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Best bone conduction headphones
It might seem like wireless earbuds are the only innovation to come to headphones in the last few years, but that isn’t the case. There is another type that is much less talked about, and that’s bone conduction headphones.
While they’re not for everyone, they do fill a niche and may be exactly what some people are looking for. If that someone is you, then you’ve come to the right place. These are the best bone conduction headphones you can get.
Editor’s note: this best list was updated on December 4, 2022, to include a brief explainer video.
Bone conduction headphones are great for outdoor athletes because they don’t occlude your ears at all. This design leaves you completely aware of your surroundings so you can exercise safely, which makes bone conduction great for city residents too.
We also recommend bone conduction headphones to those with certain hearing impairments because they bypass the outer ear. This means you can wear hearing aids while using a bone conduction headset.
Why is the Shokz OpenRun the best set of bone conduction headphones?
If you’ve been browsing your local electronics store, you’ve likely seen some headphones from Shokz. The company has been pumping out multiple versions of bone conduction headphones for years, and the best it has to offer is the Shokz OpenRun. This has a similar design to some of the previous models, so if you’ve ever used a pair of Shokz (Aftershokz) headphones, you’ll know what to expect.
The plastic construction makes for a flexible pair of headphones that should hold up to some heavy usage, especially since this has an IP67 rating against dust and water damage. You’ll also get about eight hours of constant playback, which isn’t too bad considering most people will probably be using this for exercise. It charges via a magnetic charging cradle so there are no rogue ports.
If you want one of the best bone conduction headphones around, get the OpenRun.
The OpenRun microphone sounds about as good as other embedded mics. Your voice won’t sound true to life, but it will get you through a quick call every now and then. Listen below and let us know your thoughts!
Shokz OpenRun microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does this microphone sound to you?
The Shokz OpenRun Pro has the best battery life for bone conduction headphones
Most bone conduction headphones last anywhere from 6-8 hours but the Shokz OpenRun Pro lasts 10 hours on a single charge, which is two hours longer than the standard OpenRun. Also, this headset has the most efficient fast charging out of the bunch: 5 minutes of charging yields 90 minutes of playtime. When you do need to fully charge the headset, all you need to do is set aside one hour, whereas other headsets take at least 90 minutes to complete a full charge. There is, however, one downside: that pesky proprietary charging two-pin connection.
Battery life aside, the OpenRun Pro has the best bone conduction technology of the pack with 9th generation tech, compared to the standard OpenRun’s 8th gen tech. Interestingly, the OpenRun Pro isn’t the most durable option as it merits an IP55 rating while others from the Shokz portfolio have IP67 ratings. The build and design look rather sleek and you get your pick of blue or black. Other Shokz headsets have a wider variety of color options.
If you value battery life, the OpenRun Pro will keep up with you.
The Shokz OpenMove is a great value for less than $80 USD
It might seem like Shokz has a chokehold on the entire bone conduction market, and that’s because it kind of does. Audio is already a pretty niche category—albeit a growing one, and bone conduction headphones are an even smaller sliver of that. The Shokz OpenMove has an IP55 dust and water-resistant build with a reflective strip along the headband for visibility.
This pair of bone conduction headphones sports Bluetooth 5.0, which is a welcome upgrade from the older Bluetooth technologies found in the pricier, discontinued AfterShokz Air. A USB-C charging port sits on the headband which is much better than other Shokz/AfterShokz headsets with a proprietary two-pin connection. The Shokz OpenMove sports a lightweight design that makes it feel as if there’s nothing on your head. However, after a few hours, the ear hooks may prove uncomfortable. Still, for under $80 USD, the Shokz OpenMove is a great way to dip your toes into the world of bone conduction headphones without breaking the bank.
The Shokz OpenMove microphone quality is about the same as the OpenRun, which is to say it’s fine but not remarkable. Take a listen to the sample below and cast your vote!
Shokz OpenMove microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The AfterShokz Aeropex works with any sport
Are you a climber, a cyclist, a runner, all three? Well, then, the AfterShokz Aeropex is the headset for you. This IP67-rated headset can do anything and do it well. This is basically the Shokz OpenRun but with Bluetooth 5.0 instead of the newer Bluetooth 5.1 on the OpenRun. Also, the Aeropex doesn’t have a fast charging feature, which you do get with the Open Run.
You get the same control layout here as you do with other Shokz and AfterShokz products, and you get multipoint connectivity. You can enable multipoint connectivity directly from the headset’s controls and disable it accordingly too. We like the Aeropex for its rugged, slim design, and you get plenty of accessories here (two charging cables, a magnetic carry pouch, earplugs, and the Aeropex headset).
The Aeropex microphone sounds identical to the OpenRun microphone.
AfterShokz Aeropex microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Do you just want something cheap? Then check out the YouthWhisper Bone Conduction Headphones
YouthWhisper definitely isn’t a household name, but the YouthWhisper Bone Conduction Headphones is still a fairly impressive product that offers a lot of what the Shokz top models include at a more affordable price. This shares a similarly sleek design as well as an IP54 rating to protect against sweat and light rain. On top of that, this supports Bluetooth 5.0 and microUSB charging.
You’ll also get 8 hours of battery life here which is on par with other, pricier headsets. If you’re not looking to spend too much money on a pair of bone conduction headphones but still want to give it a try, this is worth checking out.
Should you get the Bose Sport Open Earbuds instead?
The Bose Sport Open Earbuds includes a set of true wireless earphones and a protective (non-charging) carrying case. Similar to bone conduction headphones, these earphones don’t actually enter the ear canal. Instead, they’re designed to rest right on top of the ear and descend down from it, projecting sound down your ear canal from specifically angled speaker drivers.
Listeners who don’t live with hearing impairments may be drawn to the Bose Sport Open Earbuds since these wireless earbuds produce better sound than bone conduction headphones, while keeping you safe during outdoor exercise and adventure.
The microphone system on the Bose Sport Open Earbuds sounds good enough, but sometimes my voice cuts out which you can hear in the first half of the sample below. Let us know your opinion and vote in the poll!
Bose Sport Open microphone demo (Non-standardized):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The best bone conduction headphones: Notable mentions
- AfterShokz Air: This is also sweatproof with an IP55 water-resistant build, but it’s a little heavier than some of the others at 30 grams though. You get Bluetooth 4.2 and a six-hour battery life, though it’s worth mentioning that this charges via microUSB which is a bit of a bummer.
- DYCROL Bone Conduction Headphones: Unlike other options, this DYCROL headset has 8GB of onboard storage. With this, you can actually take it swimming since it doesn’t need to connect via Bluetooth to play music, so long as you upload your songs to the headset before using it.
- Philips A6606: Don’t let the uninspiring name fool you, this headset stands out from the crowd with its highly visible LED safety light that you can control through the mobile app. It has an IP67 rating to match the Shokz OpenRun and lasts for 9 hours. The A6606 costs $149 USD but drops to around $100 USD too.
- Pyle Bone Conduction Headphones: This is the only set of bone conduction headphones listed that features some controls on the exterior of the wraparound band. This control layout may be easier for to operate for those with limited dexterity.
Hold up, something’s missing:
This best list’s frequency response charts are absent from this review because our Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture cannot accurately measure the frequency response of bone conduction headphones. The isolation chart is absent because, well, the headphones don’t do anything to block out sound and they’re not supposed to.
What you should know about bone conduction headphones
Before throwing your hard-earned cash at something, it’s always good to be even a little informed about what you’re buying. So let’s go over some basic things you should know about bone conduction headphones.
How does bone conduction work?
Maybe you haven’t stopped to think about it recently, but the fact that we can perceive slight changes in air pressure as sound is a pretty amazing feat. Physics and biology meet every day right inside your head. Most people are probably familiar with sound waves just being a change in the density of air molecules. Once those variations reach your ears, they’re reflected into your ear canal thanks to your external ear (pinna). They travel until they reach your eardrum, which then vibrates in response to the air pressure. Those vibrations are passed through to your middle ear which includes the famous malleus, incus, and stapes bones. (Fun fact: those bones evolved from jawbones).
Those three bones amplify and direct the sound into the cochlea of your inner ear to keep the wave going. For the purposes of this article, we can stop here. Because it is those three middle ear bones that make conduction possible. The headphones you’ll find on this list work by bypassing the eardrum and sending vibrations straight through to the malleus, incus, and stapes bones. From there, the sound waves can just carry on as normal.
Bone conduction headphones don’t have giant ear cups that you wear over your ears, because they don’t need to send sound through your ears. Instead, these rest slightly in front of your ears and send vibrations through the bone. This allows the middle ear bones to register the vibrations without blocking your actual ears, leaving them open to hear what’s going on around you.
Absolutely. Just because these headphones bypass the eardrum doesn’t mean they can’t cause hearing loss. There are a few different types of hearing loss that you can read all about in our full explainer, but the most common type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). This is the loss of sensitivity to hearing higher frequencies and occurs because of damage to tiny hairs inside your ears called stereocilia. These are located in the inner ear and along nerve pathways and can still be worn out by constant use or loud sounds just as if you were wearing regular headphones.
If you suffer from moderate to severe hearing loss you may benefit from hearing aids.
Do bone conduction headphones sound any good?
Bone conduction headphones don’t sound good in the same way that a pair of the best headphones on the market will, but they do sound good for something that doesn’t provide any kind of isolation. Typically, sub-bass and bass are virtually inaudible with bone conduction headphones, making them a good option for spoken-word content. These headphones are good for exercise because they keep you aware of your environment while tuned into your music—not because they boost bass (they don’t). For runners or cyclists that need to be aware of their surroundings while out and about, bone conduction headphones are a useful way to still enjoy music or podcasts without ever losing situational awareness.
What are the pros and cons of bone conduction headphones?
Like anything else in life, there are pros and cons to bone conduction headphones.
Bone conduction headphones are great for people with damage to their eardrums because sound bypasses the eardrum. That said, it’s worth mentioning that if you feel that you’re having trouble hearing please go visit an audiologist for a check-up as they may be able to help you way more than some guy on the internet.
Again, if you’re a runner or cyclist, bone conduction headphones are a good way to stay motivated during a workout while remaining aware of your surroundings. Plus, you don’t have to worry about experiencing an unpleasant suction-like sensation with bone conduction headphones as they don’t touch or seal to the ear canal. This way, you avoid the chance of inner ear pain and infection altogether.
As stated earlier in this article, sound quality is not good here. A big part of enjoying the intricacies of music is blocking outside noise, and these don’t do that. Like, at all. If that’s what you’re after, you’re better off going for a pair of active noise cancelling headphones.
Some people might find bone conduction headphones uncomfortable. While the sensation of comfort is relative, I think it’s fair to say that any pair of bone conduction headphones you get will not be as comfortable as something like Bose QuietComfort 45 or Sony WH-1000XM5 with their plush memory foam ear pads. But if you can get used to the sensation of having a plastic pair of headphones against your temples, bone conduction headphones can make a great tool. You can have your cake and eat it too.
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Frequently asked questions about bone conduction headphones
If the main reason you’re considering bone conduction headphones is simply to be able to hear your surroundings while using them, then yes.
Something like the AirPods (3rd generation) or Urbanista Libson don’t have any ear tips and therefore will not isolate against outside noise very much at all. However, since these earbuds still block your ear canals, they will isolate sound a tiny bit more than bone conduction headphones.
Listening to music through bone conduction headphones is far from immersive, since external sounds mask your music. You’ll still hear your music but it won’t sound as good as it would through a pair of earbuds that sit in and seal to your ear.
If you’ve never used bone conduction headphones, you may experience some slight discomfort during your first use. However, just like with any pair of headphones or earbuds, you shouldn’t experience any nausea or headaches if you’re careful about not raising your volume too much.
Most of the time, bone conduction headphones have IP ratings that can withstand, at minimum, the sweat that you develop during workouts.
Also, if you like to run at night, or generally just be aware of your surroundings, bone conduction headphones keep your ears free to hear the world around you, while you jam out to your playlist.
Yes, bone conduction headphones can still work for you because they make contact on the cheekbone, right below where the frames of your glasses rest.
That said, depending on how small or stout your ears are, you may have a difficult time achieving a secure fit behind your ear with glasses and headphones. This also depends on how thick your frames are, because wireframes will be less obtrusive than thick plastic ones.