Page Nav




Trending News


These Next Generation Headphones Don’t Even Go in Your Ears

Bone-conduction headphones / Martin Ramin. There are constants in headphone design. Even the word “headphone” can refer to a range of dissim...

Bone-conduction headphones / Martin Ramin.
There are constants in headphone design. Even the word “headphone” can refer to a range of dissimilar gizmos, be they expensive over-ear noise cancellers or cheap wired earbuds. With practically all of these, you can take one thing for granted—they only work because they point their speakers inside your ear.

Bone-conduction headphones are built differently, using tech developed for hearing aids. They rest above your ears, leaving your ear canal unencumbered, and vibrate against the part of your skull adjacent to your inner ear, responsible for what you hear. “While a typical [headphone] sends sound waves through your ear canal…bone conduction merely tricks your brain into thinking this is occurring,” said Dr. Hillary Snapp, chief of audiology at the University of Miami Ear Institute.

I learned about bone conduction from my 60-year-old father, who purchased a pair of AfterShokz OpenRuns ($130) in 2018. The company, recently rebranded as Shokz, has iterated that headphone nine times since its first release, in 2011. Compared to earlier products with the technology—like 1979’s Bone Fone, a radio meant to be draped around your neck like a statement necklace—the OpenRuns rely less on novelty to establish their appeal. 

Simply put, they actually work. The open-ear construction allows you to listen to music while hearing what’s going on around you. But when my father first presented me with his pair, I found it rendered music muffled, even distorted.

This year, the company dropped an upgraded version of the headphones that adds two bass drivers, giving the sound profile an extra oomph it was sorely missing. This pair, called the OpenRun Pro, is among one of a few new releases from established players like H20 Audio and Philips that have made me less skeptical about the tech. My father’s devotion to his pair has never wavered. He says he wears them on Zoom calls, so that he can hear my mother asking him for the 10th time to take out the trash. And the 11th time.

Free Your Ears

Three bone-conduction headphones that will convince you the technology is actually a step forward. The Shockz OpenRun Pro ($180), released in 2022, add two new bass drivers to one of the company’s popular releases. The fix drastically improves the overall sound quality, now balanced and full.

The headphones remain waterproof enough to run in the rain, and have an excellent 10-hour battery life. They also support quick charging—plug them in for 5 minutes to get 90 minutes of battery life. Also notable are their noise-canceling microphones, which help ensure that even if you’re running on a busy city street, your voice can be heard.

Just Add Water

Ever wonder what it’s like to listen to music underwater? The H20 Audio Tri Multi-Sport Headphones ($150) make it possible. While normal headphones can’t usher in Bluetooth signal or soundwaves beneath the surface, H20 Audio solves both of these problems adeptly. By using bone-conduction vibrations, H20 Audio’s headphones sound as crisp and clear underwater as they do above it. 

The H20 Audio headphones can store up to 8 GB of MP3s, like the iPod you still have in your junk drawer. And if you want to use them out of the water, you can stream all manner of music to them from your phone through Bluetooth. Either way, they have a 9-hour battery life.

For Dark and Stormy Nights

Philips’s take on bone-conduction headphones is sleek and designed with the athlete in mind. With 9 hours of battery life, the Philips Open-ear Wireless Sports Headphones ($150) are waterproof enough to endure sweat in the most humid conditions. The headphones also boast a unique call-management system that allows you to place people on hold and switch between calls with the tap of a bud.

The headphones also sound excellent. With a larger bass driver than other earbuds, the sound comes in full yet balanced, with vocals that don’t come off shrill. They also include a light that helps keep you visible if you’re running after dusk.