What Are Bone Conduction Headphones? [A Full Guide for Beginners]

Shokz bone conduction headphones (From: Unsplash)
Shokz bone conduction headphones (From: Unsplash)

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Find out what bone conduction headphones are and if they’re right for you.

Bone conduction headphones have been around since the 90s and have been used in the medical field and the military.

Despite their benefits, bone conduction headphones remain relatively unknown. This has led to skepticism about how they work and their effectiveness compared to regular headphones.

Fortunately, understanding how bone conduction headphones work is simple. You just need to learn how they deliver sound and how this differs from regular headphones. Read on as we discuss what bone conduction headphones are and their pros and cons. We’ll also do a close comparison between bone conduction and regular headphones. Let’s dive in!

What Are Bone Conduction Headphones?

Bone conduction headphones, or “bonephones”, use earpieces placed over the jaw or cheek area to send vibrations to the inner ear, which are interpreted as sound. This makes them easily distinguishable from regular headphones, which have two ear cups covering the ears.

In medicine, bone conduction headphones help diagnose hearing loss by distinguishing eardrum damage from auditory nerve lesions.

Essentially, if patients with hearing loss can still hear through bone conduction, they simply have a dysfunctional eardrum. If not, the issue probably lies in the auditory nerve, which is responsible for transmitting audio signals to the brain.

In the military, bonephones enable soldiers to communicate without blocking their ears, allowing them to maintain spatial awareness.

How Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work?

Bone conduction bypasses the outer and middle ear entirely. Using magnetostriction drivers, bonephones convert audio signals into vibrations. These vibrations travel through the cheek and jaw bones to the inner ear. Then, they’re converted to electric signals and sent to the brain via the auditory nerve, allowing us to perceive sound.

On the other hand, regular headphones use air conduction to deliver sound. Through this process, sound waves funnel through the outer ear to the eardrum, which vibrates and sends signals to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Pros and Cons of Bone Conduction Headphones

Just like any other audio device, bone conduction headphones also come with their strengths and weaknesses.

Here are some reasons to consider using bonephones:

  • Better spatial awareness: The open-ear design of bone conduction headphones keeps your ear canals open. This lets you hear your surroundings while listening to your audio, making them ideal for outdoor activities like hiking or exercising.
  • Compact and portable: Bone conduction headphones are typically smaller, thinner, and lighter than regular headphones, as they don’t need padding for the headband and earpieces. This makes them easy to carry around and more comfortable for extended use.
  • Durable build: Many bone conduction headphones are water, sweat, and dust-resistant. They also often use strong, lightweight materials like titanium alloy for increased durability and comfort.
  • Good hearing aid: Bonephones are great for people with hearing issues due to damaged eardrums. They transmit sound vibrations directly to the inner ear, improving sound perception for those with conductive hearing loss.

That said, bone conduction headphones also have their drawbacks:

  • Sound leakage: Bone conduction headphones leak sound, especially at high volumes when the drivers vibrate more. This can compromise privacy when using your headphones. Fortunately, newer bonephones are engineered to have significantly lesser sound leakage.
  • Low-grade sound quality: Bone conduction headphones can’t match the sound quality of regular headphones. This is because they cannot reproduce the full frequency range that humans can hear. Their open-ear design also lets in external noise, which can affect your listening experience.
  • Uncomfortable vibrations: The vibrations generated by bone conduction headphones can be uncomfortable for prolonged periods, especially when listening at louder volumes. The initial vibration might be particularly startling and can resemble light taps on the sides of the face.

Bone Conduction Headphones vs. Regular Headphones and Earbuds

Now that you know how bonephones work, you may wonder how they stack up against headphones vs. earbuds. We’ve collated some essential features in bonephones, headphones, and earbuds, and compared them side-by-side:

If you’re curious about what other types of headphones are available, check out this comprehensive guide.
 Bone ConductionHeadphonesEarbuds
Sound QualityThese open-ear headphones leak sound, have poorer sound reproduction, and don't isolate background noise.Typically, these headphones have larger drivers for more accurate sound reproduction and offer more noise cancellation options. However, sound leakage depends on whether they are open- or closed-back.Compact drivers in earbuds deliver good sound, particularly in high-end models. Earbuds also have more noise cancellation options, while in-ear monitors leak less sound than classic earbuds.
DurabilityThese typically have decent IP ratings for sweat and water protection. For instance, the Mojawa Mojo1 headphones are rated IP67. Many also use materials like titanium alloy.Materials used can range from plastic to more durable materials like steel and aluminum. Dust and water resistance is also usually limited to closed-back headphones.Most earbuds are water, sweat, and dust-resistant. Many are also made of hard plastic with some featuring a silicone rubber layer for added durability.
ComfortThese headphones lack padding but remain comfortable thanks to a lightweight frame. They sit outside the ear canals, thus avoiding in-ear fit issues.Heaviest of the three headphone types. These have padded headbands and ear cups that feature gel or memory foam padding and breathable fabric materials.Lightweight and unpadded, most earbuds include various ear tip sizes so that you can find the most comfortable fit for you.
Additional FeaturesSome models feature a built-in noise-canceling mic and mp3 players.Many feature active noise cancellation, built-in noise-canceling mics, fast charging, mic monitoring, volume limiters, etc.Many mid-range and premium models have the same features as headphones.
Battery Life5-15 hours20-60 hoursCan go up to 80 hours, as some earbuds have cases that can fully recharge the earbuds multiple times.
PortabilityQuite portableLeast portable of the three. However, some types are foldableExtremely portable
ControlsDedicated button controls for power, volume, calls, and media playback.Dedicated touch and/or button controls for power, volume, mic mute, noise cancellation, calls, and media playback.Dedicated touch controls for power, noise cancellation, calls, and media playback.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bone Conduction Headphones

Can I use bone conduction headphones and hearing aids at the same time?

Yes, you can wear some hearing aids with bone conduction headphones. In-the-ear models like completely-in-the-canal (CIC) and in-the-canal (ITC) fit inside the ear, so they don’t interfere with the headphones. However, behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids may overlap with the headphones’ placement, making them hard to wear together.

Do bone conduction headphones cause tinnitus?

No studies prove or disprove that bone conduction headphones cause tinnitus. Some research indicates they may alleviate mild to moderate tinnitus, but further evidence is needed to establish a causal link.

Check out our article for more information regarding the safety of bone conduction headphones.

Do bone conduction headphones work for people who are completely deaf?

Bone conduction headphones won’t work for patients with sensorineural hearing damage, as they need a functioning inner ear and auditory nerve to process sound. However, these headphones can benefit patients with conductive hearing loss or damaged eardrums or ear canals. This is because the inner ear is still functioning and can perceive sound.

Can I use bone conduction headphones with a VR headset?

Yes, bone conduction headphones work with VR headsets. A study found that they’re “nearly identical” to stereo headphones in how they deliver spatial audio. This means that bonephones can provide a similar VR audio experience that regular headphones can.

Are there bone conduction headphones for kids?

Yes, there are bone conduction headphones made specifically for children. Some examples include the Erssimo Kids Bone Conduction Headphones and myFirst Headphones BC Wireless.

The former boasts a lightweight build at only 25 grams, ensuring little kids can wear them comfortably. And the latter features a maximum volume of only 85 dB to protect your children’s hearing. This also limits their vibration intensity, so they won’t be painful to use.

What should I look for when choosing bone conduction headphones?

Prioritize factors like comfort, durability, and battery life. Essentially, you’ll want bonephones that are comfortable for prolonged wear, durable enough for outdoor use, and have a long-lasting battery life to avoid frequent charging.

Unsure which headphones to pick? Consider the Shokz OpenRun Pro, Monster Open Ear, or the H20 Audio Sonar. For more options and detailed reviews, check our guide to the ten best bone conduction headphones.

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