I feel very excited to review the Aftershokz bone conducting headphones. These new headphones use bone conduction to deliver sound, leaving your ears open to the outside environment. Originally developed for special ops, they have now found their way into the public sector. They help the sighted and the blind even more.
As with many good things, synchronicity surrounded my discovery of Aftershokz. I wanted a way to hear my iPhone’s GPS while still leaving my ears free to hear my environment, especially given my recent interest in echolocation. At first I wondered about some kind of shoulder mounted speaker. I thought someone would have done this, but I found nothing. I started using a small earpiece, but it did obscure my hearing slightly in my left ear where I wore it. Still, it worked for the time being. As I pondered my options, I saw a tweet about these headphones, and I knew Goddess had answered my prayers!
I wondered how they would help the blind, and others did as well. I found a great review and podcast from SeroTalk. It got me excited and I ordered a pair of the mobile headphones on the spot. I received them yesterday and have had a chance to play with them a little. They deliver as promised, and I really enjoy using them.
The headphones look sort of like a little pair of regular headphones, but with some differences. The band wraps around the back of the head, and the ear pads sit in front of the earlobes right where the sinuses begin. Wearing them feels very comfortable. They have a single cord on the left side which connects to the battery box, and in the case of the mobile headphones, the inline microphone. The battery box also has a power light, and two buttons. The top button turns the headphones on and off, and the bottom button acts like the middle button no a pair of Apple headphones, allowing for answering calls, and playing and pausing music. The battery box also has a hefty clip to keep everything nice and untangled. The cord then continues down to a standard 3.5mm jack, the kind used by iPhones and iPods. The box also comes with a little extension cord and a USB charger which plugs into the headphones.
After plugging the USB charger into my iMac and letting the headphones charge for three hours, I wanted to try them out. I turned them on and hooked them up to my iPhone and fired up Ariadne GPS. I walked with my family to Hawthornes Cafe, an awesome local restaurant. To my delight, everything worked as expected. I could hear my location while carrying on a perfectly normal conversation with my family.
The sound has a slightly tinny quality to it, but I sort of expected that. I would not consider them for serious listening, but then again I did not get them for that purpose. For human and synthetic speech they sound just fine. The sound has an interesting quality since it comes through your bones. It sort of sounds like it comes from within your head as when wearing headphones, but something does seem a little different. I like it.
Later I had a call, and again the voice sounded fine. I asked how the mic sounded, and she said she didn’t even know I used the headphones and thought I just used the normal microphone on the iPhone. We talked for four hours and my ears never hurt or felt uncomfortable in any way, plus I could rome freely around my condo. This beats wearing headphones which makes navigating impossible even in a familiar space, or wearing one headphone over your ear and letting the other rest against the head to keep an ear open, or just leaving it on speaker phone and manipulating the phone while doing other tasks. This use really impressed me and showed the real potential of bone conduction.
I also played some music through them. First I loaded up a goa trance track by Psychonaut. I could actually feel the bass thumping into my head through the ear pads, though lower frequencies do sound a bit muted. It felt unique. Then I put on a mellow ambient track by the Orb. While the headphones don’t deliver the full bass response of standard headphones, they sound just fine for casual background listening.
The freedom offered by Aftershokz feels so wonderful. Now a blind person can hear any audio they desire without sacrificing their orientation and mobility. My Mom said I look like a space cadet because of the shining power indicator, and it sort of feels that way, walking and talking with a GPS overlaid onto my reality. I can see how soldiers would benefit from this technology. I recommend these to all blind users. They fill my needs perfectly, and arrived at the perfect time. They range in price from $59.99-$79.99. You can preorder them now and the site also has a link to order them immediately. Go get them now, you will not feel disappointed.