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        • https://www.philips.co.uk/c-e/so/sound-hub/what-are-bone-conduction-headphones.html Link copied

      What are bone-conduction headphones?


      Find out what bone-conduction (bone-conducting) headphones are, and why you might want to own a pair. You’ll learn how bone-conducting headphones work, why they’re the safest choice if you run or cycle—and how Beethoven played a role in the history of the technology!

      Reading time: 10 Min

      • https://www.philips.co.uk/c-e/so/sound-hub/what-are-bone-conduction-headphones.html Link copied
      Athlete using bone conduction headphones on a run outside

      Free your ears: Introducing bone-conduction headphones


      Bone-conduction headphones, also known as ‘open-ear headphones’, don’t go in your ears like earbuds. And they don’t cover your ears or sit on top of your ears like over-ear or on-ear headphones. But bone-conducting headphones will still let you hear your favourite podcasts and playlists clearly. So what exactly are they?


      Bone-conduction headphones send sound waves through your skull instead of your ear drum. This lets you hear what you’re listening to without the need to put tiny speakers in or on your ear. It’s like the music—or podcast—magically appears inside your head!


      So: how does the magic happen?

      Athlete using open ear headphones while doing indoor workout

      How do bone-conduction headphones work?


      To understand how bone-conduction headphones work, we first need to understand how we hear.


      Humans hear when the bones of the inner ear vibrate. In total, you have three bones in your inner ear, and together they’re called the auditory ossicles. These bones transmit sound vibrations through the cochlea, which is a fluid-filled, snail-shaped internal-ear structure. As your cochlear fluid vibrates, thousands of nerve endings transform the vibrations to electrical impulses. The auditory nerve then sends this information to the brain, the brain recognises the information as sound—and you hear Beethoven’s Fifth in all its glory. Or the latest hot take from your favourite podcaster.


      Normally, it’s your eardrum that causes the bones in your ear to vibrate. Soundwaves reach the eardrum first, and they make it move. Those movements start vibrations in the auditory ossicles—and then you get the whole cochlear fluid/nerve endings thing happening, as described above. 


      But you don’t have to make your eardrum move to hear something. There are other ways to make the bones in your inner ear vibrate—and that’s how bone-conduction headphones work.

      How does bone conduction work


      If you’ve ever seen someone running or cycling with what looks like a Star Trek-inspired headband on, then you’ve probably seen a pair of bone-conduction headphones. They wrap comfortably around the back of the head, and the speaker rests on your cheekbone just in front of your ear. The speaker sits directly on your zygomatic arch—this is the bone you can feel if you run your finger from the edge of your eye back to your ear.


      When you play music or podcasts through bone-conducting headphones, the vibrations pass from the speaker through your zygomatic arch into the inner-ear bones—making them vibrate so you can hear what you’re listening to.


      Brilliant, right? This all means that you can slip on a pair of bone-conduction headphones, fire up your favourite podcast or audiobook, and your ears remain completely open. The fact that there’s nothing in your ears is also why bone-conducting headphones are sometimes referred to as ‘open-ear headphones’. You’ll hear what you’re listening to—and the sounds of the environment around you too.  

      The history of bone-conducting headphones


      You’d think that such Star Trek-style headphone technology would be a recent invention.


      In fact, bone-conduction technology has been around for a good while. It’s relatively new to the headphone user but, in one form or another, bone-conducting devices have been used since at least the 19th century.

      Beethoven’s piano and other instruments: bone conduction in early medicine


      The first person to use bone conduction in connection with hearing was probably Hieronymus Capivacci—a 15th-century physician from Padua in Italy who used bone-conducting materials to diagnose the causes of severe hearing loss in his patients. Capivacci attached a metal rod to the strings of a zither (a type of stringed instrument), and had his patients clamp the rod in their teeth. 


      If a patient could hear music when the zither was played, the diagnosis was a disorder of the eardrum. If the patient heard nothing, the problem was diagnosed as a disorder of the auditory nerve. 


      Similarly, the famously deaf composer Beethoven was reported by his housekeeper to have clamped one end of a pencil between his teeth and touched the other end to his piano as he played, enabling the vibrations of his music to pass into his inner ear via the bones in his skull. (Other sources say he used a metal rod instead of a pencil, which attached to his head). 


      150-odd years later, bone-conduction headphones work with the exact same principle, namely that vibrations can pass through the bones of the skull to the inner ear.

      Wired to wireless: bone-conduction headphones hit the market


      The very first commercially available bone-conduction headphones are thought to be the Audio Bone—a wired headphone designed for general use, which appeared on the market in 2008. And the technology has been evolving steadily ever since, with Philips releasing its first pair of open-ear bone-conducting headphones—the A6606—in 2021. 


      Nowadays, the benefits of bone-conduction headphones are starting to be appreciated by a wide range of people who enjoy sport like running and cycling. And the athletic community has been an enthusiastic adopter of bone-conduction technology, thanks to the safety benefits conferred by leaving your ears open to environmental sound. Indeed, England Athletics (the UK-wide governing body for competitive athletics) has ruled that only open-ear bone-conduction headphones may be used in road races. 




      H. Werner Bottesch files a patent for bone-conduction headphones


      The first commercial (wired) open-ear bone-conduction headphones come on the market


      Wireless bone-conduction headphones begin to attract attention from the athletic community


      England Athletics announces that bone-conduction headphones are the only headphones approved for use in all road races, under the UK Athletics rules of competition


      Philips begins development of bone-conducting headphones 


      Philips debuts the A6606 wireless open-ear bone-conduction sports headphones 


      Philips unveils the A7607 wireless open-ear bone-conduction sports headphones

      Safety first: Running or cycling with bone-conduction headphones


      Bone-conduction headphones are the ideal choice for safety-conscious athletes, particularly runners and cyclists. 


      Why those sports? The reason is pretty simple: bone-conduction headphones let you hear traffic sounds clearly. With your ears unobstructed, there is nothing blocking you from hearing the approach of a car or moped, or the ring of a bike bell. 


      This is why England Athletics—the membership and development body for athletics and running clubs in England—only allows cyclists and runners to wear bone-conduction headphones in road races. No other type of headphone is allowed in any event ‘where roads are open to traffic’. 


      Does this mean bone-conduction headphones will always let you hear external sounds? 


      No. It’s still possible to mask sounds coming from the outside world if you crank up the volume on your bone-conduction headphones too high. Once the sound generated by the headphones reaches a volume that overcomes the volume of traffic sound, you can run or ride without hearing what’s around you. So, a word to the wise: if you want to play it safe, set a sensible volume for that podcast before you head out!

      Athlete using bone conduction headphones on a busy street

      How do bone-conducting headphones keep you safe?


      Of course, it’s not only on the open road that you might—literally—run (or ride!) into situations in which you need to hear what’s happening around you. 


      Picture this scene: you’re running in the woods, or your local park. You kind of hate running a little bit today. It’s raining. And, while the IP66 rating on your bone-conduction headphones can handle the wet, you would rather be at home! So, you fire up a podcast or audiobook to take your mind off the lactic acid building in your thighs, and the water pouring down your forehead. 


      You’re losing yourself in the twists of the thriller you’re listening to, or your favourite podcaster’s latest take on the newest movies… 


      And then a bike comes swooshing past, causing you to leap into a bush to save yourself. 


      Only you don’t have to do that, of course, because you’re wearing bone-conduction headphones. Which means you actually heard the bell that the cyclist was ringing, and you stepped neatly to one side way before they ever got close enough to present a danger to you. 


      Or, you are the cyclist. You’ve been pedalling for half an hour. You have rain up your back and your hair is soaked—even though it’s meant to be summer. You’re using the bone-conduction mic on your headphones to call your partner and tell them you’re going to be late, but could they please run a hot bath...? 


      A car gets too close to your rear wheel, but you hear it instantly and move to one side. Another cyclist pulls up next to you at the light. You exchange commiserations about the weather. Then you pedal off as your phone call ends and your podcast automatically restarts—but you can still hear the other cyclist wishing you a safe journey home, as they peel off for their turn. 

      Yes, but are they comfy? How well do bone-conduction headphones fit?

      Athlete using bone conduction headphones

      There are two things we all want from a pair of wireless headphones: they need to be comfy, and they need to stay in place—however you like to move. Who wants to stop to adjust their headphones in the middle of a run or ride? 


      The form factor of open-ear bone-conducting headphones offers a brilliantly secure fit. The secret sauce? It’s the way bone-conducting headphones wrap around your head. 


      Philips bone-conduction headphones are designed with a tough, flexible neckband wrapped in comfortable rubber. This neckband has a springy titanium core, which allows the bone-conduction headphones to ‘hug’ your head, keeping the speakers gently but firmly in place on your cheekbones. The headphones also loop over the tops of your ears, so you won’t have to worry about them dropping. 


      But wait—what if you’re wearing a cycling helmet? No worries. The open-ear fit is ideal for cyclists as well as runners: the neckband sits low enough for you to wear a helmet.

      Bone-conduction headphones love it when we talk


      Aside from the secure fit, voice reproduction is where bone-conduction headphones really shine—both for podcasts/audiobooks and calls! 


      The human voice spans less of a frequency spectrum than an orchestra or a rock song, so your bone-conducting headphones don’t have to filter a huge range of frequencies through your bones to reproduce the spoken word. 


      What’s more, it’s easier for your brain to understand speech than music when you’re listening against a background of external sounds. (Think about how easy it is to hold a conversation in the street: that’s how easy it is to keep track of what’s going on in your podcast when you are wearing bone-conduction headphones.)

      Never mind the wind! Take important calls anywhere


      If you take a call while wearing a pair of Philips open-ear bone-conducting headphones, the person you’re speaking to will hear you clearly—even if you’re outside and it’s windy.

      Athlete taking a call on the beach while using bone-conducting headphones

      Philips bone-conducting headphones use a unique combination of AI mics—which help remove environmental noise—and a bone-conducting mic, which focuses on the vibrations of your voice. 


      If you’re fit enough to run or cycle and talk at the same time, go right ahead! The wind won’t interrupt your call. You can even take a call in a storm and the person on the other end won’t hear anything except your voice. 


      The only thing to keep in mind if you take a call while wearing your open-ear bone-conduction headphones is that people close to you might hear what the other person is saying to you. Just like somebody in the gym might hear your music if they’re working out next to you. So, if you want complete privacy, you might want to take your call somewhere private.

      Don't feel like training! Are open-ear headphones good for anything but sports?


      Open-ear bone-conducting headphones aren’t just the preserve of runners and cyclists. 


      Bone-conduction headphones are also recommended if you simply don’t like the feeling of an earbud sitting in your ear canal, or over-ear headphones encasing your whole ear. 


      Who hasn’t wished they could do housework, rock out to their tunes, and still hear the delivery guy at the door? Or listen to a podcast without interrupting your kids’ study time—and still hear when the oven timer goes off? Well, with open-ear headphones…you can.

      Athlete wearing open-ear headphones

      Open-ear headphones give you a new way to listen—but are they for you?


      Like anything, the type of headphones you pick will eventually come down to what’s most important to you. If you prioritise safety on your runs and rides, but you still want to listen to podcasts and music, open-ear bone-conducting headphones are for you. 


      Wireless in-ear headphones—earbuds—may have the edge for you if you’re looking for the best sound quality you can get for your investment and still want a secure fit. But nothing can touch the form factor of wireless open-ear bone-conducting headphones when it comes to a combination of secure fit, overall safety, and a still-decent sound. (For a detailed look at the best headphones for sports, check out our article here.)

      Philips bone-conducting headphones


      Safe, comfy, secure—you’ve discovered the benefits of bone-conducting headphones for sports (especially running and cycling) and general active wear. You’ve unearthed the interesting history of the tech—from Beethoven’s pencil to the sweat- and water-resistant wireless bone-conduction headphones of today! And you’ve seen how bone-conducting headphones are great if you love to listen to podcasts and audiobooks—or want to be able to take calls while you’re out on a run. 


      If you’ve decided that bone-conducting headphones are going to be your next pair of sports headphones, take a look at our current range.

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