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Exposing Bone Conduction Headphones: A Buy or Throwaway?

Last updated: 7 months ago
13 min read

Should you get bone conduction headphones or forget about them? We compare them to traditional headphones and explain their advantages and limitations.

P.S. They’re great for activities, sports, and people with specific hearing impairments.

Mojawa Mojo2 O Bones transducers

(Click the infographic to enlarge.)

Bone conduction headphones vs traditional headphones infographic

Key Takeaway

  • Bone conduction headphones use sound-conductive properties of bones to transmit audio.
  • Bone conducting headphones leave your ears open, allowing you to hear your surroundings.
  • They’re ideal for sports and activities that require awareness (running, cycling, etc.)
  • Limitations: Less bass and more sound leakage.
  • Bone conduction was discovered in the 1500s, with the first use in 1935 in a bone conduction telephone.
  • Shokz (previously AfterShokz) is the leading bone-conduction headphone brand.
CONTENTS (show more)

    How Bone Conduction Technology Works

    Headphone bone conduction transmits sound directly to the inner ear bypassing the outer and middle ear. Traditional headphones first send the sound through the outer ear before reaching the inner ear.

    Normal hearing uses air, while bone conduction skips the air and eardrums.

    Sound transmission is a natural property of bone.

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

    bone conduction technology in headphones explained guide

    Bone conduction as a sound transmission method

    Bone conduction works on the principle of vibrations.

    Typically, when sound waves travel through the air, they create vibrations captured by the external ear, pass through the ear canal, and eventually reach the eardrum. The eardrum then converts these vibrations into electrical signals, which are transmitted to the brain, allowing us to hear sound.

    Normal hearing (air conduction) illustration:

    Hearing through air vibration

    Bone conduction takes a different route. Instead of relying on air conduction, bone-conducting headphones use transducers that generate mechanical vibrations. Because they’re touching the bones of the listener’s skull, the sound vibrations travel directly to the Cochlea (inner ear), bypassing the eardrum.

    Once Cochlea receives sound vibrations through bone conduction, it converts them into nerve impulses. Then our brains can understand the nerve impulses as sound.

    Bone conduction illustration:

    Hearing through bone vibration

    The anatomical structure of skull bones sends sound vibrations directly to the Cochlea. For this reason, the transducers of bone conduction headphones are strategically positioned on the temporal bone, ensuring optimal sound conduction.

    Sound vibrations travel through temporal bone to the inner ear.

    Comparison with air conduction and how it affects hearing

    Bone conduction differs from air conduction, the typical method of sound transmission, in a few aspects:

    • With air conduction, sound waves travel through the air, enter the outer ear, and reach the eardrum, which then transfers the vibrations to the middle ear and eventually to the Cochlea.

    In cases such as hearing loss and specific medical conditions, air conduction may not work.

    Bone conduction is an alternative way to hear. It bypasses any blockage or malfunctions in the outer and middle ear.

    Also, bone conduction has a unique advantage in terms of environmental awareness.

    Traditional headphones and earbuds cover and block the ear canal, preventing awareness of the environment.

    • On the other hand, bone conduction headphones leave the ears open, making users aware of their surroundings while listening to audio.

    This makes them useful for people who want to listen to music during outdoor activities, sports, and work that requires situational awareness.

    Advantages of Bone Conduction Headphones

    First, here are the advantages of bone conduction headphones:

    • Perfect awareness when listening to music
    • People with specific hearing impairments can hear them
    • Super comfortable and stable
    • Ideal for sports and activities

    We’ll cover the disadvantages below.

    Open-ear design allows perfect situational awareness.

    Traditional headphones cover and block the ears from environmental sounds. Bone-conducting headphones sit on the sides of the head, leaving the ear canal open.

    This allows you to be aware of your surroundings while listening to audio. This is useful for outdoor activities like running, cycling, and walking in crowded streets.

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

    You can listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks while not compromising your ability to hear important sounds, like traffic, conversations, and alarms.

    Bone conduction headphones are beneficial for people with certain hearing impairments

    Bone conduction is an alternative for people with conductive hearing loss, single-sided deafness, and for people with in-ear hearing aids. It occurs when sound waves can’t reach the inner ear through an air-conduction path.

    Bone-conducting headphones stimulate the Cochlea with bone vibrations by bypassing the outer and middle ear. This allows people with hearing impairments to hear sound clearly and effectively.

    So people with hearing impairments in these areas can listen to music and videos. But bone conduction doesn’t work if you have problems with the inner ear (Cochlea) or auditory nerve.

    Improved comfort and no ear fatigue

    Bone conduction headphones eliminate the need to insert anything into or onto ears. They leave the ears completely free from irritation.

    This dramatically improves comfort. Also lowers the chance of ear infection due to prolonged use of in-ear headphones.

    Perfect for sports and activities

    Bone-conducting headphones are perfect for sports and activities thanks to their open-ear design and high water protection.

    FINIS Duo Underwater Bone Conduction
    Bone conduction headphones can be listened to in water too.

    The open-ear design allows you complete awareness of your surroundings. This makes them popular among runners, hikers, water sports and cyclists. You can listen to music while keeping a high sense of safety no matter the situation.

    These advantages make bone conduction headphones versatile for individuals seeking a unique audio experience.

    To summarize, they’re top-notch in:

    • Comfort
    • Safety  (awareness)
    • Durability

    No other type of headphones is better in these categories.

    Limitations of Bone Conduction Headphones

    Bone-conducting headphones also have disadvantages.

    Here are the main limitations to consider:

    • Mediocre sound quality and sound leakage
    • Less suitable for certain music genres
    • Can’t wear them with glasses/sunglasses
    • Vibration can be irritating

    Sound quality and audio leakage

    The main compromise with bone conduction headphones is sound quality. Compared to standard headphones, the sound quality is noticeably worse.

    Audio quality in bone conduction headphones lacks clarity, details and bass strength.

    Due to the lack of transducer power, the low frequencies (bass) aren’t as strong as in traditional headphones. This is one of the biggest deal-breakers for many people.

    Another concern is sound leakage. Other people around you can hear what you’re listening to. Part of the vibrations transfers to air vibrations that people around you can hear.

    This results in limited privacy which is also a deal-breaker for some.

    Mojawa Mojo2 dirty

    Bone conduction headphones are less suitable for certain genres of music

    They sound good for music genres with an emphasis on treble and mid-range, but lack the power to sound good for bass-emphasized genres like hip-hop, pop, electronic, dance, etc.

    The bass performance is lacking. They don’t deliver the same amount of deep, powerful bass.

    On the other hand, they’re great for podcasts, watching videos and other content focused on vocals.

    You often can’t wear bone conduction headphones with glasses

    If you wear glasses or other similar eyewear, you might find it hard to wear bone-conducting headphones.

    Due to their design with headbands going around the head and transducers touching the temples of your head, it’s hard to wear them with glasses.

    In most cases, the transducers on the temples interfere with the fit of glasses and sunglasses.

    Additionally, wearing certain headwear can ruin the fit and positioning, resulting in bad sound or discomfort.

    Make sure your glasses and headwear are compatible with the bone-conducting headphones you’re looking to buy.

    Constant vibration can be irritating

    Consistent prolonged vibration of the bone-conducting transducers can irritate the skin.

    The sensation of your skull vibrating to the tune of sound waves takes some getting used to. But some users struggle to get accustomed. And eventually, the vibrations become irritating.

    If you have sensitive skin, you might have to take regular breaks from wearing bone conduction headphones or listen to them at a lower power.

    Comparison with Traditional Headphones and Earphones

    Bone conduction headphones vs. regular headphones comparison:

    Bone conduction
    headphones
    Traditional
    headphones
    Audio qualityLacking clarity and bassMore details and bass
    Comfort & fitLightweight and stableBigger, cumbersome
    DurabilityWaterproof, dustproof, high IPSome TWS earbuds are waterproof
    PriceUsually above $100Budget models under $50
    PortabilitySomewhat portableEarbuds are more portable
    Battery lifeUp to 10 hoursA wider range: 5-30h+
    FeaturesNo ANCMore features

    When choosing between bone-conducting headphones and traditional headphones and earbuds, consider these factors:

    Sound quality and listening experience

    Traditional headphones and earbuds generally offer superior sound quality and an immersive listening experience compared to a pair of bone conduction headphones.

    They’re designed for more accurate audio reproduction, delivering deep bass, clear highs, and vibrant mids.

    Traditional headphones are better for you if you’re a demanding user or an audiophile.

    Portability and convenience

    Bone conduction headphones are generally lightweight and highly portable. They’re ideal for users who want a convenient and minimalist audio solution.

    Traditional headphones, especially over-ear and on-ear, are big and clumsy. Though with design innovation, we’re seeing many foldable headphones that are also suitable for on-the-go use.

    Bone conduction headphones are lightweight and portable (but less than true wireless earbuds).

    On the other hand, true wireless earbuds (which fall under traditional headphones) are even more portable thanks to their small design.

    Pricing and affordability

    In general, bone-conducting headphones are more expensive than traditional headphones.

    While regular headphone and earphone prices start at around $50, bone conduction headphones tend to cost over $100.

    Traditional headphones are available at more price points and thus accessible to more people. If price is a major decision point, pick regular headphones instead.

    It depends on personal preferences and use cases

    In the end, when choosing between bone conduction and traditional headphones, it comes down to personal preferences and use case.

    • Bone conduction headphones are great for people who want situational awareness, like athletes and individuals who engage in outdoor activities.
    • They allow you to enjoy music or audio content while remaining aware of your surroundings.

    On the other hand:

    • Traditional headphones excel in providing a more immersive listening experience.
    • They are suitable for music enthusiasts who prefer complete audio isolation to remove background distractions.

    Ultimately, both types of headphones offer specific advantages, so choosing the one that best suits your needs is a matter of personal preference.

    Components & Features of Bone Conduction Headphones

    Here are key components and features of bone conduction headphones to consider:

    Transducers: Explaining the vibration mechanism

    Magnetostriction transducers are the core components of bone conduction headphones. They generate mechanical vibrations that are transmitted to the bones of the skull bypassing the eardrums and enabling sound perception through bone conduction.

    Orange O Bones driver unit
    This is how a driver/transducer looks like.

    The quality and efficiency of the transducers greatly impact the overall sound reproduction and listening experience.

    Frame and fit: Headband, glasses, and wrap-around design

    Bone conduction headphones come in different frames and fit options for different user preferences.

    • Most models have a headband design that wraps around the back of the head
    • Some models offer a wrap-around design that rests on the back of the neck

    Both designs are very similar, but the wrap-around design that rests on the back of the next makes it possible to wear headwear.

    Battery life and connectivity

    Most bone conduction headphones are wireless, using Bluetooth for connecting.

    The average battery life of bone conduction headphones is similar to traditional headphones. It ranges from 5 to 10 hours per charge.

    For charging, the majority use a USB-C charging cable. This is the standard and the most common way of charging headphones and earbuds today.

    But some, like Shokz OpenRun use a proprietary charging port.

    Extra features: Noise cancellation, water resistance, and controls

    Many bone conduction headphones offer additional features:

    High water protection: Water resistance and waterproof ratings make the headphones suitable for outdoor activities and workouts, protecting them from sweat or rain. Most are fully waterproof with IPX7 or higher rating.

    Built-in controls, like play/pause buttons and volume adjustments, provide convenient access to essential functions without reaching for your connected device.

    Orange O Bones controls and port
    Controls are built into the headphones.

    Unfortunately, bone conducting headphones don’t come with active noise cancellation. No company has successfully incorporated ANC into bone conduction headphones.

    Noise isolation and cancellation are the weak points of this type of headphones.

    Are bone conduction headphones safe?

    Bone-conducting headphones are equally safe as traditional headphones. As long as you follow basic safety rules.

    However, if you abuse your ears with loud volume, permanent damage can happen to the Cochlea. So, bone conduction can still hurt your hearing if abused.

    With any headphones, you can increase the volume to unhealthy levels resulting in noise-induced hearing loss. Read more on harmful volume levels here.

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

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

    You can read more about safe headphone use here.

    Applications and Uses

    Bone conduction headphones have a wide range of uses:

    • Sports
    • Outdoor activities
    • Communication during work
    Mojawa Mojo2 waterproof

    Sports and outdoor activities

    Bone-conduction headphones are particularly popular among athletes and individuals engaged in outdoor activities.

    Runners, cyclists, and hikers can enjoy audio with open ears while hearing approaching cars, sirens, and other potential hazards.

    Hearing aid applications

    Bone conduction headphones have utility in hearing aid applications.

    They provide an alternative sound transmission method for people with specific types of hearing impairments. In situations where traditional air conduction is ineffective, bone conduction can bypass the outer and middle ear, directly stimulating the Cochlea and improving sound perception.

    Occupational use in military and industrial settings

    bone conduction military headset
    Military tactical headsets often use bone conduction. Image: Defensereview

    Bone conduction technology has practical applications in military and industrial settings.

    • Military personnel benefits from bone conduction headphones that allow them to communicate while maintaining situational awareness on the battlefield.
    • In industrial settings, like construction sites and factories, where hearing protection is required, bone conduction headphones provide a means for workers to receive audio information or communication without compromising their hearing protection.

    Potential uses in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

    As virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies continue to advance, bone conduction headphones offer potential benefits.

    • In VR, bone conduction headphones can provide immersive audio experiences while allowing users to hear external sounds, enhancing realism and spatial awareness.
    • In AR, bone conduction technology can be integrated into smart glasses and headsets, providing audio while keeping the ears open for ambient sounds and maintaining a smooth augmented reality experience.

    Evolution of Bone Conduction Headphone Technology

    The first development of bone conduction technology

    Bone conduction was discovered in the 1500s by a man called Girolamo Cardano, much earlier than its first application.

    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.

    Now, 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.

    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.

    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. They worked and looked very similar to modern bone-conducting headphones.

    What were the first bone conduction headphones for consumers?

    The patent for the first bone conduction headphones was issued in 1994. Consumers got their first model in the same year.

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

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

    AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones
    Bone conduction headphones like OpenRun 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.

    But Shokz brand does make smaller models of their headphones for people with smaller heads. They called “Mini”. If your kids is a bit older, 5 years+, then the smaller model might fit fine.

    Shokz offer “Mini” size for people with smaller heads.

    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.

    Popular Bone Conduction Headphone and Earphone Models

    The bone conduction headphones market has grown significantly in recent years. There’s more choice than before.

    We regularly update this guide on the best bone conduction headphones. Check it for the latest recommendations.

    But in general, the main bone conduction headphone brands are:

    • Shokz (formerlyAfterShokz)
    • Mojawa
    • Philips
    • And many lesser-known generic brands

    Shokz is by far the biggest brand of bone conducting headphones. They specialize in producing top-of-the-line headphones for all kinds of uses.

    Here is an overview of some popular models:

    AfterShokz Aeropex bone conduction headphones

    Shokz OpenRun (old name AfterShokz Aeropex) are one of the bassiest bone conduction headphones. Though still less powerful compared to regular headphones. They come with full water protection with an IP67 rating, and they’re lightweight and comfortable.

    Mojawa Mojo2 waterproof

    Mojawa Mojo2 offer a super comfortable fit suitable for running and other activity. They’re fully waterproof and dustproof with an IP67 rating. But they have less bass than comparable headphones and somewhat shorter battery life.

    Shokz OpenRun bone conduction headphones

    Shokz OpenRun Pro were explicitly designed for activity. They’re called OpenRun because they offer a stable fit and perfect awareness when running. With 10 hours of battery life and IP55, you can easily use them for the most demanding runs.

    For the latest bone conducting models, check this guide.

    Alternatives to bone conduction headphones

    There are a couple of alternatives to bone conduction headphones:

    Open-ear headphones: Also known as open earbuds put small speakers near your ears. This allows you to listen to audio while being open to the environment.

    Open earbuds use air conduction like traditional headphones. Therefore, they’re not suitable for people with hearing impairment.

    But they offer a similar listening experience as bone conduction earphones. They produce sound close to your ear canal without blocking it. This keeps you aware and makes them a great choice if you want a pair of earbuds that allow you to stay aware.

    FAQs

    Is AfterShokz the same company as Shokz?

    Yes, AfterShokz was renamed into Shokz in December 2021 and is the same company.

    Do bone conduction headphones cause vertigo like standard headphones?

    Standard headphones create ear pressure which can result in vertigo in some people. Bone conduction headphones leave the ears open and don’t create ear pressure, removing the reason for vertigo.

    Are there any bone conduction headphones for kids?

    Unfortunately, there are no bone conduction headphones designed for kids. But Shokz does make a smaller model of their headphones. They come in “Standard” and “Mini” sizes. The Mini is smaller and fits comfortably on smaller heads. If your kid is above 5 years old, the Mini might fit well.

    Can you hear with bone conduction headphones with a damaged hearing nerve?

    Unfortunately, no. Bone conducting headphones bypass the outer and middle ear but still need the inner ear and hearing nerves to work. A severed nerve stops the link between the ears and the brain. Bone conducting doesn’t bypass it.

    Are bone conduction headphones safer for running in a city?

    Bone conduction headphones are safer for running in a city than traditional headphones because they allow you to hear your surroundings. When you hear approaching cars, other traffic, and pedestrians, you can respond accordingly and stay safe.

    Can you use bone conducting headphones with hearing aids?

    You can use bone conduction headphones with in-the-ear (ITE) and invisible (IIC) hearing aids. But you might experience discomfort if you have the behind-the-ear (BTE), open-fit, or receive-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids because the headphones might touch your hearing module.

    Do bone conduction headphones work for someone who is deaf from missing inner ear bones from surgery?

    Unfortunately, no. Bone conduction headphones need inner ear bones to transmit sound; if they’re missing, the audio won’t travel through.

    Can you use bone conducting headphones with earplugs in the ears?

    You can use bone conducting headphones with earplugs in your ears. This will dramatically improve the strength of the bass. The low frequencies get trapped inside by blocking the ear canal, dramatically improving bass strength. Though you lose awareness doing so.

    Why do bone conduction headphones leak sound, and other people can hear it?

    Bone conduction headphones leak sound because some vibrations created by headphones get transferred into air vibration (normal sound). Which can be heard by people around you just like we hear sound normally. Sound leakage is one of the limitations of this technology, and there’s no fix for it.

    Conclusion

    Bone conduction headphones offer unique open-ear listening. They’re great for awareness, comfort, and activity that requires water protection.

    They’re most common for sports and communication in a work environment.

    Their only disadvantages are the lack of bass and details in sound and audio leakage. And as long as you understand these limitations, they’re an attractive choice for many activities.

    Would you be willing to accept their limitations and pick them instead of regular headphones? Let us know in the comments below.