How do bone conduction headphones work?


If you happen to’ve been on the hunt for a brand new pair of earbuds or headphones, you’ve certainly come throughout a novel expertise known as bone conduction. Providing a substitute for the normal manner that headphones and earbuds ship sound to your eardrums, the tech makes use of vibrations by means of your personal jawbone and cranium as a substitute.

That’s clearly a fairly primary description, and we’ll develop on it under, however bone-conduction headphones, and the way in which they sit exterior the ear, are a superb answer for customers corresponding to runners, swimmers, and cyclists who need to have the ability to take pleasure in music whereas nonetheless listening to potential hazards round them.

However bone-conduction headphones are usually a little bit of an outlier within the better world of wearable audio merchandise. One main motive is that there are simply not as many corporations producing them, however they’re additionally fairly distinctive with regards to each match and efficiency. Did you ever suppose you’d find out about headphones that don’t even want your ears? Nicely, it’s time to get schooled, mates, and find out about how bone conduction works.

Welcome to your ears (and mind)


With a purpose to finest perceive how bone conduction headphones produce sound, we also needs to discover the science behind a conventional set of headphones (or earbuds) and the totally different components of our ears. And to finest perceive that course of, we also needs to clarify how audio drivers and audio system work normally. 

Audio system have one very primary job: to push and pull air to provide vibrations. These vibrations are transformed to airborne strain waves (maybe higher referred to as sound waves), which our ears detect as sound. The method of deciphering these waves is dealt with by our eardrums and different components of the internal ear. After passing by means of the outer and center sections of the ear canal, the waves knock on the cochlea’s door. For these unaware, the cochlea is a snail-shaped construction in our internal ear that converts sound waves into electrical impulses, that are decoded by our brains as “sound.”  

With conventional headphones, getting these vibrations into electrical indicators requires the participation of each a part of the ear canal, from the eardrum to the cochlea. However is there a strategy to get vibrations to the cochlea with out pestering our eardrums? Sure — by means of the bones in our heads.

Puppeteering your cranium: The science of bone conduction

A person wearing Shokz OpenRun bone conduction headphones on a bike.

Imagine it or not, you don’t really want the outer and center components of your ear to listen to sound, since you’re not technically “listening to” something. Bear in mind: it’s our mind that turns strain waves into audible sound. 

If you happen to’ve ever seen a pair of bone-conduction headphones, you’ll discover that they’ve transducers (the half that produces strain waves) that sit proper subsequent to the ears as a substitute of over the ear canal like conventional headphones. Shokz, one of many leaders on this expertise, explains its tech very well on its web site, however the fundamentals of it are that the transducers “ship vibrations by means of the cheekbones and ship sound on to the internal ear.” This fast A-to-B course of fully bypasses most components of our ear canal, short-cutting these strain waves on to our cochlea.

It’s science at its harmonious finest, however what are bone conduction headphones finest used for, and which manufacturers make one of the best fashions? Let’s unpack each of those mysteries.

Bone conduction headphones for the win

A person wearing Shokz OpenRun bone conduction headphones.

Bone conduction headphones have lengthy been championed as a superb audio different for people that suffer from conductive listening to loss. You’ll have heard of cochlear implants. These superb listening to aids really perform in an identical strategy to bone conduction headphones — they bypass most components of the ear canal and go straight for the cochlea. Bone conduction audio permits the listener to expertise sound even when components of the internal ear are compromised. And even when somebody is simply partially deaf, bone conduction audio lets the listener hear full stereo sound, whereas leaving the ear canals accessible for listening to aids. 

Past medical help, bone conduction headphones are additionally supreme for fitness center goers who want a set of headphones that don’t require fixed changes. Most bone conduction headsets are outfitted with a supportive band that wraps across the again of the pinnacle for stability, making them a lot tougher to budge than conventional headphones. 

Even on a regular basis commuters and people of us working in chatter-filled work environments can profit from bone-conduction audio. You’ll have the ability to go away your ears open to choose up on important sounds, like oncoming visitors, emergency autos, and important water-cooler dialogue. 

Bone conduction audio additionally helps to cut back the harm one can do by listening to music at extreme volumes utilizing conventional headphones. It is because the eardrum itself is way extra delicate to put on and tear from loud listening than your physique’s cranial bones.  

What sorts of bone conduction headphones can you purchase? 

For some time now, the bone conduction market has been cornered by one standout model: Shokz (previously AfterShokz). And actually, if we have been recommending a set of bone-conduction headphones, we’d level them proper towards this model. Not solely does Shokz have numerous totally different fashions to select from, however the firm has been perfecting its engineering for greater than 10 years. Flagship merchandise just like the Shokz OpenRun Professional even provide a companion app for iOS and Android that allows you to customise your listening expertise and arrange Bluetooth multipoint for fast switching between your gadgets. 

You’ll additionally have the ability to discover a number of different social gathering corporations that make strong bone-conduction headphones. When procuring, although, you’ll want to fastidiously learn no matter consumer critiques can be found. 

Audiophiles be warned

Bone conduction headphones are actually outstanding in additional methods than one, but when your primary concern is sound high quality in your headphones or earbuds, don’t look to bone conduction. To place it merely, bone conduction headphones are simply not designed for superior hi-fi listening. Positive, spending a couple of {dollars} extra on a flagship set of Shokz over the essential mannequin might get you barely higher audio, however no bone conduction headset goes to come back near the sorts of prolific sound you possibly can anticipate from manufacturers like Sony, Bose, and Apple.

Moreover, due to the way in which the tech works, bone-conduction headphones simply aren’t as loud as conventional headphones, and after they’re cranked up as loud as they go (which we don’t advocate), the extra-pronounced vibrations could make your head really feel slightly bizarre.

Nevertheless, in case you’re the athletic kind in the hunt for a set of headphones to give you the motivational music you want whereas with the ability to hear that bus screeching simply meters away, otherwise you like to have the ability to pay attention to what’s occurring within the workplace when you file your TPS studies (Workplace Area reference, y’all), then bone conduction headphones is likely to be a superb choice for you.

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