Bone conduction is fascinating. In normal cases, a sound happens and causes air molecules to vibrate in sympathy with the original vibration. These vibrations travel out in a roughly spherical wave and if they meet a decoder (we call them ears) it will travel up the auditory canal and cause the tiny drum kit made of bones and skin in our ears to vibrate in sympathy. Your brain gets them as electrical impulses and it does its work to let you hear.
What if something is blocking that canal? The transmitted signal is either shut down or highly diminished. Ever tried to hear with your fingers in your ear? Did you ever notice that you can still hear your own voice pretty well when you do this? This is because you hear your own voice as much by the way it vibrates the bones in your head as by acoustic transmission. This is the reason you hate the way you sound like when you talk on a recording. It really isn’t how you hear yourself.
In the 70s, some really smart guys figured out a way to use this phenomena to help people who had physical blockages or other issues with their hearing. In hearing aid technology they actually screw an abutment into your head that a sound processor uses to pass vibrations directly through the bone into your inner ear.
I think most of us would agree that unless you need that kind of help to hear, that would be considered overkill.
Luckily, you don’t have to go to that level to experience bone conduction headphones.
Aftershoks makes a series of headphones that rest on your cheekbones and not in your ear and use that contact point to pass the sound into your inner ear. These mount on a band that loops around the back of your head and over your ears. There are drivers inside of these pieces that sit behind silicon covers. As the music plays into them, these pieces vibrate and transmit audio. Because those pieces will also vibrate air molecules they are not silent but the full impact of the audio is not experienced until the pieces touch a bone in your skull.
Because the transmission medium is different, the experience is different. The highs do not sparkle like a conventional headphone and the lows do not go as deep, but the experience is very good. At very high volumes, there is almost a sense of a mild electric shock, but you are not fatiguing your ears like you would with normal headphones.
Why would you want to use Aftershokz? There are a couple of reasons. In fitness applications, there are no holes or crevices and nothing goes inside your ears. This makes them easier to clean and less affected by sweat. Also, because they do not go in your ears they do not block your normal hearing. I found out in a recent trip to the gym why this is such a benefit.
I was on a stationary bike facing the front of the gym and pedaling and listening in my own little world. The weather was bad but not anything we are not used to in the South. Finally one of the staff tapped me on the shoulder. When I pulled my headphones out of my ears they told me there was a tornado warning and I needed to come down in the basement with everyone else. I had not heard a single one of the announcements. If I had been using the Aftershokz I would have been safely tucked away with everyone else.
You can picture this being a big plus if you are running or if you listen to headphones in the car. Awareness of your surroundings makes things much safer and could actually preserve your life. Having been isolated myself and watched others do some pretty stupid things while unable to hear makes me really appreciate the benefit of this.
The onboard microphone is actually quite good on the M2s and because they are not inserted in your ear they are much more comfortable to use for an extended period of time. I have enjoyed using them on conference calls more than once.
Because the bond conduction does need some amplification, the M2s have to be charged to work. There is a micro USB port on the inline module that houses the controls, the microphone and this circuitry. Aftershokz claims up to 15 hours of use on a charge at low volumes and I don’t have any real reason to doubt this as I don’t have the patience to listen to them for more than a couple of hours at a time.
Construction quality on the Aftershokz is quite good and they come with a semi-solid case to pack the headphones and the included accessories into. These include a USB to micro cable for charging and an adapter cable to use the phone with 2.5 mm headphone jacks.
I love the technology and the thought process that goes into the Aftershokz. They do not qualify as “audiophile” headphones, but they sound far better than I expected them to and they are particularly good in the mid bands. Because of this they function really well for intelligibility and shine on spoken word stuff.
They are more comfortable than traditional in-ear headphones and much safer when you need to know what else is going on around you, which is nearly always.
6311 Fly Road
East Syracuse, NY 13057