Aftershokz headphones should be the short list for most suitable headphones for street runners. They sit on your jawbone and transmit sound into the head and ears via bone conduction. They provide decent audio quality without obstructing ear openings. Compared to conventional headphones, the provide significantly improved situational awareness and safety.
There are two groups of runners – those that run with music and those who do not. If you’re in the former group, you’ve probably found that running with music presents some headphone requirements not present in everyday audio listening.
- Has to be usable while bouncing up and down.
- Hardened water and sweat-proof.
- Doesn’t move, bounce around or fall out while running.
- Allows for some situational awareness.
The last point is where most headphones are challenged. By their very nature, they cover your ears and reduce ambient sounds. While the isolation may be useful for focus, it presents a problem for situational awareness. In particular “canalphones” – those headphones with silicone tips that are designed to fit inside your ear canal, provide a lot of isolation. Moreover, their resistance to falling is usually dependent on how tight they fit inside your ears. But the tighter the fit, the more isolation there is. Also, they acoustically couple with your body and you start to hear every footstep and clothing noise on your body as well. I personally, don’t like to run with these type of headphones.
The Aftershokz uses bone conduction to transmit audio to your ears. The transducers are placed near the top of the jawbone, just in front of the ear canal opening. It’s quite an odd sensation to hear music from something transmitting directly into your head, rather than small speakers over your ears. I was expecting tinny audio, but the quality is surprisingly good. Certainly, sufficient for exercise, where workout and ambient sounds are going to degrade the audio experience anyway.
The model I am reviewing is the Trekz Titanium. These Bluetooth headphones that connect wirelessly to your phone or some GPS watches.
The transducers are connected to a stiff titanium band that wraps over the top of your ears and around your head. Two pods are mounted behind the ears, which house the controls, electronics and battery. They are water-resistant, rated to the IP5 standard. I reviewed the standard size and they also come in a mini size for smaller heads.
The battery is rated for 6h of play time. Testing over several runs, I have not exhausted a single battery cycle yet, so I have not directly test the claims. The audible battery indicator will announce high-medium-low battery, rather than hours of time remaining.
These headphone feel somewhat heavier than other wireless earphones. That said, they were comfortable and did not bounce, once the suitable mounting position on my head was found. In comparison to other wireless headphones:
- Aftershokz Trekz Titanium: 34g
- Plantronics BackBeat Fit: 24g
- Anker Soundbuds Slim: 16g
The band is springy-stiff and non-adjustable. It does bow outward to accommodate different head sizes, but there is no way to adjust the length of the band around the back of the head. The stiffness of the band does prevent the side pods from bouncing around, which is an issue with headphones that have a wire-mounted control/battery pod.
Controls / Pairing
There is a multi-purpose button on the left transducer that handles play, pause, voice assistant, track forward. On the right pod, there are volume buttons that also handle BT pairing and battery status.
I tested the headphones paired an iPhone, Apple Watch and TomTom Spark. Pairing was similar to other BT headphones and I had no issues with that. Hold the + button to start pairing and accept on the playback device. When turning on the headphones, it will automatically pair with the last device. The connect transfers to another device, when requested.
Once I found the right position for the headband, there was no bouncing. The over-the-ear headband may get in the way of eyewear, since they are vying for the same over-ear real-estate. The manual recommends that the headphones should be worn first, and then eyewear second. I found that this worked for me, but your mileage may vary, depending on the thickness and grippiness of the temples on your eyewear.
I found the buttons to be usable while running, albeit a bit fiddly. The left (main) button is small and doesn’t have good tactile feedback while pressing while moving. Single presses were fine, but double clicks for track forward were hit-and-miss. There is no audio feedback for play/pause/track advance. The volume buttons have more tactile feedback, but it can be hard to know whether your thumb is on the + or – button, without feeling around for the position of both buttons. Each click of the volume changes the level a decent amount, so you can avoid a bunch of presses to slightly change the volume.
Since they don’t touch your ear openings headphones don’t suffer from the ear fit challenges faced by conventional ear and canalphones.
I noticed that I could hear ambient sounds pretty normally and it also avoids that ear-plugged feeling that some earphones have. With music playing, there is still some distraction from the outside world, because you are processing additional sounds. If you expect headphones to isolate you from road noise, these don’t do that, of course. With the music off, you can hear everything normally.
Aftershokz is a no-brainer for runners and other athletes working out on the street, while situational awareness is important. The Aftershokz provide decent audio quality and unparalleled access to ambient sounds, compared to conventional headphones and canalphones.
- Surprisingly decent audio quality
- Stiff headband provides good stability
- Doesn’t cover the ears
- Reliable Bluetooth connectivity
- Likely to fit more people, since the fit is not dependent on ear-hole shape
- Somewhat heavy
- Headband is non-adjustable, but it comes in two sizes
- Buttons are a little fiddly to use while running
- May interfere with eyewear