A year and a few months ago I bought my first bone conduction headphones – a pair of Damson Headbones. I was initially quite happy with them, but they began to develop some quirks that got worse and worse over time. I recently replaced them with a pair of Trekz Titanium bone conduction bluetooth headphones from AfterShokz, and I’m much happier.
I’m very much judging the Trekz using to the Headbones as a baseline, so I want to start by explaining what I liked about those, and why I decided to replace them.
The Headbones introduced me to the concept of bone conduction headphones, and within hours it was clear I was never going to use anything else while cycling ever again. Because these headphones don’t cover your ears at all, they don’t block out the sound from the world around you. That might be bad on a transatlantic flight, but when out cycling on Irish roads, that’s potentially life-saving!
The Headbones also introduced me to the idea that bluetooth headphones don’t have to suck! They connected and paired easily and reliably, and the sound quality was more than good enough for listening to spoken audio, which is what I do when I’m out on the bike. The battery life was also impressive – at least initially. When they were new I only needed to charge them once a week or so, which seems in line with their advertised 8 hour battery life.
With the Headbones, the price you paid for the long battery life was the big battery pack that went around the back of your neck. It was not uncomfortable, but it made the Headbones big and bulky. You couldn’t really put them into your pocket when you weren’t using them, so you had to keep the hard case with you.
The biggest problem I had with the Headbones was their firmware, which was buggy from day one. The battery level indicator was a fiction. It would appear to defy reality and stay at 100% or 90% for hours on end, and then almost instantaneously plummet to 70%, at which point you started to get battery low warnings drowning out your audio every 30 seconds. Yes, that’s right, when the battery meter read 70% charged, the headphones panicked and acted as if they had about 10% charge left. Within 5 minutes, they would power themselves off. Sometimes restarting them would return some sanity for a while, but never for long.
Then, over the summer, the battery life started to get worse and worse, eventually getting down to just an hour or so. At that point I was just within the 1 year warranty, so I opened a support call and got a replacement pair (return postage for my defective unit at my expense, which made me a little cranky). The new pair were almost certainly refurbished rather than new, because they never came close to the expected 8 hours of battery life, and after a few months, they too were down to just an hour of battery life. The firmware on these became even less reliable than on my first pair, and the battery meter was an even bigger fiction. They soon stopped taking a proper charge, and became unusable. Sadly they died, after my one year warranty had expired.
Despite their poor firmware, and the battery problems I experienced, I was still prepared to give Damson another shot. The Headbones were very much a first generation product, and when judged in that light, they were very good indeed. I figured that if Damson had refined the design and released a second generation product, I would be prepared to give them another go. Alas, I found no such product on their website.
At about the time the replacement Headbones were seriously starting to die, I heard one of the guys on the Tech 45 (Dutch Language) podcast mentioned buying a pair of Trekz Titaniums, and being really happy with them. I checked out the specs, they looked very interesting, so I bought a pair. They arrived just as I came down with a nasty cold, but I’m recovered now, and have been using them daily for a week.
So far, my experience is very positive, they are an improvement over the Headbones in almost every way, with just one caveat which I’ll get to later.
Firstly, it’s shocking how much smaller and more comfortable the Trekz are to wear. Both the pads that do the bone conduction and the battery compartments are much smaller. The Headbones have a big battery pack that sits at the back of your neck, while the Trekz have two small battery packs that sit just behind your ears. As well as being much more comfortable to wear, the sound quality is also much better. The Headbones were great at low frequencies, but high frequencies never sounded quite loud enough to me, with the result that female voices often sounded too quiet. The Trekz sound just like regular headphones to me – I’d be quite happy to listen to music with them. It really is amazing how far the technology has progressed!
Like the Headbones, the Trekz charge over USB, which is very convenient. The advertised battery life is 6 hours, and that’s proving accurate in my experience. Also, the battery meter is honest and accurate, which is a real luxury after a year with the Headbones!
Also like the Headbones, the Trekz have three buttons – volume up (which doubles as the power button), volume down, and an action button, which pauses/plays music, and answers calls. Again, like the Headbones, the Trekz have a built-in mic, so they act as a full bluetooth headset.
OK, so now for the caveat. The Trekz fall substantially short of the Headbones in one respect – their bluetooth connection is nowhere near as robust. In a year and a few months of usage, the Headbones never dropped so much as a syllable’s worth of audio. It didn’t matter what pocket I put my phone in, the bluetooth connection was bulletproof. The Trekz are nothing at all like that. The receiver seems to be in the right ear-piece, next to the volume buttons, because if I cycle with my phone in the left pocket of my shorts, I only hear every second word! If I move the phone to my right pocket the sound is fine 90% of the time, but it breaks up every now and then. The only way I’ve found to get a robust and reliable connection is to use an arm band, or, put my phone in the pocket at the back of my cycling jersey/jacket. The strange thing is that if I wear them around the house and leave my phone on the kitchen table, they have a range of at least 20 meters. I guess bluetooth signals simply do not like travelling through human flesh!
Price-wise, the best price I could find for the Trekz when buying from Ireland was £110 from UK website Pro Direct Running. AfterShockz Amazon.co.uk store would not ship to Ireland, and the Irish online retailers I was able to find all worked out more expensive than Pro Direct Running, even after taking account of currency conversions and more expensive shipping charges. I’m happy enough with that price because it’s about what I paid for the Damson Headbones last year (they have dropped in price since, now retailing for about £70). The Trekz are available in a range of colours. I went for what they call Ocean Blue, because that matches the electric blue sports band I use on my Apple Watch 🙂
On the whole, I’m very happy with the Trekz Titaniums. Assuming I keep my phone in the correct pocket, they give me everything I had with the Damson Headbones, but in a much smaller, lighter, and more comfortable form factor, with better audio quality, and with an actually reliable battery meter. Definitely a worth-while upgrade for me.