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Published Aug. 23, 2021

Headphones can play a lot of valuable roles: they let you jam out to music, dive into podcasts, or dial into phone calls while blocking out environmental noise. This can help you concentrate on tasks, but there are some circumstances when being cut off from what’s around you isn’t optimal. If you’ve got a bone to pick with the way traditional audio devices disconnect you from the world, there is another option. The best bone-conduction headphones let you enjoy all your favorite listening experiences with your ear canal exposed, so you can drive, walk, run, bike, swim, etc.—all while remaining completely aware of your surroundings.

How we selected the products 

Bone-conduction headphones are still a relatively new product but—after consulting academic articles, product reviews, and our own first-hand tests—certain models stand out. Following our extensive research, we selected pairs that address the specific needs of athletics, work environments, and age. We chose units that were easy to use, incorporated the features we love about traditional headphones, and prioritized sound quality.

What to consider before buying a pair of the best bone-conduction headphones

If your mom always warns you not to listen to your headphones while walking home at night, or you need to hear the traffic behind you as you pedal to work, try out the best bone-conduction headphones. To determine which pair will work best for your needs, you’ll want to consider where and when you’ll be using them the most. You’ll also want to make sure you understand how they work, especially if this is your first pair of bone-conduction headphones.

First of all, what is bone conduction and how does it work?

Bone-conduction headphones allow you to experience audio sans any direct interaction with your ear canal or eardrum. While this may sound like some sort of new fangled, tech-heavy sorcery, there is evidence that bone conduction has been around since the 1700s. It is rumored that Beethoven relied on bone conduction to compose music after losing his hearing by attaching a metal rod to his piano and biting down on it as he played. But how does it work? 

Typically, sound waves travel through the air and are funneled through the ear canal to the eardrums, where they are then decoded into vibrations and sent to the inner ear (or cochlea), which is connected to the auditory nerve. When the vibrations hit the inner ear fluid, tiny hair cells start to convulse, creating electrical pulses that travel up the auditory nerve to the brain. This process is called air conduction. Bone conduction completely avoids the eardrum and relies on a transducer—like headphones, or a metal conductor’s rod in Beethoven’s case—to convert sound waves into vibrations and send those through the facial bones to be received by the inner ear. Essentially, the vibrations received by the cochlea are the same no matter which way you receive them; they are simply sent via a different pathway. 

This concept has even been used in reverse. The Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones (reviewed here) include a bone-conduction sensor that picks up the vibrations from your voice during calls to help enable clearer speech without picking up ambient sound.

Who should use bone-conduction headphones?

Medically, the best bone-conduction headphones are beneficial for those experiencing conductive hearing loss, a condition that directly affects the transmission of sound through the eardrums. Conductive hearing loss is just one way the auditory system can be disrupted, so bone-conduction headphones won’t work for everyone with hearing difficulties. 

Bone-conduction headphones are also helpful for those who need to maintain situational awareness while they enjoy their music. These headphones provide an additional layer of safety for bikers, hikers, drivers—essentially anyone who needs to be aware of their surroundings. Active in dense urban environments? Bone conduction makes for great running headphones. Bone-conduction headphones are also particularly great for swimmers. Air conduction is heavily suppressed when we are underwater, but the vibrations created by bone conduction can still be transmitted, which means a waterproof pair of bone-conduction headphones can keep you connected to your workout playlist lap after lap. 

Now, bone conduction won’t make your entire face shake, rattle, and roll, so you don’t need to worry about experiencing discomfort while you listen. In fact, many report that these headphones are secure, comfortable, and easy to wear. However, if you are sensitive to pressure, there is a chance that you may experience dizziness or headaches after a long stretch of listening.

How’s the sound quality?

If you’re an audiophile searching for your next pair of headphones, chances are bone conduction isn’t going to be what you’re looking for. That being said, the overall audio quality of these headsets can certainly get you through a tough training session or walk to work. At high volumes, audio can start to distort or get crunchy and an expansive mix isn’t really possible. However, with a quality model, you will still get to experience impactful bass; you’ll just feel the vibrations instead of highly pressurized waves from over-ear cans. 

Just remember that even the best bone-conduction headphones aren’t meant to fit or even necessarily sound like traditional headphones or earbuds. If you haven’t used bone-conduction headphones before, you might feel inclined to turn up the volume as loud as it can go in an attempt to recreate that natural, passive noise cancellation that every other type of headphone relies on. Remember that nothing is blocking your ear canal, which means that you will purposefully be able to hear your surroundings clearly; maxing out the volume won’t affect that, but it could lead to hearing loss down the road.

Can bone-conduction headphones use Bluetooth?

Yes, there are wireless bone-conduction headphones that use Bluetooth 4.2 and higher to connect to smart devices such as cellphones and computers. Set up and pairing is no different with Bluetooth bone-conduction headphones than connecting any other type of Bluetooth headphones, and some may even have onboard controls like play, pause, and skip for your streaming services. Other models are more like a portable MP3 player, with the ability to store hours of songs internally that you can then play through without any wires involved. Remember the iPod shuffle? That’s what you’ll be getting—an excellent option for folks who want to jam out to a curated playlist while they focus on working out or a walk about the town.

Can you take phone calls with bone-conduction headphones?

Yes, some bone-conduction headphones are equipped with a microphone so you can answer calls on the go. While the headphones themselves can’t employ any passive or active noise cancellation to enhance your listening experience, some models can use technology to make calls crisp and clear. The headphones with mic use various means to minimize outside sound—like wind, traffic, etc.—ensuring that the person you’re talking to can hear you without interruption. Just keep in mind bone-conduction headphones are subject to more sound bleed than traditional units, so you’ll want to be conscientious about volume when it comes to private calls.

Best bone-conduction headphones reviews & recommendations

Sitting right outside the ear on the jaw, bone-conduction headphones are a different physical and acoustic experience than most people are used to. But different can be good. Here are our picks for the best bone-conduction headphones to help keep you in the hear and now.

Best for trying something new that’s proven: AfterShokz Aeropex

The Best Overall

Impressive battery life, water resistance, and reliable connectivity make these the best pair of bone-conduction headphones around. AfterShokz

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Why it made the cut: AfterShokz is dedicated to producing top-tier bone-conducting headphones and the Aeropex is the company’s most advanced model, employing eight-generation technology to boost sound quality.

Specs:

  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
  • Battery Life: 8 hours
  • Charge Time: 2 hours
  • Water Resistance: IP67
  • Microphone: Dual noise-canceling
ProsCons
  • Good sound quality
  • Hard to replace charging cable
  • Impressive battery life
  • Audio quality can’t hold up against traditional headphones
  • Sweat-resistant for intense exercise
  • Buttons are close together 
  • Without a doubt, AfterShokz has cornered the bone-conduction headphone market. The company produces thoughtfully engineered, top-quality products, creating an audio experience to complement the activities you enjoy. The AfterShokz Aeropex is, overall, an excellent pair of bone-conduction headphones. Available in four colors and two band sizes, the Aeropex fits gently, yet securely, around the back of the head, looping around the ears and resting against the temples. The headphones employ patented eight-generation bone-conduction technology, are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0 SBC, and feature PremiumPitch 2.0+ signal processing, which prevents bleed, minimizes distortion, and produces a more dynamic bass with minimal vibrations. The battery lasts for eight hours and each pair comes with two magnetic USB charging cables, which can provide a full charge in just two hours. A dual noise-canceling mic will let you make clear calls and included earplugs can help you tune things out when the time is right. An IP67 rating means this pair can withstand dirt, dust, sweat, and rain, while a built-in moisture detector will let you know when it’s getting wet. However, while the Aeropex is water-resistant, it’s not designed to be fully submerged in the pool.

    Best for being submerged in sound: AfterShokz Xtrainerz

    For Aquatic Adventures

    A pair of open-ear headphones that’s making waves. AfterShokz

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    Why it made the cut: The Xtrainzers have an IP68 rating, which means they can be fully submerged in water for up to two hours; you can swim with them without making terrible sacrifices when it comes to audio quality.

    Specs:

    • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz 
    • Battery Life: 8 hours
    • Charge Time: 2 hours
    • Water Resistance: IP68
    • Microphone: None
    ProsCons
  • Waterproof
  • Single-purpose headphones
  • Ample storage for songs and audiobooks
  • No Bluetooth connection 
  • Comfortably fits under swim cap
  • Limited color options
  • The AfterShokz Xtrainerz are specifically designed to deliver your favorite music, audiobooks, and podcasts while submerged underwater. They have an IP68 rating, fit comfortably under a swim cap, and can be submerged in 2 meters of water for up to two hours at a time. While these headphones are not Bluetooth compatible, they can store up to 1,200 songs (4 GB) of various file types, including MP3, WAV, AAC, and FLAC. The Xtrainerz feature the same command controls and PremiumPitch 2.0 technology as other AfterShokz open-ear headphones, so while you won’t be able to stream, you will be able to listen to your favorites with solid, satisfying sound quality.

    Best for keeping connected near and far: AfterShokz OpenComm

    Come Through Loud and Clear

    Equipped with a noise-canceling boom microphone, these will keep you connected to friends, family, and your environment. AfterShokz

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    Why it made the cut: A DSP noise-canceling microphone means the OpenComm headphones are able to isolate your voice while talking, drowning out any surrounding din but keeping you in tune with your environment.

    Specs:

    • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
    • Battery Life: 16 hours of talk time // 8 hours of listening
    • Charge Time: 1 hour
    • Water Resistance: IP55
    • Microphone: DSP noise-canceling boom microphone
    ProsCons
  • Comfortable for long wear 
  • Shape is hard to store 
  • Extended battery life for long phone calls 
  • Some sound bleed might limit private conversations 
  • Boom microphone enhances call quality 
  • IP55 rating could be better
  • The OpenComm headphones prioritize clear communication using an adjustable DSP boom microphone that suppresses background noise and highlights your voice when positioned near your mouth. Though the person on the other end of the line won’t pick up on your environment’s sounds, the open-ear headphones will make sure you can hear both the person talking on the phone or right in front of you. The OpenComm system also lets you bypass your car’s choppy stereo if you have to make a call on the road, without cutting yourself off from the sound of traffic. You can also stay on the call when you’re at a job site or keep connected during a busy commute, all without losing situational awareness. You can get up to 16 hours of talk time or 8 hours of listening and with Quick Charge you’ll get a replenished two hours of battery life in just five minutes.

    Best for helping kids exercise caution: imoo Kids wireless headphones

    Safe and Sound

    Give your kids a pair of headphones that will provide safe entertainment while they stay active. imoo

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    Why it made the cut: Imoo’s headphones include a volume limit of 85 decibels and the open-ear design means your child will always be able to hear the world around them, and when you call for them.

    Specs:

    • Frequency Response: Unknown
    • Battery Life: 8 hours
    • Charge Time: 1 hour quick charge
    • Water Resistance: IP54
    • Microphone: Built-in wireless
    ProsCons
  • Lightweight
  • Soundbeaming technology is difficult to grasp
  • Volume limiter keeps kids’ hearing safe
  • Susceptible to water damage 
  • Adjustable band can grow with your child 
  • No noise cancellation means they’re not great for travel 
  • These open-ear headphones from imoo aren’t exactly the same as bone-conduction headphones, but the form factor and effect are similar. With soundbeaming speakers resting outside the ear on the cheekbones, these headphones ensure your active child will be able to stay alert to their surroundings even when listening to their favorite songs. With an adjustable band suitable for children ages 4 to 15 and a volume limit of 85 decibels, these headphones go above and beyond to address any concerns you might have for their awareness or hearing. They are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, 8 hours of battery, and an automatic sensor to control playback. An IP54 rating means you won’t have to worry about a few spills or drops in the dirt. Whether they’re skateboarding, biking, or just running around the backyard, your kids can enjoy music and mobility safely.

    Best for a budget, but not bare-bones experience: Tayogo bone-conduction headphones

    Can’t Hurt to Try

    A budget-friendly pair of bone-conduction headphones to supplement your collection. Tayogo

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    Why it made the cut: If bone conduction is new to you, you might not be ready to shell out over $100. The Tayogo headphones produce satisfying sound quality and suitable specs in a great intro pair.

    Specs:

    • Frequency Response: Unknown
    • Battery Life: 5 hours
    • Charge Time: 1 hour
    • Water Resistance: IP55
    • Microphone: Built-in wireless
    ProsCons
  • Inexpensive
  • Flimsy build 
  • Useful, responsive multifunction button 
  • Sound quality could be improved
  • Sound quality is good for the price point 
  • Battery life is just okay 
  • If you want to try out bone-conduction, but you’re not ready to invest in a high-end pair, this model from Tayogo might be right for you. They are equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a built-in microphone, multifunction buttons, and an adjustable band for comfort. The battery can last up to five hours, and a 15-minute quick charge provides one hour of playback. Each pair comes with a USB charging cable and a pair of earplugs so you can create custom noise-cancellation. You can also check out the Vidonn F3 for a slightly higher price point but a better battery.

    FAQs

    Q: Can bone-conduction headphones cause hearing loss?

    Any long-term exposure to loud noise can cause damage potentially leading to hearing loss; this includes listening to music at loud volumes with any headphones. At this time, there is no evidence to support the claim that bone-conduction headphones put you at significantly more risk for hearing loss than any other headphone type, including earbuds and over-the-ear models. It’s important to remember that bone-conduction headphones will not block out surrounding noise, so you should not try to block out additional sound by turning the volume up too loud.

    Q: Can you wear glasses with AfterShokz?

    Yes, you can wear your glasses while using AfterShokz headphones. The company recommends putting the headphones on first and then sliding your glasses into place for a more secure fit. They can also be worn underneath a helmet, and the waterproof model can be worn with a swim cap covering the tips of your ears.

    Q: How much do bone-conduction headphones cost?

    Generally, the best bone-conduction headphones cost between $80 and $150. It’s important to go with a quality pair to ensure you’re investing in a safe and well-designed model. Though the history of bone-conduction technology is long, its application to commercial headphones is relatively new, which means you’ll have the most success with an established brand, like AfterShokz.

    The final word on the best bone-conduction headphones

    Chances are you’re either an experienced bone-conduction headphones user or you are a novice looking to see if these air-conduction alternatives are right for you. Regardless of your familiarity, finding the right pair means homing in on when and where you’ll be using them most. Think about your surroundings and consider your priorities regarding sound quality, microphone use, and waterproof rating, then shop accordingly. If you’re accustomed to traditional earphones or over-ear models, get ready to be surprised by the best bone-conduction headphones.

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