The open-ear bone conduction headphones are one of the mainstream fitness products on the market. Because of its unique design, swimmers prefer them over regular earbuds.
But how do they actually perform in general activities like running, cycling, and workouts? We ran our eyes through a few forums and picked up some good questions.
In this post, we will answer them all and we are quite sure some of them are what you have in your mind right now. So follow along!
1. How Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work?
The name says it all. Instead of sending sound waves to the eardrums, Bone Conduction Headphones pass vibrations through the bones to the inner ear called the cochlea which is responsible for hearing.
Where regular headphones make the eardrums vibrate and pass it on to the cochlea, these bone conduction headphones take a leap over the eardrums and communicate directly with the cochlea.
In this process, eardrums remain untouched and uninvolved. Bones in the area of the jaw, cheek, and head are the main conductors of sound here. That is how the name emerged.
The idea of bone conduction is not new. It is being used in the field of hearing loss treatments for ages. These headphones just took the same patent and developed it into a music listening device.
2. The Benefits of Bone Conduction Headphones
There are many advantages of using bone conduction headphones. The most important ones are as follows:
2.1 Better Awareness of the Surroundings
The problem with regular headphones or earbuds is that they block your ears. This is helpful but not always. If you are running on a street and playing music, you will be less aware of the traffic around you. In worse cases, you could end up being in an accident because you didn’t hear the horn.
Bone conduction headphones keep your ear open. You will be able to hear horns and everything around you while enjoying the music. If you are a frequent street runner, it is a wiser move to switch to bone conduction for your safety.
2.2 Secure and More Comfortable to Wear
There are a lot of people including me who don’t like to wear earbuds (I am more of an over-ear type guy). They sit inside the ear canals and press against the wall to stay in place. Because they are applying force, your ears will get fatigued quickly. Your ears will start to hurt too because they are too close to the eardrums.
Where bone conduction headphones sit gently around your head. The tips of these headphones create a curve on your outside ears like eyeglasses. You also don’t feel the clamping force because it is distributed over a bigger surface. After all, your head can tolerate a lot more force than your ears.
2.3 Typically Good Water Rating
Since these headphones transmit sound through vibration waves, they don’t have the regular magnetic sound drivers on the inside. What they have is called transducers. These transducers convert electronic signals into vibration waves which create the sensation of sound on the inner ear.
This unique construction enabled companies to have better sealing all around. As a result, the majority of bone conduction headphones are waterproof. However, that doesn’t necessarily make them ready for swimming (read below, we explained why that is and what to do about it).
2.4 More Hygienic
Hygiene is a common problem with headphones. Our ears contain a lot of germs and when you use something like earbuds, it gets spread all over it. That makes earbuds not very shareable.
The bone conduction headphones rest on your head and are typically more hygienic since none of the parts are in touch with the inner section of your ears.
2.5 Perfect Pair for People With Hearing Loss
Hearing problem is common everywhere. If your doctor said that your eardrums are damaged and you should not use any kind of headphones, that is not the end of it.
Headphones using bone conduction form factor have no involvement with eardrums. Meaning people who are hearing impaired can have the headphones experience without causing any further damage to the eardrums.
Of course, if you have such a problem, you should first consult with your doctor. But normally most of them will give approval to these devices.
3. Things They Are Not Good At
Everything has its pros and cons. These headphones are no exception. Now we will share some of the disadvantages of using this form of headphones.
3.1 Average Sound Quality
While bone conduction does facilitate you with a bunch of things, it compromises on the core feature of headphones: sound quality.
Since they do not communicate through the eardrums, the vibration waves drop a significant amount of details in the process of transmission. As a result, you hear a very lossy sound.
But how bad is it? The quality drop is easily noticeable if you compare this side by side with similarly priced regular headphones. They still have to do a lot of work to bring it up to the same level.
3.2 Wireless Ones Do Not Work Underwater
If you didn’t know about this, wireless connections do not work underwater. No matter which wireless technology you use.
But people still say that they use wireless headphones for swimming. What does that mean then? They use headphones that do not have wires and do not rely on a parent device to receive signals from. In simple words: mp3 players shoved into headphones.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz is one good example. It is a bone-conduction headphone with a built-in song capacity of 4GB (can store up to 1200 songs locally). It comes with an IP68 water rating and is intended for swimmers.
3.3 Relatively Expensive
If you look at the price of these bone conduction headphones, it will take no time to realize that they are expensive. It gets even worse when you learn the fact that the sound quality on these is not as good as the others because of the loss of details in the transmission process.
Sure, they are using a new technology which causes some more money. But you still might want to think before you make the move. If comfort and awareness are what you are looking for, it might be worthwhile. Otherwise, you are definitely better off with something else. Something regular.
3.4 Doesn’t Block Noises
While these headphones give you the opportunity to keep full awareness of your surroundings, it also takes away the opportunity to block unwanted noises.
This makes sense when you are like running or exercising outside every day. But if you want to take it because you want to try it out in regular situations, this might not be the ideal one for you.
4. Are Bone Conduction Headphones Safe?
I get the fact that technology is scary. It gets even scarier when you see something new. Something that has never been done before.
So your question might be “How safe are these bone conduction headphones?”.
I will put it in this way since there are some ifs. It is safer than your regular headphones. According to WHO, about 1.1 Billion people are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss because they are exposing themselves to an unhealthy level of sound from personal music devices.
If you dig a little deeper, you will see that eardrums are what are getting damaged first and resulting in not being able to pass the sensation of sound to the inner ear cochlea properly. Bone conduction headphones bypass the eardrums entirely throwing this problem out of the equation.
However, the sound is still going to end up in your inner ear and if you do that with an excessively high volume or intensity, regardless of the form factor, you are going to damage your ears.
The method of bone conduction has been there from the age of Beethoven and is used to treat patients with hearing loss. Since it is being used at the medical level, you shouldn’t worry too much about it.
5. How Good Are They for Running, Cycling, and Other Sports?
Bone conduction headphones are absolutely good for running, cycling, swimming, or any other kind of sports that you are in, provided you know what you are getting yourself into.
They are good because the fit is comfortable. They clamp gently around your head and because of its linear weight distribution, it doesn’t move that much when you are sprinting or doing cardio.
You are also covered when you do exercises that involve lots of sweating and dripping. The majority of them are certified with a good water-resistance rating and can be submerged into the water if you see yourself doing a few swimming laps.
If you are one of those runners who go out to run on busy streets, these headphones can save you from a disaster by keeping your ears open for dangerous traffic situations.
6. Are They Also Good for Gym Workouts?
Bone conduction headphones can be both good and bad for your gym sessions. And here is how.
Let’s start with the positives. They offer a good fit so no matter which kind of CrossFit or high-intensity exercises you do, they are going to stay in place. They are waterproof so you don’t have to worry about getting them damaged by sweat either. They are typically more hygienic as you can wipe them down with some rubbing alcohol if you want to.
But now let’s talk about the negatives. First of all, they are open-ear. So if you are among them who get distracted by noises in the gym, these will end up being counterproductive. Also, you are compromising on the sound quality for comfort which might be okay for some, but not for all. Apart from that, I cannot think of any other reason why you cannot use them for working out.
7. Are Bone Conduction Headphones Worth Buying?
Now we come down to the final question and probably the most important one. Is it worth buying a pair of these? If you haven’t figured that out yourself after reading this blog post, read on to the next two paragraphs.
I will be honest. Bone conduction headphones are good as a secondary pair of headphones. I love them for doing workouts and sports. But I don’t see it replacing my main pair because the sound quality is still far off. There is also no noise cancellation which is crucial for my day-to-day life.
If you have the money to use it as your second pair, I highly recommend that you go and get one. You will thank me for the comfort it offers. However, if your budget only allows you to get one pair of headphones for all, you will not be happy with these.