For runners, cyclists, or anyone else who works out in Mother Nature, it can be dangerous if you also like to listen to music. The solution? Get yourself a set of bone conduction headphones.
I’ve been using the Air by AfterShokz for close to a year now when I ride my bike, and these headphones have been one of the most game-changing pieces of equipment I’ve ever picked up. I’m free to go outside and ride, keep the music flowing for motivation, and still hear everything around me—cars, dogs, people, etc. I can even hold a conversation if I’m riding with other people without removing an earbud or pausing the music. It’s incredible!
At this point, you might be asking yourself, “What the hell is this guy talking about? What are bone conduction headphones?” We have a deep explainer over at How-to Geek, but the short version is they bypass your outer ear and transmit sounds directly to your inner ear by way of vibrations on your skull. This keeps your ears open to hear everything going on around you while still allowing you to enjoy music or podcasts. I don’t want to go as far as saying they’re life-changing, but man, they’re pretty damn close.
Before I picked up the Air, I was a skeptic. But after finally getting a set on my skull, it took one ride to make me a true believer. It wasn’t just any ride, either. It was 70 miles of mixed terrain badassery—one of the hardest gravel courses I’ve ever ridden. And the Air (back then, they were called the “Trekz Air”) blew me away.
A year counts as “soon,” right?
What’s most incredible to me is, not only do they allow me to hear what’s going on around me and hold conversations with other cyclists, but the way the music sort of falls into the background when other sounds require my attention.
If another rider rolls up next to me and starts talking while I’m wearing my Air (with music playing, of course), my attention is automatically and subconsciously shifted to that person—the music virtually “disappears” into the background. It’s kind of like having a conversation with the TV on—you can still hear the TV, but it’s background noise. This isn’t an unusual experience, but it’s something that otherwise can’t be experienced with a set of headphones. And it’s one of my favorite things about bone conduction tech.
The audio quality of the Air is more impressive than I expected. I’ve heard a lot about how poor the audio is from bone conduction, and while it’s not going to compare to a decent set of in- or over-ear headphones, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the sound quality.
I wouldn’t trade any of my in-ears for bone conduction all the time, mind you, but given the limitations of what’s possible with sound quality in bone conduction, I think AfterShokz has done a killer job with the line. I’ve used a few other sets of bone conduction headphones since I got the Air, and none of them can compare to what AfterShokz has done here.
These aren’t cheap, though—the Air retail for $120—so, if you find yourself wanting to go all bone conduction, all the time, you can. Most bone conduction headphones also come with a set of earplugs, which serves two purposes. Most obviously, they help isolate you from outside noise, so you don’t have to hear what’s going on around you. Secondly, they improve the sound quality of the headphones because a seal is created before the outer ear. The AfterShokz stuff even has a separate sound mode with less bass for use with earplugs that improves the overall audio quality.
Don’t get me wrong—these still don’t sound as good as a decent set of earbuds. But these are a reasonable option if you don’t want to carry two sets of headphones or if you work in a noisy environment that requires earplugs.
So, if you’ve been on the fence about getting a set of bone conduction headphones (or maybe you didn’t even know they were a thing until now) for fear they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, I say go for it. I wish I had gotten mine a lot sooner.
Here’s What We Like
- Allow you to hear what's going on around you
- Good sound quality for bone conduction
- Lightweight, and incredibly comfortable
And What We Don't
- Pricey for potentially limited use
- Sound quality isn't as good as traditional headphones