By exploiting another way to deliver sound, bone conduction headphones tapped a niche the conventional headphone market neglected
This post is a primer to get you up to speed on the features to look out for in bone conduction headphones, plus a lot more:
- Understand how bone conduction headphones work
- Why bone conduction headphones are popular
- Types of bone conduction headphones
- Bone conduction headphones for swimming
- Lots more!
Let’s get started.
What is Bone Conduction Headphones?
Bone conduction headphones sound like futuristic tech that should exist alongside with self-driving cars and holographic phones, but the truth is, it’s an old school idea that’s been around since the time of Beethoven. The 1970s saw the introduction of bone conduction into hearing aids and in recent memory, it played an essential role in the infamous, short-lived, and truly futuristic Google Glass.
So how do bone conduction headphones work?
First, it is important to understand the nature of sound and the mechanism of hearing.
Sound waves are vibrations that travel through a channel, most commonly, air.
Hearing begins when sound waves travel down the ear canal and into the ultrasensitive eardrum. When it detects sound, it creates vibrations that travel through the ossicles (aka the smallest bones in the body) until they reach the cochlea. From there, sound waves are now signals ready to be sent to the brain.
What bone conduction headphones do is direct sound waves straight through the cochlea using a different channel – you guessed it – bones. To be exact, jawbones, cheekbones, and the skin.
Commercial bone conduction headphones are two types: wireless Bluetooth, and MP3 type that you can directly load music into. They are marketed as the ultimate headphones for working out, and the fitness community loves it.
They’re a great alternative to the tangled mess of wired earphones and the loose-fitting, prone to loss wireless earbuds. Its unique selling point, however, is open-ear listening: the ability to hear your surroundings despite the music. If your jogging route passes through fast-moving traffic, hearing cars passing by can be life-saving. For some, this alone makes choosing bone conduction headphones over conventional headphones a no-brainer.
5 Key Features to Consider For Bone Conduction Headphones
1. IP55 Rating or higher
Bone conduction headphones are designed for versatility.
Ideally, it should be a pair that can you can wear to the gym straight from the office. Most models can withstand your daily workout routine, but one with an IP55 rating or higher can take a beating. At IP55, it’s impervious to dust, moisture, and sweat; rugged enough for outdoor activities that test your limits.
You can bring bone conduction headphones on land, air, and to a certain extent, water.
Top of the line bone conduction headphones is IPX8 rated, allowing you to dive in headfirst with music. Fully waterproof, these can withstand for immersion beyond 1m in water for a period of time. Depth limitations and immersion times vary among brands so make sure to check the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Popular among the music-loving swimmer crowd is the Finis Duo, Afterschockz Xtrainer, and the Becker.
(Fun fact: IP ratings have two digits, the first digit for resistance against solids; the second for liquids. 6 and 8 are the highest rating for each, respectively. Bone conduction headphones are rated from IP55 to IP68)
2. Long Battery Life
Leading an active lifestyle requires a device that can keep up with you.
Bone conduction headsets last for hours at length, but it fluctuates depending on use case. Most headsets are advertised to last for 6-8 hours on continuous playback, but real-world reviews reveal you can squeeze up to 9 hours, even more, before needing to recharge. Battery life on standby should be up to a week.
Both Bluetooth and MP3-player types last roughly the same time but taking calls and streaming do affect Bluetooth headsets.
3. Secure fit and comfort
The mechanism behind bone conduction earphones makes them the only audio equipment where fit is head over heels the most important factor to consider.
A tight, snug fit that isn’t displaced by jostling, moving around, and sweat in an active environment is key. It’s one-size-fits-all for most models, but the AfterShokz Titanium does come in standard and mini sizes.
The looped headband style is the common form factor in bone conduction headphones, but the unique challenges of swimming with headphones have resulted in equally creative solutions. The Beker is essentially an MP3-player the size of a small bar of soap slipped under a swim cap, sitting at the back of your skull. Another solution is to mount the device to the goggle’s headband and that’s what the Finis Duo did.
4. High storage capacity
Waterproof headphones are MP3-player type only. The Xtrainer and Finis Duo have a storage capacity of 4GB (1,200 songs) while the Becker has up to 8GB (2,000 songs). This enough space for a good mix of ebooks, podcasts, and music for a session at the pool. Supported formats include MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC, and AAC.
5. Bluetooth 5.0
First off, there is nothing wrong with Bluetooth 4.0 in headphones, it’s just that for wearable active gear, having the latest Bluetooth 5.0 is miles better. Audibly better, and here’s why.
- It extends your range of mobility by an appreciable distance – reviews of the AfterShokz Aeropex show that connection is still stable at 10 meters.
- Switching from devices is also less of a hassle with Bluetooth 5.0 – it connects you to two devices, at once! It’s especially handy in situations like attending video conferences on your laptop and music on your phone.
- They consume less power than Bluetooth 4.0.
It should be noted though that these features only work if your phone supports Bluetooth 5.0, otherwise, they would still function normally.
Geared towards mobility, bone conduction headphones should have a superb battery life, connectivity, and comfort. When shopping for yourself, go for the one that lets you hear music that pushes you to do one more rep, swim more lap, and run one mile farther.
Have you tried on bone conduction headphones? Tell us how they stack up against conventional earphones in the comments!