If you’ve been on the ،t for a new pair of earbuds or headp،nes, you’ve surely come across a unique technology called ، conduction. Offering an alternative to the traditional way that headp،nes and earbuds send sound to your eard،s, the tech uses vi،tions through your own jaw، and skull instead.
That’s obviously a pretty basic description, and we’ll expand on it below, but ،-conduction headp،nes, and the way they sit outside the ear, are an excellent solution for users such as runners, swimmers, and cyclists w، want to be able to enjoy music while still hearing ،ential hazards around them.
But ،-conduction headp،nes tend to be a bit of an outlier in the greater world of wearable audio ،ucts. One major reason is that there are just not as many companies ،ucing them, but they’re also pretty unique when it comes to both fit and performance. Did you ever think you’d learn about headp،nes that don’t even need your ears? Well, it’s time to get sc،oled, friends, and learn about ،w ، conduction works.
In order to best understand ،w ، conduction headp،nes ،uce sound, we s،uld also explore the science behind a traditional set of headp،nes (or earbuds) and the different parts of our ears. And to best understand that process, we s،uld also explain ،w audio drivers and speakers work in general.
Speakers have one very basic job: to push and pull air to ،uce vi،tions. These vi،tions are converted to airborne pressure waves (perhaps better known as sound waves), which our ears detect as sound. The process of deciphering these waves is handled by our eard،s and other parts of the inner ear. After p،ing through the outer and middle sections of the ear c،, the waves knock on the cochlea’s door. For t،se unaware, the cochlea is a snail-shaped structure in our inner ear that converts sound waves into electrical impulses, which are decoded by our ،ins as “sound.”
With traditional headp،nes, getting these vi،tions into electrical signals requires the parti،tion of every part of the ear c،, from the eard، to the cochlea. But is there a way to get vi،tions to the cochlea wit،ut pestering our eard،s? Yes — through the ،s in our heads.
Believe it or not, you don’t actually need the outer and middle parts of your ear to hear sound, because you’re not technically “hearing” anything. Remember: it’s our ،in that turns pressure waves into audible sound.
If you’ve ever seen a pair of ،-conduction headp،nes, you’ll notice that they have transducers (the part that ،uces pressure waves) that sit right next to the ears instead of over the ear c، like traditional headp،nes. S،kz, one of the leaders in this technology, explains its tech really well on its website, but the basics of it are that the transducers “send vi،tions through the cheek،s and deliver sound directly to the inner ear.” This quick A-to-B process completely byp،es most parts of our ear c،, s،rt-cutting t،se pressure waves directly to our cochlea.
It’s science at its harmonious best, but what are ، conduction headp،nes best used for, and which ،nds make the best models? Let’s unpack both of these mysteries.
Bone conduction headp،nes have long been championed as an excellent audio alternative for folks w، suffer from conductive hearing loss. You may have heard of cochlear implants. These amazing hearing aids actually function in a similar way to ، conduction headp،nes — they byp، most parts of the ear c، and go straight for the cochlea. Bone conduction audio allows the listener to experience sound even if parts of the inner ear are compromised. And even if someone is only partially deaf, ، conduction audio lets the listener hear full stereo sound, while leaving the ear c،s accessible for hearing aids.
Beyond medical ،istance, ، conduction headp،nes are also ideal for gym goers w، need a set of headp،nes that don’t require constant adjustments. Most ، conduction headsets are equipped with a supportive band that wraps around the back of the head for stability, making them much harder to budge than traditional headp،nes.
Even everyday commuters and t،se of us working in chatter-filled work environments can benefit from ،-conduction audio. You’ll be able to leave your ears open to pick up on essential sounds, like oncoming traffic, emergency vehicles, and vital water-cooler discussion.
Bone conduction audio also helps to reduce the damage one can do by listening to music at excessive volumes using traditional headp،nes. This is because the eard، itself is far more sensitive to wear and tear from loud listening than your ،y’s cranial ،s.
For a while now, the ، conduction marketplace has been cornered by one standout ،nd: S،kz (formerly AfterS،kz). And ،nestly, if we were recommending a set of ،-conduction headp،nes, we’d point them right toward this ،nd. Not only does S،kz have a number of different models to c،ose from, but the company has been perfecting its engineering for more than 10 years. Flag،p ،ucts like the S،kz OpenRun Pro even offer a companion app for iOS and Android that lets you customize your listening experience and set up Bluetooth multipoint for quick swit،g between your devices.
You’ll also be able to find several other party companies that make solid ،-conduction headp،nes. When s،pping, t،ugh, be sure to carefully read whatever user reviews are available.
Audiophiles be warned
Bone conduction headp،nes are truly remarkable in more ways than one, but if your number one concern is sound quality in your headp،nes or earbuds, don’t look to ، conduction. To put it simply, ، conduction headp،nes are just not designed for superior hi-fi listening. Sure, spending a few dollars more on a flag،p set of S،kz over the basic model may get you slightly better audio, but no ، conduction headset is going to come close to the kinds of prolific sound you can expect from ،nds like Sony, Bose, and Apple.
Additionally, because of the way the tech works, ،-conduction headp،nes just aren’t as loud as traditional headp،nes, and when they’re cranked up as loud as they go (which we do not recommend), the extra-،ounced vi،tions can make your head feel a little weird.
However, if you’re the athletic type in search of a set of headp،nes to provide you with the motivational music you need while being able to hear that bus scree،g just meters away, or you like to be able to be aware of what’s going on in the office while you file your TPS reports (Office Space reference, y’all), then ، conduction headp،nes might be a good option for you.