How do bone conduction headphones work?

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Best answer: Bone conduction headphones work by vibrating against the bones in your cheek or upper jaw, which in turn sends those vibrations to the inner ear, bypassing the ear canal completely. Since they don't depend on the eardrum, they can be great for people with hearing deficiencies, and since they aren't in or over your ear, you'll be able to hear what's happening around you. They aren't very good at reproducing sound that's true-to-life because of their design, but sometimes sound quality isn't the most important feature in a pair of headphones.

Amazon: AfterShokz Trekz Air Open Ear Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones ($149)

Sound is vibration


At least when it comes to hearing it, that is. Audio travels through the air in a pressure wave, and variations on the frequency and strength of that wave are what makes us hear different sounds. As the pressure wave hits our eardrums, they vibrate in time with the pressure wave and the cochlea — an organ inside your inner ear — interprets things to let our brains hear the sounds.

Regular headphones, whether wired or wireless, work on this principle. A small speaker inside each earbud or earcup passes along the sound waveform for our eardrums to pick up and pass along in turn. All speakers work this way, not just headphones.


Bone conduction headphones don't sound bad. They just don't sound great.

Bone conduction has its roots in the military and healthcare fields, and don't require the eardrum to pass the waveform along to the cochlea. instead, they rest against the cheekbone or upper jaw and the vibrations, which mimic an audio waveform, are passed directly to the inner ear. Since they aren't in or over your ears, you can hear things like traffic sounds or another person trying to get your attention. And since they don't rely on the eardrum, they can be great for folks with hearing loss.

One drawback to bone conduction headphones is the sound quality. They don't sound bad, they just don't sound great. Better put, they sound different. We're not used to hearing things via a direct conduit from a vibration motor to our inner ear, but if you need to hear your surroundings or have hearing loss, they can be the right headphones for you.

Our pick

AfterShokz Trekz Air Open Ear Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones




$149 at Amazon

A safe alternative

Trekz Air headphones were designed for fitness, and are sweat-proof and fit snugly. they're also light as a feather and allow you to hear everything around you while you're on your daily jog or riding your bike. They even have two noise-canceling microphones for crystal clear calls.



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