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AfterShokz Aeropex Review
By Social Media Manager Bach Pham

Aftershokz Aeropex in blue, seen charging through cable

We talk about shoes and running gear often at Doctors of Running, but for me headphones have become almost as essential to my daily runs. Whether I'm taking it easy with podcasts or blasting a few tracks for a workout, as a recreational runner it's really the combination of audio and running that gets me out the door. I live in the city though, where there's plenty of traffic and pedestrians to dodge which often means I need all my senses at certain points of the run. While most headphones today aim for giving you the best sound quality possible for your listening enjoyment, it can be hard to find a headphone that not only provides good in-ear audio for whatever you are listening to along with enough natural sound to sense cars and people in your vicinity. AfterShokz aims to offer a blend of both through the use of their bone conducting technology.


SUMMARY

AfterShokz Aeropex | $159.95

The Aeropex is AfterShokz top-of-the-line offering in their bone-conducting headphone line-up. Coming in at $160 full price, it features an 8 hour battery life, water resistance, and their highest quality of bone conduction technology implementation yet. Offered in four colorways, the headphones fit well, feel great, have fairly okay audio, and provides the most ambient noise you'll likely find among headphones in the market today.


FIT 

The Aeropex comes in two sizes, Mini and Standard, on the AfterShokz website. There is a size guide, which essentially is a ear-to-ear measurement on the back of your head. I opted for the Standard based on their measurement guide. The general fit is very secure over the ears. There is a part of the band wrapping around your head that floats. At first I was worried I got the wrong size, but the band just stays in place around your head, matching images of runners they have on their site. I appreciated the headspace for my pandemic hair as it grew out.

I wore the Aeropex on wet and gusty days and found no issues with the Aeropex staying on ear during my runs. It just wraps your ear and stays put. Despite how light the device is, they are also just slightly weighted so you can feel that they are connected with you in the worst of conditions. It also handles water well. I actually prefer it to earbud headphones because the device itself is not in your ear in any way which prevents any kind of awkward drainage from wet weather or even just your sweat. 

I think in general, the fit and feeling of the Aeropex is one of the best when it comes to headphones, especially those that are sensitive to earbuds. This might be a huge consideration for folks who struggle with fit.

AfterShokz recommends when you put on the headphones to take it below your ears, bringing the headphones up to your ears to settle down on your lobes. This helped greatly to get a secure fit immediately. Just setting the Aeropex directly on ears tended to need adjustments.

For those who wear glasses though, I found the Aeropex to be very clumsy on first use, having to stop and make adjustments over and over. It was conflicting figuring out whether it was better to have the glasses over or under the headphone that wraps around the ear. I did find that ultimately having the Aeropex sit atop the glasses - making sure my glasses were in place and comfortable first - worked just fine without issue after a couple of uses. If you ever have to take your glasses off to clean or adjust though, it is a struggle to get both your glasses and the Aeropex off, clean the glasses, put the glasses back on and get the Aeropex back on mid-run compared to earbud headphones which you can typically just can ignore that process altogether. It's not a common problem, but something to think about as a glasses wearer.



UNPACKING THE AEROPEX | BATTERY

Out of the box, you get a very simple package with the following: the Aeropex headphones, two charging cords (having a spare is a good addition due to its unique magnetic charging device), and a silicone carrying case. The carrying case feels extremely premium; a soft, but structured case just a bit bigger than the headphones, it features a satisfying magnetic lock that keeps the case closed. While it is not as durable as a hard plastic case may be, it still feels fairly protective and is much easier to put inside bags and backpacks due to how it easily slims down. 

The headphones are charged through a magnetic USB cable that connects to the right earbud. I found charges to be very quick, typically done within 30 minutes. The battery life is capable. I typically run between 4-5 hours a week. The eight hour battery in the Aeropex easily fulfilled all my runs in the week without a charge needed. If you are planning to use the Aeropex for mixed use between running and home office work though, you will need to charge this frequently. The one quirk of the Aeropex is that it is hard to tell exactly how much battery you have left. When audio is paused, if you press Volume +/-, the Aeropex will indicate it is "Battery High," "Battery Medium," or "Battery Low." I typically just made sure it was not low before getting out the door. 



HOW THE AEROPEX WORKS

Before we talk about sound quality, we have to talk about how it works. The Aeropex is as simple as it gets button-wise; there are three buttons, a Volume+ and Volume- on the right behind your ear and a multifunction button on the upper left side of the left earbud. The volume buttons are very easy to get used to after a couple of runs. The multifunction took a little longer being directly on the earbud. To turn on the Aeropex, you hold the Volume+ about three to four seconds, which both turns on the Aeropex and connects it to your device. It is basically ready to go from there. The two volume buttons which do all the hard work, while the multifunction pauses and skips/goes back on songs. It is admittedly a lot to remember, but here are the main functions I gravitated towards the most:

Aeropex Commands
To Turn On/Off: Hold Volume+ for three to four seconds
To Answer/End calls: one press of the volume button
To Pause/Unpause audio: one press of the multifunction
To Rewind/Fast Forward: triple press in volume direction you want to go
Battery check: when audio is paused, one press of volume button
To skip to next song: double click multifunction
To go backward to previous song: triple click multifunction

Regarding the buttons, for the most basic things like pausing, volumes, and taking calls it's completely fine. I found clicking to next song through double and triple click to be a little difficult on the run. I did get used to it, but sometimes it can be clunky trying to triple click multifunction on the move to listen to a track again.

Sound emits from the bone conduction speakers that sit just outside of your ear. If you feel the speakers, you can sense the vibration coming out of them.

CULTURE CORNER | THE SCIENCE OF BONE CONDUCTION HEADPHONES

Bone-conduction headsets that deliver sound through direct application of vibrators to the skull allow the privacy and portability that headphones offer. Unlike headphones, however, the ear canal and pinna remain unobstructed. (Walker et al., 2006)

Bone conduction is not at all a new twentieth century invention. Stories say that it was Ludwig van Beethoven that found out he could hear the sound of a piano through his jawbone by attaching a rod to the piano and clenching it with his teeth, proving sound can travel to us alternate ways besides our ears. We won't get into how Ludwig ended up clenching a rod connected to a piano.

Bone conduction hearing actually doesn't use your ear drums at all. It helps facilitate sound by transferring it into vibrations which go through where the device is to your cochlea, behind the eardrum. The unique prospect of bone conduction is that it may provide sound to those who can't hear due to broken eardrum by bypassing it altogether.

There are a ton of ways bone conduction has been explored in recent years, from military uses - allowing communication between soldiers while still allowing gunfire/essential battle noises - to diving - providing divers alternative to hand motions. An old science, but one that's advanced particularly far int he past twenty years, expect to see bone conduction become more and more sophisticated as more brands like AfterShokz continues to refine the technology and find more ways to implement in new work and life sectors.

Sources
Walker et al., 2006, LATERALIZATION OF SOUNDS USING BONE-CONDUCTION HEADSETS - http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.917.7892&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Bone Conduction: How it Works, http://www.goldendance.co.jp/English/boneconduct/01.html

SOUND QUALITY 

So now that we know how it works, how does it sound? It is best described as if you were listening to radio or a speaker device at home like an Alexa or Google Home. The sound transfers from the speakers to your ear very clearly and works well for simple audio like podcast and audiobooks. For music, there is definitely some loss of bass with the product, but in general the music still sounds relatively crisp otherwise. For those who listen to podcast and audiobooks more than 75% of the time, or even classical music or something relatively light, you'll be hard-pressed to find any issues with the audio. For those who predominantly listen to music with their headphones, you'll find the experience a little lacking in rich details. I still believe that the majority of users will have few issues with the sound quality if you are running in a relatively quiet environment. For busier areas though, you will have to crank the volume up to hear it compared to other noise-cancelling devices.

The Bluetooth connects relatively well. There is the very occasional skipping that occurs, but nothing to the point of catastrophe during my time in the Aeropex. The device always pairs quickly with my Apple iPhone. The volume in general is okay. Unless I was indoors and using it for work, I did have to crank the volume to a slightly above medium amount for daily use. Unless the road was screaming, I was able to find a setting that worked for most situations without feeling like my ears were bursting. If you are a big sound quality person where you are looking for the most crisp, most detailed noise, this is absolutely not the product for you. For most of the population though, it gets the job done.


HOME USE (PHONE CALLS, MEETINGS)

To use the Aeropex for phone calls, you press the volume button once to answer. The calls come in clearly and the voice response is very crisp. I was able to use it on extended phone calls comfortably and from across my home away from the phone without any issues. The one thing I would be weary is if you are working in a busy office environment or in a space with consistent noise; these are by no means noise-cancelling devices, so if you are in need of that you'll need to look elsewhere. Aeropex, however, does provide ear plugs with the device to help create some noise cancellation if it is something that is infrequent in your daily routine.

ASSESSING THE BONE CONDUCTION TECHNOLOGY

The most important feature that likely draws people to the Aeropex is the ambient noise aspect. Regarding sound, here is a list to help best identify what I hear with the Aeropex:

+ Nature noises. On quiet roads I typically hear birds chirping or dogs barking surprisingly clearly.
+ Foot strike. Especially on louder shoes, I typically am able to hear my foot hitting the ground which is good for runners who want to dial in on their running.
+/- Light traffic is a mixed bag. Traditional cars you will be able to hear a little noise, but typically I am still looking on occasion and not dependent on hearing. Unless it was a louder car, I felt I didn't hear cars coming behind until it was well within my personal radius.
+/- Voices are difficult to hear unless someone is absolutely yelling at you. Even on quiet podcasts I tended to have a hard time distinguishing voices unless I saw the person and really focused. Most times I had to just pause the audio to hear.
- On busy roads you start getting the inverse, hearing only traffic and either having to bump up audio or pause.
- Construction noises are a no-go for sound. I typically have to pause while running through major noises (to be far, most headphones will have the same problem).
- Electric cars are monsters lurking, but no headphone can really save you there.

Overall the Aeropex offers the most ambient noises I've ever had with headphones, but with caveats. I enjoyed having a bit more of the surrounding world in my ears along with my daily podcast, and particularly my own feet which I don't usually hear otherwise with prior headphones I've used. I would say I picked up car noises about 20% more than traditional headphones from behind, which is not a big change for those looking to buy the product to prioritize safety. I think if you are looking at headphones with safety in mind and hoping to be able to listen more for vehicles from lateral and directly behind, I worry that this gives a false sense of security more than anything. I found myself having to be just as aware as I would with headphones that blocked ambient noise, and having to also pause my audio at busy intersections since my audio was drowned out. I think in race environments where you just want to be able to hear your neighbor or something yelling your direction, this is actually really great, but for casual use it will not functionally fully change your degree of essential ambient noises (eg. cars, people, etc. coming from behind or laterally).

That being said, I did enjoy having what ambient noise I had instead of being fully drowned out in audio. There is a degree of freedom provided that gives you a slight disconnected-from-technology feeling while still being connected to technology. 

The other thing about the bone conducting technology goes back to fit discussed earlier. I really liked not having to fuss with a device in my ear during runs. Sweat pouring into my earbuds is particularly not fun. With the Aeropex not being in ear and also being a very easy device to clean afterwards, it was not an issue to go from run to work or vice versa without having to let it air out in anyway which adds to the versatility.


RECOMMENDATIONS


My biggest recommendation for the product would be battery life. While eight hours is more than enough for runners in a week, if you plan to also use this for home/office use in between eight hours can go very quickly. It is not easy to charge and work with it at the same time, so you have to plan ahead if you are using it a full day. 

Those looking to have an ultramarathon device with the ambient noise it offers will need to weigh if eight hours will get the job done to get full use out of it depending on the length of your race.


More forward-thinking than anything, I think the Aeropex would be interesting to have voice commands to quickly turn audio on and off based on surrounding noise. 

IS THE AEROPEX FOR RUNNERS?

The Aeropex is for anyone looking for a well-fitting headphone for daily running that's easy to clean and unobtrusive on the run. If you are sensitive to earbuds or earphones that cover the ear, this is a really nice option for podcasts, audio books, and casual music on the go. The bone conduction technology offers some decent ambient noises, but not to the extent that it will drastically make your run safer than any other headphones. Spatial awareness will still be needed even with the Aeropex on ear. If you are someone wanting a little more nature in your run though, this should be on top of your list.



GRADING 

Bach
Fit: A (Fantastic fit. Once on feels dialed in. Stops short of an A because of complexity with wearing glasses - something people with sunglasses may also struggle with.)
Performance: B 
(Sound quality and battery is only average compared to competition, but that's also not the draw of the Aeropex)
Technology: A- (One of the best implementations of bone conduction technology that's easily accessible in the market)
Personal: B+ (The ambient noise is enjoyable and I loved the fit and comfort of the device. If the battery life can hit double digits I think it's an absolutely winner, but at 8 hours it's no slouch either)
Overall: B/A- (Somewhat specific to the consumer, but if you are focused on a comfortable fit and unobtrusive, not-in ear device, this maybe one of the best in the market. Those who are looking for sound quality though will want to look elsewhere)

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Editor's Note: The views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: The AfterShokz Aeropex was purchased by Doctors of Running for purposes of review. Testing including three months of use in varying conditions from April through July of 2021.

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