Bone conduction technology has been around for almost three decades now; however, it is just hitting the mainstream market as a viable solution for high fidelity audio without compromising any of your situational awareness.
As these headphones keep your ears completely free, meaning to a gray man, you are able to easily and clearly hear all background noise around you keeping you one step ahead of any threats that may present themselves.
To the right people, bone conduction headphones and glasses can be a great addition to your loadout but their limitations prevent them from being suitable for everyone, so join us as we get into the details and answer if bone conduction glasses may just be the tool for you.
What are Bone Conduction Headphones?
Bone conduction headphones are a relatively new form of headphones that transfer sound waves directly into a wearer’s skull, allowing you to keep your ears free and tuned to your environment.
Unlike many other devices on the market right now, bone conduction headphones pride themselves in offering the user a clear picture of the sounds around them, ensuring you are never caught off guard and out of luck.
Although they’re primarily advertised to sports users, allowing you to hear crisp music underwater or listen to the sound of traffic around you, they have more recently been advertised to a wider market with unintentional benefits to those interested in security and situational awareness.
Starting at as little as $30 for a budget pair, most bone conduction headphones use Bluetooth to offer a wireless and convenient link to your phone no different from any other set of AirPods or Samsung Buds.
It’s important to understand their limitations in order to effectively work these devices into your communications plan, but in the right circumstances, these headphones cannot be rivaled by anything else on the market.
How Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work?
To understand how these headphones work and gain a better appreciation of their strengths and weaknesses, it’s first important to have some basic understanding of how our ear works.
As sound enters the ear, the pressure of a sound wave causes the eardrum to vibrate which in turn generates movement within three tiny bones located in the inner ear that ultimately converts mechanical energy into electrical nerve impulses our brains can interpret as sound.
So how to the bone conduction headphones work?
Bone conduction headphones, as the name suggests, work by carefully conducting sound waves directly into the bones of the inner ear, completely skipping the eardrum.
As sound doesn’t typically travel in this way, it’s arguable that there is some reduction in sound quality although, for the needs of a gray man, just focused on listening to a phone call or notifications, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
It’s actually surprising how similar these devices are to a normal set of headphones, however instead of vibrating air that is eventually picked up by our eardrum, the vibrations are just directly pushed into the inner workings of our ears.
By essentially bypassing the eardrum, these styles of headphones leave your normal senses open to the environment without compromising your hearing.
What Styles of Bone Conduction are Available?
As with other headphone categories, such as noise-canceling, bone conduction refers to a general category of headphones that are broken down into other categories.
In general, there are two broad categories most bone conduction headphones fall into with some exceptions.
Sports bone conduction headphones are perhaps the most iconic style on the market right now which wrap around the head to offer a secure placement before looping over the ear and sitting firmly over your temple.
They’re great for sports, so no matter what you are doing the headphones cannot move so no whether you are going for a relaxing Saturday jog or training for an extreme sport, you can trust these headphones to hold in place.
The problem with this design is that they stand out in a crown, as the temple-mounted headphones look as if they would fit in more on the set of Star Trek than your average gym.
The alternative to these sports headphones, and the much better option for a gray man, integrates bone conduction technology into the frame of a pair of glasses, giving you a clean and covert method of receiving audio from your phone.
These high-tech frames support standard prescription lenses for those of us already wearing glasses, but most importantly, offer an affordable and covert method of connecting to your phone without advertising to the world you may be distracted on a phone call.
Are BC Glasses Right for You?
The sports edition of bone conduction headphones are great under the right circumstances; however, where this technology really shines is in their covert integration in a standard pair of glasses.
For security teams or those in executive protection, these glasses can offer a relatively low profile means of communicating between individuals without sacrificing your situational awareness in the slightest.
As we’ll see, these aren’t a perfect solution but considering the average cost of a professional in-ear receiver and neck loop starts at upwards of $300, these can be a great alternative for those looking to save money.
Even for a security-conscious civilian, being able to listen to music, podcasts, or news updates without actively advertising you are distracted can be a great way to help minimize attacks of opportunity on the streets.
This is especially true when traveling, where attackers actively scan the streets for those not aware of the world around them, simply waiting for the right target to strike.
These highlight just two very different individuals’ bone conduction glasses who may benefit dramatically from the inclusion of bone conduction glasses into their ordinary setup.
However, it is worth noting these glasses include almost all of the traditional benefits associated with modern Bluetooth headphones.
- Integration with virtual assistants such as Alexa
- Hands-free navigation
- Hands-free text messaging
- Hands-free calls
- Extremely long battery life lasting multiple days
- Support for standard prescription lenses
With all the benefits listed above, it’s arguable that most people can find some use of these headphones in their daily life.
Most bone conduction headphones are great, but as with all technology, they are not without their limitations so to help you make an informed decision, let’s look at some of their weaknesses to see if these devices are truly for you.
What are the Disadvantages of Bone Conduction Glasses?
Bone conduction headphones are a great option on the market right now, offering a relatively unique alternative to an industry saturated with clones of the same generic headphones, but they are not a perfect technology (both because of their age and the physical limitations of this technology).
The first issue you are likely to run into when shopping around for a good set of bone conduction glasses is the price of them. Although cheaper versions are available, most quality pairs of glasses start at around $150 and can reach upwards of $200, not including any prescription lenses you may want.
In addition to their high price, to a well-trained eye, it is possible to differentiate bone conduction glasses from their traditional counterparts.
To start with, bone conduction glasses typically include some form of advertising (such as “Bose”) on the frames but more importantly, the glasses are thicker than a normal set of frames.
The increase is most noticeable in the arms of the glasses. However, this difference is only truly perceptible from those standing extremely close to you. And, as battery technology has improved, this has become less and less of an issue over the years.
Finally, the most fatal flaw of these glasses come from the headphone technology itself.
As sound is generated by tiny motors sat on the outside of your head, it is almost impossible to eliminate the sound from bleeding out of the device and being detected by those around you.
At low volumes, this is less noticeable but in situations where you are required to turn up the volume to hear a call over the world around you, it is almost guaranteed that those around you will also be able to hear the conversation you are having.
These limitations should by no means put you off of purchasing bone conduction glasses, but instead, allow you to make informed decisions into when it may be suitable to deploy such a device and when it may be better to fall back on more traditional means of communications.
What are Our Recommendations?
If the promise of clear covert audio has piqued your interest, we want to make sure you find a quality set of headphones you can rely on regardless of the situation.
In this case, two devices stand out in particular.
For ordinary bone conduction headphones, it’s hard to beat any device from AfterShockz.
They were one of the first companies to really make the endeavor into bone conduction technology and offer one of the widest ranges on the market right now, including waterproof variants and those with a positional microphone for those who truly care about audio quality.
The Trekz Air have been my personal go-to headphones for workouts, particularly when rock climbing as they are able to firmly hold on no matter what position I am in while still allowing me to clearly communicate with a belay partner.
Amazon Echo Frames
AfterShockz make some great headphones, but they are by no means discrete and this is where the Amazon Echo Frames come in and steal the show.
In my experience, they offer the same quality of audio as that from AfterShock but in an extremely neat and compact form factor.
Unlike other glasses on the market, such as Bose, their frames are not that much bigger than a traditional set of glasses allowing you to easily blend into a crowd. And, with an all-day battery life, you never have to worry about technology slowing down your operation.
The Echo Frames are a great option, although, for a cost of $250, they do suffer from an extremely high level of noise bleed at a moderate volume, so it’s important to be careful with exactly how you use these devices to prevent compromising your operational security.
As companies such as Amazon move into the realm of bone conduction technology, it’s likely we’re only going to see devices such as these improve over time, becoming increasingly more discrete and functional.
For those looking for a convenient and discrete method of listening to the content of your phone, it’s difficult to beat bone conduction for their size, weight and discrete integration into your normal everyday carry.
They many not be a perfect technology just yet, but as more and more companies begin to offer bone conduction technology, there is no doubt that these headphones will only continue to improve.
Headphones are only one aspect of your electronics EDC, but for help in building a full tech-focused EDC, check out our previous discussion to help find more equipment deserving of a place within your gear lineup.