“By using bone conduction to transfer sound, Aftershokz headphones leave your ears free to listen to your surrounds, approaching traffic and other dangers while out on your bike or running. And if you ride or run in a group, you will also be able to listen to your favourite tunes while being able to talk to your friends.”
The idea of bone conduction technology is not exactly new, but it still feels like a futuristic product to me. The Aftershokz Aeropex (around $250) is nice and light, with the familiar wrap around design of many other fitness-focused headphones.
There are two bone conduction areas on each side of the band; a flat, rubber pad that sits in front of your ears and another that tucks just behind them. The Aeropex loops over your ear between the two pads to hold the headphones safely in place.
The front pad rests up against your check bone, and seems to be responsible for the mid to high range sounds, while bass comes from the pad behind your ear.
Turning them on and hearing audio, purely based on the vibrations against your bones, is a bizarre experience. At fifty per cent volume, I felt no noticeable vibrations against my skin and audio sounded clean, if a little flat.
Turning the volume up to 80 really helped improve the quality of audio for podcasts and music like pop and rock. Switching to bass heavy hip hop I could feel tiny little taps behind my ear, as the bands vibrated to create the effect. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was still an odd sensation. Either way, bass heavy music sounded flat and hollow, but I really didn’t expect deep bass from these buds.
What surprised me was how well the Aeropex performed on a bike. I’ve never found a pair of headphones I’ve felt comfortable wearing while riding; my ebike can get up to pretty high speeds, and I’ve always wanted to stay fully aware of the traffic around me. I’ve tried using just one in-ear bud, to keep the other free to listen to the outside world, but this affects balance and just feels unpleasant.
Using unsealed earbuds like the original AirPods or Backbeat Fit 3100 feels a little safer, but the sound of the wind at high speeds makes it impossible to hear my favourite podcasts. With the Aeropex, which bypass the ear completely, I could hear the wind, traffic, and anything else around me, and still hear podcasts perfectly at low volume. It was incredible, and explains why these headphones are such a hit with cyclists.
A friend put his face right up against mine to test audio leak, and while it was noticeable up close, he couldn’t hear anything at a normal distance. This means the Aeropex can also replace my sleeping headphones, and they’re far more comfortable to wear to bed.
I have a few little annoyances with the Aeropex. I’m surprised the headphones have no app to tweak settings, and there’s no auto-off to save battery, which is a major oversight. I’d normally be annoyed by the proprietary charger, but I’ll let that slide because Aftershokz includes two charging cables in the box, so one can be used at home and the spare can live permanently in your travel bag.
Overall, Aftershokz are incredible. Obviously there are better sounding headphones available, but no headphones match them for running or cycling, and none are as comfortable to wear for long stretches.
Peter Wells works at Swinburne University and is a technology commentator in his spare time. He is an award-winning journalist who currently appears on the Daily Tech News Show.