Bone conduction headphones sit on your cheek bones just in front of your ears, sending vibrations and therefore sound straight to your inner ear. The main idea being that your ears are completely open to still hear what’s going on around you. So they should be a safe option for running and cycling and there’s a few other advantages too.
Aftershokz are the main name in bone conduction headphones and their latest wireless offering – the Aeropex with a fairly hefty £150 or $150 price tag, are meant to overcome one of the greatest disadvantages of this technology: audio quality.
I’ll put them through their paces running and cycling and for general use, and compare them to the Aftershokz Titanium, a couple of years old now, but that cost half the price, and the true wireless in-ear Apple AirPods Pro that arguably have one of the best transparency modes, that also lets you hear your surroundings. So let’s take a closer look.
Inside the box you get the headphones themselves, a soft silicone storage case, two USB charging cables, one set of ear plugs and an instruction manual.
The headphones weigh only 26g, and have a thin band made from titanium that fits around the back of your neck. The band bends to hook each earphone just in front of your ear, resting on your cheek bone.
The build quality is good, with a soft silicone finish although it does attract fingerprints. I have the black version but they’re also available in blue, grey and red.
The neck band has a lot of flex, but doesn’t feel like it’s going to break easily. They have an IPX67 waterproof rating, although they’re not designed for swimming. Aftershokz do the IP68 Xtrainerz with built in music for that.
The older Titanium’s are just over 10g heavier and much chunkier in their design. They only have IP55 sweat resistance.
The volume controls, which incorporate the power button, sit behind the right ear. They have several other functions that I’ll come to shortly. There’s also the magnetic charging port – a very welcome improvement over microUSB and a rubber flap used on previous versions. On the side is a combined power, battery and pairing LED indicator.
The right earphone has the dual noise cancelling microphones for voice calls.
The left earphone has a multi-function button. A single press to play | pause your music or answer | end a phone call, a double and triple press to skip forward and back a track respectively, and a 2 second press to activate your voice assistant.
Charging the headphone’s integrated 145mAh battery takes around 2 hours from flat. The LED is red while charging and turns blue when fully charged. The magnetic charging tip can only attach one way but snaps into place satisfyingly. It’s great there’s a second charging cable included and it’s a huge step up from the microUSB charging port of the previous models. But I would still prefer not to be tied to a proprietary charging cable. Wireless Qi charging would have been even better.
When you turn the headphones on for the first time with a 2 second press of the Volume+ / Power button the LED will flash red and blue indicating pairing mode. Connect to Aftershokz Aeropex in your Bluetooth device settings. Audio prompts and beeps accompany turning the headphones on and off, Bluetooth pairing, volume changes and can inform you of the battery status when you press the volume up or down button with music paused.
A 3 second press turns the headphones off. If you want to pair to another device, press and hold the Volume+ / Power button for 5 seconds until you hear “pairing” and the LED again flashes red and blue.
You can connect to two devices simultaneously if you enable “multipoint” mode. With the headphones off, again enter pairing mode with a long press of the Volume+ button. Then hold the multifunction button and the Volume+ button for 3 seconds until you hear “multipoint enabled”.
Connect to your first device. Turn the headphones off and then re-enter pairing mode again and connect to your second device. When you turn the headphones off and on again, they’ll be connected to both devices. To disable multipoint mode you need to again go into pairing mode and this time hold down the multifunction button and Volume- for 3 seconds.
A slightly odd feature with multipoint mode is the headphones will beep every few seconds for a few minutes if they lose connection to one of the two devices. So if you’re paired to a phone and tablet and leave the house playing music off your phone, you’ll get these beeps as soon as it loses the connection to the tablet.
If you want to start again and reset all your pairings, or have any issues you can factory reset the headphones. Go into the pairing mode as before, then press the multifunction button, and both the Volume+ and Volume- buttons simultaneously for 3-5 seconds until your hear two beeps and feel vibrations. Turn the headphones off and then you can start again.
If you’re somewhere where you do want to block out external noise, you can use the supplied earplugs or any earplugs for that matter. You can adjust the EQ settings in this situation to reduce the resulting overpowering bass by holding the Volume+ and Volume- buttons down together for 3 seconds while music is playing. A voice prompt says “EQ changed” – but doesn’t state which mode you’re in, so it’s easy to lose track. Basically if you take the earplugs out and music sounds hollow, you’ll need to remember to press the two buttons again to change back to the standard mode.
Disappointingly there’s no accompanying app to create custom EQ settings for the headphones or even update the firmware down the line.
Comfort and fit
It’s very quick and easy to hook the headphones around your ears and they pretty much fall into their correct position. There’s no fiddling around adjusting fit like with the in-ear earbuds I’ve been looking at recently. And it’s not really possible for them to fall out with their hooked fit, and with the added security of the neckband. For running I have reviewed a few pairs of true wireless earbuds recently that are pretty secure, but there’s always a possibility they’ll work themselves loose, especially if you sweat a lot.
With no movement in my ear canal and their light weight I almost forget I’m wearing the Aeropex when I’m running. And an added bonus is that you can let them sit fairly securely on your neck when they’re not in use.
With their open ear design you can also wear them for cycling, which is something I’d pretty much given up on. Even with a standard cycling helmet, sun glasses and a cap, they fit just fine. But I’ve not tried them with a time trial or full face helmet.
I also found them good for the indoor cycling turbo trainer which is usually too sweaty for over ear and even in-ear earphones.
In general use I did find the thin neck band felt like it was cutting into my ear a bit when using them for longer periods, and in this respect the cheaper and heavier Titanium model was more comfortable. Running and cycling I didn’t notice this so much.
Also with no adjustment to the neckband, it sticks out quite a bit, so catches if you’re wearing a hoodie, and gets in the way lying on your back doing stretches for example. But even without any adjustment they fit my childrens’ heads, aged between 10 and 15 just fine.
The controls are well thought out and easy to feel for even when running or cycling. You only really have to remember the Volume+ button is nearest your ear. With the Titanium model there’s also the USB port next to the volume controls which feels like a button, so my finger often fumbles for a second to adjust volume.
There’s no optical sensor to automatically pause music when you remove the headphones that you might expect at this price and that other similarly priced wireless earphones have.
Audio quality and performance
I wasn’t expecting an awful lot with respect to audio quality. Bone conduction headphones generally sound fine for spoken audio: podcasts, YouTube, films etc, but not so good for music.
The Aeropex have Aftersohokz’s latest PremiumPitch 2.0+ and do sound far better than the Titaniums for music. A cheap pair of in-ear earbuds would still sound better, but it’s now easier to forget you’re listening to bone conduction headphones. Especially when using them for their intended purpose like running or cycling.
There’s still little bass, but mids and highs sound ok. They don’t have any higher quality codec support like aptX or AAC, but it would be most likely wasted with these anyway.
There is still significant vibration at higher volumes – anything above 75% for most of the music I listened to. This buzzing sensation which feels like it’s tickling your ear, is disconcerting at first but you generally don’t notice it as much doing any sort of physical activity. And if you’re just listening to them around the house or in the office, you can turn the volume down.
I don’t think they’re any better in this respect to the Titaniums. I guess the tighter they fit, the less vibration you’ll get.
For some podcasts I found even at moderate volumes I got the buzzing sensation with more boomy voices. Something I didn’t get with the Titaniums. Although the EQ setting is intended for use with earplugs, it does also help reduce any vibrations with some spoken audio.
Of course they main selling point is the open ear design and this is where they excel. I compared them to a pair of AirPods Pro which are in-ear earbuds with noise cancelling – almost the exact opposite of the Aftershokz. But they also have a very good transparency mode that uses their on-board noise cancelling microphones to actually let outside sounds in.
They’re not bad, but they don’t come close to the bone conduction headphones. So long as you don’t have them too loud, you lose very little awareness of your surroundings with both the Aeropex and the Titaniums. In England, Aftershokz are the only brand of headphones allowed by England Athletics for events with roads open to traffic – and I can see why, even if it might be a little controversial.
When it comes to sound leakage I found they leaked even more sound than the Titaniums, I think partly because they’re a bit louder and perhaps with their slightly looser fit around my head. I wouldn’t use these in an office or on a train or bus at anything above 50% volume.
Aftershokz do advertise that vibration and sound leakage has been reduced from the Aeropex’s predecessor – the Airs, but I don’t have those to compare against.
The headphones aren’t particularly loud. For running they were generally fine, but for cycling with wind noise and traffic noise on busier roads, they were a little harder to hear. Even on the turbo trainer, they were generally ok but I found them a little quiet over the noise of the turbo and fan. And at max volume the vibration was quite noticeable.
One use I found for them that I hadn’t seen advertised, was in conjunction with ear defenders for DIY or any sort of construction work where ear protection is necessary. You can’t use over ear protection – I found banded ear plugs worked best. I could still hear music and podcasts over heavy machinery whilst protecting my hearing.
These headphones use the latest Bluetooth 5.0, compared to the older version 4.1 for the Titaniums. Range was good, easily making it to the next room of my brick built house. And reliability was generally good. I did get the occasional dropout with a few Bluetooth devices all connected at once, but not in general use.
The headphones were actually pretty good for phone calls even with background noise. Sound quality was decent for both ends of the call and making phone calls with the open ear design feels far more natural than using in-ear buds. (Listen to mic test in video).
Battery life is quoted as a very respectable 8 hours, 2 hours up on the Titaniums and their predecessor, the Airs. It’s not specified at what volume this at, but at around 75% volume I got at least 6 hours out of them – and still had some battery remaining. Unlike true wireless earbuds with their convenient charging case, you will have to remember to top them up and if you do run out of charge. It’s unlikely you’re going to have the charging cable and a power pack to charge them up when you’re out for a run or bike ride.
The Aftershokz Aeropex aren’t for everyone, but if you run or ride a bike they’re definitely worth considering. I also enjoy using them around the house for casual listening to podcasts and background music without being cut off from what’s going on around me.
This new model is a big step up from the Titaniums with regard to sound quality. You’ll mostly forget you’re listening to bone conduction headphones, unless you play your music at louder volumes and get the rather unpleasant buzzing sensation. But particularly for running, their lightweight, open ear design and secure fit make them a great choice. I like the new model’s magnetic charging port too, and the additional battery life.
Whether all this justifies them being over twice the price of the Titaniums I’m not so sure. If you listen to more spoken audio, the older model will probably be just fine. But they are noticeably heavier and bulkier, their battery life is less and they use the older microUSB charging port.
Although the audio quality has improved over previous bone conduction headphones, you can get much better sounding wireless earphones for a lot less money. And arguably more convenient true wireless earbuds too. Whilst I wouldn’t cycle with these in, I find running with them generally ok and if they have a transparency mode like the AirPods Pro and many others, even better.
But if you are after a dedicated pair of headphones for running and cycling, which you might get some general use out of too, I’d definitely take a look at the Aeropex. And if you like the concept of open ear, bone conduction headphones but want to save some money, also take a look at the cheaper Titaniums.
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