Many people like to listen to music whilst exercising outdoors but conventional headphones can leave you completely isolated from your surroundings and at risk of harm from traffic and other potential hazards. This is of particular concern to those who exercise in urban environments but modern cars are so quiet that it can equally be an issue on country lanes. Until a few weeks ago, I would never have considered running or cycling on a road whilst listening to music but the Bluez 2 by Aftershokz have sought to solve these problems using some innovative technology.
This product was provided for testing by the manufacturer (see here for my gear review policy).
In place of a conventional speaker, Aftershokz headphones rely on a ‘bone conduction plate’ that sits just in front of the ear and vibrates to transmit sound by conducting through your cheek bones and into your ear. This means that your lug holes remain open to the elements so you can listen to music or a podcast whilst still being aware of the sounds created by the world around you.
The Bluez 2 are Aftershokz flagship model offering wireless bluetooth connectivity, a microphone for taking phone calls and multi-function control buttons which allow you to skip tracks, adjust volume, accept / decline calls and even make voice commands without the need to fiddle around with your MP3 player or Smartphone. They have a built-in battery that is rechargeable via a conventional USB plug and lasts around 6 hours depending on playback volume etc. The design is slick and attractive whilst remaining understated and the build quality feels solid and in keeping with the price.
The fit of the Bluez 2 is extremely secure, comfortable and generally preferable to the majority of sport headphones I have tried in the past. They are so lightweight that you can pretty much forget that you are wearing them and I have experienced no sore spots or irritation after several weeks of use.
Although the instruction manual could be a little clearer in places, I soon got the hang of controlling the Bluez 2 and found them easy to use. The volume and on/off buttons (see above) could be a little bit more distinctive to the fingertips as I sometimes find that I need to feel about for them more than I would like whilst on the move. That aside, the control scheme is well thought out and mostly intuitive.
The Aftershokz feel a little strange the first time you use them as the sensation of being able to hear the world around you whilst listening to music at the same time is quite astonishing – it’s almost as though someone has hard wired into your brain.
Speech-only audio such as podcasts or talk radio is delivered flawlessly but sound quality whilst listening to music is a little less impressive, especially at bass frequencies where the performance is OK but no match for a similarly priced pair of ‘conventional’ headphones. To me, it would be entirely wrong to be overly critical of the Aftershoks for this as the comparison is not a fair one. The whole point of the Bluez 2 is that they can be used in situations where others could not so it’s a choice between slightly reduced sound quality with the Aftershokz or risking life and limb against the traffic with your standard ear buds.
The main selling point of the aftershoks is their ability to play music whilst allowing the user to hear noise around them and in this regard they do not disappoint. I have used them for cycling and running in a variety of environments, including heavy traffic and I was always able to keep a track of the position of cars etc. That being said, whilst you have the ability to hear other sounds, there is no doubt that the music / audio tends to occupy your attention more than ambient noise so you have to be a bit careful that your brain doesn’t filter things out. High ambient noise levels such as strong wind can occasionally make listening to music more difficult but if it’s too noisy to hear music properly, it’s also too noisy to hear cars!
I haven’t been able to give them a thorough drenching yet but I have used the headphones in light rain and they are holding up fine so far. I will report back on this if I have problems in the future when the inevitable torrential downpours of the Autumn arrive.
I’ve found myself using the Bluez 2 for a variety of other purposes in addition to exercise such as cleaning the house, shopping, gardening….. basically boring tasks that can be made marginally more interesting by listening to music. This came as a bit of a surprise as I only expected to wear them whilst exercising and assumed I’d use conventional earphones for other activities but I suppose this is a reflection of how pleased I was with the performance. The headphones also work really well for taking phone calls and I’ve even started using them at work as a sort of hands free kit so that I can continue working whilst speaking to people.
A slight downside of the design that I noticed during day-to-day use is sound leakage which can be quite considerable at high volume. This presents a potential annoyance to other people so it’s worth remembering this when commuting or in quiet public places.
I’m thoroughly impressed by the Bluez 2. They almost entirely solve the safety issues of listening to music whilst exercising close to traffic and I also really like the way you can use them whilst going about your daily tasks without feeling separated from your environment. At a price of around £90 they aren’t cheap but I feel this is good value for money when you consider the unique benefits of the design and large number of features.
I don’t like writing gushing reviews unless a product really deserves it and the Aftershokz are not without minor flaws but the design is so ingenious that I can’t help but sing their praises. I would definitely recommend giving them a try
Having continued to absolutely love using the Bluez 2, unfortunately mine developed a fault where they started to cut out whenever I got sweaty during running (and I’d describe my sweat levels as average). Aftershokz warranty department provided a great service and replaced them quickly but now to my dismay I’ve had the same problem with the second pair. I’ve searched around a bit and I can’t seem to find widespread evidence of other users having the same problem but I’d be very interested to hear from anyone who has? Please leave a comment below.
The Bluez 2 are available from Millet Sports and Amazon (link below)
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