When it comes to using headphones while doing physical activities, few things are as important as spatial awareness. Regardless of whether you’re cycling, running, or even hitting the gym with other people, being able to hear what’s going on around you is paramount.
And when it comes to allowing for that sense of natural ambient awareness nothing beats bone conduction headphones!
These headphones work by sending vibrations through your skull directly into the inner ear. This means that your ears are entirely free to take in the sounds of your surroundings.
While this does result in reduced audio quality, as bones simply weren’t designed with listening in mind, it carries some other benefits.
So without any further ado, here are the four best bone conduction headphones currently on the market!
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Lightweight build
- Serviceable battery life
- Only basic functionality
- Poor audio quality
- Non-adjustable neckband
When you have a relatively new technology like bone conduction, there’s some trepidation surrounding its budget offerings. And this mindset is entirely warranted.
If you were to go out and buy a random pair of cheap bone conduction headphones, you’d likely be disappointed. But the Tayogo S2 isn’t just any pair of cheap bone conduction headphones – it’s the best budget option this technology has to offer.
For starters, it’s fairly comfortable. Weighing in at approximately 30 grams and featuring rubberized pads to prevent vibrations from getting uncomfortable, the S2 can be worn fairly long without any discomfort.
The maximum battery life of 6 hours can be a bit disappointing if you want it to see you through a full day of work. But given that most people opt for bone conduction as a means of remaining aware of their surroundings while working out, this shouldn’t be a problem.
And speaking of working out, you don’t have to worry about sweat damaging the S2 as it comes with an IP55 rating. The construction features physical buttons that are used for volume and playback control, making it easy to stay in control of your music even while you’re away from your phone.
The only annoyance in terms of the build is that the rigid rubber band that goes around your head is not adjustable, so you can’t wear anything else while using the S2.
As for music, you shouldn’t expect much. Bones weren’t created for listening. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever reach audiophile levels of hi-fi using this technology. To sum it up in a sentence, the music sounds as if you’re listening to it from far away. This can be a problem if you’re in a noisy environment.
- Durable build
- Intuitive controls
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Takes too long to charge
- Poor sound quality
Next up, we’ve got the Pyle PSWBT550.
Design-wise, it’s the same story you’re seen already – lightweight and comfortable with a physical button on the side panel for playback control. Of course, there are some subtle differences that set the Pyle apart, namely its ruggedness.
Granted, none of the devices showcased in this guide are likely to fall off while you’re using them, but the Pyle has the added benefit of being most likely to survive said fall. It’s also fit for use in less than ideal situations thanks to its IPX6 rating.
It’s not like we recommend running or cycling in the rain, but if rain just so happens to start falling while you’re engaged in these activities, you won’t have to worry about it damaging your headphones.
As far as the sound goes, it’s about what you’d expect – weak bass, unexciting treble, decent mids. It’s more fit for podcast listening than music listening, but if you just need something playing in the background to keep you motivated, the Pyle does a good enough job.
The way we see it, the most glaring issue here is the battery life. Once again, it caps out at 6 hours, but that’s not even the part that bothers us the most. What’s worse is the fact that it takes 4 hours for the device to charge from zero to full.
So if you’re someone who only remembers to charge their headphones at the last minute, these aren’t for you.
- Regular-sized and Mini options
- Decent sound quality for bone conduction
- Great charging time
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Can only skip forward
- Bulky build
If you’re at all curious about bone conduction headphones chances are you’ve heard of the company Aftershokz.
While not their first device, the Titanium is the one that put them on the map.
The device is rather chunky, but it’s still light enough not to cause any discomfort. It features two physical buttons that are used for everything except skipping back tracks. You can skip forward, but not back for some reason. The device sports an IP55 rating, making it resistant to sweat, dust, and moisture.
What’s unique about the Titanium is that it comes in two variants – regular and Mini. Titanium Mini is identical to the regular version, except that it has a shorter headband. This makes it an ideal choice for kids, teens, or just folks with smaller heads.
If this were a regular pair of air conduction headphones they would certainly show their age more, but as things stand, if you can live with the older version of Bluetooth, the Titanium still has the edge over much of its more recent competition.
In fact, thanks to the PremiumPitch+ technology, the Titanium overshadows the more recent Tayogo and Pyle in terms of audio quality. Most notably, it features more bass. Keep in mind that more is a relative term – the bass is still underwhelming when compared to air conduction solutions.
The 6-hour battery life becomes much more manageable thanks to the 1.5 hour charging time. This way you can get 2 hours of playback even if you only remember to charge the device half an hour before you need to use it.
Furthermore, to get the most out of the bass you’ll need to up the volume, but this can cause the vibrations on your cheekbones to become irritatingly noticeable.
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Great battery life
- Multipoint connectivity
- Good audio quality
- Proprietary charging cable
And for our last entry, we have another device made by Aftershokz.
In all honesty, if this entire guide featured exclusively Aftershokz devices it wouldn’t be any worse overall. That’s just how good the company is at producing high-quality bone conduction headphones. They are the ones setting the tune to which all the other manufacturers try to dance.
So it should come as no surprise that the very best pair of bone conduction headphones are made by them. We’re, of course, talking about the Aftershokz Aeropex.
What sets the Aeropex apart from all other bone conduction headphones is audio quality.
Thanks to their proprietary PremiumPitch 2.0+ technology, Aeropex has managed to noticeably bump up audio quality while reducing vibrations and sound leakage. We have to note that this still doesn’t make for hi-fi audio. At best, the Aeropex is on par with some budget in-ear or over-ear options. Nevertheless, it is the best option bone conduction has when it comes to audio quality.
Other notable features include an IP67 rating, Bluetooth 5.0, multipoint connectivity, and microphones for taking calls. It can hold a charge for 8 hours before needing to recharge via a proprietary magnetic cradle. We aren’t fans of proprietary charging cables, but at the very least we have to commend the folks at Aftershokz for including two such cables with every device.
The Aeropex has a very slender and extremely lightweight build, such that you will certainly forget you’re wearing it if you don’t have anything playing. The physical buttons for volume control and track skipping work great and are easy to use, even if you’re jogging or cycling.
While the audio quality here isn’t good enough to change our perception of bone conduction headphones being more suited for listening to podcasts than to music, the Aeropex does bridge the gap between bone conduction and low-quality air conduction.
The Pros and Cons of Bone Conduction
How Does It Work?
If bone conduction sounds weird, you may be surprised to hear that you actually use it every day.
You know how your voice sounds different when you speak and when you listen to yourself through recordings? Part of the reason for that is bone conduction.
When we speak, we don’t only hear out voices via air conduction (the voice traveling through our ears). Our vocal cords also send vibrations through our skulls directly into the inner ear.
The famous deaf composed Beethoven used a primitive form of bone conduction by biting a rod attached to a piano. Sure, the audio quality can’t have been great, but the end result was sound.
Bone conduction headphones function using this same principle. The only difference is that they send vibrations through our cheekbones.
This has its benefits, for sure, but it also carries some downsides.
The ossicles in the middle ear are the only bones that, biologically speaking, function for listening. Bone conduction relies on other, more inefficient bones. Even though we’ve seen many things stripped directly out of sci-fi come to fruition in the past couple of decades, it’s still hard to imagine this biological limitation going away.
Consequently, high-fidelity audio is simply unreachable through these means, making bone conduction a better fit for podcast listening.
So if audio quality plays a huge role in your decision of which headphones to get, you’ll have a much better time with air conduction options. If this is the case, you should check out our guide on the best headphones for running. Many of the headphones listed there feature Ambient Modes that can let your surroundings in. Speaking of which…
The advertisements for bone conduction headphones focus on presenting them as athletes’ best friends. They do so by doubling down on ambient awareness, as being able to hear your surroundings is key while cycling and jogging; it certainly doesn’t hurt while doing other physical activities either.
Even in-ear headphones with phenomenal Ambient Modes, like the AirPods Pro, just can’t beat having your ear canals completely unobstructed. And other devices with worse Ambient Modes can make your surroundings sound much less natural.
Furthermore, some countries prohibit the use of traditional headphones as they clog up your ears. Bone conduction headphones circumvent these restrictions.
This may sound weird, but bone conduction headphones suffer from sound leakage.
Or to be more precise, we suffer from sound leakage when using these devices. The louder the volume you’re playing at, the more the sound will leak from your ears.
So while bone conduction headphones are at their best in quiet environments where they don’t have to fight for dominance with air-conducted ambient noises, you also won’t get away using them in super quiet environments populated by other people (libraries, offices, even living rooms).
We must also mention that bone conduction headphones can still causing hearing damage if listened to at excessively loud volumes. Cranking the volume up in noisy environments is, therefore, unadvisable.
Who Is Bone Conduction For?
We’ve already mentioned how bone conduction headphones are mostly targeted towards athletes, so naturally you can get a lot out of these devices if you are one. In particular, we want to highlight swimming as one sport where bone conduction headphones offer a huge advantage over more traditional headphones.
Even though they are chunkier and less hydrodynamic than your typical in-ears, they have an easier time staying in place while you’re swimming. Using headphones while swimming may appear weird at first, but there are all types of devices made specifically for this purpose. We’ve singled out the best of the best in this guide, so check it out if you’re curious.
But aside from athletes, bone conduction headphones are great options for folks suffering from hearing impairment. This won’t work for everything, but to understand who will and who won’t benefit from using bone conduction headphones let’s refer to the anatomy of the human ear for a second.
The ear is made up of three parts – the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear funnels sound waves into the middle ear. The eardrum receives these vibrations and passes them along via the ossicles, which direct these vibrations towards the inner ear. It’s only when these vibrations reach the cochlea inside the inner ear that we can interpret these vibrations into sounds.
Bone conduction headphones directly stimulate the cochlea, thereby removing the outer and middle ear from the equation. So if the cause of your hearing impairment doesn’t stem from the inner ear, you could still use bone conduction headphones even if you are otherwise deaf.
Unfortunately, if you’re suffering from inner ear problems, bone conduction headphones won’t help you.
How to Choose the Best Bone Conduction Headphones for You?
Now that you know what the pros and cons of bone conduction headphones are, it shouldn’t be difficult to find the perfect pair for you, even if the devices showcased in this guide aren’t available where you live.
In this case, instead of focusing on audio quality or certain features, you should prioritize the look and feel of the device. Are the vibrations noticeable at your preferred volume? How much does the sound leak at this volume? Is the strap, which is often unadjustable, a good fit for your head? And finally, are the materials light and sturdy enough to see you through your preferred athletic activities?
As always, opting for a device made by a reputable brand is the best way to ensure you don’t end up with second-grade gear. While this niche market may not feature the big names you’re used to seeing, like Sony or Sennheiser, it’s got its own pecking order. And currently, Aftershokz is the uncrowned king of bone conduction so their devices are the safest bet.
As you can see, even a market as niche as bone conduction has a variety of devices wide enough to satisfy users on various budgets.
If you’re just looking to see what this technology is all about, it’s always a good choice to test the waters with an affordable option. In this case, no other budget entry can beat the Tayogo S2. It’s the distilled essence of bone conduction headphones in their simplest form. Those looking to nab the best value will certainly appreciate some of the more refined features of the Aftershokz Titanium. And if you want to experience the heights this technology is capable of, there’s no beating the Aftershokz Aeropex as the best pair of bone conduction headphones on the market.
But while everyone can make use of this new technology, it’s folks with hearing impairment that stand to benefit the most. If you’ve got some middle or outer ear problems, you simply owe it to yourself to try it out.