Bone conduction headphones offer an innovative way of listening to audio, talking on a phone, or two-way radios. Unlike headphones with active noise cancellation, bone-conduction headphones keep the ear canals unobstructed to increase situational awareness. But how safe and well do these headphones operate in noisy work areas if they don’t cover your ears?
Bone conduction headphones are considered safe in noisy work areas for listening and communication, with the addition of earplugs or covers when necessary.
This article will explain how these headphones work and discuss their advantages and drawbacks to help you decide if they are ideal. Keep reading if you’re considering bone-conduction headphones!
Why Bone Conduction Headphones are Safe in Noisy Work Environments
Conventional headphones transmit sound waves through the air that are amplified as they pass through the outer ear, causing the eardrums to vibrate. Little bones amplify the vibrations in the middle ear before reaching the inner ear and turning the vibrations into electrical signals that the brain interprets as audible signals.
Bone-conduction headphones send vibrations directly to the inner ear through the jaw and skull bone, which means the headphones can sit outside the outer ear instead of on it. This design keeps the ear canals open and lets the listener hear ambient sound while using the headphones.
Bone-conduction headphones are ideal for scenarios where the listener must be aware of what is happening around them. However, since the ear canals are not covered, there will be nothing to filter out excessive noise. Depending on the situation, earplugs should be worn with bone-conduction headphones when necessary to block out excessive sound disruptions.
Fire Departments, Police, and the Military use Bone Conduction Communication Technology.
The U.S. Military uses Bone Conduction technology for their soldiers for communication in combat and operations, so that should say something about Bone Conduction Headphones in noisy work environments and safety.
Fire departments and police forces around the world also use bone conduction in masks, and helmet headsets, such as anti-explosion certified bone conduction speakers and microphone headsets. The open-ear design of Bone Conduction Headphones is perfect for situational awareness.
Removing earplugs is much easier than removing earbuds or complete headphones and losing your communication in busy, dangerous situations. Bone conduction also passes through the bones in your head so it can still be heard.
Using Earplugs with Bone Conduction Headphones
One way to make bone conduction headphones more audible is by using earplugs. Since bone-conduction headphones bypass the outer and middle ear and transmit sound through the cheekbones, they work well with earplugs.
Some bone conduction headphones come bundled with earplugs, but they will only be effective if they form a tight seal around your ear canal. Earplugs have various Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR), which determine their effectiveness in protecting ears, and a higher Noise Reduction Ratings translates to a more significant reduction in noise.
For additional information, please also see our article Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work With Earplugs?
The Pros and Cons of Bone Conduction Headphones
Understanding the pros and cons of bone conduction headphones should help you decide if they suit your needs and if you can live with them.
Pros of Bone Conduction Headphones
Below are the advantages of using bone conduction headphones.
Bone Conduction Headphones Increase Situational Awareness
Bone conduction headphones promote safety by increasing the user’s situational awareness, making them perfect for those who enjoy listening to music while jogging or cycling in the streets.
Since the ears remain uncovered, people with bone conduction headphones can still hear everything around them.
Conventional headphones can be hazardous since they block out surrounding sound, increasing the risk of an accident or impairing the user’s ability to react immediately to a dangerous situation.
Bone Conduction Headphones Are Clean and Hygienic
Since bone conduction headphones aren’t placed in or on the ears, they cannot cause earwax or bacterial growth to accumulate, which can cause unwanted ear infections. The ear produces earwax to clean and protect itself, and covering the ears for extended periods leads to moisture that can cause an earwax buildup.
Aside from increasing earwax by blocking airflow to the ear canal, conventional Earbuds can gather dirt and bacteria, which can cause an ear infection.
Bone Conduction Headphones Provide Relief For the Hearing-Impaired
Those suffering from hearing loss may greatly benefit from bone conduction headphones. These unique headsets are great for people who need hearing aids because they work through the bone structure and use vibrations instead of traditional sound waves into the ear canal.
Bone-conduction headphones can also be helpful for people with Tinnitus, a condition where you hear ringing sounds inside the ears. Ambient noises blended with music from the headphones can drown the ringing sounds and provide relief.
On the other hand, headphones that block outside noise can make the ringing worse.
Bone-Conduction Headphones Are Comfortable
Comfort is somewhat subjective, but there’s no denying that bone-conduction headphones eliminate the discomfort of having traditional headphones pressed against or inside the ear for long periods. The pressure from over-ear or in-ear headphones can cause pain and discomfort along the outer ear, which is something bone-conduction headphones users don’t have to deal with.
Bone Conduction Headphones That Are Water Resistant or Waterproof
Some bone-conduction headphones come waterproof or water-resistant, making them highly beneficial to those with an active lifestyle.
Waterproof or water-resistant bone-conduction headphones have an IP waterproof rating, meaning they can withstand sweat and rain or are completely waterproof. They can even be used in the shower or while swimming.
Waterproof bone conduction headphones for swimming are MP3 players because you cannot get radio signals underwater. You can listen to music or audiobooks, which is wonderful when swimming laps.
Cons of Bone Conduction Headphones
Bone Conduction Headphones Can Cause Damage to the Eardrums
Listening to loud music with any kind of headphones or earbuds, including bone conduction headphones, can damage the eardrum, which may cause hearing loss, tinnitus, or dizziness.
Like everything in life, all headphones also have a few drawbacks.
Bone Conduction Headphones Do Not Offer Optimal Sound Quality
Since bone-conduction headphones don’t isolate sound like traditional headphones, noise can be a nuisance to the listening experience. But even in a quiet environment, bone-conduction headphones do not have the same audio quality as conventional headphones.
Bone conduction headphones can sound muffled to some people since they cannot replicate all the sound frequencies, and the absence of certain sound frequencies compromises the music’s level of detail and clarity.
Some equalizers may be able to mitigate the sound deficits, but conventional headphones will still offer a relatively better frequency response.
Bone-Conduction Headphones Are Generally More Expensive
Bone conduction headphones cost a bit more than traditional headphones. Their advanced technology has a price tag between $50 to $600 or more, depending on the make and model.
There are affordable bone-conduction headphones with the very good build quality, but some features and sound quality can pale compared to similarly-priced over-ear headphones or”full-size” headphones.
Bone Conduction Headphones Are Prone to Sound Leakage
Since bone-conduction headphones don’t go in the ears, they are more prone to leaking sounds, which means those standing near you may be able to hear what you’re listening to. So, as much as bone-conduction headphones are suitable in loud areas, they aren’t ideal for quiet places like libraries.
Our article “Can Others Around You Hear Bone Conduction Headphones?” fully discusses sound leakage.
Bone Conduction Headphones Are Claimed to Cause Dizziness and Vertigo
Some users claim that bone-conduction headphones can cause headaches, dizziness, or vertigo because the headphones push against the temples.
Since these headphones transmit sound with vibrations that go through the cheekbones, the constant pulse on the upper part of the head can make the listener feel uneasy after an extended period.
This often can be caused by too tight of a fit of the headphones or turning up the volume too loud, and this intensifies the vibrations, which can cause more discomfort.
Please read our article “How Loud Is Too Loud With Bone Conduction Headphones?”
Bone Conduction Headphones and Hearing Loss
Despite bone conduction headphones being safe for the eardrums, it would be remiss to think using them eliminates any risk of hearing loss. Hearing loss may still occur due to damage sustained by the inner ear from exposure to loud sound.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss happens when the tiny hair cells in the inner ear become overworked and die. These hair cells are responsible for transmitting sound signals to our brains, which interpret the signals to what we hear.
Please see our article on Bone Conduction Headphones Use With Existing Tinnitus And Hearing Loss.
So, even if bone conduction headphones do not transmit sound through our ear canals, they can still cause hearing loss if we listen to loud music or use them for extended periods.
Bone-conduction headphones are ideal for those who want to use them at work, for communication, gaming, or enjoy music while on the move, and with earplugs in noisy environments. Earplugs can increase the audibility of the headphones in loud areas but lessen the benefit of situational awareness.
For those who enjoy listening to music, audiobooks, or communication while maintaining an active lifestyle or those who have tinnitus or are hard of hearing, bone-conduction headphones are worth considering and trying. However, people who prioritize sound quality are better off with other options.