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How Bone Conduction Headphones Work: Hear With Bone

Last updated: 2 months ago
6 min read

Are bone conduction headphones any good? How does it work? They can help deaf hear sound, but they’re limitations.

AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones
Table of Contents

    What is Bone Conduction?

    Bone conduction is the transmission of sound through skull bones to the inner ear (Cochlea). Every healthy person can hear through bone conduction including hearing impaired.

    In fact, a large part of how you hear your own voice is through bones. It’s also the reason why your voice seems different to you than to others (if you record yourself you’ll sound different).

    Why my voice sounds different to others?

    Your voice seems deeper and fuller to you because bone conduction transfers lower frequency response better. If you listen to a recording of your voice, it will sound higher than what you expect.

    How Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work?

    Instead of the air conduction, bone conduction headset sends sound waves directly to the inner ear by using bones.

    The headsets create vibrations that the inner ear can understand. They take the audio and calculate the right waves that will be “heard” by the Cochlea the right way. The inner ear hears differently than the eardrum, so the vibrations have to be different.

    If you put bone technology headphones next to your ear, you wouldn’t hear the audio because the eardrums aren’t sensitive to their signal.

    You need to keep them touching the bones of your jaw, usually temple and cheekbones, for the sound to reach the inner ear.

    Regular headphones create sound vibrations through pushing air. These vibrations then travel to your ear canal reaching the eardrum that sends the signal to the brain at the end.

    How Do You Hear by Bone Conduction?

    The bone conduction skips the air and eardrums altogether and uses cheekbones

    Hearing through bone vibration

    Conduction headphones have to touch the jaw bones (and skin) to transmit the sound vibrations towards the inner ear without using eardrums.

    Therefore, the headphones with electromechanical transducers figure out how to transmit the electric signals into vibrations that the inner ear can understand, omitting the eardrums.

    The vibrations go from headphones to the inner ear through skull, after the inner ear, the brains “hear” the sound.

    One disadvantage of conductive method is a slight lack of bass and overall audio quality.

    Normal hearing uses sound waves

    Hearing through air vibration

    The sound is a vibration that people can hear with eardrums through the air. After the eardrum “hears it” it sends the sound vibrations inside towards the inner ear (Cochlea) that transfers the vibrations to an electrical signal brain can understand.

    Normal hearing uses air vibration and eardrums as the first step to transmit sound.

    Are Bone Conduction Headphones Good?

    Why You Should Use Bone Conduction Headphones?

    • If you want perfect awareness during music playback
    • If you have eardrum damage or other hearing-related problems
    • In general, they offer a comfortable fit
    • They lack ear tips and don’t irritate your ear canals

    The biggest advantage of bone conduction headphones is ensuring perfect awareness while listening to music.

    There are pros and cons to every type of headphones.

    Regular headphones and earphones block the ears creating passive isolation from the background noise. This is great if you’re commuting on a busy train, but for sports, it’s often inconvenient.

    Running in New York City
    Running in urban areas requires great awareness.

    You probably know how annoying it is to have to pause music or take off your earbuds when you want to talk to someone. With open-air headphones which is what conducting headphones are, you don’t have this problem.

    You can talk to your gym buddy while listening to your favorite motivational music. You can take a run in the streets with music and keep perfect environment awareness.

    It’s useful in every situation where safety and communication are a concern. No other type of headsets can do this.

    One more thing that stands out…

    Conducting headphones don’t stick inside your ear canal like in-ear headphones but rest on the outside of your head creating a comfortable fit.

    They are a great alternative to earbuds that often irritate the ears. There are a go-to choice of many athletes.

    Why You Shouldn’t Use Bone Conduction Headphones?

    • If you care about sound quality
    • If you need rock-steady headphones for running

    Since the headphone’s sound quality (or the fullness of the sound) is heavily dependant on noise isolation, you can’t expect excellent performance out of bone conduction headphones.

    Almost every pair also comes with additional ear plugs. Blocking your ear canal helps at improving the listening experience, but it also diminishes the best thing about this type of headphones: awareness.

    If you’re on a hunt for great sound, bone conduction headphones aren’t the best option. If you still want awareness accompanied by good audio, pick a pair with ambient noise feature.

    Other reason not to buy these headphones could be comfort. Some users find the over-the-ear design uncomfortable.

    Stability is also quite questionable since there isn’t much clamping force. Therefore, you can’t fully trust them to stay put during intense workouts.

    Are There Bone Conduction Headphones for Deaf?

    Bone conduction headphones are a great alternative for listeners with conductive hearing loss, single-sided deafness, and for people with in-ear hearing aids.

    Bone conduction successfully bypasses the problems in the outer ear, ear drum, and middle ear (ossicles). So people with hearing impairments in these areas can listen to music and videos.

    But, if you have problems with inner ear (Cochlea) or auditory nerve, then bone conduction won’t work for you.

    Are Bone Conduction Headphones Safe?

    Bone-conducting headphones are perfectly safe as long as you follow basic safety rules. However, permanent damage happens in the cochlea, meaning, bone conduction can still hurt your hearing if abused.

    With this type of headphones you can still increase the volume to unhealthy levels resulting in noise-induced hearing loss.

    It doesn’t take much volume to damage your hearing permanently. Most headphones can reach over 100 dBA of noise level and…

    Volume over 100 dBA causes permanent hearing damage after only 15 minutes per day.

    You can read about safe headphone use here.

    Are Bone Conduction Headphones Silent?

    Bone conduction is harder to hear for people around you, though not completely silent. Since there are no drivers creating sound vibration that can escape your ear canal, others can’t hear it. They’d have to be much closer or even better, touch you to hear it.

    If you want your headphones to keep your music private, these are a better choice. But keep in mind some sound leakage still occurs.

    Evolution of Bone Conduction Headphone Technology

    The First Development of Bone Conduction Technology

    The fact that ear bones can transmit sound was discovered much earlier than its first application (in the 1500s by a man called Girolamo Cardano).

    Girolamo Cardano
    Girolamo Cardano discovered bone conduction in the 1500s.

    The first known use of bone conduction has roots in the 18th and 19th century by a famous German composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who suffered from hearing loss.

    He composed music by biting into a rod attached to his piano so the vibrations would travel to his inner ear through the rod and bones. He created many classical masterpieces by using this method.

    The first modern bone conduction hearing aid or bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) was implanted in 1977 by a Swedish doctor Anders Tjellström. Today, you can find external and internal hearing aids that use bone conduction successfully.

    Today, many modern gadgets use bone conduction. You can find them in headphones but also wearable tech like Google Glass that sends sound waves to the wearer through ear bones.

    This kind of communication is basically impossible to detect by an outsider while keeping the wearer perfectly aware.

    It’s used in military technology for communication in the field as well as for professional sports.

    The advantage is the ability to communicate with your team in harsh conditions like on a yacht race in the middle of the sea or inside a busy office building while keeping your hearing ability, so you can listen to music, videos, or talk to people next to you.

    What were the First Bone Conduction Audio Devices?

    The first audio devices using bone-conducting were developed in the early 19th century. In March 1935, arguably the first patent for such an invention was issued. It was a telephone with bone conduction instead of a regular speaker.

    In the next couple of decades, many different devices were invented. In 1957 a pilot helmet that enabled communication next to thunderous jet engines was patented.

    The first radio and music player came in the 1980s. It was meant for sports so a listener could still hear their surroundings while active. The wires from the audio player were attached to the collarbone so conducting was used.

    And, according to the USA issued patent, the first bone conduction headphones were patented in 1994 by H. Werner Bottesch. It works and looks very similar to modern bone conducting headphones.

    What were the First Bone Conduction Headphones for Consumers?

    After the patent for the first bone conduction headphones was issued in 1994, the consumers got their first model in the same year.

    The bone conduction headphones even had a bit of custom equalizing to improve their sound quality since bones don’t conduct all frequencies equally.

    Today, you get to choose from a wider variety of bone conduction models though one company stands out. AfterShokz products are probably the most popular. They’re offering great workout headphones for all sports, including running, swimming, and bike ride.

    AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones
    Bone conduction headphones like Aeropex are the best choice for awareness.

    Are there any Bone Conduction Headphones for Kids?

    Currently, there are no decent bone conduction headphones for kids. Most are made for adults and thus won’t fit on a small child’s head.

    Big headbands don’t fit on kids so bone conduction headsets won’t work correctly. Or will constantly fall off.

    But if your kid is a bit older, 5 years+, and has a bigger head, regular headphones might fit him/her.

    Although, there is another concern. Dedicated kids headphones have a volume limiter to keep the child safe from noise induced hearing loss at higher volumes. Adult bone technology headphones don’t have that and are thus less suitable for little kids.

    Check the best headphones for kids that are safe, fit well, and look cool.

    Currently, the best bone conduction headphones are AfterShokz Aeropex. These open-air headphones are the flagship of the brand and offer the best performance in the category. They do fit a bit older kids thanks to their felxible headband design.

    For more options, check the best bone conduction headphones.