I am one of those terrible people that wears headphones whilst I’m cycling along.
Before you throw me on the heap as a negligent husband and father, and a liability on the road, hear me out.
I have a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones. I ride with only one earpiece in, so I’m aware of my surroundings and can hear traffic approaching over my right shoulder.
It’s not an ideal solution though. Whilst I attempt to keep the wires in place by wendling them through the straps on my helmet, the dangling earpiece has a habit of gradually slipping down and pulling the wire tight around my neck.
And one ear of sound is not ideal, whether listening to the podcast (I tend to listen to people talking rather than singing) or listening out for other road users.
The solution, a set of headphones that don’t go in your ears, leaving your lugholes free to sense the white van rapidly approaching your rear end.
Enter the Aftershokz Trekz Air wireless bone conduction headphones (so many ‘kz’, so few ‘c’s).
I’ve been meaning to get a set of Aftershokz for ages. But like most things that involve spending some money, I conveniently forgot to take any action. Finally I thought I’d buy a pair and review them for this ‘ere blog(kz).
Links To Buy The Aftershokz
If you’re that way inclined:
- Amazon link UK: https://amzn.to/2Eybnds
- Amazon link US: https://amzn.to/2K5Bxbh
These are affiliate links, so I’ll get a small commission if you click and buy.
How Do They Work?
Magickery and boffinery. Next!
I’ll probably need to quote some of their marketing bumf and make liberal use of Google.
In essence it appears that rather than having mini speakers that fire sound waves directly at your ear drums (like standard headphones), the sound-emitting bits of the Aftershokz sit just in front of your lug holes.
They vibrate on the bones at this point of the skull, sending the music directly into your brain…
Okay, having written that in jest, now I’ve done the required Google search, it seems that’s exactly what they do. Except it’s not the brain (in the first instance) so much as the cochlea, with the whole process missing out the whole sound waves, ear canal and ear drum bit. Efficient!
Now the skeptic in me reckoned that whilst they likely did do a bit of vibratin’ and conductin’, they probably had a few little speakers to help boost the sound and send a few extra decibels into the ear in the standard way.
And then I stuck my fingers in my ears. (Science!)
The sound from the Aftershokz is louder and clearer when you block your actual ears (as opposed to your hypothetical ones?). It seems that the headphones do not rely on any sound waves passing down the ear canal in order to work.
Now this blog makes no claims to match the British Medical Journal for rigour, but this study of 1 is sufficient for this humble cycloblogger to be persuaded that Trekz is ‘not actually lying’ about how their product works.
What Do They Look Like?
The magic of owning a camera, a blog, and a deliciously photogenic face is that I can show you fotos, rather than having to paint pictures with words.
So have some images in your eye holes. Or maybe slapped against the bones either side of your eye holes…
They come in a number of different colour options. I chose ‘Midnight Blue’ as grey and green felt boring and the red perhaps looked a bit racy. On reflection, I think all the colours look pretty smart.
Initially I thought I might be self conscious wearing them – not so much out on the bike (head to toe Lycra forces you to suspend any sense of self respect) but when in a non-velo setting.
As it happens the Trekz Air(s) are quite subtle. Whilst they don’t blend into the background like the ubiquitous Apple earphones (wired or unwired), they certainly don’t protrude noticeably like my other Bluetooth headphones.
The vibratey end bits are low profile and the headphones as a whole, including the neck loop, sit close to head. I’d say most casual observers don’t even notice that the ‘ear phones’ are sat in front of the ears.
Headline message: I feel comfortable wearing them out in public (and I’m as self conscious as the next buttoned up Englishman).
Are They Comfortable To Wear?
In short, yes.
The Trekz loop over the ears, with speakers positioned on the bones (obviously) in front of the earhole (is that the term?).
The loops therefore compete for ear real estate (ear-l estate) with the arms of my glasses. In use, though, the two ear tenants reside harmoniously together.
The Trekz headphones seem pretty light so I think the aforementioned loops sort of rest daintily ‘pon the glasses. Maybe next to them. Whatever – they seem to play nicely.
There is a semi-rigid loop that links the two ‘ear phones’ (bone phones?) and sits suspended an inch or so off the back of the neck. I guess this helps grip the headphones in place on the wearer’s head. In use, you can’t tell it’s there.
In fact, the Trekz are so unobtrusive, there have been times when I’ve forgotten I’m wearing them, particularly when I’ve got a helmet on.
Other Stuff You Get In The Box (Carry Case and Ear Plugs…)
In addition to the headphonez themselves, you also get a nice soft carrying pouch. Its got a touchy feely rubbery outer coating, soft material inner liner and a zip.
I wouldn’t say the case offers a great deal of protection (certainly not from crushing) but I suppose its helpful for keeping track of the fonez (assuming you keep them in there) and in preventing them from getting tangled up in stuff (in your backpack, say).
Are They Easy To Use?
The first time using the Trekz demonstrated that the headphones are easy to set up and use.
(In fairness they’re a pair of headphones – they shouldn’t require a degree in ergonomics to put them on.)
I’d already got used to pairing them with my iPhone (keep the on/off switch presses for 5 or so seconds until the small LED indicator flashes blue and red; select Trekz on the phone’s Bluetooth screen).
You hit the larger button on the side of the left ‘bone phone’ (I’ve just discovered this is the ‘multifunction button’) to start the music on your phone (or in my case the podcast).
Volume controls are on the underside of the loop on the right. Skipping to the next track/podcast is a double tap of the multifunction button.
All pretty standard if you’re used to Bluetooth tomfoolery.
Using Aftershokz Trekz Headphones On A Bike
Whilst riding, the Trekz have to compete for headspace with a helmet, in addition to my glasses.
Once I’ve fitted the helmet and fully turned the dial at the back that tightens it onto my bonce, the Trekz go over the top of the chin strap (as it comes down the sides of my head) and rest in position without any impediment.
The only bit of the Trekz set up that could, in theory, get in the way of the helmet, would be the semi rigid loop that passes around the back of a the wearer’s head.
In practice, for almost all the time I’ve worn the Trekz with a helmet, both off and on the bike, the ‘neck loop’ haven’t touch the backworkings of my helmet.
Perhaps once or twice so far it has rubbed slightly against the plastic helmet strappy bit that grips the base of my skull. This is certainly not enough to be annoying.
Prior to the Trekz, I was using a set of Anker bluetooth earphones (wireless back to the phone, but wired between each ear bud). One earphone would always dangle down at the side of my head (because I kept it out to listen for cars), requiring regular adjustment to stop it dropping down too far.
There’s none of this faff with the Trekz. Once they’re on and in position, no further adjustment is needed. 100% better.
So What Is The Sound Like?
I guess this is pretty important to know when buying headphones.
However, whilst I am many things, I am not an audiophile. (I said audiophile). I don’t know my Bangs from my sons (sens) of Oluf. I supBose (yawn) I could do some research.
We can say, straight off the bat, that these headphones are not for listening to music in high fidelity. I haven’t seen Aftershokz claiming otherwise.
They’re for listening to music (or whatever) whilst still also being able to hear other things.
My primary use cases are perhaps slightly different to others.
I bought the Trekz specifically to be used for cases where I want to listen to podcasts (so mainly spoken word: interviews, discussions etc) rather than the National Mongolian Noseflute Orchestra.
For this they do a good job.
Volume Over Quality
For me, I care a bit more about the volume than I do the sound quality (which I don’t really know how to measure or describe anyway).
I can confirm that I can hear clearly the content of said podcasts whilst I am walking in a moderately noisy environment (average traffic in the centre of a city/town) or riding my bike where there is a reasonable amount of wind noise.
That said, I do sense that you have to set the volume towards the upper end of what the headphones are capable of (or what the iPhone – in my case – will send down to pipe).
There has definitely been the odd time when I cannot hear the output from the headphones because the ambient environment (ooh, get me) is too loud.
I can live with this though. My objective in life generally is to put myself in quieter environments (see: moving to the countryside), even if three small people in my house seem to have other ideas.
(I’m Picking Up) Weird Vibrations
It is worth mentioning that at higher volumes, the vibrations of the Trekz do become quite noticeable, to the point where you can feel them buzzing on the side of your head.
You may or may not like this sensation. Per my sub-heading, it is a slightly strange feeling, but one I’ve got used it.
If it’s not for you, you can reduce the volume.
Like I said above, the Aftershokz are not suited to competing in very noisy environments. Neither am I, so this is fine for me.
I’ve Got A Noise Bleed
So this is one thing that I’ve struggled to test: whether other people can hear you using the Aftershokz Trekz (i.e. because not all the sound is going into your lugholes).
Mainly it’s been me wearing them and I’ve forgotten to ask other people.
My sense is that they’re not too bad. I’ve not had any comments from wife or kids as I’ve worn then about the house.
If you put them down on a hard surface (our kitchen worktop, say), you can hear stuff going on. I guess that’s the point though. They’re vibrating, which probably moves the air around them and maybe the hard surface they’re resting on.
Which is sound science.
Given that my main use case is whilst riding solo on the bike, and I’m not listening to something questionable (in my humble opinion), I’m not too worried if there is a little noise bleed.
Are They Waterproof?
This is a deficient review. I have only done a limited amount of testing of the Aftershokz in the wet. As soon as we’re done here I’m going to try them out in the shower.
The Trekz are rated as IP55. Since everyday is a school day, I now know what that means (i.e. I Googled it).
The headphones are protected from dust (the first ‘5’ in IP55) and from water jets coming from nozzles up to 6.3mm wide (the second ‘5’…). Which should mean they’re fine in rain and protected from sweat (the AfterShokz website says they are).
The headphones should also function under a top-of-the-range Hansgrohe raindance shower head (a little pro cycling sponsor reference there).
Battery Life (Or Do They Always Need Chargin’?)
I’ve been trying to work out where to mention that these headphones are rechargeable.
Soooo… you now know that (1) the place to mention it is right here; and (2) that the Trekz are rechargeable. You don’t need to keep replacing batteries (who does that these days…?).
The ‘phonez have the usual micro USB port, under a rubbery cap that protects it from the elements. A short USB cable is supplied (since you don’t already have enough of those…).
Aftershokz states that the Trekz Air will work for over 6 hours on a single charge. I haven’t done any particular testing, but my experience doesn’t dispute this. My use is occasional, often over a few days and it doesn’t feel as if I’m always having to charge them.
They’ll definitely see me right over a 1–2 hour ride and would probably work up to the limit of what I’d ride solo.
Like most rechargeable things, the trick is to get into the habit of plugging them in on a regular basis, to make sure they’re topped up.
A Short Musing On The Value Of Listening To Birdsong
One of the best bits of living in a countryside setting are the sounds (you know, birds singing, wind rustling the trees, that sort of thing).
Despite knowing this, I will often find myself in the garden or on the short walk to pick up the kids from school with my headphones in (the standard lughole blockers) listening to a podcast.
Far be it for a modern male to be left alone with his thoughts and a lack of continual stimulation (quelle horreur).
The nice thing about the Aftershokz (in addition to allowing me to sense when a tractor is approaching to crush me under its wheels), is that I can hear the relaxing bucolic English rural sounds whilst still getting by daily fix of life hacks, CEO insights and in-depth Giro D’Italia analysis.
(In writing this section, I feel there is a part of me that is broken and can never be fixed…)
When Wouldn’t I Wear Them?
On the bike, I guess the scenario where I’m least likely to wear the Aftershokz is when it is really noisy. I can see a point where they just aren’t loud enough if the wind, or the traffic, noise is just too great. In this case there would be no point in taking them out on a ride.
(In the case of too much wind noise, there’d be a reasonable argument for not going out on a ride at all.)
The other scenarios are not bike related.
Sometimes, at work or if I’m blogwriting, I’ll put headphones in and play the same few long YouTube music videos in a Pavlovian attempt to kickstart concentration and GET WORK DONE.
The Aftershokz are less effective for this because, bluntly, you can hear other things. The potential for distraction remains. It’s harder to get into, and stay in, ‘the zone’.
So when I’m searching for ‘flow’ (and other similar modern states that knowledge workers strive for), I’ll use other headphones that do go in my ears and block out other sounds.
Using Aftershokz Trekz In Bed (And Other Prone Positions)
The other scenario where (bluntly) the headphonez don’t work is in bed. The mainly-rigid-but-slightly-bendy loop that links the two vibration-emitting bits sits off your neck by an inch or so.
If your head is on the pillow (or the cushion, if we’re talking a post-ride sofa situation), then this loop is pushed against the base of your skull and the headphone bits don’t sit in the right place.
You can (if you’re planning to be absolutely still) run the ’fonez in reverse, with the loop under your chin and the vibrators (hmm) positioned carefully in the usual place but this looks daft and, simply, doesn’t seem right.
Unless I’ve missed a whole new technique for wearing them, I’d say the Trekz are not suitable for supine usage.
How Much Do Aftershokz Trekz Cost (And Are They Worth It)?
I’ll start with the ‘worth it’ point first.
It’s been a while since I’ve bought something and been so pleased with the purchase. I’ve worn the Trekz on every ride since buying them – I don’t want to go back to my previous dangling earphone ‘solution’.
They suit my needs perfectly. I can listen to a productivity-improving podcast, whilst still being aware of all the sounds and, most importantly, other motorised road users around me. They’re sufficiently loud enough for my needs and the sound quality is clear.
The Trekz Air(s) are supremely comfortable. There is no real weight to the headphones as the loops rest above your ears and the vibratey bits gently grip your skull. I tend to forget I have them on, particularly when worn with my helmet.
So, a tippity toppity set of headphones that add real benefits versus what I was using before (standard in-ear headphones). Highly recommended.
Okay I’m Sold, Where Can I Buy Some?
Well, if you want to join the bone conduction with me, I bought my pair of Trekz Airs from Amazon. You can see the current prices, and buy the ‘phonez, by clicking the links below:
- For UK readers (amazon.co.uk): https://amzn.to/2Eybnds
- For US and international readers (amazon.com): https://amzn.to/2K5Bxbh
(Again, these are affiliate links. If you click and buy something, I may be paid a small commission. Helps support the site, etc.)
What Do You Think?
Now, have you tried bone conduction headphones? Or are you wedded to a particularly great pair of ‘standard’ ones? Am I foolish for even contemplating riding whilst listening to something on my phone?
Let me know in the comments below.