Enjoy music and podcasts while leaving your ears clear to hear the world around you with our pick of the best bone-conduction headphones
The best bone-conduction headphones are steadily increasing in popularity due to their ability to deliver audio without you needing to put anything in or over your ears.
Unlike traditional headphones, which use speakers to generate sound waves, the best bone-conduction headphones create vibrations that bypass your eardrums entirely. This makes them an excellent choice for those with hearing problems, but they’re also great if you want to listen to music, podcasts or radio while remaining aware of your surroundings.
With more options available than ever before, picking the right bone-conduction headphones isn’t quite as straightforward as it once was. Fortunately, we’re here to help and have put numerous products through their paces.
If you want more information on bone-conduction headphones, you can jump to our buying guide below, where we detail the key things to consider before splashing out. Otherwise, read on to see our pick of the best bone-conduction headphones currently available.
How we test the best bone-conduction headphones
Testing bone-conduction headphones is a very similar process to testing other styles of headphones and primarily involves listening to a lot of audio content from various sources.
We endeavour to try out as many different genres of music as possible, as well as other content types such as audiobooks, podcasts and YouTube videos, to get a clear idea of the sonic strengths and weaknesses of a pair of headphones. If the headphones in question support streaming over Bluetooth as well as playing files stored locally on the device, we’ll test both extensively and make use of the full range of audio presets, EQ options and features at our fingertips.
Products are tested in a range of environments with different external conditions to gauge how comfortable they are and the impact of ambient noise on the user experience. These include quiet home offices, the gym and busy commuter routes, and by wearing the headphones for hours at a time, we’re able to provide an informed judgement on their build quality and comfort.
As some bone-conduction headphones are designed for swimming, our testing occasionally requires trips to the local leisure centre or gym complex. There, we’re able to evaluate claims about water resistance and waterproofing, while also trying out accessories that may come with the headphones such as earplugs or storage pouches.
For bone-conduction headphones with in-built microphones, we spend time on calls and making recordings to assess how well they pick up and convey voices, while close tabs are kept on usage so we’re able to highlight any discrepancies with stated battery life.
READ NEXT: Our favourite headphones for swimming
Best bone conduction headphones you can buy in 2023
1. Shokz OpenRun Pro: Best bone-conduction headphones overall
Price when reviewed: £160 | Check price at Amazon The Shokz OpenRun Pro are the most advanced bone-conduction headphones on the market and offer class-leading sound and battery life. They’re extremely comfortable, leak less sound than all of the other options on this list and just five minutes on charge will provide up to 90 minutes of audio playback.
Their IP55 rating is inferior to that of the standard OpenRun but they’re a significant upgrade in every other department. They still use a proprietary charging port, which is a little frustrating, but if you’re looking for best-in-class sound and features, these are the bone-conduction headphones to buy.
Read our full Shokz OpenRun Pro review
Key specs – Weight: 29g; IP rating: IP55; Battery life: Up to 10 hours; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1; Microphone: Yes; Storage: N/A
2. Shokz OpenSwim: Best bone-conduction headphones for swimming
Price when reviewed: £169 | Check price at HalfordsThe Shokz OpenSwim are the updated version of the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, which received our coveted Best Buy award in late 2020. We say updated, but all that’s really changed is the brand name on the headphones.
Aside from that, you’re getting the same package: MP3 headphones with 4GB of storage, IP68 waterproofing that enables them to be submerged in water up to 2m in depth, eight-hour battery life, a silicone carrying case and a pair of swimming earplugs.
Transferring audio onto the headphones is a breeze, and the headphones fit comfortably under a swimming cap once you’ve got the hang of putting it on without obstructing the sensibly laid-out controls. There are also two EQs – general and underwater – with the latter boosting mid-range and treble frequencies to aid vocal clarity. This is at the expense of bass, but the overall audio experience is undoubtedly engaging enough to help drive you on to complete those final few lengths.
Read our full AfterShokz Xtrainerz review
Key specs – Weight: 30g; IP rating: IP68; Battery life: Up to 8 hours; Connectivity: N/A; Microphone: No; Storage: 4GB
3. Haylou Purfree BC01: Affordable and effective
Price when reviewed: £100 | Check price at AmazonIf premium Shokz options are out of your price range, the Haylou Purfree BC01 are definitely worth checking out; they’re light and comfortable, perfect for a long run where every gram matters, and Bluetooth 5.2 ensures a rock-solid connection. Audio quality is also terrific, with plenty of mid-range detail and clarity in the trebles, and sound leaking only occurs when listening above 80% volume.
Battery life is up there with the best on this list, and once depleted, a ten-minute charge will yield two hours of listening time. The charger connects magnetically, so you are shackled to the brand’s own cable, and acquiring a replacement can be difficult. The only sport they’re not suitable for is swimming, as the IP67 rating doesn’t cover full submersion and they lack on-board storage, so you’ll always need your phone within streaming range.
Key specs – Weight: 30g; IP rating: IP67; Battery life: Up to 8 hours; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2; Microphone: Yes; Storage: N/A
4. Shokz OpenMove: Entry-level Shokz bone-conduction headphones
Price when reviewed: £80 | Check price at AmazonIf you’re after affordable bone-conduction headphones from market-leading manufacturer Shokz, look no further than the OpenMove. As is the case with the OpenSwim, we tested them before AfterShokz became Shokz, but aside from an update from Bluetooth version 5.0 to 5.1, the key specifications remain the same.
The OpenMove understandably make a few sacrifices to achieve a lower price than Shokz’ premium offerings. The earhooks are made from polycarbonate rather than rubber-coated titanium, which makes them less flexible and results in a somewhat temperamental fit. IP55 certification means they’re sweat and splashproof rather than waterproof, and battery life is two hours shorter at around six hours.
Despite those compromises, the OpenMove are a great entry point to bone-conduction technology. They’re well priced and offer three EQ modes – standard, vocal booster and earplug mode – to help you achieve the best sound quality possible in any given situation.
Read our full AfterShokz OpenMove review
Key specs – Weight: 29g; IP rating: IP55; Battery life: Up to 6 hours; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1; Microphone: Yes; Storage: N/A
5. Shokz OpenRun: Great all-rounders
Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at AmazonThe OpenRun may not sound as good as the Pro model, nor offer as impressive battery life, but they’re still a mighty fine pair of bone-conduction headphones. They’re light and comfortable to wear, making them the perfect companions for marathon training or a road race. But they’re not just great for running – their IP67 rating (which is superior to that of the Pro model) ensures they’re cut out for just about any activity with the exception of swimming.
Sound quality over the Bluetooth connection is second only to the OpenRun Pro, which use a newer generation of Shokz’ bone-conduction technology, and they sound good despite being a little light on bass. Battery life of up to eight hours positions them as some of the longest-lasting bone-conduction headphones around, and just ten minutes of charging will net you up to 90 minutes of playtime. If you like the look of the OpenRun Pro but can’t quite stretch to their asking price, the base model are the most capable alternative available.
Read our full Shokz OpenRun review
Key specs – Weight: 26g; IP rating: IP67; Battery life: Up to 8 hours; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1; Microphone: Yes; Storage: N/A
6. Shokz OpenFit: Best air-conduction alternative
Price when reviewed: £179 | Check price at Amazon
Given that Shokz options dominate this list, it should come as no surprise that the brand also offers the best alternative to bone-conduction headphones. The Shokz OpenFit forgo vibrations on your cheekbones in favour of air-conduction, with each bud sitting over your ear and channelling audio in via what Shokz calls “DirectPitch” technology.
You don’t expect the best bass with open earbuds, but the Shokz OpenFit manage a surprisingly respectable low-end response. Paired with effective stereo separation and a decent, albeit not massive, soundstage, and audio quality as a whole is rather good.
Battery life isn’t the best around, topping out around the seven-hour mark, but you have the added benefit of a charging case, which pushes the total up to 28 hours. If you prefer to be able to hear what’s going on around you while listening to music but can’t stand bone-conduction vibrations, the Shokz OpenFit are the best air-conduction alternative.
Read our full Shokz OpenFit review
Key specs – Weight: 8.3g per earbud, 57g case; IP rating: IP54; Battery life: Up to 7 hours in-ear, 28 hours including the case; Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2; Microphone: Yes; Storage: N/A
How do bone-conduction headphones work?
Before we discuss the pros and cons of bone-conduction headphones, it’s important to understand how they work and how they differ from other headphones.
Traditional headphones create sound waves that enter your ear via your ear canals and vibrate through your eardrums to the inner ear. Here, they trigger nerve impulses that travel to the brain, where they are converted into the sounds we hear.
Rather than creating sound waves, bone-conduction headphones create mini vibrations that are transmitted via bones in your skull – typically the cheekbones – directly to the inner ear, bypassing the ear canals and eardrums. Once they reach your inner ear, these vibrations are converted in the same way they would be if they’d come via your eardrums.
What are the benefits of bone-conduction headphones?
As bone-conduction headphones don’t transmit sound via your eardrums, they allow those with ear damage or hearing impairment to enjoy audio in a different way from traditional headphones. However, they’re useful for those with perfect hearing, too.
Their biggest selling point is that they leave your ears free, allowing you to remain aware of the world around you while enjoying audio. This is particularly useful if you’re running or cycling when knowing what’s happening in your surroundings is paramount.
Because of this, bone-conduction headphones are the only headphones approved for use in road races under the UK Athletics Rules of Competition. Even if you’re just using them around the house, being able to hear the doorbell or phone ring is very useful.
There are also potential hygiene benefits. As you’re not putting anything inside your ears, you’re reducing the likelihood of ear infections caused by a build-up of bacteria. You’ll still need to keep your ears clean, of course, but not having earbuds stuck in them for hours on end can help with auditory hygiene.
Do bone-conduction headphones have any disadvantages?
Like any style of headphones, bone-conduction options have their drawbacks, and letting environmental sound into your ears can be both a blessing and a curse depending on where you are. While they can be used with earplugs to minimise external noise, they’re not something we’d recommend for use on busy public transport, for instance. And even when used in generally quiet surroundings, a sudden burst of external sound might leave you needing to rewind your podcast.
There’s also the matter of sound quality. Though the gap is getting narrower, even the best bone-conduction headphones lag behind the top in-ear and over-ear headphones. In particular, bass is an area that bone-conduction headphones struggle to do justice to, so they’re much better suited to spoken word than bass-heavy music.
Can bone-conduction headphones damage my hearing?
Because they bypass the eardrums, bone-conduction headphones won’t damage those, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely risk-free. The inner ear may still be damaged if you listen to a lot of loud music for long periods, so it’s best to use them with the same caution as you would regular headphones.
Other features to consider
In addition to the more general factors to think about when buying bone-conduction headphones, there are a number of specifics worth considering.
Waterproofing: Because bone-conduction headphones are great for sporting activities, most, if not all, will come with a decent IP rating for water resistance. A full breakdown of every IP rating can be found here, but we recommend looking for at least IPX5 if you want peace of mind while wearing them outdoors. For swimming, you’ll need IPX8.
Bluetooth connectivity: There are two main types of bone-conduction headphones: those that operate wirelessly over Bluetooth and those that function like an MP3 player onto which you can transfer audio files. If you want to be able to stream content, you’ll need the former, while the latter are a better option for times when you don’t have an audio source with you, when swimming, for example. Some products offer both on-board storage and Bluetooth, making them particularly versatile.
Battery life: Regardless of the type you go for, your bone-conduction headphones will be powered by an internal, rechargeable battery. Battery life varies from product to product, so make sure the pair you pick has enough stamina to meet your needs.
Microphone: If you want to be able to make and take calls using your bone-conduction headphones, you’ll need to ensure they have a built-in microphone.
Design: Many bone-conduction headphones look very similar, but they’re not all created equal; how comfortable they are is typically dependent on the materials used in their construction. Unsurprisingly, cheaper options use cheaper materials such as polycarbonate rather than rubber-coated titanium and are less flexible as a result.