that comes to mind is exercising. Going biking or jogging with headphones can be dangerous if you can’t hear what’s going on around you. With bone conduction, you can be a lot more aware of your surrounds.

They are also more comfortable for some people, though others may find the slight pressure above the ears tiring.

Oh and just in case you were wondering, yes they do work on your pets.


Bluez 2

The Aftershokz boffins have packaged bone conduction into a Bluetooth headband that weighs just 41 grams and has a 10m range.

It offers 6 hours of music playback and can be charged back up in 2 hours, via micro USB. It also has an inbuilt microphone so can operate as a hands free kit with a 10 day standby.

The Bluez 2 headphones offer a20Hz – 20 KHz frequency response, with a 100 dB sensitivity.

At $129 the Bluez 2 is not cheap, but if you need the unique features then it’s a good buy.


Sportz M3

As a wired pair of headphones, you might be surprised to see that the M3 actually has a little rechargeable amplifier on the cord. It turns out this is a necessary evil – the bone conduction transducers need more power than typical headphone outputs can supply.

On the plus side, it has a long 12 hour playback and can be charged up in 2 hours.

The entire unit is sweat resistant and weighs just 45 grams. You get a 20Hz – 20 KHz frequency response along with a 100 dB sensitivity.

If you need a pair of sports headphones like no other, then the M3 is a decent buy at $80.


Our test headphones were supplied by TNS Distribution, but you can also get more information over at the AfterShokz website.

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