Bone conduction headphones or ‘bonephones’ may be just the headphones you need, especially if you are plugged in to take calls all day long or listen to music during workouts. Try the ones from Shokz. These open-ear headphones continue to win awards and are winning the hearts of music fans and Zoom callers alike!
I was introduced to bone conduction headphones and the Shokz brand in particular, three years ago. I thought this was just a passing fad and soon forgot about it. Over the years I tested and bought several pairs of ear phones and headphones, ranging from high-end noise cancellation over-the-ear cans to the current bluetooth TWS earphones. But I was never completely satisfied with any of them. You see, it is not just sound quality that I am after. When using earphones or headphones for extended periods, it is the comfort factor that really matters.
In a hot and humid country like India, where I live, wearing over-the-ear or on-ear headphones on the street is uncomfortable, and causes “hot ears” or sweaty ears. My ENT doctor warned me about using ear buds, after my ear infection. I was told that listening to bass beats at a loud volume can damage the ear drums.
So I continued looking for a comfortable pair of headphones, and was pleasantly surprised to find that bone conduction headphones are still around today. Shokz has been selling these for years and is now producing headphones with 9th generation technology. In fact, Shokz (earlier known as AfterShokz) has more than 1,000 patents for their bone conduction technology.
The Comfort Factor
Speaking about comfort, I enjoyed (and miss) the lightweight Sony Walkman headphones of the 1980s. These had comfortable foam pads and headbands. The Senheisser PX-80/100/200 series and Koss Porta come close, and yet provide those satisfying low frequency sounds.
For the longest time we had options for in-ear, on-ear, or over-the-ear headphones. But Shokz has introduced a completely new category. Shokz headphones use an open ear design – the ear pads sit between your temples and the top of your ears (see main image). That means your ear canals remain unobstructed and you can hear ambient sounds like traffic and people speaking in the room – while enjoying your music.
That makes them both healthy and safe (especially when used outdoors). You don’t want to be completely cut off from surrounding sounds while driving or cycling.
The Shokz headsets are also very light weighing in at just 1.1 oz, which is about the same as a slice of bread. So you can wear them all day long without experiencing any discomfort or headache.
How Bone Conduction Technology Works
There are plenty of YouTube videos and blogs to explain bone conduction technology. But let me give it a shot.
Traditionally, sound waves are transmitted through the ear canal. The earpads are placed directly in front of the ear opening. That’s not the case with bone conduction headphones, which work on a different principle. Sound from the earpads is transmitted through vibrations in the skull bone, which eventually reach the inner ear. That may sound eerie, but don’t worry, your cheek bones won’t fall apart!
Technically speaking, bone conduction headphones use components called transducers rather than air conduction speakers. Sound waves are conducted through the skull bones, bypass the ear drums, and go directly to the inner ear, which is great for those who are earing impaired.
Dave Merritt from Sound Advisor reviewed the Skokz OpenComm2 UC model and here’s what he has to say about the sound quality.
He says phone calls and meetings sound great. But since it is using transducers instead of conventional air conduction speakers the sound quality is not on par with more expensive headphones.
Dave says when it comes to music “it sounds just OK.” If you increase the volume you get a vibration through the transducers, which is like a “massage” that you get near your temples, and you’ll get used to it over time.
However, the sound is decent. If you choose comfort over sound quality, then bone conduction headphones are definitely a good choice. They are inexpensive and durable too.
Choose Your Model
Shokz offers six models and the Shokz online store even makes it easy for you to select a model, based on your listening activities. There are models for general sports, professional sports, water sports, business & working, commuting, and leisure.
The models are accordingly named OpenFit (newest model), OpenMove, OpenRun, OpenRun Pro, OpenSwim, and OpenComm.
If you make lots of (Zoom) calls, then the OpenComm2 UC model is recommended; it has a retractable mic and is certified by Zoom. The model is yet to be launched in India (as of 24 October, 2023). But other models can be purchased off the Shokz store on Amazon.in.
Choose a model based on your activity and then choose the features you want: battery life, sound quality, call quality, water proof, lightweight, cost-effective.
You might even find a pair at local retail stores like Croma or Reliance Digital, though these are fast selling items.
Go ahead and try a pair!