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From the mat to the pavement, your daily fitness goals should be supported by a solid set of the best wireless headphones. While spending top-dollar on today’s best earbuds will get you impressive sound quality and features like built-in voice assistants and noise cancellation, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars is simply out of the question.
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For those of us shopping with slimmer budgets, a unique alternative to traditional headphones is buying one of the best bone conduction headphones. Shokz, formerly known as AfterShokz, has been producing bone conduction headsets for quite some time, and we were given the opportunity to try the company’s latest release, the Shokz OpenRun.
Does bone conduction stack up against regular headphone engineering? Read on to find out in our Shokz OpenRun review.
Out of the box
When it comes to minimalist packaging, Shokz doesn’t mess around. Seeing as the OpenRun isn’t customizable with additional ear tips, unboxing the headphones reveals only a couple of items. You’ll find the headphones themselves, along with a small user booklet, a hearing loss disclaimer and the proprietary USB-charging cable (with no AC wall-outlet power brick).
Oh, and let’s not forget the handy drawstring case, which is a nice addition if you want to keep the OpenRun tucked away from sweaty gym gear or other electronics.
Connecting the OpenRun to your phone couldn’t be easier. Simply power them on and they’ll automatically enter Bluetooth-pairing mode (a flashing blue and red light will indicate so). Then, hop into the Bluetooth settings on your mobile and select Shokz OpenRun from the available options.
Design and Comfort
Formerly known as the Aftershockz Aeropex, the Shokz OpenRun is a next-generation rebranding of the former set of headphones. Carrying over the same core bone conduction technology with Bluetooth connectivity, one might be hard-pressed to find any discernible differences between the Aeropex and OpenRun.
While subtle, the biggest changes from one gen to the next come in the form of weight and overall fit. Billed as the company’s lightest pair of headphones, the OpenRun certainly feels like next to nothing when you’re holding them in your hands. “Flimsy” is a descriptor that first came to mind, but considering the tough silicone framing and IP67-rating (for ultimate sweat and rain resistance), flimsy is not the word to use. “Compact and lightweight” are more like it.
Designed to be hooked over both ears, a protracted neck band wraps around the back of the head, while the bone conduction contact points rest against your cheekbones. A button on the outer shell of the left conductor is your primary multi-touch controller.
A single tap will play and pause audio, double-tap skips to the next track, and a triple-tap goes back one song. Pressing and holding the button brought up Siri on our demo iOS device, and when you receive a phone call, a single tap both answers and hangs up.
Located underneath the right side of the frame (close to the right conductor) are your volume and power buttons (press and hold Volume Up to turn the OpenRun on and off), along with the magnetized charging port.
Once your music starts playing, the conductors create small vibrations that act as transducers via facial bones, directing audio into your ears. The slight tingling sensation is a bit strange at first, but it’s something you’ll get used to after a song or two.
Let’s be clear about something: The Shokz OpenRun are by no means a traditional set of headphones. Without driver-supported ear tips being lodged in your canals, what you’ll experience is something more along the lines of “background-style” sound.
In our testing of the OpenRun, we walked through multiple music genres, from hard rock to pop music, and felt that the sound quality was decent enough for bone conduction, but only decent.
Song to song, the OpenRun managed to capture mid-range frequencies most effectively, with treble and bass dropping in and out of the sound-staging. We even tried repositioning the conductors a little to improve this, but to no avail.
The OpenRun also gets loud enough to block out most environmental noise, but fit lightly enough to allow in necessary ambient sounds like emergency vehicle sirens and other loud overtones.
Making and receiving phone calls is relatively painless with the Shokz OpenRun, thanks to quick and easy button-mapping for answering and hanging up, as well as two noise-canceling mics that do a good job at filtering out a majority of whatever environmental sounds you’re around.
The person you’re talking to also comes in pretty clearly, albeit not perfectly. Let’s just say if you’ve got to take an important phone call at the gym, you can count on the OpenRun to handle it.
Shokz claims that the OpenRun will last up to eight hours on a full charge, with 10 minutes of recharging netting you an additional hour-and-a-half of battery life. Of course, these numbers are influenced by things like the volume you’re playing music at, and what kind of USB source you’re charging from.
All in all, through our multiple rounds of demoing the headphones, these numbers are about right. On average, we got about seven-plus hours from a full charge at varying volume levels, and the Quick Charge function worked great – netting a little over an hour of extra playtime after our OpenRun died.
Price and Warranty
Available in both Mini and Standard sizes, along with four color options for the Standard design (black, blue, gray and red), the Shokz OpenRun can be purchased for $129 and include a two-year warranty.
Bone conduction audio is certainly an acquired taste. If you’re able to get over the slightly odd sensation of cheekbone vibrations delivering music to your ears, the Shokz OpenRun isn’t a bad choice for dedicated fitness headphones.
That being said, we don’t think we would want to make them our everyday headphones of choice, especially when it comes to criteria like clarity and detail.
The OpenRun is definitely marketed, designed and performs like a set of cheaper fitness headphones, which may be great for some, but not for all.
Solid battery life
Reliable call quality
Sound quality is only OK
Bone conduction sensation isn’t for everyone
Can only use the USB cable it came with
Should You Buy Them?
If you’re in the market for a lower-cost set of Bluetooth headphones that you’re going to abuse at the gym or use for your daily jog, we think the Shokz OpenRun is an OK investment. If sound quality is of the utmost importance though, we would look elsewhere.
How Long Will They Last?
Based on the two-year warranty, IP67-rating, and durable silicone wrapping, we’re betting the Shokz OpenRun will last for at least three to four years.
What Are Some of the Alternatives?
If you’re still on the fence about bone conduction technology, we’d recommend looking at some of our favorite earbuds as well.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds
You’ll spend more for the name, but the tried and true audio quality and powerful noise-canceling of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds make these earbuds simply unbeatable.
Amazon Echo Buds 2
If you want a great set of budget earbuds with an onboard Alexa voice assistant, look no further than the Amazon Echo Buds 2, featuring noise cancellation and compatibility with both iOS and Android devices.
Jabra Elite 7 Pro
Built for performance and endurance, the Jabra Elite 7 Pro are some of the best active-wear earbuds you’ll find right now.
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