A reasonably novel offering on the market, these wireless bone conduction headphones offer a way to hear both what's happening around you and what's coming through your headphones – but they come with trade-offs, including poor sound quality and a high price tag.
For those who need to maintain an awareness of their surroundings, and some hearing impaired people who miss listening to music, AfterShokz has a range of headphones that could make a difference to the way you listen to music or podcasts, or take calls. We took the Aeropex models for a spin in a variety of surroundings to see what the differences were compared to traditional wireless earbuds or headphones.
Headphones for fitness enthusiasts and more
The marketing for these headphones is aimed squarely at those who exercise. It makes sense, because regardless of how loud the volume is, you can still hear what's going on around you – whether that's pedestrians, traffic or that semi-trailer backing up in front of you.
Essentially a headband that wraps around the back of your head, sits lightly over your ears and on your cheekbones, the headphones conduct sound directly to your inner ear rather than through your ear canal. This has the advantage of leaving your ear canal free to hear what's going on around you, but the downside is that the sound quality isn't great.
Pros: Light, easy to operate and connect, can be used on the phone easily, good for the hearing impaired, good for keeping aware of one's surroundings.
Cons: Can only be worn comfortably for a few hours, sound quality is low, expensive.
AfterShokz Aeropex sound quality
Overall, the sound of the AfterShokz Aeropex headphones leaves a lot to be desired. Whether listening to music or podcasts, the sound is tinny, the bass is flat, and compared to a rather poorly performing pair of wireless earbuds, quite poor. Putting on a pair of top end Sony headphones from our regular headphone test makes for an awful comparison.
If you're exercising – or even just walking in places where you need some awareness of your surroundings – you'll notice that the constant flow of sound from your surroundings also has the effect of making you want to turn up the volume to drown it out, which is not the desired outcome. Prolonged listening with the volume up too high is still going to damage your hearing, just as any other pair of headphones or earbuds would do, regardless of these ones being bone conducting.
The AfterShokz headphones lessen the wind tunnel effect a great deal when cycling and let you maintain awareness of traffic around you
However, one thing we noticed was that cycling pleasure is increased. Wearing earbuds tends to aggravate the wind tunnel effect, where you hear the wind in your ears around the earbuds which drowns out whatever you're listening to. The AfterShokz headphones don't make this problem go away, but they lessen it a great deal and let you maintain awareness of traffic around you.
Call quality on the AfterShokz was about the same as any other earbud or headphone experience, but it definitely decreased with music primarily, followed by podcasts or audiobooks if you're in an area with other intruding noise.
Charging point and the volume/power controls.
The controls sit on both the left earpiece and under the right back of ear placement. The left earpiece houses controls for skipping music back and forward, stopping music, answering calls and also for activating voice control via whichever one you have on your phone.
The right ear placement has volume, power and Bluetooth activation. Once you get used to the placement, the headphones aren't hard to use and the pressure required to activate these controls is firm enough to prevent accidental triggering, but not so firm as to be uncomfortable.
What's the battery life like?
Due to the very light nature of these headphones, you're not going to get anywhere near the 20 hours that some other headphones claim to deliver. A healthy eight hours is more likely, steadily declining over time, as with any lithium battery.
Charging takes around two hours and AfterShokz supplies two charging cords so you can keep one at work and one at home. The charging connection is magnetised which is useful.
Bluetooth connectivity is now the accepted norm for headphones, and these claim to have version 5.0. That means a solid 10 metres without obstructions, but a mixed bag depending on the building you're in, if you have obstructions.
Package contents of the AfterShockz Aeropex wireless bone conduction headphones.
Design and comfort
The headphones look like earbuds rather than a headband going behind the ears, and the fact that they don't touch the back of the neck is good – fewer touch points means fewer pressure points. They're light at 25g, but they have limitations on fit. AfterShokz also offers pairs designed for smaller heads (Mini) so you might need to measure yourself based on their recommendations if you decide to purchase a pair.
The light tension that exists to keep the headphones perched on your cheekbones relies on them crossing over your ears – that light pressure becomes aggravating over time which means we couldn't comfortably wear them for more than a few hours. That's not a bad thing if you're exercising, assuming you don't do more than a few hours at a time, but if you're using them as a headset for work on a constant basis, it's a bit uncomfortable. AfterShokz does have a headset designed for working at a desk (Opencomm).
As a cyclist, wearing a helmet gets in the way of wearing headphones, but these sit low enough on the back of the head not to be an issue. For runners, there's enough pressure on the cheekbones so they don't fall off from the rhythm of jogging. If you're in cold weather, they're a little uncomfortable with a beanie.
AfterShokz Aeropex for hearing loss use
For some people with hearing loss, these headphones might make a difference in listening to music, but only if your hearing aid is located in the ear (ITE, ITC, CIC or IIC). Behind-the-ear hearing aids will get in the way of using the AfterShokz headphones design. They'll potentially only help those that don't have issues with the cochlea, as the bone conduction still relies on having all your cochlea bones intact.
Technicals and package contents
Waterproof rating: IP67 (harmful dust and immersion in water up to 1m).
Origin: Made in China.
Comes with: Headphones, earplugs, 2 x charging cords.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.