Bone-conduction headphones may have seemed like a crazy gadget when they first hit the market, but they’ve become a staple among athletes and outdoor enthusiasts. Wireless bone-conduction headphones are comfortable, stay in place while you’re on the move, and offer impressive audio for headphones that don’t cover or enter the ear.
These headphones may include a microphone so you can take phone calls, built-in memory to store podcasts or music, or come in different sizes to fit various head sizes and shapes. Take a look at our list of the best bone-conduction headphones and shopping guide to help you find the perfect pair for you.
— Best Overall: AfterShokz Aeropex
— Best for Running: Shokz OpenRun Pro
— Best for Swimming: Shokz OpenSwim
— Best Budget: AfterShokz OpenMove
How We Picked These Products
I’ve used bone-conduction headphones while I run for over a year, and I absolutely love them. They’re the next development in wireless headphones for use while sleeping, standing, running, or swimming. In that time, I’ve learned what I love and what I’d change if I could. Here’s a look at what I considered to make these picks.
Comfort and Fit: My first consideration for bone-conduction headphones was comfort and fit. I switched to bone conduction because my Apple AirPods made my ears hurt once I hit the one-hour mark while running. If they’re shaking around while you run, chances are you’re not getting the best audio. They should be snug without being uncomfortable and that’s what I looked for with every pair on the list.
Battery Life: A battery life of at least six to eight hours was an absolute must to make this list. Anything less and you’ll be charging more often than you want, and you could potentially run out of battery while away from home if you forget to charge.
Extra Features: Microphones, built-in memory, and on-unit control buttons make a big difference in how functional the headphones are for you. I looked for models that balanced extra features with price and functionality.
Audio Quality: While bone-conduction headphones can’t match a high-quality pair of in-ear headphones, they can still offer satisfying audio with surprisingly deep bass and clear treble. A mix of audio quality and adequate volume also qualified these headphones for the list.
Best Bone-Conduction Headphones: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: AfterShokz Aeropex
Why They Made The Cut: The Aeropex headphones have excellent audio and fit that’s complemented by a built-in mic and good battery life.
— Battery Life: Eight hours
— Waterproof Rating: IP67
— Microphone: Yes
— Excellent audio while still allowing you to hear your surroundings
— Comfortable for all-day wear
— Easy to use built-in control button
— Built-in microphone with good audio clarity
— Loud beeps
— Large for small heads
The AfterShokz Aeropex have been my go-to headphones for well over a year. As it turns out, I’m not the only one in love with the Aeropex. They offer excellent audio and volume, though expect them to sound like a pair of $400 studio headphones. The only time I have to turn the volume all the way up is when I’m running next to a busy street. I appreciate that I get good volume and audio quality, while still being able to hear cars, fellow runners, or pedestrians when I’m outside.
The Aeropex bone-conduction headphones are also incredibly comfortable. I often wear mine all day and forget I even have them on. I only wish they came in a slightly smaller size. They’re a little big for someone with a smaller head size like me. They’re IP67 rated, so they withstand heavy perspiration, giving you a little warning beep if you need to dry them off before charging.
A control button on the left headphone pauses the audio or answers phone calls with a single click. The built-in microphone is excellent, picking up your voice without you having to increase your volume. This microphone offers much better sound than my 1st gen AirPods, and they’re much more comfortable to wear.
My only other complaint besides wishing they came in a slightly smaller size is that the notification beeps are loud no matter what volume setting. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, but it can be startling at first.
Best for Running: Shokz OpenRun Pro
Why They Made The Cut: A solid battery life, quick charging, and lightweight titanium frame give runners headphones that can go the distance.
— Battery Life: 10 hours
— Waterproof Rating: IP55
— Microphone: Yes
— Comfortable fit
— 1.5-hour quick charge option
— Built-in microphone
— Two sizes available
— Long battery life
— Loud notification beeps
— Not waterproof
The Shokz OpenRun Pro are very similar to the AfterShokz Aeropex, except for a few important differences. They have the same great sound and control features as the Aeropex. The built-in microphone works wonderfully and lets you chat while you’re on the move. They also have the same great fit and lightweight titanium frame.
The differences are in Bluetooth compatibility, charging options, and battery life. The OpenRun Pros include a 1.5-hour quick charge, which can be used when you’re in a hurry. The Bluetooth bone-conduction headphones also make up for one of the weaknesses of the Aeropex, which is that they come in two sizes. The OpenRun Pro minis are 0.83 inches smaller than the standard size. For those of us with smaller heads, that means a better, even more comfortable fit.
Additionally, the OpenRun Pros have Bluetooth 5.1 instead of the 5.0 supported by the Aeropex. That gives them a stronger connection from a greater distance. Finally, these headphones also have an extended ten-hour battery life over the Aeropex and the 8th gen OpenRun, which both have eight hours per charge.
Watch out for are the same loud notification beeps found with the Aeropex. These are not waterproof bone-conduction headphones, so don’t wear them in the pool. However, that’s enough to take light water jets from all directions without damage. They’re safe for your sweaty runs.
Best for Swimming: Shokz OpenSwim
Why They Made The Cut: These swimmer-specific headphones provide impressive underwater audio and decent file storage
— Battery Life: Eight hours
— Waterproof Rating: IP68
— Microphone: No
— 4 GB of MP3 storage, holding 1,200 songs
— Good fit over swim caps or helmets
— IP68 waterproof rating
— Not Bluetooth compatible
The Shokz OpenSwim are fully waterproof so swimmers can listen to their favorite downloaded music while they do laps. These waterproof bone-conduction headphones are basically like an underwater MP3 player. The OpenSwim have 4 GB of memory that holds up to 1,200 MP3s. They support MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, and FLAC in case MP3’s aren’t the only audio files you listen to. Sometimes uploading songs can be a bit finicky, but once they’re on, you’re good to go. These open ear bone-conduction headphones have a IP68 rating, which means they can be submerged in water up to two meters deep for two hours.
However, the OpenSwims are not Bluetooth compatible, which is good and bad. It’s bad because you can’t live stream music from your phone, nor can you take calls. On the good side, you don’t need your device on you to listen to your favorite tunes. The lack of other features lets these headphones focus on sound quality (underwater). Some runners prefer to leave their phones at home and they can do that with the OpenSwims.
Best Budget: AfterShokz OpenMove
Why They Made The Cut: These headphones skip bells, whistles, and high-end specs for simple, clear audio.
— Battery Life: Six hours
— Waterproof Rating: IP55
— Microphone: Yes
— Built-in microphone
— Clear audio
— USB-C charging port
— May not fit smaller heads
The AfterShokz OpenMove are a stripped-down version of more expensive Shokz headphones. These AfterShokz bone-conduction headphones have a decent six-hour battery life and a built-in microphone for taking calls. They’re lightweight and comfortable, though if you have a smaller head size, they may jiggle and wiggle a bit more.
The OpenMoves are also a great budget choice for their upgraded USB-C charging port. A USB-C charging port offers faster charging, so you’re not waiting around for your headphones when you’re ready to go. Finally, these headphones offer clear audio, though they won’t blow your ears off with extra volume.
Things to Consider Before Buying Bone-Conduction Headphones
Bone-conduction headphones typically have a battery life that ranges between six to 10 hours. Anything less than that and you’ll be charging the headphones more often than you want. Take a look at the charging time too. Charging times average between two to four hours, but there are some headphones with a quick charge that only takes 1.5 hours.
Ingress Protection (IP) Rating
The ingress protection rating or IP rating tells you the waterproofing and dust resistance of the headphones. Particle resistance is the first number, which is rated 0 to 6. Water resistance is the second number, with a range of 0 to 8. Bone-conduction headphones need an IP rating of at least IP 55 to withstand perspiration and light rain. Those used for swimming need an IP rating of IP68 to resist damage from the water.
Bone-conduction headphones may take some getting used to, but they’re often more comfortable than in-ear headphones. Bone-conduction headphones have a small audio piece that fits in front each of the ears, putting light pressure on the cheek bones. Some models also have a small speaker that also plays music for the ear to detect through the air, though no one else will hear it. The headphones then fit around the top of the ear and back of the neck connecting to the headphone on the other side.
Fit comes in when finding a pair that fits not only on your ear but behind your head. If the piece that fits behind the neck is too large it may weigh the headphones down so they don’t sit correctly. If it’s too small, it may pull the front audio piece out of place.
People with a smaller head may benefit from a youth or mini size that has a smaller neck piece for a snugger fit.
Built-in memory doesn’t come standard on bone-conduction headphones. It’s more common on those designed for use while swimming because you cannot maintain a Bluetooth connection underwater. A memory of at least 4 GB is sufficient for most people, but more memory will mean more songs and less uploading for you.
Q. Do bone-conduction headphones damage your hearing?
Like traditional in-ear headphones or over-ear headphones, you can get hearing damage from bone-conduction headphones if music is played too loud. They’re less likely to cause damage since the sounds aren’t directed straight into the ears, but you should still use caution and keep volumes at a comfortable level. More people have a problem with bone-conduction headphones being too quiet than too loud.
Q. Are bone-conduction headphones safer than earbuds?
Bone-conduction headphone side effects are minimal, and they can be safer than earbuds in some respects. But, as we’ve already covered, they can still cause hearing damage if used improperly. However, bone-conduction headphones are often recommended for people who have hearing damage because the sounds skip the external and middle ear. If the damage is done in these areas, you can bypass that area and still hear the audio.
Q. What is the difference between open ear and bone-conduction headphones?
Open ear and bone-conduction may seem similar because they do not require a device to be placed directly in the ear. However, open-ear headphones, sometimes called over-ear headphones, are placed on top of the ear, though not directly over or into the ear canal. The audio travels through the ear canal to the eardrum as you would with in-ear headphones.
Bone-conduction headphones apply vibrations to the cheekbones, which pass the vibrations to the inner ear where you then “hear” them.
Q. Is air conduction better than bone-conduction for headphones?
Air conduction typically offers better audio quality. However, the latest bone-conduction headphones to hit the market have vastly improved their bass and overall audio quality over the first pairs sold to consumers.
Q. Are bone-conduction headphones OSHA-approved?
Currently, OSHA does not prohibit headphones on construction sites. However, you should check with regulations at your place of employment to make sure there haven’t been OSHA updates or that your employer has restrictions of their own.
Q. Where do you put bone-conduction headphones?
Bone-conduction headphones fit over the top of the ear with the speaker placed in front of the earlobe against the cheek bones.
Q. How much do bone-conduction headphones cost?
Bone-conduction headphones typically cost between $75 and $200. Waterproof models and those with memory for MP3 storage typically make up the high end of the price range.
A solid pair of bone-conduction headphones offer a nice fit, clear audio, and convenient control and features. You get all of that with the AfterShokz Aeropex. They’re a balance of fit and comfort with good battery life and audio quality.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.