I've been using AfterShokz bone conduction headphones since 2013 and they are a regular companion on my daily walks, allowing me to listen to music, podcasts, books, and VoiceOver while still being able to hear traffic and whatever else is going on around me.
The $159 Aftershokz Aeropex are the company's smallest, sleekest, lightest, and most advanced bone conduction headphones yet. They are well-designed, have good build quality, and are extremely comfortable to wear.
In nearly all regards these are the best bone conduction headphones I've used to date. The only regression I experienced over the older AfterShokz Trekz Titanium, is that they don't perform as well in particularly noisy environments.
If your own use case doesn't involve noisy environments (such as walking alongside busy roads), then I would highly recommend the Aeropex. Otherwise, despite being slightly bulkier and less refined, the Trekz Titanium might be a better choice at just $79.
What is Bone Conduction?
Bone conduction technology has been around for decades. I'm not going to try and pretend that I understand all of the science behind it, butt at its basic level Instead of sending vibrations through the eardrums, bone conduction headphones use transducers that vibrate to ‘push’ sound through your cheekbones and into your cochleas.
To get a taste of the experience, first say something out loud. Now, block your eardrums with your fingers and say something. The sensation should be quite different... almost like hearing your voice directly inside your head.
The main benefit of bone conduction headphones is having your ears free to maintain situational awareness, which has them primarily marketed at cyclists, runners, and those playing sports or exercising who want to be able to hear what's going on around them.
Being blind, you aren't likely to encounter me cycling or running down the road on my own. However, being able to hear the world around me whilst listening to music, podcasts, books or walking directions from VoiceOver brings significant value and pleasure.
It's not hyperbole to say that me and my guide dog would get much less exercise if I didn't have something to listen to whilst out walking. Using bone conduction headphones allows me to lose myself a little in a podcast or book, whereas most traditional styles of headphone would leave me too isolated from my surroundings to be confident in my safety and security.
A second benefit of bone conduction is for people who struggle to find in-ear headphones that fit comfortably and securely; or those who don't like the weight and pressure of most on-ear or over-ear headphones.
Another cited benefit, is that bone conduction headphones are purportedly useful for people with some ear conditions or level of hearing loss, as they work by circumventing the eardrum.
What's in the Box
In the box, AfterShokz includes the necessities — and a little more.
You have the Aeropex headphones themselves, along with a silicone rubber case with a magnetic closure.
AfterShokz includes two charging cables for the headphones. This might seem somewhat generous compared with the single cable that you would typically expect to find, but in this instance is good to see as AfterShokz uses a proprietary magnetic charging cable with the Aeropex.
Personally, I would rather have had a standard cable connection such as the Micro USB used by AfterShokz on previous headphones or USB-C, but having two cables does at least allow me to have a spare or have one for home and one for work.
The last items in the box are two foam earplugs, which can be used to block your eardrums for those times when you want to shut out the world completely whilst listening to something.
The Aeropex has a form factor that's essentially the same as previous AfterShokz bone conduction headphones - a thin band wraps around the back of your head, loops up and over your ears, and the transducer pads sit just in front of your ears.
Located on the right side of the band (and just behind your right ear when wearing the headphones) is a volume rocker that also serves as the power, pairing, and battery level button. Pressing volume up and down simultaneously for three seconds changes the equalizer. Next to the volume rocker is the charging port, and an LED light is also apparently close by.
On the left transducer pad there is a discreet multifunction button that will play/pause audio and answer/end calls with a single press, skip tracks with a double press, and summon Siri with a long press.
The wrap around headband is much slimmer than that of older models. It sit's slightly lower on the back of your head than previously, but is still likely to get in the way if you sit back on a chair with a high back or headrest. It's a minor gripe, but one that might prevent the Aeropex from being your go to headphones when travelling by plane, coach, train or car.
The wrap around headband is also likely to get in the way when wearing overcoats with a high collar or a scarf. This is another minor niggle, but one that might prevent Aeropex from being your go to headphone in one other situation - when wrapping up to go for a walk in the cold or rain.
Although the basic form factor of AfterShokz's headphones may not have changed significantly over time, their design has become much more refined and the build quality appears to be much improved compared to that of the Bluez and Bluez 2S I've previously owned. The latter news will be very welcome to those who've had poor experiences with AfterShokz build quality in the past, although I will say that the Trekz Titanium were also a marked improvement and have proved in my experience to be durable..
Also changed from the earlier models is the pressure on your cheekbones when wearing the headphones. In my view the fit of early models was too tight to be comfortable for extended use. This is certainly not the case with the Aeropex, where there is only gentle pressure. This and their lightness makes for an extremely comfortable fit.
Features and Performance
The key features of the Aeropex at a glance are:
- 30% smaller and 13% lighter than the Trekz Air.
- Aeropex sit at a new 30-degree tilt against your face to reduce vibration.
- PremiumPitch 2+™ technology that is claimed to optimise the sound to increase bass.
- Dual noise-canceling mics that minimize surrounding noise when making calls.
- Sound leakage has been reduced by 50% compared to the Trekz Air.
- 8 hours of music and calls.
- A full charge takes 2 hours.
- Up to 10 days of standby time.
- Bluetooth v5.0.
- Wireless range up to 33 feet.
- Multipoint pairing that allows the Aeropex to be connected to two devices at the same time.
- An IP67 waterproof rating, which means the Aeropex are completely sweat and rain proof and can withstand being submerged in up to one meter of water for 30 minutes.
- You will be alerted if you try to charge the Aeropex when they are wet.
My experience of multipoint pairing on the Aeropex has generally been as disappointing and frustrating as it was with the Trekz Titanium.
When multipoint works, it's a great feature to have available. When it fails - and you are stood on the kerb trying to get your Apple Watch to simply say something somewhere; or when your MacBook pairs but VoiceOver is silent - it's enough to have you immediately reset the Aeropex to pair with just a single device.
My suspicion is that the fault for problems with multipoint pairing falls fully at Apple's door, as trying to get seamless switching with Apple AirPods has been similarly frustrating in my experience.
On a more positive note, initial pairing and subsequent connection with my iPhone XS has been fast and reliable.
To continue on a positive note, the bluetooth range of the Aeropex is exceptional. I have routinely left my iPhone in a downstairs room and been able to move around both levels of my home with no drop or degradation in connection to the headphones.
This is in stark contrast to my earliest experience with AfterShokz headphones (the Bluez), where simply putting my iPhone in my trouser pocket would be enough to introduce connection issues.
Comments on latency (‘lag’) of bluetooth headphones is generally subjective and influenced by personal use case, but, for what it's worth, my experience with Aeropex is that I only notice a hint of latency if I stop and look for it. In normal use, I notice none, and believe that Bluetooth 5.0 support is responsible for what I see as an improvement over the slight latency I would occasionally notice on the Trekz Titanium.
Call quality on the Aeropex can probably best be described as ‘adequate’. The sound of the caller's voice is typically quite ‘tinny’, and the interference in particular from wind noise at my end of the call means that I am unlikely to shake my longstanding routine when on bone conduction headphones of checking with people early in the call that they can hear me clearly.
One final comment for this section is on battery life, where all that's to say is that I've seen nothing to have me dispute AfterShokz's stated figures.
There's no getting away from the fact that bone conduction headphones just don’t sound as good as regular headphones.
If you come to the Aeropex expecting sound quality to be comparable to that of a regular headphone at the same price point, you will be disappointed. However, if you approach them with realistic expectations of something that essentially works by forcing sound through your cheekbones, you might be pleasantly surprised.
In his review of the Aeropex on Digital Trends, Ryan Waniata says that in his opinion these are the best bone conduction headphones yet in regard to sound quality, but are less vibrant and lack the bass of traditional headphones:
If high-fidelity in-ear headphones like Sennheiser’s Momentum paint a vibrant sonic canvas, bone-conduction headphones are more like a charcoal sketch of the soundscape — all the beats are there but instruments aren’t as colorfully fleshed out. The Aeropex definitely offer more meat on the bone then my previous bone-conduction experience (no pun intended), especially in the treble register where sound is clear, resonant, and relatively open.
Bone conductors have always struggled mightily with bass, though, and that’s still the case here. While the latest Aftershokz model has improved down low, you’re simply not going to get a ton of thump from those little pads.
Writing on Android Police, Rita El Khoury is somewhat more positive about the Aeropex's sound quality:
Sound quality is very good... considering there's no seal and sound is passing by your cheekbones. If I press the earpiece element into my cheekbone, I get a louder and more enveloping sound, so perhaps people with a larger head would get a better experience. However, as it is, the sound is nice even if a little hollow. Mids are good, vocals in music and podcasts are clear. Highs are crisp, though I did feel they lost a bit of their definition when listening to busier arrangements. Bass is usually where other bone conduction headphones fail, either replacing it with uncomfortable vibrations or nearly muting it. That was the case with my older AfterShokz Bluez, but the Aeropex manages to actually get bass across to your inner ear. It's not the beat-thumping bass you'll get from regular headphones, but it has the merit of being there. Podcasts, pop, and rock fit well with the sound profile, but if hip hop and urban music are more your jam, you're going to find the Aeropex lacking.
I only occasionally listen to music with the Aeropex and am no audiophile. For my use case, this leaves me with only one complaint about sound on the Aeropex - that the volume level doesn't seem to go as high as it does on the Trekz Titanium.
To put this to the test in a situation where this possible issue would most matter to me, I performed a side by side comparison of the Aeropex and Trekz Titanium during a 90 minute walk around my neighbourhood.
Stopping regularly to switch headphones and check volume levels confirmed my suspicion that the level of the sound output from the Aeropex is comparatively lower to that of the Trekz Titanium.
Specifically, the volume level with the Aeropex typically has to be set 10-15% higher than on the Trekz Titanium to achieve a comparative listening level.
My experience in noisy environments was that these would often require a volume level on the Aeropex where you start to feel vibrations from the transducer pads. There were situations during my test walk where the noise of busy roads was such that it made it impossible to set the Aeropex volume to a level where it was both clearly audible and a tolerable user experience.
Of significance for my listening preferences is that spoken word (such as podcasts, books or VoiceOver output) will generate noticeable vibration from bone conduction headphones at volume levels where music doesn't. This isn't new or specific to the Aeropex, but having to crank up the volume level more frequently than on the trekz Titanium means that there are more occasions when it becomes too intrusive to be tolerable.
The transducer pads of the Aeropex are about half the size of those on the Trekz Titanium, so my assumption is that AfterShokz had to make some compromises to achieve this, and as a result the Aeropex simply don't have the same ‘punch’ in regard to volume.
The takeaway from my test walk was that there were stretches of my usual routes where the Aeropex were not usable, whereas the Trekz Titanium were.
This is extremely disappointing, as my primary use case for the Aeropex is for listening to podcasts or books during my daily walks and I now have to sacrifice the features and more refined sound of the Aeropex in favour of taking the Trekz Titanium when I know I'm going to be in noisier environments (which living near the centre of a large city means just about everywhere I walk).
For my secondary use cases - such as around the house, yard or less noisy environments - the performance and sound quality of the Aeropex is very good. The Aeropex having less brute force in regard to volume compared to the Trekz Titanium is not an issue, which allows me to enjoy all the other areas in which they are better.
If you're in the market for bone conduction headphones, the AfterShokz Aeropex are the best that I have used.
AfterShokz has combined the benefits of bone conduction with a decade of experience to create what feels like it's the best that a consumer-grade bone conduction headphone can be right now.
That's not to say that the Aeropex are perfect - sound quality with music won't satisfy audiophiles, call quality leaves something to be desired, and you might struggle to hear what's playing when in noisy environments - but the areas where the Aeropex fall short are mostly inherent weaknesses in the nature of bone conduction itself. For my circumstances and use case, these are areas where I am willing to compromise in return for the benefits of being able to maintain some awareness of what's going on around me.
The one disappointment is that if I want to continue to be able to safely lose myself in a podcast or book when out walking some of my regular routes, my Trekz Titanium headphones won't be completely retired for now.
If you have used the Aeropex or other bone conduction headphones, please share your experiences below - particularly if you experience or opinion doesn't match mine.
The AfterShokz Aeropex retail for $159.95 and are available in Cosmic Black, Blue Eclipse, Lunar Grey or Solar Red