Bone conduction headphones: what are they and how do they work?

An image of the Aftershokz titanium bone conduction headphones worn by a woman in profile.

Credit: Lily Katz / Android Authority

True wireless headphones have stolen wireless audio focus in recent years, but that’s not the only wireless technology worth seeing. Bone conduction headphones fill a particular niche and are exceptional for outdoor athletes and certain segments of the hearing impaired community. We are diving into all wireless bone conduction headphones.

What are bone conduction headphones?

Bone conduction headphones are, well, headphones that rest on the listener’s cheekbones. Instead of indicating the eardrum as sound waves travel through the air, bone conduction headphones send vibrations through the jaw, bypassing the middle ear. The technology has its roots in hearing aids and dates back to the 1920s, when Hugo Gernsback created the osophone, a bone conduction hearing aid. Today, bone conduction audio has expanded beyond the world of health and medicine, and serves as a great tool for outdoor athletes. Since the earpiece frees the ears, listeners remain constantly aware of their surroundings, which is paramount when running outdoors or walking.

How do bone conduction headphones work?

Two diagrams The one on the left shows how sound travels to the ear and the one on the right is a close-up of the middle and inner ears.

Bone conduction headphones transmit sound waves through the listener’s skull by constantly vibrating the bone. More specifically, sound is conducted through the skull to the cochlea, avoiding the eardrum, hammer, incus, and stirrup. The cochlea then moves the microscopic hairs (stereocilia) inside the Corti. This fluid movement initiates a series of chemical reactions that cause neurotransmitters to stimulate the auditory nerve. Once an impulse is triggered from the auditory nerve, it travels to the brain, which interprets this information as sound.

This process also explains why your voice sounds lower to you than others. Bone is better at transmitting low-frequency sounds than high-frequency sounds, so we’re often amazed at how high-pitched our voices sound when played as a recording.

Bone conduction differs from standard headphones and earphones because the former is inserted directly into the ear canal and the latter uses padded earphones that are placed over or around the ear. In both cases, the eardrum and other mechanisms are compromised, which works for most people. However, bone conduction headphones are an excellent choice for anyone suffering from hearing loss.

What are the best bone conduction headphones?

If you searched the internet for a pair of bone conduction Bluetooth headsets, you are probably already familiar with the AfterShokz company. After all, it controls a large segment of the bone conduction headphone market. Our sister site SoundGuys It has a detailed list of the best bone conduction headphones available, but here is our quick summary of the top three.

AfterShokz Aeropex

An image of a man in profile with AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones.

The Aeropex is AfterShokz’s flagship headset and is the most durable of the three, given its IP67 rating that denotes resistance to dust and water. You can fully immerse Aeropex bone conduction headphones to depths of one meter for 30 minutes at a time. However, these are not explicitly a headset for swimming, as they lack on-board storage; Still, it’s a good protection feature in case you throw them into the lake.

A built-in microphone can be used when taking hands-free calls and the battery life is on par with wireless headphones – eight hours of constant playback. You can also access the Google Assistant and control the playback with the multifunction button. It uses Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and costs $ 125 USD, making it the most expensive in the group.

AfterShokz Air

An image of a woman in profile with the AfterShokz Air bone conduction headphones.

These under $ 100 training headphones are slimmer than the rest and include reflective straps that keep listeners visible during walks or night jogs. AfterShokz Air’s battery life lasts for six hours, which isn’t great, but it should help you get through a week of exercise. Another downgrade of the Aeropex: The Air uses Bluetooth 4.2 firmware, which could explain the relative drop in battery life. Built-in microphones are good for answering calls. However, it is only IP55 rated, so don’t leave it in your local group.

AfterShokz Titanium

The AfterShokz Titanium was my first foray into the world of Bluetooth bone conduction headphones, and it’s a great headset for anyone unsure of technology. It’s one of the most affordable options available and is IP55 rated, uses Bluetooth 4.1, and has a six-hour battery life. Nothing about this headset will blow your mind, and if you can, we recommend going with any of the other AfterShokz models because they have a more reliable connection strength than the Titanium. For more great deals on headphones, check out our coverage here.

Other frequently asked questions

Q: Are bone conduction headphones safe?
A: Yes, bone conduction headphones are perfectly safe and possibly safer than traditional in-ear headphones because there is nothing lodged in the ear canal. This means that you don’t have to worry about catching a silicone sleeve in your ear or causing an ear infection. They are also safe for outdoor running, as they allow you to remain fully aware of your surroundings; Of course, you still need to listen at a safe volume so that your environment is clearly audible to you.

Q: Can bone conduction headphones cause tinnitus?
A: Yes, bone conduction headphones, like all headphones, can cause tinnitus even though they prevent the eardrum. There are different types of hearing loss that affect different mechanisms of the ear, the most common of which is sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). A consequence of SNHL is the inability to perceive high-frequency sounds due to damage to the stereocilia. Once again, these hairs are inside the inner ear and rest along the nerve pathways. They can still be damaged by constant stimulation or extremely loud sounds.

Q: Can bone conduction headphones cause headaches?
A: Unfortunately, any earbud can cause headaches and vibration, earbuds are no exception. Our temples are pressure sensitive, which could make it difficult and uncomfortable to wear bone conduction headphones. All it takes is light pressure for an extended period of time to cause a headache with these headphones. What works for me may not work for you, but overall, you’re unlikely to experience headaches with bone conduction headphones at a higher rate than internal and external headphones.

Q: Can you wear bone conduction headphones with glasses?
A: Yes, I am a listener with glasses and I was able to wear bone conduction Bluetooth headsets without contacting me. I wasn’t as comfortable wearing the wireless bone-conduction headphones with my lenses as I was without the glasses, but it worked without hindering technology.

Next: The best training headphones