I was on the lookout for a new set of headphones so I could use music as a distraction, not only for running but other fitness activities too. I must admit when I first started running, I wouldn’t go anywhere without music, but then I got to a stage where I just ran and forgot to take my headphones with me. I suspect this was mainly due to being tethered with the cable, however, I also didn’t like being completely isolated in my own world without awareness of what was going on around me.
I did try a set of Bluetooth in-ear headphones that I received free when I subscribed to the Runners World magazine, but I found these to be quite cumbersome and heavy and they blocked out quite a lot of noise around me, so were not ideal for road running. I persevered with them for 12 months until they broke, then sent them to the great technology heaven in the sky! And so back to the good old headphones that came with my iPhone.
My main problem with the iPhone headphones is that they are tethered. I hate it when the cable keeps either getting in your way or is flopping around and continuously tapping you. My other major problem is that my ears get sweaty and then they fall out or just get uncomfortable.
I needed another way of listening to music that would be comfortable, let me be aware of what was going on around me and were also Bluetooth. Apart from this, I didn’t mind what they were!
Along came Aftershokz
Before we go any further, I must point out that I have not been asked by Aftershokz to write this review and that I bought my pair with my own hard earned money!
In the past, I had read some blog posts from various runners about Aftershokz headphones, but I never really took much notice. I just thought they would be expensive headphones, primarily costing more for the name. It wasn’t until the Liverpool Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon run expo that I managed to get my hands on a pair and see what all the fuss was about.
Aftershokz had a stand and I tried them on. I was blown away, this is exactly what I was looking for! They were Bluetooth, they were bone conduction headphones (more about this later) and they were light and comfortable to wear. So, did I go and buy a pair there and then? No, did I heck. They had a good discount on them, but I couldn’t really justify spending the money on them just yet.
A good few months later, just after the Dublin Rock n’ Roll half marathon, I revisited the idea of Aftershokz. Having struggled mentally with the unexpected hills on the Dublin course, I decided that I really need to have some music playing in the background to try and help me move things along when the going gets tough! This is when I decided to get a pair of Aftershokz.
Luckily for me, I didn’t pay full price, I bought mine from Evans Cycles using some rewards points that we had accrued from a well-known supermarket.
As with all tech manufacturers, Aftershokz headphones come in a variety of different models, all with differing designs. I decided to go the full hog and get the expensive ones, the Aftershokz Trekz Air. These were the latest model that boasted better sound, lighter more comfortable design, 6-hour battery, multipoint pairing and IP55 sweat resistance. The main selling point of all the Aftershokz range is that they use bone conduction technology. The speaker part of the headphone does not go in your ear. Instead, it sits on your cheekbone, directly in front of the ear. The sound is transferred from your cheekbone to your eardrum via bone conductivity. This means that your ears are not closed to surrounding noise, making them safe to use out on the road.
So what are they like?
I have to say that up until now, they have been the best headphones that I have ever bought for running and fitness. Some people have said they sound a bit ‘tinny’, however, you have to weigh up what you are getting. Yes, they don’t have an amazing bass on them like over-ear or in-ear headphones and they are not noise-cancelling. They are what they are, bone conduction headphones. It’s a bit like trying to compare apples to oranges!
These headphones are really light, they weigh in at just 30g. They sit comfortably around your head and loop over the top of your ears. As these are the latest model, the loop that goes over your ear is quite thin and has not impacted at all on the comfort of my running sunglasses. After a while, you actually forget that they are on your head!
They come well boxed up and a storage pouch, charging cable and a set of earplugs are all included. The earplugs are there if you want to block out the rest of the sound while you are wearing them, which to be honest I think defeats the object of them.
The volume control button on the side is quite small and can be a bit fiddly, I think this will be more of an issue during winter when your hands are cold and you are wearing gloves. There is a button on the left side that allows you to stop/start your music and skip songs by double tapping. There is a built-in noise-cancelling microphone, allowing you to also make and receive phone calls whilst wearing them and ensuring the person you are speaking to will have reduced extraneous nose and will be able to hear you properly. I haven’t tried this in really noisy environments but after the calls that I have taken so far, people have said that it was just like speaking to me normally.
As I mentioned previously, they have a 6-hour continuous use battery, more than enough for my pace around a full marathon. Charging is via a USB cable that plugs in next to the volume controls, this is concealed below a little flap. They do suggest to let them dry off any rain or sweat before charging, this is to minimise the chance of shorting them out and effectively damaging them.
When you run with them, the sound is like having a radio playing in the background. You can hear the music okay, but you are fully aware of what is going on around you and can have a conversation with someone. There is a temptation to try and shout over the music, but after a whilst you get used to this. Initially, they feel a bit ticklish around the area that transmits the sound, due to the vibration on your cheekbone, but I got used to this quite quickly. Obviously, the louder you have them, the more vibration you will get through them.
Are they worth the price tag?
In the UK they retail at around £149.00. I was lucky enough to get quite a big saving on this because of my supermarket points, but I would definitely say they are worth every penny of the full price. They are great for training runs and also are allowed to be used on many of the races where headphones have been traditionally banned because runners could potentially not be aware of instructions being given out to them from race marshalls.
They may not suit everyone. For example, Gayle (my wife and running partner) cannot use them when out running. Gayle has reduced hearing and, for general use as daily headphones they are miraculous. Bone conduction allows her to hear music far more easily than playing through speakers or traditional headphones. Unfortunately, they also overpower what air-conduction hearing she does have, effectively making her almost totally deaf to her surroundings. For me though, I find them a brilliant addition to my run kit.