Recently, I’ve been trying to put more of an effort into working out and exercising. Like many other activities I do, I won’t even consider exercising without having music or TV playing in the background. My house is littered with wired earbuds, but the long cord always manages to get in the way while working out. A while back I ponied up the dough and purchased a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, but they still had their issues, the worst of which is always falling out of my ear at the most inopportune time. Fortunately, I was given the chance to review the AfterShokz Bluez 2S bone conducting Bluetooth headphones. With no cords and no buds to fall out of my ears, will these be the headphones I’ve always hoped for?
The AfterShokz Bluez 2S is a recent update to the AfterShokz Bluez 2 model, adding the new “PremiumPitch+” technology, which aims to boost the bottom end and prevent sound leakage, alongside slight changes to the external design. There are now perforated openings where the speakers rest on your cheek, before it was a solid surface. Even with this seemingly more exposed design, the Bluez 2S still meets IP55 standards for dust and sweat protection. The open speaker surface and revamped internals do indeed make a difference in audio quality and volume. It may not be profound, but it’s a noticeable improvement over its predecessor.
The underside of the Bluez 2S contain the volume buttons, the charging port, the power button, and the LED indicator. The left transducer contains the multi-function button. The only issue I took with the design was the placement of the volume and power buttons. Instead of placing them on the underside of the AfterShokz Bluez 2S, I think it would be better if they were on the side or on the other transducer. With the current placement, you’re required to have a firm grip on the headphones to push on the buttons without accidentally moving the headset. If the buttons were on the side, your head would naturally prevent the headphones from moving when you pushed the buttons.
So how do they sound? First, you need to understand that this is an entirely different experience than regular headphones, with its own set of trade-offs. Music will sound a bit different with this type of technology. The overall sound may be a bit duller compared to your standard cans, but you’ll also get a pleasantly spacious head-feel when listening, which is hard to convey. Speech comes across clearly, but the low-end will be lacking in comparison. I frequently have the volume near maximum when I’m hustling on bustling city streets and feeling the music. In quieter environments, however, there’s more headroom in volume flexibility. The claim is that PremiumPitch+ helps increase bass, while dampening vibration and reducing sound leakage.
It helps to be a glutton for aural stimulation with bone-conduction headphones. Unlike the isolating experience you get with in- or on-ear models, you get both music and ambient sound leaking in, which is part of the benefit for me. As long as you’re not rocking full volume, you can easily have conversations and hear cars approaching from behind, making it a flexible and safer option if music is a must while riding a bike. For the same reason, they’re great when you’re walking around the neighborhood, however, the sound of a passing semi-truck or something similar will overpower your tunes jamming into your ears.
On the hardware side, you get Bluetooth connectivity, a volume control rocker that doubles as a battery check and EQ changer, power and a multipurpose button on the left earpiece. Since I’m right-handed, the left-side button is perfect for me. It can pause/play music, skip tracks, redial the last phone number and take calls with its onboard mic. The battery life is rated at six hours of continuous play and 10 days of standby. Indeed, it’s great to find the headset charged after neglecting it for a week. It takes about two hours to charge up, but I’ve rarely drained the headset fully, so it seems to top off rather quickly for me. Bluetooth range is the standard 33 feet, letting you pair with a computer and wander around the kitchen or nearby room without stuttering. It stays paired with your last device though, so be sure to check it’s not still tied to the computer if you leave the house and don’t hear your tunes. Also, once paired, if the current track isn’t playing still, try skipping forward or back one.
Another great thing about not using earbuds, I could wear the AfterShokz Bluez 2S all day and be pain free. Maybe it’s just me, but if I wear earbuds for a significant amount of time, I find my ears begin to hurt from having the buds jammed in there. I know some companies sell various sized plugs to combat this, but it’s an issue you never have to worry about with the Bluez 2S.
Perhaps most importantly, sweat didn’t affect the performance of the AfterShokz Bluez 2S at all. I managed to work up a decent sweat several times while testing the headphones; at no time did I experience any issues. I’d imagine the AfterShokz Bluez 2S could also survive a light rain if you found yourself in one, but AftersShokz doesn’t provide an ingress protection rating so I can’t be certain.
At first I found sound quality very hard to judge. The problem is, it takes a while to get used to having the headphones on, but still having your ears free to hear like normal. You would think it would be the same as listening to music from a stand alone stereo, but mentally, you’re not used to listening to music through headphones and still hearing everything around you.
Eventually, I became accustomed to the AfterShokz Bluez 2S and found the sound quality to be very good. Audio was generally crisp and clear; however, at times I found it a bit “scratchy”. Also, if a movie had an explosion or a song was bass heavy, the sound would occasionally be distorted. Call quality was very good as well. I had no difficulty understanding the caller and they had no difficulty understanding me. The only issue I had with the sound isn’t technically a sound issue. On occasion, the vibrating from the bone conduction would tickle the side of my head. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was something I have never experienced when using earbuds.
The bottom line here is that while you’re not going to have the same audio experience as a standard set of headphones, the benefits of the AfterShokz Bluez 2S outweigh the negatives, at least for me in how I use them. I get a comfortable, lightweight wireless headset that provides tunes at a respectable volume, while still being able to maintain awareness about what’s going on around me, an ideal scenario for bike riding.
Finally, once you get used to it, having your ears free to hear your environment is great. If you are someone who likes to run outside, you never have to worry about not hearing a car coming. For me, I was able to listen to music and hold a conversation with my wife without taking off the headphones. At $99.95 the AfterShokz Bluez 2S aren’t the cheapest Bluetooth headphones, but I believe they are well worth the price. If you are in the market for a pair of headphones, you should definitely consider the AfterShokz Bluez 2S.