The best air-conduction headphones offer the awareness of bone-conduction options but with superior sound quality and no vibrations
The best air-conduction headphones can make you forget you’re wearing them. More comfortable to wear than in-ear alternatives, and offering stronger audio quality than bone-conduction models, these open-fit headphones are a bridge between two distinct styles and offer a happy medium for those who aren’t sold on either extreme.
With some of the biggest brands throwing their hats into the air-conduction ring, it can be difficult to know which model is best for your needs. That’s where we come in. We’ve vigorously tested all of the models on this list and highlighted the circumstances in which each of them shines the brightest.
If you’re unsure of what you’re looking for in a pair of air-conduction headphones – or, indeed, what they are – you can check out our buying guide below, where we go over the basics. Otherwise, read on to see our picks for the best air-conduction headphones to buy today.
Best air-conduction headphones: At a glance
|Soundcore Aerofit Pro (~£150)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best cheap option
|1MORE Fit SE S30 (~£70)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best for comfort
|Shokz OpenFit (~£179)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best battery life
|OneOdio OpenRock S (~£90)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best for bass
|JBL Soundgear Sense (~£130)
|Check price at JBL
How to choose the best air-conduction headphones
How do air-conduction headphones work?
Technically speaking, all headphones barring bone-conduction models are air-conduction headphones, in that they transmit audio to your ears via sound waves carried through the air. What we’re talking about here is open-fit air conduction, which sees the speaker units suspended over your ears, either by earhooks, a headband or both.
In terms of audio quality, air-conduction headphones tend to perform better than bone-conduction models, but you’re not going to get the same power or fidelity from this style as you would a standard pair of in-ear buds. This is because you’re losing some of the frequencies in the relatively small gap between the speaker and your eardrum.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of air-conduction headphones?
Air conduction doesn’t offer all the same advantages as bone conduction, with the biggest difference being that the latter bypasses your eardrums entirely, reducing the risk of inner ear damage and hearing loss over time.
That’s not to say there aren’t health-related advantages to air-conduction headphones. As you’re not inserting silicone eartips into your ear canals, concerns about introducing foreign bacteria that come with in-ear models are effectively negated. There’s also less chance of aching after extended listening sessions, so anyone who uses buds all day, every day, may find a greater level of comfort with air-conduction headphones.
However, the biggest advantage of air-conduction headphones is the environmental awareness they provide. By leaving your ear canals open, you’re able to hear what’s going on around you, which is very useful if you’re outside exercising or in environments where you need to keep your wits about you.
This is a double-edged sword, though. The absence of a seal in your ear canals adversely affects sound isolation, which has a knock-on impact on audio quality. It also means you won’t find many air-conduction headphones offering active noise cancellation as it’s largely redundant when external sound is being freely allowed in. As such, air-conduction headphones aren’t the best bet for your daily commute or sitting in the office – they’re better suited to runs in the park and days spent working from home.
READ NEXT: Best wireless earbuds
Other features to consider
Waterproofing: Like their bone-conduction brethren, air-conduction headphones are often marketed as sports and workout models, so most offer a weatherproof rating. This is shown as “IP” followed by two characters, with the first detailing how dustproof the device is, and the second grading its water resistance. You can find a full breakdown of the IP ratings here, but the general rule of thumb is that the higher the number, the better the protection.
Battery life: Whether you’re engaging in sports or just listening at home, you’ll want to be aware of how long you can expect the headphones to last. Many (but not all) air-conduction headphones use a true wireless design and can be topped up by popping them back in their portable charging case, which is a big advantage over bone-conduction models.
Companion app: Many brands have apps that allow you to adjust various settings of their headphones, with options typically including the rebinding of controls and equaliser adjustment. If you want granular control of your air-conduction headphones, make sure the pair you like the look of supports the use of a companion app.
How we test air-conduction headphones
As with all headphones we test, air-conduction headphones are put through their paces with a wide variety of audio content, including music, audiobooks, podcasts and videos. If there’s a companion app, we’ll try out all of the features and options available, including EQ presets and spatial sound modes.
We use the headphones in our day-to-day lives to get a feel for how they operate in real-world scenarios, including seeing how well they stand up to varying levels of ambient noise. Given their open-fit nature, air-conduction headphones will naturally struggle to stand up to noisy trains, chatty offices and busy roads, so we’ll be looking to get an idea of whether or not the audio can rise above the background din.
Open-fit headphones are a popular choice for sports and exercise, so the other main thing we watch out for is how stable the fit is. Finally, many of the models are rated for a certain level of dust and water resistance. The former is tricky to test, but we’ll use the headphones on runs and in the rain to ensure that they are as resistant as they claim.
READ NEXT: Best bone-conduction headphones
The best air-conduction headphones to buy in 2024
1. Soundcore Aerofit Pro: Best air-conduction headphones overall
Price when reviewed: £150 | Check price at Amazon
The Soundcore Aerofit Pro offer everything you could want from a pair of air-conduction headphones. Sound quality is impressive, with a solid bass response backing up well-layered mids and clear trebles, the Soundcore app includes an adjustable equaliser with several preset tunings, and there’s even a spatial audio mode with head tracking.
Battery life is extensive, Bluetooth multipoint pairing is present and correct, you get a detachable headband in the box and the headphones are available in a handful of bright colours. Throw in a very comfortable fit and solid IPX5 rating for water resistance and you’ve got the best air-conduction headphones around.
Key specs – Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; IP rating: IPX5; Weight: 12g per bud, 64g case; Battery life: 14 hours in-ear, 46 hours total
2. 1MORE Fit SE S30: Best cheap air-conduction headphones
Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at Amazon
When it comes to value for money, the 1MORE Fit SE S30 are the best of the air-conduction bunch. They’re comfortable to wear and stylish to boot, with small speaker units connected to slim silicone earhooks. The IPX5 rating won’t protect against dust and other small particles, but it’s robust enough to withstand a sweaty workout. The ovaline case, meanwhile, is relatively compact by air-conduction headphones standards and in-ear battery life of up to ten hours should be more than enough for most people.
As long as you don’t want a meaty bassline for your exercise, the S30 also sound fantastic, making up for their weedy low-end reproduction with a rich mid-range and crisp, airy trebles.
Key specs – Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; IP rating: IPX5; Weight: 10g per bud, 60g case; Battery life: 10 hours in-ear, 30 hours total
3. Shokz OpenFit: Best air-conduction headphones for comfort
Price when reviewed: £179 | Check price at Amazon
Shokz is the market leader in the bone-conduction headphones industry and also makes one of the best air-conduction models, the Shokz OpenFit. They’re on the pricey side but are lightweight, supremely comfortable and sound fantastic, too. Bass is weighty and well-controlled and the mid-range is decently detailed. The trebles can get a little tight, but this is easily remedied using the equaliser available in the Shokz app.
An IP54 rating ensures the OpenFit are well-equipped for a jog in the rain, a sweaty gym session or a day at the beach, and while the case doesn’t get the same protection, it is the most pocketable on this list.
Read our full Shokz OpenFit review
Key specs – Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2; IP rating: IP54; Weight: 8.3g per bud, 57g case; Battery life: 7 hours in-ear, 28 hours total
4. OneOdio OpenRock S: Best air-conduction headphones for battery life
Price when reviewed: £90 | Check price at Amazon
The OneOdio OpenRock S are the least discrete option on this list but their chunky earhooks and hefty charging case are easy to excuse when you consider their outstanding battery life.
With an in-ear listening time of around 19 hours and the case taking total playtime to a whopping 60 hours, the OpenRock S outlast the competition by some margin.
The IPX5 rating is decent enough, especially at this price, and the buds are much more comfortable to wear than their bulky design would suggest. Audio is light on bass, but otherwise engaging, with a reasonably spacious soundstage and decent fidelity in the upper registers. If you care more about stamina than style, the OneOdio OneRock S are the way to go.
Key specs – Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; IP rating: IPX5; Weight: Not listed; Battery life: 19 hours in-ear, 60 hours total
5. 1MORE Fit S50: Best air-conduction headphones for features
Price when reviewed: £150 | Check price at Amazon
Some of the options on this list are light on features when compared to their true wireless counterparts, but the 1MORE Fit S50 buck this trend. Two of the biggest surprises are wireless charging and wear detection and these handy features are complemented by a particularly hardy IPX7 rating, which means the headphones can survive brief submersion in water.
Bass isn’t outstanding by default but the bass booster EQ profile in the app works well, dialling up low frequencies without sacrificing too much articulation at the other end of the spectrum. The only real problem with the 1MORE Fit S50 lies in their design. Slender earhooks and “sound loops” are meant to balance the weight of the headphones but the ratio is a bit off and the added pressure on the loops can lead to some discomfort.
Key specs – Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; IP rating: IPX7; Weight: 10g per bud, 63g case; Battery life: 11 hours in-ear, 38 hours total
6. JBL SoundGear Sense: Best air-conduction headphones for bass
Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at JBL
The JBL SoundGear Sense are one of the heaviest options on this list, partly due to their incorporation of massive 16.2mm drivers. While these beefy speakers don’t completely nail audio quality across the frequency spectrum, their low-end reproduction is particularly effective. Anyone looking for a pair of open-ear headphones to blast thumping workout music at the gym will find the weight here unmatched.
Their IP54 rating also feeds nicely into their suitability for workouts, certifying them as durable enough to survive sand being kicked up at the beach or a particularly sweaty run. The chunky case is a bit of a pain to transport and battery life is lacklustre but a detachable headband, Bluetooth multipoint, user-friendly touch controls and lots of in-app options mean the SoundGear Sense are well worth considering, especially if you’re a bass fiend.
Read our full JBL Soundgear Sense review
Key specs – Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3; IP rating: IP54; Weight: 13g per bud, 70g case; Battery life: 6hrs in-ear, 24hrs total