AFTERSHOKZ OPENMOVE HEADPHONES REVIEW
SOUNDTRACK WITH SAFETY
Words by Robert Johnston | Photos by Adam McGuire
While many people will use their time outdoors as a way of connecting with nature, some love to accompany their sporting activities with a musical soundtrack. However there’s a number of issues with conventional ways to listen to music, from impaired balance and awareness of your surroundings to disrupting the peace of others. Bone Conduction isn’t new technology, but the use of headphones that work with the tech isn’t so widespread regardless of the benefits to be had.
Aftershokz have been perfecting their range of Bone Conduction headphones over the last ten years, constantly looking for ways to improve the performance of their unique open-ear technology and amassing over 800 patents in the process. While the primary feature – maintaining your awareness of the surroundings – has remained unchanged, they’ve worked hard to improve elements like the sound quality and noise leakage, addressing the complaints of early adopters of the technology. The Eurowolf was sent a set of their Openmove bone conduction headphones to put to the test and see if they offer the solution to providing a soundtrack to his rides.
The Openmove is the budget model in Aftershokz range, designed for everyday use. You retain the same bone conduction tech of the more expensive models, with some money saved through the use of a less weatherproof design, smaller battery and slightly reduced sound quality. The 29g Openmove features a titanium headband with Polycarbon ear hooks. There’s a USB-C charging port that is covered with a rubber flap to allow it to earn the IP55 sweat-proof rating – meaning these aren’t designed for use in heavy rain. The 135 mAh battery is claimed to charge in 2 hours, play music for 6 hours and standby for 10 days.
The Openmove uses Bluetooth 5.0 to connect to your music device up to 10m away (33ft), and supports multi-point pairing to allow for easy switching between two simultaneously connected devices. There are three buttons on the headset – one multi-function button on the left ear, and two buttons on the right side that control volume and power in addition to some other functions. There are dual noise-cancelling microphones that boost your voice when in a call, and 3 EQ modes (Standard Mode for outdoor use, Vocal Booster Mode for Podcasts & audio books, and Ear-Plug Mode for using on train & airplane) to best tailor the sound output.
The one-size fits all Aftershokz Openmove headphones retail for £79.95/€89.95 /$79.95 and are available in a selection of 4 colors.
Pulling the Openmoves out of their packaging, I was suitably impressed with the build quality and sturdy feeling of the headphones, but even more so by their light weight. I had concerns over the fit of the headphones on the head prior to trying them on, as they’re very much universal. Thankfully however, the Openmoves turned out to be more natural feeling on the head than I had expected, sitting very comfortably and solidly on my head – the titanium band’s natural tendency towards the “closed” position means they have a mild squeeze together when on your head, keeping them firmly in place. This included getting them to sit well with an open face helmet and glasses without too much fiddling, which I was really surprised by. I tried with a breathable full face, but there was no way to get them to sit comfortably. Perhaps not a surprise, but it would have been awesome if it did work. Oh well. The headband did end up protruding out the back of my head, and so would push the headphones off the sweet spot any time the stiff titanium band at the back contacted a headrest or jacket hood, but it didn’t prove to be an issue often. Once in place, it was time to ride and see how they performed in their provision of a soundtrack to my ride.
As my first bone conduction experience, the first take-away was their dependence on how and where they sat, as the volume and sound quality provided changed quite dramatically with just a small shift. Thankfully it was quite easy to find a sweet spot where they would stay in place really well, and sound good without interrupting the external noises. Occasionally they would shift towards the tragus (the flap that covers the ear opening) which would let you feel the vibrations and would block some of the audio from the surroundings. But when sat in the sweet spot, they allowed for essentially unaffected external audio clarity without losing too much of the music. The bass is definitely the shortfall but can be okay at higher volumes. The maximum volume they’ll produce is decently loud, and the clarity of vocals is acceptably good (for a sports product). At louder volumes they are obviously producing stronger vibrations, which you can feel on your cheekbones from time to time, but it’s a strange feeling rather than overly uncomfortable. These are not a set of headphones I’d recommend buying for an audiophile looking to enjoy music in an armchair, but then that’s not the point. Putting in the provided earplugs alone didn’t help too much in the search for improved sound but enabling the earplug EQ mode made a surprising improvement. Still not an audiophile’s dream, but acceptable for when a good speaker or set of over-ears isn’t practical. They do leak a little more sound than a decent in-ear headphone, but not to a terrible extent.
I’d initially struggled a little to find and use the volume buttons on the headset with a helmet strap interfering and gloves reducing the “feel”, but after a little time their location became more obvious. The multifunction button on the left ear is larger and easier to feel, producing no issues. There are lots of different functions that can be performed from the headphones, negating the need to pull your phone out of your pocket, but it took a little time to commit each function to memory – a bit of simplification here wouldn’t go amiss.
On the trails, the Openmoves proved to be a great tool to listen to music without the drawbacks of an in-ear headphone. My balance and timing seem to rely heavily on my hearing, so I was happy for the Aftershokz headphones to avoid this issue. I felt as if I still lost a little awareness with the music cranked up, as there’s only so many noises my brain can process at once, but simply reducing the volume a click or two on the more technical descents quickly resolved this. It really is a novelty being able to listen to music on a climb whilst still maintaining a conversation with your buddy, though at times I did become aware that I was quite happy to be silent and enjoy the music rather than speaking with my friend, so it’s not entirely socially appropriate. Nevertheless, you can add a soundtrack to more of your day without compromising your awareness and safety, which is just awesome. The sweetest part of all is you don’t need to remove them during the ride at all, whether playing anything or not, as they’re comfortable enough to fade into the background.
Battery life is quite impressive, with the advertised 6-hour playback time feeling rather pessimistic. I used the headphones at 2/3rds of max volume for over 12 hours before they needed to be charged. Granted they weren’t playing music 100% of the time, but I’d say they had lasted 10 hours of playback at least. Of course, certain music types and different volume will vary this battery life, but it’s certainly good enough to accompany a solid day out on the bike without running out of juice. While the battery life itself is good, determining how much battery life is left is not so. You can press the volume button when music is paused and the headphone will tell you how much battery is left, but only with “high”, “medium” or “low”. However they remain on “high” battery level for the majority of their actual battery life, before dropping quickly through medium and low until they need to be charged. An annoying niggle, but not a deal breaker to me. They charge back up quickly enough with the now ubiquitous USB-C cable that you can be back up and rocking in an hour or so. In terms of value, their price tag seems fairly reasonable for their usefulness and general build quality. Certainly a worthwhile investment for those looking to listen to music without losing their awareness of the surroundings. I’d be really interested to know how much better the sound of their doubly expensive, premium-level siblings (the Aeropex) would be, and whether it would be enough to convince an audio lover like myself to drop twice the cash, but the Openmoves are good enough that I’ll be keeping them in use for a long time ahead.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Music loving (open-face helmet wearing) mountain bikers rejoice – there’s a good solution out there! The Aftershokz Openmove headphones represent a great offering for active people to listen to music without endangering themselves or limiting their ability. Very stoked to have these in my kit bag to add a soundtrack to days in the saddle.
Price: £79.95 /€89.95 /$79.95