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You might be surprised to learn that the latest product in the world of wireless earbuds isn’t really an earbud at all. In fact, unlike every earbud or headphone you’ve ever owned, bone conduction headphones don’t go in, on or ever over your ears.
Rather, bone conduction headphones fit around the back of the ear and rest on the tragus, which is that little protrusion of cartilage between the temple and the ear. Then how do you hear the music? Bone conduction headphones transmit audio through the bones of your skull, essentially bypassing the cochlea.
What To Consider Before Buying Bone Conduction Headphones
If this sounds either gimmicky or terrifying, there are actually some pretty substantial implications to this technology. For one thing, it can be a big boon to the hearing impaired who still want to enjoy their favorite songs. Depending on the style of your hearing aid, you can listen using bone conduction headphones without interfering with the regular function of your aids.
Even if you’re not hearing impaired, bone conduction headphones are great options for working out. Whether you’re cycling through busy streets or getting your reps in at the gym, there are plenty of settings where you may want to be able to hear what’s going on around you while listening to music. Plus, as you get sweatier, you won’t have to worry about buds slipping out of your ears since these headphones sit securely around the top of your ear. Most bone conduction headphones are sport-style wireless earbuds. They’re wireless, so they don’t need to plug into your phone, but they do feature a connecting loop between the two earbuds to keep them securely in place.
When it comes to bone conduction headphones, the major brand to know is Shokz. They launched their first pair of bone conduction headphones in 2012, and have established themselves as the major player in this niche market. Up until recently, Shokz was known as Aftershokz, but they rebranded in 2021. When you search for bone conduction headphones, you’ll likely see some options branded Shokz and others Aftershokz, so bear in mind that these are from the same company.
Naturally, there are some drawbacks. If you’re looking to pick up every note and nuance of your favorite classical song, then it’s best to stick to some traditional over-ear headphones. And since they don’t sit in your ears, others around you will be able to hear the sound, and it’ll be hard for you to hear the music if you’re somewhere very noisy. But if you want to get some BPMs going to get your heart rate up on a long bike ride or run, then a pair of bone conduction headphones can be a sound investment.
How We Chose the Best Bone Conduction Headphones
As this is still a niche market, there isn’t quite the same saturation of bone conduction headphones as there are traditional wireless earbuds or Bluetooth speakers. But we sought out several different options to suit different needs, including sporty options that are ideal for running and cycling as well as casual options for everyday use. Naturally, we included options from Shokz/Aftershokz, as well as some alternatives. Read on for our top picks on bone conduction headphones to buy.
1. Shokz OpenRun
The OpenRun is Shokz’ basic flagship model, and it comes in grey, red, blue and black. It’s IP67 waterproof rated, meaning it’ll withstand the most rigorous workouts (besides swimming). And if you forgot to charge your headphones before your workout, you can do a 10-minute quick charge for up to 1.5 hours of battery life. On a full charge, the battery life is eight hours. Bluetooth 5.1 ensures a fast and reliable connection.
Pros: Solid battery life of up to eight hours. Fast 10-minute charge gives up to 1.5 hours of battery life. IP67 waterproof rated. Variety of colors available.
Cons: Some options may be more economical.
2. AfterShokz Titanium Bone Conduction Headphones
Aftershokz is the brand that kicked off the trend, so if you’re looking for bone conduction headphones, their Titanium headset is a great place to start. They have a look that’s typical of sports headphones, save for the fact that they obviously don’t go in your ears. With multi-point pairing, you can connect to multiple devices at the same time for easy switching back and forth. The substantial six-hour battery life and IP55 water and dust resistance make these great for working out.
Pros: Substantial six-hour battery life, pair with different Bluetooth devices at the same time.
Cons: Can be used for phone calls, but the quality is not the best.
3. MOING Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones
An alternative to the dominant AfterShokz brand is this option from MOING, which has up to six hours of battery life and is designed to pair quickly to your devices using Bluetooth. It’s a basic and more affordable option than some of the top options, making it a good way to try out this tech.
Pros: More attainable option than some of the premium options. Six hours battery life.
Cons: May be less comfortable for those with larger heads.
4. Tokani Open Ear Wireless Sports Headphones
These aren’t true bone conduction headphones, so you won’t get as much of the performance that a pair of Shokz offers. That said, they’re an economical option, and they have an open-air design that allows you to remain aware of your settings while jogging, biking or even just walking. These headphones are available in either black or gray, and are listed as having an IPX5 rating, meaning they can adequately resist sweat, although they shouldn’t be subjected to heavy water.
Pros: Economical option. Bluetooth 5.0. Water resistance for use at the gym.
Cons: Not true bone conduction headphones.
5. Shokz OpenRun Pro
OpenRun is the flagship from Shokz, which rebranded after being previously known as AfterShokz. If you’re especially enthusiastic about bone conduction headphones, then the OpenRun Pros are a good option to get. The main advantage of the premium-priced OpenRun Pro is that at 10 hours, it has a longer battery life than the OpenRun. The OpenRun Pro also charges more quickly and uses more advanced bone conduction technology. It comes in matte black or a stylish slate blue.
Pros: Good for working out. Long, 10-hour battery life. Fast charging.
Cons: More premium price than the OpenRun, without massive improvements.
6. 9Digital Bone Conduction Headphones Bluetooth
Compared with Shokz, these headphones from 9Digital might not offer the most premium sound or bone conduction technology. That said, they’re an economical entry in the market, and they have a sleek and simple design. They’re available in black and white, as well as eye-catching neon green. These headphones also come with earplugs, for added noise canceling.
Pros: Range of colors available. Economical option.
Cons: Not as premium or high tech as some other options.
7. AfterShokz Aeropex Open-Ear Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones
The Aeroprex is the upgraded version of earlier AfterShokz models. With the Aeroprex, Aftershokz has reduced sound leakage, making these less disruptive to those around you while also enhancing what you hear. Plus, the battery is improved as well, and now boasts up to eight hours compared with the six hours of Aeroprex’s predecessors and competitors. They’re also lighter, making for more comfortable wearing on the go. AfterShokz even throws in a sport sling bag as a bonus accessory.
Pros: Lightweight bone conduction headphones with IP67 water-resistance, eight-hour battery life and enhanced audio.
Cons: Substantially more expensive than other models.