Home / Technology / Bone-conducting headphones: Long-term test and review of AfterShokz

Bone-conducting headphones: Long-term test and review of AfterShokz



Under the AfterShokz Air headset there is an accessory bag, printed user manual and a pair of included (but strictly optional) foam earplugs.
Enlarge / Under the AfterShokz Air headset there is an accessory bag, printed user manual and a pair of included (but strictly optional) foam earplugs.

Jim Salter

In March 2021, we tested Lucyd Lyte Bluetooth sunglasses, a pair of shades with built-in headphones outside the ear. Lucyd Lyte did not quite impress – mostly because the small, built-in speakers are almost as audible to everyone around you as they are to you. Today we take a look at two models of leading headphones that are suggested for us in the comments section – AfterShokz Titanium and AfterShokz Air.

I bought one from Titanium and Air in early March and have been using them regularly for months now. Leg-leading headphones are definitely not for everyone – but they are great for people who need the special blend of comfort, environmental awareness and improved hygiene they offer.

Open, comfortable ears

AfterShokz Air & AfterShokz Titanium product image

AfterShokz Air & AfterShokz Titanium

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

The first question you need to answer when considering products like Titanium and the Air is “why?” For $ 80, the older Titanium model is already quite expensive compared to the $ 40 wireless earbuds from Skullcandy – and it only gets worse if you want the newer AfterShokz Air model, which currently costs $ 120.

The big draw for Titanium and the Air is that they do not go into or on your ears. They wear something like backwards sunglasses, with a loop that fits over the top of each ear and a small band that wraps around behind the head. If you suffer from near-terminal ear sweat with conventional earplugs and / or headphones, this is a great comfort and hygiene.

AfterShokz’s leg joint design is also a significant functional improvement for people who need to continue to pay attention to their surroundings. With unobstructed ears, it is much easier to talk to those around you, notice important traffic directions while jogging or cycling, etc.

Of course, ambient noise can distract you from your content. This is less of a problem than you might think – something with the bone cord “centers” the sound perceptually, and I thought it was generally very easy to distinguish between ambient sound and content, with little difficulty in ignoring the former and concentrating on the latter.

If you need to block the outside world, both models of AfterShokz come with foam earbuds – but it reduces or completely interrupts the value of the headphone’s open-ear design. To just reduce the occasional loud intrusion – a non-subdued truck driving past, a barking dog or an unusually loud conversation nearby – we found that it was sufficient to press a fingertip over the ear closest to the irritation.

Mediocre sound

Unfortunately, none of the AfterShokz model holds candles to conventional earbuds and headphones when it comes to music. The AfterShokz headphones are loud enough to groove, and the sound is completely clear – but the bass response is extremely limited, and the overall impression that music in full range delivers on an AfterShokz is undeniably flat and unimpressive.

Fortunately, the headphone’s audio profile is perfectly suited to reproduce normal human speech – so podcasts, phone calls, audiobooks and voice navigation sound great on both models. It is easier to distinguish between content and ambient noise than you might expect because transmission of bone wires makes audio playback feel centered “inside” your head.

The microphone quality on both models is excellent. In my testing, calls took almost no ambient noise – significantly less than the Pixel 2XL’s built-in microphone.

Solid battery life

The battery of the AfterShokz Titanium was only down to 60 percent after more than four hours of Saturday and Sunday podcast listening.

The battery of the AfterShokz Titanium was only down to 60 percent after more than four hours of Saturday and Sunday podcast listening.

Jim Salter

AfterShokz lists “six hours of continuous music + calls at a single charge” for both the Air and Titanium models. I easily exceeded it in my testing, with the charge level going down about 10 percent per hour while listening to podcast after podcast on long car rides.

Standby time is also good – AfterShokz requires up to 20 days of standby time, which in turn seems a bit conservative. After leaving a Titanium headset off the charger for a week, it still recorded 90 percent charge. A fully discharged headset requires a little less than two hours to fully charge.

Like the sound, this is not even close to “best quality” or “best value” – the same $ 40 Skullcandy wireless earbuds we mentioned earlier offer 24 hours per charge. But the AfterShokz models are easily good for most applications.

Check

Air and Titanium share the same controls – a large “multifunction button” on the side of the left earplug and the power / volume up and volume down buttons under the right earplug. The charging port is sealed under a soft rubber flap just behind the volume change buttons.

One press of the multifunction key pauses or resumes audio playback, answers or ends a call, or answers the standby time and puts the current caller on hold as needed. Double-clicking the button skips to the next song or skips over 30 seconds in a podcast or audiobook, and long pressing it for two seconds rejects calls, starts voice dialing or answers the call waiting and hangs up the current caller.

By long pressing the on / off button for two seconds, both models are switched on or off; by pressing and holding it for five seconds, Bluetooth pairing mode can be activated. Pressing both volume buttons simultaneously mutes the microphone if you are in a call or changes the smoothing profile (between outdoor and earplug-in profiles) if you are listening to music.

Air vs. Titanium

There are two models of AfterShokz bone-conducting headphones – Titanium and Air. Air is the newer, upgraded model – but it’s not much of an upgrade, and some may prefer the older, cheaper Titanium, as I do.

Air and Titanium both offer exactly the same sound quality and battery life in my extensive tests. The biggest difference between the models is a thinner, lighter band on the air that some users prefer. Also the beep when you adjust the volume is significantly higher on the newer Air model – enough that I thought it was a bit painful.

Although the air feels noticeably lighter than the titanium, I thought it was less adjustable. When you use one of the headphones for more than two or three hours continuously, some users occasionally change the pressure point of the headphone to minimize irritation. I found a wider range of positions where Titanium could be used successfully, which in turn made it a better choice for long-term comfort than the Air model. Paired with the quieter volume adjustment beep, which made Titanium the better choice for me.

Of course, different users will have different opinions – I originally bought a Titanium and an Air, and my wife and daughter (who eventually bought their own) preferred Air.

Conclusions

If you do not dislike conventional earbuds or headphones, it is difficult to make a case for either Air or Titanium – they cost more, have less battery life and do not offer a full musical range of sound reproduction. But they are unique to audio tasks that are centered in a relatively normal human language area, and the battery life is good enough for even heavy daily use.

Most importantly, they stay completely out of your ears – which is the great feature that initially made me buy them on an experimental basis. AfterShokz headphones do not give you sore or sweaty ears after hours of continuous use. The comfort factor is not perfect – I even want to turn the headphones a little after three or more hours – but it is a clear improvement.

AfterShokz’s bone conduction technology does not interfere with normal hearing at all, making these the polar opposite of noise-canceling headsets. With AfterShokz headphones in, you will hear every conversation, driving or child injury taking place around you. I do not feel safe cycling with earplugs in, but I found both models good for combining a bike commute with the latest episode of a favorite podcast or serialized audiobook.

I also found Air and the Titanium good for madness in home school – my wife can listen to questions and / or shenanigans from children while podcasting, audiobook or taking conversations, and my daughter finds them significantly better for class interviews and necessary multimedia consumption than the traditional headphones which all three children already had.

The good

  • Hear everything that happens in the world around you while sound is being played
  • Excellent reproduction of human speech
  • Excellent speech separation and ambient noise in the built-in microphone
  • Easy pause, resume and time jump over content with a large button on the left side
  • No one else can hear your AfterShokz sound – even in very high volumes
  • Adjust volume, pause, skip forward, mute, answer, disconnect using physical buttons on the headset
  • No sweating / uncomfortable ears after hours of use

The bad

  • Hear everything that happens in the world around you while sound is being played
  • Mediocre-at best musical reproduction
  • Less battery life than most modern wireless headphones offer
  • No “rewind / skip back” button on the headphone

The ugly

  • A little on the expensive side ($ 80 for Titanium, $ 120 for Air)

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