How do bone conduction headphones work and are they right for you? – Review Geek


If you’ve ever wanted to listen to music without losing sight of your surroundings, it might be time to buy some bone conduction headphones. These specialized headphones have no speakers and leave your ears free to hear external sounds, such as voices or oncoming traffic.

But bone conduction headphones are not for everyone. They have a few drawbacks, including sound quality. So, how do bone conduction headphones work and are they right for you?

How does bone conduction work?

Cameron Summerson

Unlike regular headphones or earbuds, bone conduction headphones don’t rely on speakers to create sound. Instead, they use two transducers to vibrate your skull — or, more specifically, your cheekbones.

These vibrations find their way to your cochlea, where they are translated into ‘sound’ for your brain. Bone conduction effectively bypasses your eardrums, leaving them free to hear outside sounds while enjoying music, podcasts, phone calls or other sounds from your headphones.

Bone conduction is very different from air conduction, the process we usually think of when we talk about ‘hearing’. With air conduction, sounds create pressure waves in the air, and this pressure makes your eardrums vibrate. Your eardrums then vibrate your cochlea, which transmits the sound to your brain.

Some people think bone conduction is gross or creepy, but it’s quite natural. For example, when you speak, you hear a combination of air-conducted sound and bone-conducted sound. That’s why your voice sounds different in recordings; these recordings don’t pick up all of the bone-guided sound that vibrates through your head.

To be clear: bone conduction headphones are not silent. The vibrations created by these headphones produce an audible sound that other people could hear, especially if you are close to you.

The benefits: more safety and awareness


Bone conduction headphones leave your eardrums free to receive incoming sounds. The advantages are therefore obvious: you can use bone conduction headphones without blocking external noise.

Headphones that let you hear your surroundings are a bit unorthodox. But depending on your responsibilities or hobbies, you may find yourself in many situations where you need to remain aware of your surroundings.

Cycling is probably the most popular use case for bone conduction headphones. You need to be aware of your surroundings while cycling on the road; otherwise you could be the victim (or cause) of an accident. A pair of earplugs blocks your environment while cycling, but bone conduction headphones let you hear oncoming cars or emergency services.

Swimmers will also enjoy bone conduction headphones, which are often waterproof and sometimes work in salt water. Some models of bone conduction headphones, such as the AfterShokz Xtrainerzdouble as portable MP3 players and eliminate the need to swim near your phone.

And because bone conduction headphones bypass your eardrum, they’re a solid option for those who wear earplugs or full in-ear hearing aids. They are also a great alternative to traditional headphones if you have hearing loss in your outer or middle ear. (That said, bone conduction headphones can damage your inner ear at high volumes, just like regular headphones.)

Of course, bone conduction headphones don’t always need specific use cases. Perhaps you are preparing a barbecue and want to hear the voices of your family, for example. Or, if you have young children, you may want to listen to music without losing sight of the outside world.

The bad news: sound quality and price


Never buy bone conduction headphones because of their sound quality. By nature, these headphones tend to emphasize the higher mids and lack any kind of bass. And because bone conduction headphones leave your ears open to outside sounds, you won’t get an isolated listening experience.

Now, bone conduction headphones don’t sound terrible. They get the job done, and if you mainly listen to podcasts or make phone calls, the sound quality doesn’t really matter much in the first place, frankly. (I should note that some bone conduction headphones come with earplugs, as plugging in your ears improves the quality of bone conduction sound.)

But there is another drawback to bone conduction headphones: the cost. Almost all bone conduction headphones start at $70, and high-end models can cost several hundred dollars. I realize $70 isn’t unreasonable, but it’s a lot of money to spend on headphones that don’t sound great.

Should you use bone conduction headphones?

Michael Crider

Using bone conduction headphones is a matter of preference. Are you willing to sacrifice audio quality to hear your surroundings? Or are you a swimmer who likes to listen to music while exercising? Then you are probably perfectly suited for a set of bone conduction headphones.

Of course, there are situations where you absolutely must opt ​​for bone conduction headphones. For example, wearing traditional headphones or earplugs while cycling is extremely dangerous. It is also illegal in some states and countries.

Those obsessed with audio quality should skip bone conduction headphones. That said, there are some alternatives, such as the Sony LinkBuds and Bose Sport Open earbuds, which have an open design to let you hear an environment without compromising on sound quality.

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