Bone conduction earphones revolution — Aftershokz Aeropex review
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It's been a very long time since I've been really excited about some new technology.
I used to be thrilled over everything new, but in the past decade or so it's just faster, smaller, higher pixel density. VR got kinda close but still feels a bit like strapping a phone to my face.
That's why I was so surprised when a new pair of earphones completely blew my fucking mind. Those earphones are the Aeropex by Aftershokz and they're a pair of fantastic bone conduction earphones. I don't do reviews but my amazing experience with these meant I had to share it.
Previously when on video calls at work I used a pair of open-backed headphones or a pair of fairly standard earbuds. Now I'm quite a loud person normally, and it turns out that when I talk with headphones/earbuds in I get even louder, almost shouting. Enough that when I starting having more calls my partner complained and a neighbour mentioned it. 😬
I'd heard of bone conduction earphones before and they seemed like a decent option. If you're not familiar with them, they have a couple of pads that sit against your temples and get sound into your brain by 'conducting' it through the bone. It then travels to your eardrum through the bone and you hear it as if it was normal sound coming through the air. This leaves your ears and ear canal clear for environmental noise and for your own voice, importantly for me.
TLDR: the Aeropex are amazing, blew my mind when I first started using them and would recommend them to everyone. They're comfortable, sound great, are easy to use and hold a decent battery. I've used them for about 4 months now, they've replaced all of the other earphones/headphones I had previously, and I don't think I'll ever go back to other headphones/earphones.
Buying, unboxing etc
I bought them on discount for £90 from Amazon, the Aeropex no longer seem to be on Amazon but they're available for similar prices elsewhere and the OpenRun on Amazon looks pretty similar.
It was in very professional and nice packaging, although a bit on the over-engineered side. Standard sort of thing for tech products. The box included the earphones themselves — pre-charged to a pretty full battery — a silicone carrying case I'll never use, disposable foam earbuds (I guess for if you actually do want to block out noise?) and two charging cables.
The earphones themselves are pretty small and light, so don't have a USB or whatever port and instead has a custom magnetic two-contact charging connection. The charging cable is USB A on one end and just snaps in place when close to the earphones. Having a second cable is a nice touch, I wouldn't want to lose one and not be able to easily get a replacement.
Setting up, using them, and the fit
They pair via Bluetooth, a pretty standard 'hold the button til you hear the beep' sort of setup. They seem to be able to pair with any number of devices — so far I'm at 7 — and to switch you just disconnect from one device and reconnect to another. They'll automatically connect to the last device used which can sometimes be annoying — my laptop on sleep the other side of the house will connect to it instead of my phone right next to me. The connection is really solid and has never really had issues except when the device and earphones have been separated by a good 10m or a few walls.
Aftershokz claim the battery life is 8 hours but I found it was consistently a lot better than that. For me they last about 10-15 hours of near-constant use, and generally does me 2-3 days before needing a recharge. They recharge very quickly, needing only 30 mins or so from dead to full.
On battery, there are audio warnings about the battery level when you turn on/off and as you approach empty. They're not super useful though really, I find "High" lasts a couple hours, "Medium" lasts ~5 hours and "Low" lasts 5+ hours. So I hear "Low" and have no idea if that means 'need to charge tonight' low or 'about to shut down' low. Android, Windows and Mac all report the percentage in increments of 10% pretty accurately though so check that instead.
They go easily over your ears and behind the back of your head, holding themselves pretty well but not tightly. They're very flexible so will likely fit most heads okay. They're super easy for me with fairly short hair, but as a friend discovered they're a bit trickier for longer and curlier hair — you may need to put them between your hair and back of your neck.
They're probably the most comfortable personal audio device I've had, as they're very light and just rest on your ears with no pressure. They do compete for space above my ears with my glasses but not enough to be uncomfortable, I just need to make sure they're on the outside otherwise my glasses fall off. I fairly regularly leave them on even if they're turned off as I either forget I'm wearing them or it's more convenient than carrying them.
Buttons are fine, a simple play/pause on the left side makes it super easy to pause if needed and volume+power controls are tucked behind the right ear. The buttons have multiple functions depending on how you press them but all I really use are power on/off, volume, and play/pause.
The sound and in different uses/environments
How good do they sound? Great. A lot of criticism of bone conduction earphones is that they typically don't sound amazing. Bone through skin is harder to vibrate than air I guess!
But these really do sound good. I'm quite into music and have some decent audio kit, talking a few hundred quid of DAC, AMP and speakers at both my desk and living room, some studio-quality headphones and ~£200 wireless earbuds. Even then I can only really critique the quality of the Aeropex when directly comparing them. They're not going to win awards for best sound, but in isolation I find it quite difficult to judge. I've heard many 'traditional' earbuds and headphones from audio companies that sound worse despite costing more.
Getting into more detail, they sound even and well-balanced but lacking some bass. The high frequencies aren't sharp which I love as I'm quite sensitive to high frequencies. Lower frequencies apparently don't conduct as well from the bone to the eardrum which is why they don't come through as well. It's not bad or very noticeable a lot of the time, but for some bass-heavy songs they do lack a bit of oomph.
The way my brain placed sound coming through bone did take some getting used to. Rather than coming from my ears/externally it sounds a bit like the music is actually coming from inside of my head, somewhere between my eyes. It didn't take long for that to be normal however. I suspect this actually helps with my auditory processing issues as it means external noise very obviously comes from a different direction!
The volume controls are just right, the top end is loud but not extremely so. You wouldn't want full volume all the time but are okay for a short period in a loud environment. It can go very quiet if you're sensitive to loud environments and are in almost-silent environments. There's 15 different volume levels so a good amount of control, I tend to keep mine around 7-8 depending on the environment.
The way they sit next to your ears means the pads are sitting right on top of my sideburns. Amusingly that means I do notice a difference in audio quality depending on how unruly my sideburns are! If they have worse contact the quality isn't quite as good so keep that in mind if you have crazy sideburns. My mother would be thrilled to hear I have to keep them better trimmed.
As I mentioned earlier, I use these basically everywhere now. Since I've had people ask 'how do they manage in <circumstance>', here's a summary for you:
Work video calls
Great. I can manage my voice volume and hear my doorbell fine better than open-cup headphones and without speakers. No more complaints from my partner about shouting when on a call!
Around the house
I love them whilst cooking in particular, can hear my environment perfectly yet still listen to music/podcasts. Have to crank them up when the extraction fan is on.
Very loud activities
One area they do not do well. I bust out my old earphones for music whilst I hoover or use loud equipment.
Out and about
Generally good in all but the busiest and loudest circumstances. Music works fine but sometimes I need to rewind an audiobook/podcasts when next to a very busy road or on a Saturday afternoon in Edinburgh centre.
Ideal! As it's generally a pretty quiet environment they do well, and as my ears are still free I can still hear people, vehicles and animals with no problems. I used to have only one earphone in but now I get stereo music and stereo environment!
They sit securely (even when I shake my head) and are IP67 water-resistant so you don't need to worry about rain or sweat. I don't run but lots of reviews say they're fantastic for running.
Similarly to hill walking, it's very handy being more aware of your environment and people around you. When using them skiing I really appreciate not having to rip out an earbud when about to hop on a lift!
For activities with a helmet the main thing to be concerned about will be the way they go around the back of your head. For me it sits pretty low, hovering around the back of my neck and works fine with my ski helmet, but something to keep in mind if you wear a bigger helmet.
The microphone definitely isn't anything to call home about 😉. I tend to use the mic of the connected device as it tends to be a bit better, but the in-built one does work if needed.
One issue I've had is when used with Windows or MacOS the headphones go into 'headset mode' when a call software uses them for audio output and input. This reduces the output quality significantly and stops the mic from working completely in Google Meet. The easiest solution I've found for this is to use a different mic. In Windows you can set something else as default, in Mac you have to create an 'Aggregate device' using your other mic as otherwise the headset is set to the default every time it connects.
Honestly I'd recommend these to everyone but the most particular of audiophiles. Many people say these are particularly for running or whatever but I think these are perfect for so much more. On some days I am wearing them about 75% of my waking hours and they continue to be comfortable, great to listen to and keeping me aware of my environment.
If I was scoring it I would give it a 9/10, just missing a 10 thanks to the vague battery level warnings and issues with the microphone on calls until I worked that out. Thank you for reading the first and possibly the last of my tech review series!