Bone conduction headphones have caused a bit of stir and in all honesty, we are unsure why. It’s often the case that when a new piece of innovative technology becomes popular, its detractors come out of the woodwork. Sometimes this is entirely justified, and the public is using something that can potentially do them harm, but in other cases, it’s just a lot of noise about nothing.
Our aim for this chapter of our blog is to separate the fact from the fiction. To bust the myths associated with bone conduction technology to provide a conclusive answer to the question; Are bone conduction headphones safe? Or are they safer or less safe than any other form of headphones?
We will also be using a scientific approach here. This blog post will not be our opinion, it will use evidence from those much more learned than us to reach its conclusion, citing studies, examining the technology itself and drawing from sources that have asked the same (or similar) questions about bone conduction technology.
Let’s start with our hypothesis coupled with an admission from us. As a business, we would never choose to sell a product if we felt it was unsafe for consumers in any way. That is what’s motivating us to write this particular blog post. We’ve had a few questions from customers regarding this topic, and as a team that follows media that relates to our industry on a regular basis, we have become aware of the questions being asked by the wider public.
Naturally, as a company that sells these products it is within our interest that bone conduction headphones are found to be safe, but here’s the thing; so far as an organization we have seen no evidence to support the idea they are not safe. If we had then we’d decide to not sell them. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, this is our position. Our hypothesis is, based on our experience as experts in our field, that bone conduction headphones are indeed safe. Now enough about what we believe, what are the facts?
This seems like a good place to start; it wasn’t long ago that we didn’t know the answer to this question. That is until we did a little research.
Bone conduction technology is all about taking advantage of how the human body detects sound. Our ears pick up sound in two different ways; from air conduction and bone conduction. There’s a difference between the two.
Air conduction is how we hear most sounds, our eardrums detect vibrations and sound waves from the air and direct them through to the cochlea, which then converts them into the sound we hear. The cochlea is the organ within our inner ear (the bit that kind of looks like a snail) which is responsible for our sense of hearing. It converts the sound waves and vibrations into nerve impulses which allows them to be interpreted by our brains.
The second way we hear sounds, and the one that’s most important for this blog, is bone conduction. The key difference here is this time the sound rumbles its way into our inner ear by reverberating through our bodies. More specifically, through our bones such as our skull, jawbone, or even through our spine.
These sounds still end up in the cochlea, but typically don’t come through the eardrum as most sound does. Instead, it vibrates through us until it’s picked up by our cochlear. For sound technology, bone conduction is a way to feel’ sound instead of just hearing it in the traditional manner. Rather than being transmitted directly into our eardrum through to our cochlea, the vibrations reach it from all around us.
Run your fingers through your hair for a moment. You’ll both hear and feel the scrunchy sound it makes. This is hearing through bone conduction. Yes, your eardrum can probably pick up some of that noise too, but if you pay attention, you’ll feel the sound traveling down your skull and into your inner ear internally. Your hearing most of this sound through your bones and only a minuscule amount of it through your eardrum.
Stretch your arms out and clap your hands. This time you heard that noise in two ways. You heard the clap in your eardrum like you hear most sounds. As you’re clapping your hands a slight distance away from your ears, the sound waves traveled through the air and into your eardrum, which then sent it towards the cochlea.
However, you also heard it through bone conduction. Clapping your hands sent shockwaves through your body. These vibrations traveled through the bones in your hands, up to your arms, past your central nervous system (located at the top of your spine), through your shoulders, into your skull, and into your inner ear.
From the second experiment, it was easier to detect the noise through your eardrum, but by paying close attention you can also feel it in your bones. So essentially bone conduction technology is simply piggybacking on something our body already does naturally. Knowing this information changes the way we think about sound and how our bodies pick it up. In terms of safety, well we’ve always been doing it.
Those who claim bone conduction technology is dangerous to say that loud volumes can damage our ears. This is true. But the same can be said of any headphone technology. The danger is not exclusive to bone conduction. The truth is there are pros and cons to both types of headphones, bone conductors and none bone conductors, but the real risk is simply having the volume turned up too loud and it always has been.
According to a study completed in 2018 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the real danger is excessive leisure noise’, and this danger changes depending on how the noise is presented. For example, traditional headphones, which send sound through the eardrum can damage the eardrum itself if the noise is too loud. Those who use bone conduction headphones may be able to mitigate this damage, but excessive volume can be damaging to the cochlea itself rather than the eardrum.
Where the media has fixated on this being a problem, blaming bone-conducting headphones, the issue causing the danger is excessive volume. Not the gadget transmitting it. Bone conduction headphones are no more dangerous than their counterparts, but as damage to the cochlea is considered more dangerous than damage to the eardrum, it’s easy to see where this fear came from.
It is, however, irrational, those enjoying listening to music on either style of headphones have nothing to fear as long as they make sure it’s not too loud. This has been the case since headphones were invented and really, absolutely nothing has changed. This is still sound advice and please excuse the pun!!
There are actually several safety benefits to using bone conduction headphones. Before it was commercialized the technology was actually used for several other purposes. As with many advances in technology it was initially used by the military to help transmit sound in a non-traditional way.
Since then it has been adapted over the years to help perfect hearing aid technology, allowing those who are hearing impaired to pick up sound in a way that allows them to hear as well as anyone else. There are several different forms of deafness, but for the ones that are associated with the eardrum, bone conduction technology in their hearing aids has been life-changing. These individuals pick up all of their sounds this way and have no complaints when it comes to the technology’s safety.
As bone conduction technology works in a different way than air conduction technology it uses sound different too. Where traditional headphones direct sound right into the eardrum that noise becomes absolute, meaning it becomes the main sound we hear, drowning out other noise. This is how noise-canceling headphones work, they block out other noise, surround the eardrum and blast the sound directly through it.
Bone conduction headphones operate in a different way, they do not isolate the noise. As the eardrum is bypassed the noise isn’t coming to the cochlea from one direction. This means the user can still hear other noises.
In a quiet environment this doesn’t matter quite as much, but for those listening to music or spoken audio while running or cycling this can have plenty of safety benefits. It allows the user to continue listening to their chosen audio but still retain a high level of awareness of what’s going on around them. Some cyclists and joggers feel uneasy about using headphones while they exercise due to the reduced situational awareness it can bring. Bone conducting headphones eliminates this problem and is almost certainly safer in this scenario than their noise-canceling counterparts.
We are confident that as long as bone conduction headphones are used responsibly then they are perfectly safe. We also apply this to all other forms of headphones. One thing researching this topic taught us is, taking their lack of noise isolation into account, there are actually situations when bone conduction headphones are indeed safer than traditional headphones. We don’t mean to toot or own horns, but we suspected as much from the start.
The story of the Smartphone is so amazing and interesting it would be hard to make this entire narrative up. It is so intricately entwined in the ingenuity of humanity and the necessity to continue to discover and grow as a species. There is always hope!
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The ultimate mission of cellular data has always been to be on par with Wi-Fi. 4G has come close in many ways, but let’s be honest; we know there are things we can do at home on our computers or tablets that we cannot do on our cell phones. When we are at home, we think nothing of streaming.
Depending on your internet provider and plan, if you have modern Wi-Fi, you may have no data allowance or cap, so some can go to town and binge as many Netflix shows as we like.
However, this abundance of data has not yet crossed over into our mobile lives. Many of us are on data plans, and it is always possible to use up all of our data before we know it. Streaming through our phones is one way we risk doing this, which is why most people are still relatively conservative in their mobile streaming habits, but this is becoming harder to do.
Before the holidays, we wrote a blog post called “How Can You Hear Something That’s Not In Your Ear?” The blog's title was inspired by my father-in-law asking me that very same question while we were on a family holiday. As a prolific writer and self-confessed workaholic, I was busy writing my latest article while listening to the Killer's latest album through my Bone Conduction headphones.
Due to Bone Conduction headphones sending the music directly into my inner ear, I was able to enjoy it while I concentrated on my work, but without shutting out my surroundings. I was on a family vacation; after all, one which included dogs and small children all running around together.
It was sensible to keep an eye (and both ears) on them just in case I was needed to do a spot of parenting. Fortunately for me, my Bone Conduction headphones allow this due to their design. Other headphones may have blocked out the sound entirely.
I live in remote Alaska where there is barley 3G and don’t see us getting to 4G, let alone 5G anytime soon. For most of my life, I lived in a large city with cutting edge technology and the benefits of living with 4G.
The 5G promise is very exciting for many reasons we list below but do we need a 5G Phone in rural Alaska? The answer is no because there is no connection and if you live in a rural area the answer is more than likely the same for you.
Nome Alaska is 143 miles from the Arctic Circle and you can see Russia on a clear day from Wales which is in the Nome census area and Nort of Nome. If you measure on Google Maps Lavrentiya Russia is 179 miles from Nome Alaska.