If you’ve looked at the title and wondered what futuristic tech might be powering bone conduction headphones, you certainly would not be alone. Let's dive into what makes them so unique, and potentially right for you!
Bone conduction headphones are relatively new to the headphone market and will offer you an experience unlike any you’ve had before. Traditional headphones send sound waves through the air straight to your eardrums, bone conduction headphones follow a slightly different path…
Bone conduction headphones rest on your cheekbones and transmit vibrations through your skull, bypassing your eardrums entirely. These vibrations go straight to your cochlea, and from there send electrical pulses to your brain, these pulses are the exact same as the ones that would reach your brain through your ears. This means you can listen to music with earplugs in, weird right?
This all sounds complicated, but it’s been in use for years. A lot of hearing aid manufacturers have utilised this technology since the ‘60s, Beethoven even used a similar concept to keep playing the piano after he went deaf! Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) has taken this technology and refined it to make a range of bone conduction headphones that might just be what you’re after.
I got my hands on a pair of the Shokz premium Open Run Pro bone conduction headphones, and it was a great experience, to say the least. The unboxing set me up to expect quality, and that was most certainly delivered. So, what’s inside the box?
- The headphones themselves.
- A hard-shell carry case, it feels very durable.
- The USB charging cable with a magnetic mount to hold on to the headphones when charging.
- An easy-to-follow quick start guide and the other standard papers you’d expect.
- Minimal plastic, well done Shokz.
I immediately noticed the striking two-tone blue colourway of these headphones; I think it looks awesome. There are still the standard beige and black options for these headphones (as well as a very nice pink), but it’s good to have some more colourful choices. They felt light, yet sturdy, despite the flimsy appearance of the connector between the two transducers. Pairing these headphones to my phone was simple and quick, and even better, they just worked immediately.
There is an app to download for some more functionality. The first key one is the ability to switch the headphones between standard EQ and vocal EQ. The standard EQ is just a balanced frequency for listening to music, whereas the vocal EQ enhances the intermediate frequency for listening to spoken voice, like audiobooks or podcasts. There is a noticeable difference between the two, making it useful to switch depending on what you’re listening to. The second functionality sets up multipoint pairing, which allows you to connect two devices simultaneously. The headphones will seamlessly switch between the two connected devices when this is enabled, for example, getting a Teams call on your laptop will stop the music playing on your phone. The Shokz app is simple and effective, I do wish they’d made it so that I could switch between the EQ settings with a button on the headset but that's a minor gripe.
Now, I wasn’t expecting much when it came to these headphones. Listening to music, without actually having any music playing in your ears was a strange concept. So, I was very impressed when the audio quality of these headphones turned out to be surprisingly good. Once I started researching for this article, I understood why. This is the 9th generation of bone conduction technology for Shokz! You can tell that they’ve worked hard to iterate on previous versions too, every aspect of these headphones is streamlined and simple. I’ve used some much more expensive Bluetooth earphones and headphones from other brands that could learn a thing or two from Shokz.
The buttons for the device are simple, volume buttons on the right “speaker”, with a multifunction button on the left. To turn the headphones on and connect, you just need to hold the volume up button for a few seconds until the light flashes blue. The multifunction button does what you’d expect, play/pause songs, skip to the next, or go to the previous, plus answer and end calls. You get used to the layout quick and the buttons are tactile, giving an audible click plus a small audio cue to let you know they’ve been pressed.
I’ve already mentioned that the quality of the sound impressed me, let's dive into how Shokz achieved that. Utilising their new Shokz TurboPitch Technology, they offer a crisp and clear midrange to high-frequency sounds, as well as two bass enhancers (called CoreCushion). The bass is interesting, it definitely doesn’t have the same impact as a pair of high-quality over-ear headphones, but you can definitely feel it in your cheekbones.
The ten-hour battery life isn’t staggering until you think about how light these are. Though 10 hours definitely isn't something to scoff at, easily lasting through longer training sessions or a full workday with some change. Plus, quick charge gets the Shoks Open Run Pro’s up to 1.5 hours of charge in 15 mins, great if you want to go for a run but had them die during the day.
Speaking of running, how do these work as sports headphones? Well, unsurprisingly from the name, fantastically. You quickly forget that they are there, this is a big deal for me. It seems that no matter what headphones I try, they like to wiggle loose on longer or higher intensity runs/sports, even when I fiddle with the different sized tips. I can confidently say these have almost no chance of coming off. I’ve challenged people to shake them off and no one has succeeded. Squat jumps, sprints, and tennis all barely moved them. I almost reckon you could do gymnastics and they’d stay snug.
One of the key selling points of these headphones is that they don’t prevent you from hearing your surroundings. This was something I didn’t rate until I tried it. Running in urban environments feels safer, and in rural environments, it means I can hear nature. I don’t think I can go back to normal headphones after this. Not needing to pick between hearing your surroundings and listening to music is great for most sports. Practising tennis, playing touch with mates, cycling, and lifting with a buddy, all pair beautifully with the Shokz Open Run Pro. Plus the IP55 water resistance makes it so if you get caught out in the rain on a jog, or have a particularly sweaty workout, these headphones will be fine.
This goes to show how versatile these headphones are too. I’ve often thought about how gross and challenging it is to clean the nooks of my other headphones after sweating in them, and then have to put them in my ears. Yuck. These are so easy to clean, and even better, they don’t go in your ears. Maybe you’re thinking of using these to take some calls? They have dual noise-cancelling microphones, meaning you can comfortably take a call no matter where you are. Shokz’ LeakSlayer technology keeps whatever you’re listening to private, as there is minimal sound leakage. Combine the mic quality, minimal sound leak, and the comfort and lightness of these headphones and you end up with a shockingly good package that you could wear all day, even in a business or productivity focussed capacity.
Basically, I like them, quite a bit. They can’t and won't replace the over-ear noise-cancelling headphones I use in the office, but when I’m going for a run, walking with my partner, playing tennis, or just want a pair of headphones I can put on and forget about, the Shokz Open Run Pro headphones will be what I reach for every time. If this tech sounds like something you want to try for yourself, check out the full range of Shokz bone conduction headphones, otherwise, see the extensive range of headphones and audio at PB Tech.