Whilst we were reviewing a variety of products at the London Bike Show this year one of the most impressive items we saw were the AfterShokz bone conduction, open ear headphones. Standing in a busy exhibition hall, listening to the buzz of the gathered masses, have a conversation with the person standing in front of me and hear the music from my phone all at the same time, the application was immediately obvious.
Headphones are a contentious issue for cyclists. There are definitely occasions when you might want to wear them, for example able to listen to the splits coming from your smartphone app whilst on a training ride. There are also those who like to listen to music whilst on the bike (something I personally have never been comfortable with). The reason they are contentious is because of the important role your hearing plays in interpreting the road environment around you, if you cannot hear approaching traffic you are undoubtedly impairing your ability to react and respond.
The advent of bone conduction technology makes it possible to listen to audio without blocking off all other sound around you. It is the cycling equivalent of having the stereo on in the car; you have not isolated your hearing by plugging in to a single source, your ears remain open to hear horns, sirens, engines and other road users.
You can imagine then how excited when last week we received a set of the Aftershokz Bluez 2 bluetooth headsphones. This stylish looking unit connects over Bluetooth allowing the wearer to place their audio source wherever is most comfortable without the inconvenience of wires getting in the way. Personally, I carry my phone in a small top-tube bag so that I can use the navigation from RidewithGPS, making a wired headphones a bit annoying.
Connection was very straight forward and within moments of opening the box we were listening to music off my Android phone and pleasantly surprised by the quality and range that of sound that was on offer from a reasonably compact design. Now, I’m no musician and tend not to trust my own judgement on audio quality but fortunately, Steve, from the Urban Limits team is a musician and audio specialist. Of course this meant connecting to his iPhone, again without issue, and some head-ringing bass was soon being pumped through his skull.
After some initial scepticism that the stylish piano black finish and angular lines could result in a comfortable fit, it quickly became apparent that the application of rubberised sections on the contact sections were well placed and made for a snug and secure position on the head. The next thing that concerned me was how they would fit or conflict when worn in conjunction with a helmet and associated straps. Again a fairly low slung position to rear of the head ensures that they will sit below the line of almost all road and MTB helmets, while the close positioning to the head means that in the vast majority of cases strapping will not be disrupted in any way.
The longest single ride I have used them for so far is a fairly hilly 40km road ride and they were perfectly comfortable throughout.
The only issue that I have identified in terms of comfort is the one posed by wearing glasses. Normally when I am on the bike for longer rides I wear my contact lenses and use ‘sunnies’ or cycling glasses with fairly straight arms which work fine. However, if I am just hopping to the shops on the hybrid or using them at another time then I may well be wearing my glasses and then things get a little busy. The headphones and my glasses face a bit of competition for the limited amount of space that is available even behind my quite considerable lugs.
The controls on the headset itself are limited, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to make good use of the functionality of your phone. As the video below shows there is the option of using voice command for your phone and the large multi-function button on the side allows you to pick-up or end a call; it also serves as a pause and play button for your music.
We have run a few trials on using the headset as a Bluetooth receiver for making phone calls and it copes pretty well.
Also on the band are volume control buttons, these are independent from your phone’s control buttons so you can set independent levels for normal phone use or when using the Aftershokz.
We hadn’t really planned any durability testing though we were concerned as to how they would cope if they got very sweaty or when riding in wet conditions. Our questions were answered when unfortunately they fell out of my car door pocket while I went in to a meeting. 2 hours later I returned to find that a helpful neighbour had picked them up and placed them on my windscreen where they had been rained on solidly for the whole time. Despite being in the protective fabric pouch that ships with them, they were really very soggy, but having let them dry out they worked perfectly. The battery life is also impressive, one charge (which is straight off a standard micro USB cable) and they seem to keep running & running.
All told then these really are very impressive indeed, but not just for cyclists. Although the appeal is clearly there for all non-contact sports where music can be a bonus, there are other benefits of this headset as well. I also tried them at home when I wanted to catch up on some podcasts, but was also looking after my five children – for a parent who needs to keep an ear out for which kids need help with their homework, who has hurt themselves in the garden or when they are needed to break up a fight, the AfterShokz Bluez 2 really is a very handy solution!