Aftershokz has produced bone conduction earphones for around a decade now, with no other big brand offering them competition.
This style of earphones is predominantly focussed on outdoor fitness providing increased situational awareness that in-ear options will never be able to offer.
Bone conducting headphones are the only earphones that are approved for use in all road races under the UK Athletics Rules of Competition. As for cycling, I think everyone would agree you shouldn’t wear anything other than this style.
The Aftershokz Openmove are the latest launch and one of the most affordable options yet at around £80
Specification & Features
AfterShokz OpenMove Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones…
- [AFTERSHOKZ BEST-IN-CLASS ENTRY-LEVEL BONE…
- [COMFORT AND SAFETY] Open-ear design has a…
- [MARKET-LEADING] With 625 applied patents…
- [STAY PUT] The ergonomic wraparound design ensures…
- Bone Conduction Technology – 7th generation
- Battery Life – 6 hours
- Water Resistance – IP55 (should be fine in the rain & withstands sweat)
- Bluetooth – V5
- Weight – 29g
- Charging – USB-C
- Material – Titanium headband with polycarbonate ear hook
Bone conduction earphones take a little while to get used to. When I first tried this type of earphone, I always tried to push the neck bracelet down onto my shoulders. It is supposed to sort of stick out. The speaker (or transducer as Aftershokz calls it) then sits on top of your cheekbone above and in front of the tragus part of your ear.
It does not sit physically over the ear opening, and this then leaves your ear open to hear the surroundings around you.
The official guide on how to wear these sounds more complex than necessary:
Begin by holding the headphones horizontally, with the transducer side facing up, closest to your body. Lift the headphones over your head, so the back of the wraparound headband sets in place at the base of the head, and the transducers rest on your cheekbones in front of your ears (not nested inside or covering your ears).
One of the main advantages I find with these is that you never have to worry about them falling out, something that can be disastrous with outdoor activities when using TWS earphones. Worst case scenario you may have to adjust them slightly, but you never have that frustrating fall out sensation of in-ear options.
Another advantage these have over traditional earphones is long term comfort. I could wear these all day without getting that painful fatigue that in-ear or over-ear headphones can sometimes cause.
It is a little hard to evaluate the sound quality of bone conduction earphones when the main comparison is traditional earbuds. The overall sound quality and experience are very different, and they are designed for different use cases.
No open fit earphone will sound as good as in-ear closed fit earphones. The silicon tips on earphones allow them to produce much more bass; this is often why someone can think a pair of earphones sound poor while another thinks they are great. The person with a poor fit will have poor bass.
To be fair to these, they do a pretty good job; when you have them in the correct place, the bass is quite prominent. With artists such as Run the Jewels, you still get the bass-heavy beats, but it is just not quite the same as in-ear fit.
Vocals are surprisingly good, with decent clarity. It is perhaps the highs that suffer the most, sometimes being drowned out by the bass or sounding a little sharp.
I found these sound quite good at higher volumes, the bass doesn’t bottom out, voices and mids stay clear without becoming harsh and unpleasant.
Overall the sound quality is good, these were never designed for audiophiles. You buy them strictly for the open fit nature, but they still manage to produce a decent overall sound.
You can feel the music vibrating
The music does create a sense of vibration and these can feel quite unusual when you start using them. It is a similar sensation to switching active noise cancelling on with some headphones, feeling slightly disorientating. You quickly get used to it, though.
Open fit is excellent for hearing hazards, but wind noise is your enemy
The open fit nature of these makes them far superior to any other style of earphone for situational awareness, but the open fit also introduces all the unwanted background noise. Living on the coast, or when cycling in general, wind regularly drowns out music at low volumes. So you will find yourself having to turn them up loud quite often.
Oddly, these are supplied with some earplugs. If you are going to plug up your ears, why use bone conduction earphones?
Anyway, using these changes the audio, which is quite bizarre, knowing you have earplugs in but still being able to hear the audio clearly. With the plugs in, the bass drops out significantly, bringing mids and vocals forward. It also increases the perceived volume.
All companies selling this style of earphone claim there is no sound leakage. This is not true. At moderate to high volumes there is, placing these on my table and cranking up the volume I can hear exactly what is being played.
However, this will likely only be a problem if you are listening to the earphones loudly in a quiet office, which is not really what they are designed for.
With the earplugs and the volume down, the sound leakage is almost none existent
They also offer lower sound leakage than the affordable options you find on Amazon.
During my time with the Aftershokz Openmove, battery life has been excellent. With me mainly using these for exercise, I tend to wear them then charge them, so I never really pushed the battery much. They have been good for long gym sessions and marathon training.
If you do any form of endurance sport, then the 6 hours life maybe a little short; the Aftershokz Aeropex offers 33% more battery with 8 hours but also costs significantly more.
Price and Alternatives
These are priced at around £80, they seem to be the replacement for the popular Trekz Titanium, which are only £10 less at £70. These are lighter, use a newer version of Bluetooth and uses the latest bone conduction tech. I am not sure how much difference that will make to the sound quality, but I assume they are better.
The Aftershokz Aeropex will be a better option for people more serious about their training. They have a much longer battery life and are IP67 rated vs IP55, so they will hold up well no matter how sweaty you are or how bad the weather is. At around £150, they are a significant investment.
There are dozens of no-name clones on Amazon. I have tried some, I wouldn’t say they are awful, they are certainly worth considering if that’s all you can afford. However, like most things, you get what you pay for, and the Aftershokz range offers a significantly better experience.
The Bose Frames are the only big-name option offering anything similar to Aftershokz. I reviewed the Alto which would work for casual commuting but were disastrous on a road bike. They have since launched the sports focussed Frames Tempo, but they cost much more than any of the Aftershokz.
Anyone that does outdoor fitness should consider these or something similar. If you are a cyclist, they are a must, and the same is true for anyone running open road events.
Some people also just feel safer in general, knowing they can hear what is around them when they run or walk. So in these scenarios, anything from Aftershokz is a no brainer.
These offer excellent performance for the money, easily outclassing all the cheap no-brand options available on Amazon.
For most people, these will be all you need, if you only wear them for your outdoor runs, I am not sure the Aeropex would offer that much performance gain.
Posted by Mighty Gadget Blog: UK Technology News and Reviews