AfterShokz Headphones Bypass Ears
Although I don't consider myself an expert on headphones by any means, I know that they fall into three basic categories: (1) circumaural (pad around the ear, the back closed or open) (2) supra-aural (pad on the ear), (3) in-the-ear (tightly or loosely fitting). (There were also the Jecklin Float headphones, which involved a pad on top of your head, with the transducers being positioned some distance from the ears. These have never enjoyed widespread success, and I don't think they're being made any more.) However, I was intrigued by one of the pre-CES emails, announcing "ear-free" headphones.
What? Could this involve placing electrodes into the auditory nerve? Or are they intended for latter-day Van Goghs who have performed bilateral surgical removal of the pinna on themselves? Or maybe individuals who have complied with the request of friends to "lend me your ears"?
But enough of this foolishness. The AfterShokz Sport ($59.95) uses bone-conduction technology, initially developed for military special operations and law enforcement. The transducers are placed on the cheekbone in front of the ear, and are said to bypass the eardrum completely. I would be inclined to question the claim about completely bypassing the eardrum (impossible to verify without testing on people who have severely damaged eardrums), but there is no doubt that listening in this manner involves mostly bone conduction. The advantage is that normal listening to sounds around you is unimpaired, which can be a major safety benefit. But for audiophiles, the question is "What does it sound like?"
The answer is "Not bad at all." I expected that sound perceived through bone conduction might be severely lacking in treble, but that's not the case with the AfterShokz Sport. Although I've certainly heard better sound from headphones using more traditional technology, I've also heard worse. The AfterShokz Sport (they also have Mobile and Gaming versions in the works) is quite comfortable to wear, and the ability to hear other sounds and to conduct conversations normally is a very liberating feeling. For people who dislike headphones of the more conventional sort (I know a number of people who absolutely hate earbuds), the AfterShokz Sport could be just a ticket. BTW, that's my ear in the photo (the photographer was the lovely-and-charming Rosemarie Torcivia).