Five days a week, every week, for nearly seven years, I commuted by train. By my estimation, I crossed the tracks over 3,000 times. I recognized all the drivers, memorized all the schedules. I knew to the second how long it would take me to walk from the office to my regular station and immediately whether I was going to make my train or if I should head the other direction to a different station. My point is, commuting by train was as second nature as brushing my teeth. Combine that with the fact that I’m inclined to become completely lost in my own thoughts, and it’s a wonder that there was only the one incident.
I had just left work and was exiting the tunnel running under Union Station toward the awaiting train. I knew I had several minutes before it was scheduled to leave, and I wasn’t rushing. For whatever reason, though, I simply didn’t look to my left as I crossed the tracks — directly into the path of an oncoming train. Replaying the event afterwards, it was one of those situations where, had any number of circumstances been different, it could have ended tragically. Had the train not already been slowing down to enter the station, had I left work a little later, had my adrenal glands not roundhouse-kicked me in the face, causing me to sprint forward like Usain Bolt on meth, I could have easily been another statistic.
Conversely, had I not been an idiot blaring Tom Morello through my noise-canceling earbuds, I could have avoided it altogether.
And I’m not alone. A 2012 study documented a three-fold increase in the number of accidents involving pedestrians wearing headphones, and nearly 70% of those accidents resulted in death. Pedestrians listening to music or using their mobile phones are also more likely to cross against the light at crosswalks. Even if you walk or jog where there are no vehicles you’re not safe. Besides possibly being hit by passing cyclists or stepping in front of other runners, if you walk or run where wildlife is abundant, you can stumble upon coyotes, mountain lions, or bears. It is for all these reasons that many marathons, triathlons, and off-road races have a “no headphones” policy.
While I was at CES this year, I came across the company AfterShokz, which has created bone conduction headphones to address this very problem. These headphones don’t go into or on your ears, but rather sit on top of your jawbone and send the sound through to your eardrums via your bones. I spoke with the representative, who provided me with a pair of their Bluez 2S and Trekz Titanium to try out.
- Speaker type: bone conduction transducers
- Frequency response: 20Hz~20KHz
- Sensitivity: 100 ± 3dB
- Microphone: -40dB ± 3dB
- Bluetooth version: v3.0 (Bluez 2S), v4.1 (Trekz Titanium)
- Compatible profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP
- Wireless range: 33 ft (10m)
- Battery: rechargeable lithium ion
- Continuous play: 6 hours
- Standby time: 10 days
- Charge in: 2 hours (Bluez 2S), 1.5 hours (Trekz Titanium)
- Weight: 1.45 oz / 41g (Bluez 2S), 1.27 oz / 36g (Trekz Titanium)
Both the Bluez and the Trekz fit comfortably right out of the box, the primary difference being the premium titanium frame of the Trekz make them smaller and lighter. Like other sport headphones that have clips that go around the ears, they vie for the space taken up by your glasses, but I found putting on the headphones and then resting my glasses atop them worked just fine. They both stayed in place well while active, and my only issue with fit was the band that goes around the back of your head does not sit well under a beanie, ear muffs, headband, or other tight-fitting cold weather headgear, although they did work with some of my other larger knitted stocking caps. Wearing headphones in front of your ears instead of in or on them feels unnatural at first, and at high volumes there is some vibration that takes a little getting used to, but I adjusted to them quickly.
The sound quality of the AfterShokz headphones is surprisingly good. As I’m writing this, I am sitting in the hotel library listening to Bach’s “Partitas for Solo Violin” by Hilary Hahn (also known as “Amazon Prime Music on shuffle”) on the Bluez, and it sounds fantastic. I can also hear someone playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the grand piano down the hall, the fire crackling in the fireplace, and the group in the bar next door who apparently feel that 2pm on a Sunday is the best time to down a few cocktails and share rambling political diatribe with the world. Think of bone conduction headphones not like headphones at all, but rather like a nice stereo in the room that only you can hear. I’m not sure what LeakSlayer™ technology is exactly, but whatever it is, it works well. I had to turn up the volume to the point that I could feel my fillings vibrating before the person at the next desk could hear it.
AfterShokz also work great out of the office. On the drive home, I can listen to music; make quick phone calls; and, using “OK, Google,” find the quickest route or send a text to my wife that I’m on my way, all without taking my phone out of my pocket and, more importantly, without shutting out the noises around me on the highway. Similarly, on the trails around our house, my wife can listen to music or catch up with friends and relatives while still being aware of cyclists, joggers, and the occasional encounter with the original residents of the neighborhood.
Will bone conduction headphones replace quality cans or earbuds? Not likely. There is a time and a place for noise isolation, and here I’m looking at you, drunken political trio, where you simply must disconnect from the rest of the world. When I’m working on a particularly onerous piece of code and the folks around me get on a conference call, it’s time to grab my Bose cans or Trinity earbuds. For all the other times, though, the AfterShokz bone conduction headphones allow me to listen to my favorite music in the office without forcing people to throw stuff at me to get my attention as well as provide a safe alternative to headphones while walking, jogging, or cycling without resorting to one of those annoying hip-mounted speakers that says to the world, “Surely everyone loves Himalayan yak bongo music as much as I do!”
Bluez 2S Giveaway
Enter below for your chance to win a pair of Bluez 2S headphones from AfterShokz valued at $99.95. Contest is open to residents of the US and Canada only and ends Saturday, March 5, 2016. Winner will be chosen randomly from all eligible entries.