Augmented reality is a very interesting field. I’ve been wandering the streets lately with my Here Active Listening earbuds, changing audio waveforms, lowering and increasing the sounds of the world around me, even blocking the world’s noise out. The ability to have that amount of control, in real time, is incredibly satisfying.
The flipside to that coin would be the ability to listen to the world while you listen to your own selected content – kind of listening inside your own head. With the Bluez 2S by Aftershokz, I feel like I’ve come tantalisingly close to feeling like I have 2 pairs of ears.
See, these headphones don’t actually fit inside your ear canal to deliver sound. They rest over your ear flaps, kind of like reverse sunglasses – you’ve seen people that somehow wear their glasses backwards when they don’t need them on their eyes, right? Well this part presses against the cheekbones on both sides of your face, and… vibrates. What you get is real sound, as interpreted by your inner ear drum even though there’s nothing physical inside your ear.
I first came into contact (pardon the pun) with this technology as part of the feature set of Google Glass. On the right hand side, a small nodule vibrated and provided with various beeps and alerts as well as voices and to a smaller extent music, for example when I was watching Youtube surreptitiously.
The sound quality on these is surprisingly good. Yes, they are vulnerable to sudden head movement or massive head raises; anything that moves these headphones will dislodge the front vibrating components and therefore the sound will deteriorate. However, once I got used to the position I needed to be in to retain the best position for the Bluez 2S, I hardly had any issues.
As with any bluetooth headset, they need to be paired, and I found that if my smartphone was in a pocket on the opposite side of my body from the headset’s bluetooth receiver, the connection could get a little sketchy. Once I moved the phone to the right hand side, where the battery and controls are located, I didn’t have any further issues.
Once I’d tweaked those little issues, then I felt truly amazed. I was hearing the sounds of the city – dogs barking, people talking, cars driving – as well as my Spotify playlist streaming directly, it seemed, into my skull. I could be aware of my surroundings aurally AND still enjoy my personal music collection. This is what I meant by having four ears.
If you like walking, taking the dogs out to the park or any activity where blocking your ears from potential hazards could put yourself in mortal danger, bone conduction headphones such as these could be a lifesaver. You certainly don’t experience the same audio quality as decent in-ear products, but the quality is at a high enough level to appreciate the balance of environmental awareness and personal entertainment.
The other trick up this pony’s sleeve is the ability to make and take calls using the headset as well – although talking to someone while you can hear the rest of the world drone on around you could be distracting to say the least.
I also found a very personal use for these bone conduction headphones. I sometime jam out on my Yamaha electric drum kit (you can see some of my efforts on my Youtube channel). Sometimes I like to record just the audio output of my drumming without the backtrack, which is usually from my music player. If I have headphones in, I can’t hear my own drumming at all, so I have to kind of guess or lower the headphones volume to the point that I can hear both the music and the outside world. These are absolutely perfect for playing music in my head while I can hear my own drumbeat on external speakers. Brilliant!
I’m not sure why bone conduction headphones haven’t really taken off. There’s still not many companies committed to the technology but after using them, and getting used to the experience, I’d be more likely to pick up one of these while I’m out on a roadside walk than completely noise-blocking earbuds. As with many other technology breakouts, time, and the market, will tell.
Until next time!