Safety is a huge concern whenever I run with my headphones in. I know rocking out to Les Miserables while jogging can make me unaware of my surroundings. I might miss the honk of a car’s horn, or the tread of a stranger’s feet, or the bark of a dog.
“Loud music is a bad idea, as it takes away one of the body’s natural senses that warn against varying dangers,” notes Dan Wakeford, a runner and police officer.
Alanna Harris, a fellow running police officer, agrees: “It’s best not to run with music on main roads, and wherever people could approach you from behind without you knowing.”
But I need music to run. Otherwise all I hear is the grim sound of my own panting. So I’ve found a compromise: I run with one headphone in and the other tucked awkwardly down my shirt. The cord bobbles weirdly. The music sounds off and lopsided. It’s an imperfect solution.
An updated pair of headphones, called AfterShokz, aim to do better. AfterShokz bills itself as using bone conducting technology to conduct music from the front of the ear, delivering sound through your cheekbone and inner ear. This keeps your eardrum free to hear everything else.
“Earbuds are typically designed to block out all sound, which is fine when you’re inside. But when you’re outside, you need all your senses. It would be like sending you out cycling with a blindfold on,” says Rod Annet, MD of AfterShokz.
“You get in a zone when you’re running. It’s just not being aware of what’s around you … “
Here’s where AfterShokz come in. The headphones hook over the back of your head with the main “bud” resting high up against your cheek. This keeps your ear free to delight in other sounds.
So do they work? In a word, yes. During a 45-minute jog, they didn’t bounce or shift. I heard far more of my environment than I normally do: a yapping dog here; a nearby bike there; a runner passing me again to my left; and so forth.
Certain models come with a built-in microphone. Being a fantastic friend, I phoned someone at 7am to test this capability. The music paused easily enough and my friend heard me loud and clear.
What about the downsides? If you’re a huge fan of high-quality sound, you might find the headphones a bit tinny. One friend expressed concerns about missing the ability to get lost in the music as you might be distracted by other noises, although I personally didn’t find that an issue. The headphones also require charging.
Yet those are all minor details. For me, probably the biggest deterrent to purchase is the price tag. Ranging between £49.96 (mic-free version) to £83.29 (wireless version), AfterShokz headphones aren’t exactly cheap. Given how brutally I treat running headphones, I worry about the lifespan of the product, despite their two-year limited warranty.
With all that considered, would I recommend them? Yes. AfterShokz headphones are one of the more unexpected bits running tech I’ve seen in a while. While out jogging, they were light, painless, and easy to use. They made me feel safer. And they meant I could keep running to some fab Beyoncé beats while staying aware of my environment.
• Danae Mercer is a freelance journalist who writes frequently on sport. www.AmericanExplores.com @DanaeMercer
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