In 2012, I was given a set of Aftershokz's bone conduction headphone to test out (review here). The version I tested in 2012 worked as advertised, but had some serious flaws in design involving the power pack and its connecting wire that, for me, made them unusable.

In January, 2016, I was sent Aftershokz's latest version, the Trekz Titanium, to review (disclosure: I was sent this product free of charge after I emailed them a request to update my 2012 review). After using these new headphones for a couple weeks, I have to say that they not only solve all the problems I mentioned in the 2012 review, but they've added some great features. Furthermore, I think they are fabulous!

The Head Bone's Connected To The Ear Bones

Bone conduction headphones were originally developed by the military so that soldiers in the field could communicate with one another without compromising their ability to hear ambient sounds. They work by placing small vibrating heads, called transducers, just in front of each ear. The transducers pulse sound through your head bones and into your ears, bypassing your ear drums.

The Aftershokz Trekz Titanium headphones (just called "headphones" for the rest of this review) are a single unit with the two transducers (about the size of an American quarter coin and 1/2 inch thick) connected by a flexible plastic band (over titanium, thus, the name). The headphones fit over the ears.
Just behind each ear is a small rectangular box that holds the battery and volume controls. It felt a bit strange the first time I put them on but I quickly got used to them.

The Trekz Titanium is wireless, using Bluetooth to get its signal. If your audio device does not do Bluetooth, these headphones won't work for you.

The volume controls, the on/off switch and the micro-USB charging port are on the thicker piece just behind the right ear. The left hand transducer has a control button that allows the user to start/stop the audio, skip to the next track, take/end a phone call, redial the last call, and other functions. I found using the volume buttons a bit easier than using the same controls on my earbuds. The addition of a "next track" command on the Trekz Titanium is a nice feature I've used many times.

Feeling the Vibe

I've been listening to these headphones for a couple of weeks now. I've ridden my bicycle, walked on city streets, traveled on buses and underground trains listening to them. I've worn them while conversing with people. I believe I have a good idea of how they perform in various environments and uses.

While not having to deal with wires is a real benefit, one bit of bother with the Trekz Titaniums is that you have to "connect" them to your audio source using Bluetooth. I found the easiest way to do this was using two hands: one holding my iPhone; the other holding the headphones. Simply turning on Bluetooth isn't enough. I have to go into the iPhone's settings, then into the Bluetooth menu, and click on the Trekz Titaniums entry while at the same time turning on the headphones, which automatically go into connect mode. I got used to doing this pretty quickly. Frankly, I prefer this to unraveling the wires on my earbuds every time I want to use them.

I also had to remember to turn the headphones off completely. That is, I had to turn off both the headphones and then the Bluetooth on the iPhone. Not a serious problem, but forgetting either one would needlessly run down the batteries.

The headphones are lightweight, provide true stereo sound and, with the exception of physical feel, are indistinguishable from "in the ear" buds. Though, frankly, I think the headphones had a fuller sound. One odd thing is that the headphones look a bit odd and when I was wearing them I noticed people staring at me.

Signal and Noise

One problem I have with listening to audio while out in the world is that it gets drowned out when the ambient noise is too high, say, when a garbage truck rumbles by. With earbuds, I put my hands over my ears to improve the sound. With the Trekz Titanium headphones, I believe I can hear a bit better over loud noise. When things get too loud, putting my fingers in my ears makes the audio clear as a bell. In fact, the Trekz Titanium comes with a set of foam ear plugs for when you want to drown out the ambient noise but still hear your audio. An examaple would be flying in an airplane. On this score, I'd rate earbuds and the bone conduction headphones about equal.

As a test, I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge while listening to the Trekz Titanium headphones. The GG Bridge is very noisy. I find it too much for earbuds. I could still hear what I was listening to on the headphones, but just barely. While I find the Trekz Titaniums clearer with loud wind noise, eventually, loud ambient noise drowns them out.

Unlike with earbuds, when listening with the Trekz Titanium headphones, I can hear everything going on around me, including birds chirping, people talking, and cars coming up behind me. In addition, with the one touch stop button on the left transducer, I can easily stop the audio when I want to give my full attention to the outside world. While this is also possible with my earbuds, I find the button in front of my ear much easier to find than the button on the earbud wire. Also, I have to remove one or both earbuds to hear anything clearly.

Another difference I found between my earbuds and the headphones was at full volume. The earbuds cause my ears to hurt if they get too loud. The Trekz Titanium headphones don't. But, at the highest setting, the Trekz Titaniums vibrate so strongly that you can feel it on your temples. This tickles a bit and isn't something I liked.

Phoning it in

Just like my earbuds, I can get phone calls through the Trekz Titaniums. The microphone is embedded in the transducers. I took a couple of calls through the headphones. While I was able to hear perfectly fine, the people I spoke with reported trouble hearing me or an unpleasant echo. In all cases, I disconnected the headphones and spoke into the phone directly. When making phone calls, earbuds are definitely better.

Another feature of the headphones was the ability to redial the last number by simply pressing the command button. This worked as advertised. According to the instruction manual, you can use voice dial, as well. But, I didn't test this as it isn't something I do.

Getting A Charge Out Of It

Since the headphones require their own power, they have a limited operation time. The company says 6 hours on a single charge. I haven't yet used them to full discharge, but they've lasted 4 continuous hours without problems. For a touring cyclist, who might be on the road for more than 6 hours any given day, this means carrying a set of wired earbuds as a back-up. Not a show-stopper, but one more thing to pack and keep track of.

The headphones charge quickly, getting back to full power from empty in 90 minutes. The charging system uses a standard USB power connector that fits the iPhone wall plug. The headphones use a micro-USB port. In the end, this means another wire but the same wall plug I use for my phone, which is convenient.

By using Bluetooth to communicate with the audio device, a listener is freed up from dealing with wires. But, transmitting Bluetooth eats up power too. According to this article, transmitting Bluetooth uses a bit more power than driving plugged-in earbuds. For me, this extra bit of power drain isn't a show-stopper. But late in the day on a long ride, it might be the difference having just enough juice to call a warmshowers' host and a dead phone.

A Few Bad Vibes

In my 2012 review, I noted several serious problems with a much earlier version of the Aftershokx headphones. Most of the problems came from the battery pack, its connecting wire, and the volume controls. With the exception of having to charge the headphones' batteries, these have all be fixed by the move to Bluetooth and the much sleeker design. However, there are still some things I don't like about them.

I find the non-adjustable connecting band to be a bit bothersome. It is one-size fits all and it doesn't fit my head very well. When the transducers are positioned properly, the band sticks out about an inch behind my head.
If I wear the Trekz Titaniums with a high collared coat (i.e my raincoat), the collar hits the band and it is annoying. I would much prefer a way to adjust the band so that it fit against the back of my head to prevent these annoying slaps. This is my only major complaint. The band could slide or the transducer arm could be hinged. Either way, it would be a welcome improvement.

An odd effect of the bone conduction is that any movement of my jaw changes the sound quality. Yawning, licking my lips, or running my tongue over my teeth all affected the sound I heard. Chewing gum or eating while listening to the headphones is probably not a good idea. Though, I did discover just how much I move my jaw when I ride my bike!

Because the transducers hang down at a right angle from the headband, the headphones are hard to carry when not being used. Earbuds can be wound up and slipped into a pocket. This isn't possible with the Trekz Titaniums. They do come with a small zippered case, but that doesn't solve the problem of how to carry them. I did discover that putting the band in a pocket with the transducers sticking out works, but it seems a bit too precarious as a long-term solution.

The area just over my ears is prime real estate when I ride my bicycle. I wear a helmet, sunglasses, and, now, the Trekz Titanium headphones. They all use pretty much the same area just above my ears. It took me some time to figure out the exact sequence to get everything arranged properly. I first put on my helmet, then the headphones, and then my sunglasses, tightening the strap so that the sunglasses hold the transducers to my temples.
With my sunglasses over the headphones, I find I have to touch around to find the volume switches. This isn't a problem, just something every user will have to work out for themselves.

The $130 Question

These top of the line Trekz Titanium headphones have a suggested retail price of $130. Less snazzy wireless Aftershokz headphones are much "cheaper" ($80 at this writing), but still pricey (Aftershokz entire product line). The key question then is "Would I fork over $130 for them?"

Before I tried them, I would have laughed at someone who tried to sell me $130 headphones. But, now that I've experienced them, I have to say that for bike tourists for whom $130 isn't a budget breaker, they are a great way to listen to audio while riding, walking, or just hanging out. So, I'd have to answer the key question with a "qualified yes." In fact, I haven't used my wired earbuds since I got the Trekz Titanium headphones and I doubt I will in the future, as I really like being able to hear my audio and the outside world at the same time. The only qualification is that I would likely buy the $80 version over the $130 one, because I'm that kind of guy!
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Copyright © 2007 by Ray Swartz