Listening to a portable device while riding is not without controversy. Many people question the safety of not hearing cars coming up from behind. In my 10+ years of experience riding while listening, I've never had that problem.
With or without headphones, I hear traffic as it arrives over my left shoulder. Keeping myself safe means being a predictable rider … on the shoulder of the road. My ears have little to do with it. And if a vehicle was passing too close for comfort — what could my ears tell me about that anyway? A rear view mirror is the only possible solution to that problem.
Nonetheless, there are jurisdictions where it's illegal to ride with any in-ear headphone. Enter the solution: patented bone conduction headphones from aftershokz.com. They sent me a pair to review for you.
What's Bone Conduction Audio Technology?
Place them on your cheekbones, just in front of your ears. This leaves your ear canals open, allowing you to remain alert and aware of ambient sounds while you enjoy your music.
People my age may remember an earlier incarnation that tried to do something similar: the Bone Fone. It's now thankfully a dead-tech device. It was a lame attempt to create an FM music bubble by transmitting sound through your collarbones. But you need to realize, we didn't have earbuds yet, and the first-gen Sony Walkman was just barely ramping up production.
Trekz Titanium Headphones
While doing away with the earbuds, Aftershokz has also done away with cables. These headphones use Bluetooth to pair with your phone or other music player. I guess that's both a plus and minus. No cables, but your player must support Bluetooth.
The set up was straightforward. The manual detailed a simple 1-2-3 procedure to get them charged, paired and connected. I had no problems connecting them to my iPhone.
The headphones have functions and modes you can select. Besides standard headphone functions, they'll also work as a full-featured phone headset to make and receive calls.
However, they only have one red/blue LED. It indicates charging mode, pairing mode and charging status. So what do they have to help guide you through the other functions and modes?
They're smart headphones after all, so they talk to you. Various button presses will give simple "beep" tone confirmations. And they have an "Audrey" voice for more complex interactions. Her voice crackles a bit, but probably because engineers compressed her phrases to store them inside minimal memory. She doesn't need to be high-fidelity to be understood.
What's with the "Titanium" in their name? As a sportsperson's headphone, they have a strong, but flexible, titanium wrap-around band to hold them firmly to your head. It has just the right pressure. After a few hours of wearing them, nothing got uncomfortable.
I only had an issue trying to wear them when it was cold. I needed to cover my head and ears. The sound transducers needed to sit directly on my skin, in front of my ears. Ear coverings messed with that setup.
I think what I like most about these Trekz Titaniums is their Bluetooth pairing. Play, pause, skip tracks all flawlessly using the headphones without pulling out my iPhone.
The range was great. I could even keep listening while my iPhone was in a neighboring room. Engineers at Aftershokz nailed the Bluetooth protocol implementation.
Trekz Titanium Audio QualityHow did they score on sound? I would have to give them an OK rating. Not great. Not fantastic. But good enough given their primary goal of providing stereo sound without plugging your ear canals.
Aftershokz touts their PremiumPitch+™ Sound as the answer to sound leakage and weak bass. Yet I still have to say they do lack a full bass response. The sound was a bit "hollow," especially noticeable if you switched immediately from listening with standard earbuds to the Trekz. Maybe it's my head that's hollow — these sounded a bit like listening to a small speaker inside an empty room. They have a second sound equalization setting that really drops off the bass response. I'm not sure when I'd use that setting.
Open Road PerformanceHow do they sound on the open road? Like I said earlier, when I unboxed the headphones, I was worried how well they would perform in the real world because they came supplied with optional ear plugs.
I'm a bit of a podcast junkie when I go riding. I might as well listen to something insightful and feed my imagination with ideas while I ride steady-state. And at other times, hard intervals call for hard music. On my test rides, I listened to two podcasts: a James Altucher interview (talk-talk-talk) and Group Therapy with Above and Beyond (progressive trance music).
At my usual cruising speed of 30kph (19mph) the headphones could be heard above the wind in my ears. However, cars zooming by me on the highway tended to fill my ears with a rush of noise. And on a blustery day? Those earplugs were a necessity, negating all the open-ear-canal advantages.
None of this really mattered when listening to the Group Therapy tracks. But with the Altucher podcast the wind-rush drowned out key phrases at times. I missed some ideas and that frustrated me. Turning up the volume didn't help. For full volume, you must turn up the headphone volume on your phone and the additional volume on the Trekz Titanium. In fact, I found myself listening with both volume controls full on to hear everything well enough while riding.
Summary: Good Solution Where In-Ear Headphones Are Not An OptionIf all you're after is background music on your ride, the Trekz Titanium headphones will do the job. And especially if your legal jurisdiction no longer allows you to use in-ear headphones, then definitely grab a pair of Trekz for yourself. You'll be back to enjoying music while you ride. As an added plus, with your open ears you'll be able to hear the interval prompts coming from your cycle computer.
But if listening to podcasts or audiobooks is more your thing, you may be disappointed. For that kind of audio listening I'll be using those earplugs or my usual earbuds, wherever the law allows me.
Finally, if you've got any issues with wearing regular headphones, from plain discomfort to an actual hearing disability with the outer ear, then you really should try these out.
Learn more about the Trekz Titanium and where you can buy your own set.