I’ve intended in the past to review some of the kit I use, but until this point never quite got around to it.
For disclosure the headphones have been sent to me free of charge in return for my personal review.
So without further ado, let’s get into this.
As part of the package sent from Aftershokz they included a document which explained their line of bone-conduction headphones from 2012 when they first started producing them through to their latest model Aeropex in 2019. I won’t go into the details of what’s happened over that 8 year period, but instead here are some details about the new Aeropex headphones from the document:
- Weight – 26g
- Battery Life – 8h
- 30% smaller than the 2018 Air model
- IP67 Waterproof – apparently tested to 1m submersion for 30 minutes (that would be a pretty extreme run)
- Bass improved compared to previous models
Setting up and initial impressions
From out of the box the Aeropex headphones needed to be charged first. This is via a USB cable which connects to the Aeropex via a magnetic contact. I had to nip out for a couple of hours, and by the time I’d got home, the headphones were charged and ready for pairing.
The headphones connect to the music source device via Bluetooth LE. For the purposes of my testing this has been to my iPhone 7. However most modern smartphones can utilise BLE to connect to such headphones, as can various modern sports watches.
The pairing process was as simple as holding the volume+ button for a number of seconds whilst the iPhone was searching for devices. The Aeropex appeared in the list almost immediately and connected straight away. A quick test play of some music on the phone went straight through to the headphones. Job done.
It says a lot that I tend to be surprised that something that claims to be ‘plug and play’ (or whatever that has morphed into in the wireless age) actually works like it should. But hats off to Aftershokz, connecting the Aeropex really couldn’t have been any simpler or quicker.
A bit about running with ‘traditional’ headphones
Many of those who know me will be surprised that I’m reviewing a set of headphones.
To explain, my past experience of headphones has been either with the over the ears types, or the in-ear headphones. I’ve found both types uncomfortable very quickly, and that they usually get displaced. And thus become a source of frustration instead of pleasure!
From a music listening point of view in order to hear what’s being played on such headphones has required a volume higher than I’m happy with – it turns out “road noise” is actually rather loud. The net result is not being able to hear the outside world properly. It’s something that concerns me a lot due to the many hazards whilst running, especially near roads or other users of the space – traffic, bikes, pedestrians etc.
This isn’t just a perceived problem either, as the number of runners I’ve encountered wearing such devices and clearly having no idea what was going on around them; stepping out into traffic, even tripping me (or others) up because they weren’t aware of their surroundings.
With all that in mind, I’ve avoided running with headphones completely in the last 10 years, and only occasionally tried them beforehand).
A bit about bone-conduction headphones
Aftershokz pioneered the use of bone-conduction headphones for music listening during sporting activities back in 2012 and, as stated above, have been honing their products ever since.
Rather than covering the ear, their products rest on the top of the cheekbone in front of the ear. The vibrations caused by the music are then transferred through the bone and are picked up as sound in the ear without actually covering the ear. The theory then being that this leaves the ear open to hear environmental noises, such as traffic hazards.
Their approach hasn’t gone un-noticed by the running authorities. Whilst traditional headphones are banned from many road (and other) races, UK Athletics accept the usage of Aftershokz bone-conduction headphones in their events as it is felt that the risks posed with traditional headphones have been reduced sufficiently with bone-conduction headphones.
My test points
Prior to taking the Aftershokz Aeropex out for a run I made a list of points I wanted to test. Bear in mind that these are the first bone-conduction headphones I’ve tried, so any personal comparison will be to “traditional” headphones rather than comparing the Aftershokz Aeropex with other bone-conduction headphones.
- Comfort – if I’m running with headphones will they remain comfortable for the duration of the run?
- Position – will the headphones remain in position or will they require adjustment during the run?
- Music – can I hear the music being played and is the quality of the sound good enough to make it worth it
- Environment – can I be confident that I’m hearing all that is around me so that I’m as safe as if I wasn’t using the headphones.
Now you’ll be aware that most of my running is off-road. However, I really wanted to test the latter two points against road and traffic noise as the safety aspect of running with headphones is a big concern to me. Basically if it works in those conditions I’d say you’re pretty sorted in all conditions.
As such I’ve taken the headphones out on a number of different runs in different conditions to see how they fared.
Similarly, I’m ignoring any reasons relating to “not listening to music” as otherwise the review wouldn’t make sense. From a training point of view I find it important to listen to my body without distraction, and therefore wouldn’t generally listen to music in those circumstances. This review is for those wanting to listen to their music.
With that all said, let’s get out there and go for a run!
First Run – half road / half trail
It wasn’t supposed to be a mixed terrain run when I started out, but it seems I’m attracted to trails, especially those that I didn’t know about! This worked out as 8 miles with roughly 6 on the roads and 2 on trails.
I had two albums that I played whilst running;
- Avicii’s “True” followed by
- Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Equinoxe Infinity”
So two very different sounding albums.
Having not run with headphones in many years, I adjusted the volume level to a conservative level. By which I mean that it sounded perfectly loud enough as I left the house, but by the time I got to the main road, I couldn’t hear the music properly.
The traffic noise was such that I needed to turn up the volume a notch to be able to hear the music.
I think it’s this issue that’s bothered me in the past, that the general background noise is actually pretty loud and gets in the way of the music.
On the plus side though, even with the headphones at a slightly louder level I felt comfortable that I was aware of my surroundings. Avicii’s album has a range of louder and softer tracks and, once adjusted I could listen to it comfortably.
I’m one who will always do a visual check and look before I cross but I felt confident that I could hear enough of the background noise for that visual check to be confirming with what I could hear. On a side note, it scares me how so many pedestrians step into road junctions without looking with the presumption that any traffic will be able to stop. But that’s another story.
I was equally impressed about the comfort of the headphones. To the point that when the Avicii album finished and I was concentrating on crossing a number of roads, I actually forgot I was wearing headphones for a few minutes!
Similarly, the headphones remained in place, despite a few ham-fisted button presses as I tried to remember how to start and stop the tracks. (There are volume controls on one side of the Aeropex headphones and a multi-function button on the other side which skips and pauses tracks, answers the phone etc.)
The Jarre album was a little more difficult to listen to whilst running outside. I did find the ambient sounds tended to get lost a little to the surroundings, although I could have turned up the volume another notch and that might have helped. The concern here was that by increasing the overall volume again would that reduce my ability to be sure of what was going on around me.
Second run – mixed terrain
To push the comfort aspect a bit more I did the unthinkable and went for a lunchtime run on one of the hottest days of the year! There was some logic here. Firstly I’ve got races during the next 2 weekends which could potentially be in the heat, so getting a bit of warm-weather training isn’t a bad thing. But then with regard to the headphones, what are they like when you’re sweating buckets?
The run itself ended up just shy of 6 miles. But this was nothing to do with the headphones – they were fine. Instead, it was the heat being a bit too much for me so decided to keep it shorter rather than push for another mile or two.
Aside from crossing a bypass road near the start, most of the roads were town and country roads, so quieter, but not empty. This again was to make sure I could pick up traffic noise when I needed to know from a safety point of view and where the traffic was infrequent and unpredictable.
The playlist today was Muse’s “Drones” album, so essentially a loud rock album.
It turns out to begin with it was probably too loud as I wasn’t sure I could pick up the traffic noise enough, but once adjusted slightly, it was all good. I felt I was aware of my surroundings whilst having the music at a volume I could hear.
The headphones stayed in place throughout and were very comfortable. Unlike the rest of me that was suffering in this heat! So again, I was happy with this test.
Third run – all road (!)
Having skipped the headphones whilst tail-running a section of a new ultramarathon (PD100 – check it out, it’s good!) I managed eventually to go out and do a 100% road run, although even that didn’t quite go to plan.
Originally I’d intended to do 8-10 miles and take in a few work jobs whilst I was out. However as I headed towards town I could see a large storm cloud coming in the opposite direction. And whilst the headphones are tested to be submerged for 30 minutes, I’m not so keen! So there was an about turn for a curtailed run.
That said, from a testing point of view it was enough to work with. The last Sunday of the school summer holidays is always a hive of activity with the majority of Stockport back in the area and trying to get ready for September. Or to translate, lots of traffic to test headphones!
Playlist for today was an electro-pop album; ‘Failure is Inevitable‘ by Spray, chosen because the frequencies in the music were different to the other albums. And because it’s good and you should go listen to it!
Here I found the issue I’d noted previously about how loud traffic noise is; it’s very loud! Not that it meant the headphones struggled. Indeed, the Aeropex, when turned up a notch or two on the volume gave a very pleasant sound and I could hear the music really well. So no issues with regards to the sound reproduction. However I didn’t feel I could hear the outside sounds enough at this volume, so the matter of road safety could be an issue.
Basically this is a matter of common sense. Set a level where you feel you’re safe from hazards rather than pretending you’re front row at the gig next to the speakers.
It’s been an interesting few weeks of testing the Aftershokz Aeropex and with a result that surprised me in a very positive way. Especially coming from someone who previously didn’t like running with headphones.
Overall, I’m impressed. A set of headphones that basically work out of the box, are comfortable to wear and sound great.
Here’s the positives:
In each of the runs they were very light and comfortable, far more so than I’d expected. They remained in the correct position at all times which for me is a first for headphones.
Build quality is good, and they do feel they’ll survive a few knocks, although I’m not not planning any destructive testing!
Charging and setting up the headphones to work with my phone was really easy. The bluetooth range was excellent too. Prior to my first run I left my phone in the kitchen whilst I wandered around the house looking for my running kit. Despite having several walls and floors in between the headphones and phone, the audio was rock solid throughout. Which when I’m used to the notifications from the phone failing to reach my Garmin when I’m in the next room to it, is very pleasing!
So far I’ve not managed to run the charge down on the Aeropex. Perhaps not a great surprise given the box said it could manage 8 hours and I’ve run for less time than that. But good all the same.
Sound quality was really good. There seemed to be enough bass and treble to give a balanced sound. Which is more than adequate given that when being used outdoors the environment isn’t exactly ideal for listening to music.
For the most part I found a volume level which meant I could hear both the music and the environmental noise, but as noted above let common sense prevail. Getting home safely at the end of your run has to be top of the priorities.
I actually don’t have much to say from a negative point of view. Which is perhaps as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone!
Certainly against my test criteria (above) they seem to have succeeded on all points. Although that’s with the caveat of utilising some common sense.
Busy traffic is loud and in order to hear your music you may need to push up the volume a bit higher than if there was limited traffic. And whilst bone conduction headphones help by not blocking the ear, if your music is too loud you still won’t hear what’s going on properly. Your safety remains your responsibility.