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Bone conduction headphones: what are they? How do they work?



Picture of Aftershokz titanium bone conduction headset worn by a woman.

credit: Lily Katz / Android Authority

True wireless headphones have taken away the attention of wireless audio in the past few years, but this is not the only wireless technology that deserves attention. Bone conduction headphones occupy a special field, especially suitable for outdoor athletes and certain classes of hearing impaired communities. We will delve into wireless bone conduction headphones.

What is a bone conduction headset?

Bone conduction earphones refer to earphones that can be placed above the listener’s bone. Bone conduction earphones do not prompt the tympanic membrane when sound waves propagate through the air, but bypass the middle ear to vibrate through the jawbone. The technology originated in hearing aids, and its history can be traced back to the 1920s, when Hugo Gernsback invented Osphone (a bone conduction hearing aid). Today, bone conduction audio has surpassed the fields of health and medicine and has become an excellent tool for outdoor athletes. Because headphones can liberate ears and allow listeners to keep abreast of their surroundings, this is essential when running or hiking outdoors.

How does the bone conduction headset work?

Two pictures. The picture on the left shows how sound travels to the ears, and the picture on the right shows close-ups of the middle and inner ears.

Bone conduction earphones continuously vibrate bones, thereby transmitting sound waves through the listener’s skull. More specifically, the sound goes directly through the skull to the cochlea, avoiding the tympanic membrane, hammer bone, incus and bone. Then, the cochlea moves tiny hairs (sclerodosis) in Corti. This flowing movement triggers a series of chemical reactions that cause neurotransmitters to stimulate the auditory nerve. Once an impulse is emitted from the auditory nerve, it will spread to the brain, which interprets this information as sound.

This process also explains why your voice sounds lower than others. Bones can deliver low-frequency sounds better than low-frequency sounds, which is why we are often surprised by the high-pitched sound when recording and playback.

Bone conduction is different from standard earplugs and earphones because the former is inserted directly into the ear canal, while the latter uses padded earmuffs located on or around the ear. In both cases, the eardrum and other mechanics will be used, which is effective for most people. However, for anyone suffering from hearing loss, bone conduction headphones are a good choice.

What is the best bone conduction headset?

If you have searched for a pair of Bluetooth bone conduction headphones on the Internet, then you may already be familiar with AfterShokz. After all, it controls a large part of the bone conduction headset market. Our sister site SoundGuys In-depth introduction to the best bone conduction headphones, but this is our brief introduction to the top three.

AfterShokz Aeropex

Personal photos of AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones.

Aeropex is AfterShokz’s flagship headset, and is the most durable of the three, because its IP67 protection rating is both dust-proof and waterproof. You can fully immerse the Aeropex bone conduction earphones to a depth of one meter at a time for 30 minutes. These earphones do not have built-in storage space, so the earphones are not explicitly swimming; however, if you throw them into the lake, this is a good protection feature.

When hands-free calls are accepted and the wireless headset has the same battery life as the battery, you can use the integrated microphone: eight hours of continuous playback. You can also access the Google Assistant and use the multi-function buttons to control playback. It uses Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and costs $125, making it the most expensive of its kind.

AfterShokz Airlines

A photo of a woman wearing AfterShokz Air bone conduction headphones.

This fitness headset, which costs less than $100, is thinner than other models and has a reflective strip that can be seen by listeners when walking or jogging at night. AfterShokz Air has a battery life of 6 hours. Although not ideal, it allows you to spend a week of exercise. Another degradation of Aeropex: Air uses Bluetooth 4.2 firmware, which can explain the relative decline in battery life. The embedded microphone is ideal for making calls. However, it only has an IP55 rating, so please do not put it in the local pool.

AfterShokz Titanium

AfterShokz Titanium is my first foray into the field of Bluetooth bone conduction headphones. It is an excellent headset for anyone who is not sure about the technology. It is one of the cheaper options currently available, with an IP55 protection rating, Bluetooth 4.1, and a battery life of 6 hours. This headset is nothing to shock you, if you have the ability, we recommend that you choose other AfterShokz models, because their connection strength is more reliable than Titanium. For more discounts on headphones, please check our report here.

Other frequently asked questions

ask: Are bone conduction headphones safe?
A: Yes, bone conduction headphones are definitely safer than traditional in-ear headphones, and arguably safer than it, because there is nothing in your ear canal. This means you don’t have to worry about trapping the silicone sleeve in your ear or causing ear infections. They can also safely run outdoors because they allow you to fully understand your surroundings; of course, you still need to listen at a safe volume to make your environment clearly visible.

ask: Can bone conduction headphones cause tinnitus
A: Yes, bone conduction headphones, like all headphones, can cause tinnitus even if they bypass the eardrum. There are different types of hearing loss that affect different mechanisms of the ear, the most common of which is sensory neurological hearing loss (SNHL). The consequence of SNHL is the inability to perceive high-frequency sounds due to damage to stereo cilia. Similarly, these hairs are located in the inner ear and rest along neural pathways. They may still be damaged due to continuous stimulation or excessive sound.

ask: Can bone conduction headphones cause headaches?
A: Unfortunately, any headset can cause headaches, and headset vibration is no exception. Our temples are sensitive to pressure, which can make wearing bone conduction headphones difficult and uncomfortable. All that is needed is a long period of light pressure to cause these headphones to cause headaches. The method that works for me may not work for you, but in general, compared to using ear-hook and ear-hook headphones, the headache rate of using bone conduction headphones is much higher.

ask: Can I wear glasses and bone conduction headphones?
A: Yes, I am a listener with glasses, able to wear Bluetooth bone conduction headphones without contact. When wearing glasses, the comfort of wearing wireless bone conduction headphones is almost not as comfortable as wearing glasses, but it can still work normally without affecting the technology.

next: Best fitness earplugs


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