Are Bone Conduction Headphones Really Safe For Me? Bone conduction headphones have caused a bit of stir or controversy, and in all honesty, it is justified. It’s often the case that when a new piece of innovative technology becomes popular, its detractors come out of the woodwork. Sometimes this is entirely justified, and the public uses something that can potentially do them harm, but in other cases, it’s just a lot of noise about nothing.
Our aim for this article of our Bone Conduction Headphone discussions is to separate the fact from the fiction. To bust the myths associated with bone conduction technology to provide a conclusive answer to the question; Are bone conduction headphones safe? Or are they safer or less safe than any other form of headphones? Yes, the answer is that they leave your ears open, and if not played too loud, they are very safe.
We will also be using a scientific approach here. This blog post will not be our opinion, it will use evidence from those much more learned than us to reach its conclusion, citing studies, examining the technology itself and drawing from sources that have asked the same (or similar) questions about bone conduction technology.
Our Position on Bone Conduction Headphone Safety Before We Compile the Evidence:
Let’s start with our hypothesis coupled with an admission from us. As a user, we would never choose to promote or speak highly of a product from experimentation if we felt it was unsafe for consumers in any way. That is what’s motivating us to write this particular article. We’ve had a few questions from readers regarding this topic, and as an individual that follows media that relates to this technology on a regular basis, we have become aware of the questions being asked by the wider public.
Naturally, as someone who has used these products it is within our interest that bone conduction headphones are found to be safe, but here’s the thing; so far as a personal user we have seen no evidence to support the idea they are not safe. If we had then we’d decide to not use them. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, this is our position.
Our hypothesis is, based on our experience, that bone conduction headphones are indeed safe. It has been described in many of our past articles on Bone Conduction Headphones the necessity of a safe user experience. We don’t want to damage our own hearing let alone anyone else’s. How do you figure that out? Only by trying something and being wise enough to keep the headphone volume down on any type of headphone you use. Now enough about what we believe, what are the facts?
What is Bone Conduction Technology?
This seems like a good place to start; it wasn’t long ago that we didn’t know the answer to this question. That is until we did a lot of research.
Bone conduction technology is all about taking advantage of how the human body detects sound. Our ears pick up sound in two different ways; from air conduction and bone conduction. There’s a difference between the two.
Air conduction is how we hear most sounds, our eardrums detect vibrations and sound waves from the air and direct them through to the cochlea, which then converts them into the sound we hear. The cochlea is the organ within our inner ear (the bit that kind of looks like a snail) which is responsible for our sense of hearing. It converts the sound waves and vibrations into nerve impulses which allows them to be interpreted by our brains.
The second way we hear sounds, and the one that’s most important for this blog, is bone conduction. The key difference here is this time the sound rumbles its way into our inner ear by reverberating through our bodies. More specifically, through our bones such as our skull, jawbone, or even through our spine.
These sounds still end up in the cochlea, but typically don’t come through the eardrum as most sound does. Instead, it vibrates through us until it’s picked up by our cochlear. For sound technology, bone conduction is a way to feel’ sound instead of just hearing it in the traditional manner. Rather than being transmitted directly into our eardrum through to our cochlea, the vibrations reach it from all around us.
First Quick Experiment:
Run your fingers through your hair for a moment. You’ll both hear and feel the scrunchy sound it makes. This is hearing through bone conduction. Yes, your eardrum can probably pick up some of that noise too, but if you pay attention, you’ll feel the sound traveling down your skull and into your inner ear internally. Your hearing most of this sound through your bones and only a minuscule amount of it through your eardrum.
Second Quick Experiment:
Stretch your arms out and clap your hands. This time you heard that noise in two ways. You heard the clap in your eardrum like you hear most sounds. As you’re clapping your hands a slight distance away from your ears, the sound waves traveled through the air and into your eardrum, which then sent it towards the cochlea.
However, you also heard it through bone conduction. Clapping your hands sent shockwaves through your body. These vibrations traveled through the bones in your hands, up to your arms, past your central nervous system (located at the top of your spine), through your shoulders, into your skull, and into your inner ear.
From the second experiment, it was easier to detect the noise through your eardrum, but by paying close attention you can also feel it in your bones. So essentially bone conduction technology is simply piggybacking on something our body already does naturally. Knowing this information changes the way we think about sound and how our bodies pick it up. In terms of safety, well we’ve always been doing it.
What Do the Critics of Bone Conduction Technology Say?
Those who claim bone conduction technology is dangerous and to say that loud volumes can damage our ears. This is true. But the same can be said of any headphone technology. The danger is not exclusive to bone conduction. The truth is there are pros and cons to both types of headphones, bone conductors, and none bone conductors, but the real risk is simply having the volume turned up too loud and it always has been.
The Real Danger is Excessive Leisure Noise
According to a study completed in 2018 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the real danger is excessive leisure noise’, and this danger changes depending on how the noise is presented. For example, traditional headphones, which send sound through the eardrum can damage the eardrum itself if the noise is too loud. Those who use bone conduction headphones may be able to mitigate this damage, but excessive volume can be damaging to the cochlea itself rather than the eardrum.
Where some have fixated on this being a problem, blaming bone-conducting headphones, the issue causing the danger is excessive volume. Not the gadget transmitting it. Bone conduction headphones are no more dangerous than their counterparts, but as damage to the cochlea is considered more dangerous than damage to the eardrum, it’s easy to see where this fear came from.
It is, however, irrational, those enjoying listening to music on either style of headphones have nothing to fear as long as they make sure it’s not too loud. This has been the case since headphones were invented and really, absolutely nothing has changed. This is still sound advice and please excuse the pun!!
Are There Safety Benefits to Bone Conduction Headphones?
There are actually several safety benefits to using bone conduction headphones. Before it was commercialized the technology was actually used for several other purposes. As with many advances in technology it was initially used by the military to help transmit sound in a non-traditional way.
Since then it has been adapted over the years to help perfect hearing aid technology, allowing those who are hearing impaired to pick up sound in a way that allows them to hear as well as anyone else. There are several different forms of deafness, but for the ones that are associated with the eardrum, bone conduction technology in their hearing aids has been life-changing. These individuals pick up all of their sounds this way and have no complaints when it comes to the technology’s safety.
Bone Conduction Operates in a Different Way
As bone conduction technology works in a different way than air conduction technology it uses sound differently too. Where traditional headphones direct sound right into the eardrum that noise becomes absolute, meaning it becomes the main sound we hear, drowning out other noise. This is how noise-canceling headphones work, they block out other noise, surround the eardrum and blast the sound directly through it.
Bone conduction headphones operate in a different way, they do not isolate the noise. As the eardrum is bypassed the noise isn’t coming to the cochlea from one direction. This means the user can still hear other noises.
In a quiet environment this doesn’t matter quite as much, but for those listening to music or spoken audio while running or cycling this can have plenty of safety benefits. It allows the user to continue listening to their chosen audio but still retain a high level of awareness of what’s going on around them. Some cyclists and joggers feel uneasy about using headphones while they exercise due to the reduced situational awareness it can bring. Bone conducting headphones eliminates this problem and is almost certainly safer in this scenario than their noise-canceling counterparts.
We are confident that as long as bone conduction headphones are used responsibly then they are perfectly safe. We also apply this to all other forms of headphones.
One thing researching this topic taught us is, taking their lack of noise isolation into account, there are actually situations when bone conduction headphones are indeed safer than traditional headphones. We don’t mean to toot or own horns, but we suspected as much from the start.
Please see some of our many articles on Bone Conduction Headphones. “Are Bone Conduction Headphones Safer?” and “Hearing Loss Caused By Loud Earbuds, Airpods, And Headphones.”