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Bone-Conduction Headphones

Are Bone-Conduction Headphones Safe?

Bone-conduction headphones are truly a technological marvel, allowing people to listen to music in scenarios where they otherwise might not be able to, such as while swimming underwater. However, as these types of devices grow in popularity, a pertinent question emerges: Are they safe for your hearing and overall health? 

The short answer is yes! Bone-conduction headphones are just as safe, if not safer, than any other type of headphones. 

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the safety concerns surrounding bone-conduction headphones and weigh them against the myriad benefits these devices can offer their users. 

What Are Bone-Conduction Headphones?

Bone-conduction headphones are revolutionizing how we consume audio in a world where traditional earbuds and over-ear headphones have long secured their reign. But what exactly are bone-conduction headphones, and why are they becoming more widespread? 

Let’s dive right into defining this unique type of audio experience!

Bone-conduction headphones are a unique way of delivering sound to the listener, completely bypassing the eardrums. Instead, sound vibrations are transmitted through the bones of the skull directly to the cochlea. 

Conversely, traditional headphones use air conduction to send sound vibrations directly into the ear canal. This works fine for most people, but many people don’t want sound transmitted this way for several reasons. For these people, bone-conduction headphones are not only the preferred choice but also the safer option — or, in some cases, the only option. 

Utilizing the same process our bodies use for normal hearing, bone conduction allows users to hear ambient sounds while still listening to their favorite playlists or podcasts. It also allows people to listen to music underwater, which is a huge benefit for aquatic athletes. 

How Does Bone-Conduction Technology Work?

Before we can fully examine the safety of bone-conduction headphones, it’s essential to understand their functionality and how they differ from regular headphones. In terms of mechanics, bone-conduction headphones feature transducers that convert audio signals into vibrations. 

These vibrations move through the bones of the skull, completely bypassing the outer and middle ears, which is where conventional headphones transmit sound. The cochlea then translates these vibrations into neural signals that the brain interprets as sound.

This technology might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but it’s firmly rooted in physics and human anatomy. In fact, this technology was initially developed to support those who are hard of hearing. 

When it comes to functionality, using bone-conduction headphones is similar to using traditional Bluetooth headphones, with a couple of caveats, most notably when it comes to their use in the water.

There is a unique challenge for those who plan to use their headphones underwater: Bluetooth technology is notoriously bad at penetrating water. However, there’s a workaround. Some bone-conduction headphones, including ours at Zygo, come equipped with a special transmitter that boosts your device’s Bluetooth sound waves.

Transmitters like this have an additional benefit: communication with others outside of the water. This is super helpful to swim athletes who want to communicate with their coaches during training and vice versa. 

This cutting-edge approach to personal audio isn’t just about keeping up with the latest tech trends but making sound accessible to everyone, reshaping how we think about our listening devices. 

What Are Bone-Conduction Headphones Used For?

What makes bone-conduction headphones particularly fascinating is their application beyond mere convenience for the average user. They are a boon for individuals with hearing impairments, particularly those with conductive hearing loss, where the problem lies in the outer or middle ear. 

By directly stimulating the cochlea, the inner ear’s sensory organ, users who might not benefit from traditional headphones can enjoy the benefits of listening to anything they choose! 

People from all walks of life are discovering the benefits of bone-conduction headphones, but especially people who find themselves in the following circumstances:

  • Competitive swimmers who want to be able to communicate with coaches via headset and also listen to music while swimming.

  • Recreational swimmers who just enjoy listening to audio while swimming

  • Those who work outside and want to hear ambient sound

  • Runners and walkers who want to stay safe by being aware of their surroundings

  • Those with hearing loss issues who have trouble with traditional air conduction headphones. 

What Are the Risks of Bone-Conduction Headphones?

As with any cutting-edge technology, there’s an understandable anxiety about its impact on health. Let’s address potential risks associated with bone-conduction headphones and present the findings about their safety. 

One of the primary concerns about bone-conduction headphones is the transmission of vibrations directly into the skull, which some people believe could have long-term effects on bone density and the cochlea. Others worry about potential hearing loss. 

Hopefully, we can ease your mind a little: Bone-conduction headphones are just as safe as any other headphones on the market. 

Positioning and Fit

Some users experience some discomfort when getting used to bone-conduction headphones. The truth is, they do fit differently than regular headphones! It may take a little trial and error to find the perfect fit. This is why it’s important to figure out what works for you.

Most bone-conduction headphones fit securely and comfortably, plus you don’t have to worry about the ear discomfort of earbuds or the hassle of excess wires. 

Potential Hearing Loss

In this case, bone-conduction headphones actually come out on top when pitted against traditional air-conduction headphones. Generally, the bass response of bone-conduction headphones is not quite as strong as traditional headphones. 

This excessive bass response is largely responsible for hearing loss in those who listen to music too loudly. It’s much less likely that a user will experience hearing loss from bone-conduction headphones.

In fact, there is little to no risk of hearing loss if the headphones are used responsibly and if music is listened to at a reasonable volume.

Spatial Awareness and Safety

An additional area where bone-conduction headphones may actually be safer than traditional headphones is when it comes to awareness of surroundings. Those who walk, jog, or work outside have a lot to be concerned about when it comes to spatial awareness.

Whether you’re jogging in an area that may not be the safest, walking busy streets, or working on a construction site, understanding what’s going on around you is essential to staying safe. The ability to hear what’s going on around you is important, and bone-conduction headphones allow you to do just that. 

Dizziness

In very rare cases, some people experience feelings of dizziness while getting used to the feeling of bone-conduction headphones. Truth be told, the vibrations definitely feel different from listening to music with traditional headphones. However, this doesn’t pose a problem for most people.

If you are new to bone-conduction headphones, we recommend getting used to them a little bit at a time. Perhaps for your first listening experience, just listen for an hour while your body becomes accustomed to them. 

What Are Some of the Advantages of Bone Conduction Headphones?

The applications of bone-conduction headphones are surprisingly vast, from athletic gear to military communications. Audiophiles, athletes, and even the hearing impaired have all found the technology to be incredibly useful. 

1. Enhanced Situational Awareness

Keep your ears open to ambient sounds around you, ensuring safety while enjoying your favorite audio outdoors. If you are nervous about blocking out your surroundings with your music but still want to be able to jog to your favorite motivational playlist, bone-conduction headphones could be the solution you’re looking for. 

2. Comfortable and Secure Fit

Designed to wrap around your head and rest on the cheekbones or at the base of your skull or ears, they’re ideal for extensive wear, even during intense physical activity.

3. Water and Sweat Resistant

Many models are built to withstand moisture, making them perfect for workouts or outdoor adventures in any weather. This benefit also makes them usable underwater, which is a godsend for swimmers, both recreational and competitive. 

4. Innovative Listening Experience

Experience music, podcasts, audiobooks, and calls in a whole new way: through vibration. This offers you a futuristic twist to everyday audio consumption. 

5. Healthier for Your Ears

Though any new technology often feels scary at first, the truth is that avoiding direct sound waves into the ears is actually better for you! Bypassing the ear canal and listening to music through vibration promotes long-term ear health. 

User Experiences and Reviews

Overall, consumers who opt for bone-conduction headphones typically do so for very specific reasons and tend to be fully satisfied with their purchases. Zygo’s Z2 headphones have been particularly well received. 

A review by Triathlete magazine found that the product is extremely user-friendly, perfect for swimmers and other athletes, and easy to control. 

Their review states, “You can listen to live streams or Zoom meetings while swimming…you can push play on any music/book/podcast app that outputs sound on your phone. With most other devices, you need to have the actual MP3 file and upload it to the device via a computer—not particularly useful if you rely on streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.” 

The Bottom Line

Bone conduction headphones are a safe, effective way to listen to music in situations where you might otherwise not be able to or might not feel comfortable doing so. Though there are minimal safety concerns to consider, the benefits greatly outweigh them, especially considering that most of the risks associated with bone-conduction headphones are also associated with regular traditional headphone use in general.

Appealing to swimmers, runners, walkers, and anyone who just wants to listen to their audiobook in peace, bone-conduction headphones are a great option. No need to fear this state-of-the-art tech; just enjoy it! 

Sources:

Bone Conduction Headsets: Bad to the Bone | Hearing Health Matters

Impact on Hearing Due to Prolonged Use of Audio Devices: A Literature Review | PMC

How Does Loud Noise Cause Hearing Loss? | NCEH | CDC

Reviewed: Zygo Solo Swim Headphones | Triathlete

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