Bone conduction has been a hot topic lately. There have been plenty of papers on both sides of the fence as to whether the application of these hearing devices actually work or are any safer than air conduction devices.
The truth of the matter is, even bone conduction can effect the inner hearing mechanisms...but this isn't about whether or not bone conduction is safe, this is about one particular mobile device that works and offers some rather meaningful applications.
A pair of the Aftershokz Bluez 2S headphones were sent to me by the company for review (Figure A).
The Bluez S2 headphones ready to go.
These headphones are marketed as a safe alternative to standard headphones for active people. With them you can hear your surroundings while still hearing your music. They include a built-in mic for making phone calls. and rest comfortably over your ear with small rectangle that rests against your mastoid bone...but nothing goes inside the ear
Let me be clear about this...the use of the word "safe" in the marketing material refers to one thing...being able to hear your surroundings. Should you listen to music too loudly (for too long) using bone conduction headphones, you can still negatively impact your hearing.
However, there is one aspect of bone conductive headphones that air conductive headphones do not enjoy. If you have hearing loss, you will hear more clearly with bone conductive devices. This is a remarkable effect and the application is profound.
To put this to test, I had a pair of the headphones sent to a member of the family who suffers from 50% hearing loss and, upon pairing the device with his phone, we held a conversation using the Aftershokz Bluez 2S headphones. The results were remarkable. He could hear, through both ears, with a clarity he hadn't enjoyed in a long time. It wasn't perfect, but it worked. As for my end, a person with fine hearing, the call was as clear as any bluetooth headset I'd used.
In fact, of any bluetooth device I've worked with, none has had such an important application as this - Enabling those with hearing impairments to not only enjoy music, but to interact with their smartphones (the text to speech implications could be limitless).
Of course, the application of the device is only as reliable as is the quality of said device. As I have become quite skeptical of the reliability of bluetooth headphones, I decided the only way to really test the Bluez 2S was to put them through the same wringer that did in countless pairs of Jaybird Bluebuds (and other, lesser quality headsets).
Running. Or, more to the point...sweating.
And so, I donned the headphones for two months worth of rigorous running...in weather that induced copious amounts of sweat. They performed perfectly. Even after getting caught in heavy downpours, the 'phones worked beautifully.
Of all the bluetooth devices I've used, the Bluez 2S had less problems pairing and connecting than any other. To pair them you simply (while off) press and hold the power button for five seconds. The LED on the headphones will flash alternating red/blue. You then go to your Android device Settings | Bluetooth and wait for the device to appear. Tap the entry to connect and you're good to go. If you happened to be asked for a pass code, type in 0000. Once the connection is made, it will appear in your bluetooth listing (Figure B).
The Bluez 2S connected to a Verizon-branded Moto X.
As I mentioned earlier, these babies have never failed me. Through rain, sweat, and constant running...the Bluez 2S have performed brilliantly. I have yet to have a single problem with the connection or the sound dropping. This headset simply refuses to let go. And as for battery life, I'm getting about 5-6 hours out of a charge.
Of course, these aren't perfect. First off, for on-the-go business users, the Bluez 2S does have a multi-function button that allows you to interact with the likes of your phone app. The only problem with it is that it's not always easy to find (at least not when you're scrambling to answer a call). But that's really a minor nit to pick. The second caveat is that the quality of sound won't exactly send you chucking your Beyerdynamic or Sennheiser headphones into the trash. The bone conductive sounds do lean toward the tinny. However, even with that lack of bass and high midrange, the sound is crystal clear. In fact (probably due to the high amount of mid-range), you'll hear everything very well. And even though audiophiles might cringe at the sound, the clarity of music and calls makes up for the lack of quality in tone.
If you add up all the pros offered by the Bluez 2S, the two minor caveats fade into the backdrop of ambient noise. Although bone conductive headphones are not truly any safer than air conductive devices (when it comes to listening to music at high levels), the ability to better hear ambient noise does offer a level of safety standard in-ear (or over-ear) headphones cannot. And considering how well the Bluez 2S performed against a barrage of sweat, I can happily (and highly) recommend this headset for on the go mobile users looking for better and safer enjoyment of music and calls.
Here's a short promo video for the device, created by Aftershokz.
Can you think of another important application for bone conductive headphones?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.