Bone Conduction Headphones Worth Checking Out
When I first heard the term “bone conduction technology” in the context of headphones, my snake oil radar started to beep lightly. But my readings were totally off: once I tried it for myself, the powerful, inner-ear bass quality and accurate highs it provided wasn’t just present, but actually undeniable. There’s been an increase of interest in bone conduction earphones over the last year or so, but not a whole lot of models that feature the technology out on the market. Well, here you go, I’ve made it easy for you:
BEST VALUE: RaptGo Hook-X ($239)
I’m starting this list strong, with a unit that ranks quite favorably in its price to value ratio, and is likely my personal favorite on this list. It’s genuinely difficult to find anything on the market that is quite like RaptGo’s Hook X: an open-back IEM that utilizes planar hybrid drivers and, you guessed it, bone conduction technology. Wait, planar and bone conduction in an IEM that’s $250? Surely it’s a cheap knockoff; but no, it’s not. The balance is crisp and wide, but also sends powerful bass into the inner-ear with its conduction capabilities that even give some closed-back over ears a run for their money in the bass response department. I’ve been thinking about this IEM since I first tried it, pining for the distinctly physical sensation of having it vibrate my head from the inside out once more. The nutty technical design that works shockingly well really brings me mad scientist vibes from whoever the engineer behind Hook-X was.
Available here from Audio46.
EARBUDS WITH BONE CONDUCTION MICROPHONE: Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279.99)
In the case of the Sony WF-1000XM4, bone conduction works the other way around. Though bone conduction isn’t present in their output, the design principle is utilized when its built in microphone picks up your voice. This leads to a very clear tone even when your surrounding environment is noisy, as the turbulent air vibrations in loud environments are bypassed in favor of the source vibrations of your voice. Though the bone conduction isn’t directly experienced first hand like the other units on this list, audio geeks like myself should be as fascinated as they are excited by this. The implications of bone conducting inputs opens up as many innovative possibilities as having it present in outputs, and I think using it for microphone sound isolation was a particularly clever idea by Sony. Also, it’s most definitely worth mentioning that besides this feature the WF-1000XM4 has lots of other desirable traits: excellent sound quality, Bluetooth 5.2 for strong wireless connections, premium ANC, 8 hours of continuous playback time with music on and 12 hours with it off, and last but not least an IPX4 waterproof rating.
Available here from Audio46.
HIGHEST QUALITY: Empire Ears – Legend Evo ($3,099)
I’ve saved this one for last so that I wouldn’t scare you off too soon. “I want to best, craziest, face-melting IEMs, oh and I also want them to vibrate my ear from the inside out.” Is that you? Perfect! This one’s for you then: the Legend Evo from Empire Ears is one of the most refined and high-end IEMs out there that features bone conduction. The driver situation is utterly premium, with dual W9+ subwoofers and five precision balanced amatures on each side carrying out standard air conduction between 5Hz and 20kHz and a Weapon X Bone Conduction Ultra Driver processing frequencies as high as 35kHz. Usually, when I look at a frequency response on a headphone or earphone that goes under 18Hz or over 20 kHz, I think, That’s nice, but no one is going to hear that anyway. Well, things get pretty interesting with bone conductors, in a way that makes the Legend Evo’s 5Hz – 35kHz frequency response worthy of extra consideration. What makes bone conduction unique is that rather than producing air vibrations that have to pass through our eardrums, vibrations are sent through the solid mediums of our skull and jaw to engage with our auditory nerve directly, engaging the most outer and inner cilia of the nerve (high-end processing and low-end processing, respectively) in a truly unique way that we usually don’t experience. This means our hearing range is expanded via bone conduction, which makes the 5 Hz floor and 35kHz ceiling on the Legend Evo a pretty exciting feature to actually be able to experience.
Available here from Audio46