For our blog this week we have a review of the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium wireless headphones designed for running and cycling. This shiny new piece of kit differs from conventional in-ear or over-ear headphones by using “bone conduction” technology, which is as cool as it sounds. For impressing friends at dinner parties this new technology transmits the sound frequencies using vibrations through your cheekbones to then be processed by your inner ear. With our focus on security and safety for cyclists we have never reviewed headphones before as we have always viewed this as a risk to safe cycling cutting your senses down leaving you at risk from less considerate road users. The Aftershokz technology gives you full connection to the world around you as the awareness of external sound is unimpaired giving you maximum opportunity to react to any potential threats in front or behind. So for those in ironman training dreading the 6 hour Sunday morning ride when you can’t find anyone else mad enough to join you we have the answer allowing you to pump out AC/DC while safely absorbing any traffic situation around you.
In terms of comfort for running and cycling we used these over a number of training sessions up to 90 minutes and experienced no problems in terms of discomfort on the side of the head where the sound”buds” rested. The wireless neckband is made from a Tony Stark inspired titanium alloy that feels as light (36 grams) as any of the mainstream running headphones but satisfyingly solid. Particularly relevant when you are storing the headphones post exercise where some similar headphones can feel significantly fragile and in need of delicate handling. No such concerns for the Aftershokz that benefit from this titanium core coated in a rubber shell for comfort. The neckband is okay and depending on your head shape should rest upon the back of your neck. This takes a bit of getting used and for some may not be natural from the first wearing. For those using the headphones while cycling depending on helmets you may struggle to get a happy fit as we tried this with Giro and Kask units both of which were ok and you could find a decent position but took some practice. Equally with our testing taking place across one of the coldest Januarys in recent times we were running with headgear at times which again could cause some comfort issues with the style of headphones. We would recommend looser beanie style headgear rather than anything more fitted if juggling these factors. Tough conditions in fairness for a device that is well designed to make enjoying the outdoors more possible. The headphones have a basic rating for dust and water (IP55) resistance so the first sign of a shower shouldn’t trouble the user or give any excuse for cutting that long run off early. Don’t head for the pool in them but sensible users can happily charge through that rain shower.
Sound quality is never going to trouble Bose due to the bone conduction technology deployed. Sound is vibrated through your skull and as such will always be a compromise for an audiophile. If that is what you are concerned with these aren’t the right product for you. The purpose of the Aftershokz is to open up the world around you while enjoying music safely during your run or ride. Sounds purity has to take a back seat to achieve this goal. The stereo phasing mixed in with ambient sounds is very surreal to begin with and is a compromise but the sound quality is far from poor considering you are transmitting signal via bluetooth that is then being reverberated through your skull to your inner ear. Worth taking a step back and considering that and just how far things have come from the original yellow sport Sony walkman. Sound leakage at high volumes is a factor that again could be viewed as a negative if using these as your primary earphones on the tube but even in this environment with the volume up to 60% this is negligible. We tried these in our offices and at normal volumes sound leakage posed no issue for colleagues although when singing along to your favourite tracks there is no hiding now from how bad you are as you hear your voice without any filtering so if you think you’re the next Adele could be a rude awakening.
Technology wise these work via bluetooth 4.1 and pairing with an iPhone was effortless. First time no problem and achieving connection without fault on each restart. The headphones accompany this connection first and every time with a Siri style set of voice responses keeping you informed on status and connectivity. Works well and so effective you take it for granted. The charging point is within the neckband housed alongside the volume controls using a micro USB standard lead that is useful for minimising the need for additional leads in your gym bag. On the right hand side the bone conduction transducer (what a great name!) includes a multi-function button giving you control of your latest Justin Bieber playlist and answer/rejecting phone calls. The ability to make and receive phone calls with dual microphones was a huge added bonus we had not anticipated. Cycling to the hills need no longer cause that vitally important call to your stockbroker, or maybe more likely to the other half telling them you’ll be late for dinner…again. A really fantastic bonus of a very clever product.
Battery life longevity was another strong feature where we used them up to five hours of continuous listening without charge and this considering the weight and technology involved is plenty. This was using them with a volume at around 50 – 70% depending on the source. Left on standby the quoted duration of 10 days again is plenty although we didn’t feel the need to utilise this switching them off when not in use. Charging through the micro USB is accompanied by a coloured LED to signal when they have reached full charge and takes between and hour to an hour and a half.
When we used these on our first training run we may have been on a few too many energy gels but were that excited we quoted them as being “like taking a leap from Betamax to Blu-Ray”. If you had been using traditional headphones with a lead up to now this isn’t that far from the truth as you’ve been using the same 40 year old technology that powered that old Sony Sport Walkman to now using wireless technology that transmits the sounds direct to your brain. We love ’em and recommend them to anyone that loves a playlist or podcast for their run. We enjoyed the experience while cycling and it’s a brilliant extra option for these headphones but personally we will stick to the natural vibe of riding without any distractions, unplugging from the world for that brief window and loving the ride on our own and with others. Our verdict though for anyone looking for a wireless solution to accompany their training sessions is get a pair….you won’t regret it and you will have something new to share with your club colleagues when comparing the latest technical specs of campag versus SRAM.
About the author – Billy has been using all manner of technologies to keep training alive for decades. Hoarding cupboards of discarded early adopter mistakes.