Nick Cooper’s Review of Aftershokz M2 Bone Conduction Headphones
As a music lover, modest techie, and worker in the radio industry, electronics and headphones play a major role in my daily life. Wearing headphones for at least 3-4 hours a day for my job, I am always looking for new options in contrast to the traditional "cans" you see people wearing at a radio station.
The biggest downside to over-the-ear "cans" for long periods of time for me is the bulky size and the tendency to end up with sweaty ears. The general alternative of in-ear "earbuds" offer a smaller and lighter alternative, but they tend to be less comfortable to wear and pop out of my ears way too often than I'd like.
Earlier this spring, I discovered a new style of headphone that doesn't go in or over your ear at all. The new technology, called "bone conduction", uses a transducer on each cheekbone to send sound to your eardrum. The technology is often used by the military for communications devices because of their increased comfort and the fact your ear is left wide open to hear what is around you.
The fact that I could safely use a headset to enjoy music while biking or hiking without missing out on the sounds of nature, the comfort factor, and the fact I could try to preserve my eardrums from hours of direct abuse each day seemed like a good enough reason to give the technology a try. After a little research, I plopped down my hard-earned cash and ordered a pair of Aftershokz M2's - picking that particular variety for the included microphone and controls for placing calls with my phone.
While I am by no means an "audiophile" in the same sense as many on the internet, I have a pretty good sense of what sounds and works well. Here are my observations and impressions after using the headphones for a couple days.
In the package come the headphones, equipped with a 3 foot cord, small extension cord, USB charging cable, and instructions. The USB charging cable is used to recharge the battery pack that is in the in-line controller (more on that later). The whole thing comes in a zipper case, which makes it easy to keep the charging cable together with the headphones.
In the world of headphones, this is probably the most important factor. While the mid-range frequencies and most of the high-end (treble) is on par with anything else, the lows (bass) are missing from the experience because most of the low frequencies are absorbed in your jaw. Increasing the volume boosts the bass level, but even at high volume, music doesn't sound as rich as it should missing the bass.
I enjoy the "hands-free" experience with my iPhone, and regularly make calls using a headset of some form. This type of experience either works or doesn't with headsets, and in this case it works. Due to the open-ear design of this headset, I wouldn't recommend using them for calls in an environment with a lot of ambient noise unless you want to plug your ears or wear earplugs.
The general user experience is on par with any other behind-the-head headset that offers calling capabilities. The cord length is perfect for most uses, the calling/music control buttons work well, and the clip on the back of the in-line controls/battery pack makes it easy to attach a somewhat bulky part of the cord to your shirt. Listening to music in environments with lots of loud ambient sound makes hearing your music somewhat difficult due to the open-ear design, and I probably wouldn't use them in loud environments unless you have no other option. Using earplugs or sticking your fingers in your ears is a workable fix in a pinch if you need to use them in a loud environment. Using them in quieter environments such as an office, or while outdoors offers no problem.
**Using them in a radio studio environment (one of my more unique uses) offers more mixed results. They aren't the best option for monitoring the most minute details in audio levels while mixing sources. Also, using them while others are talking makes monitoring more difficult. They are certainly usable, and I enjoy being able to leave them on the entire time and still talk to people and not have to worry about the feared "sweaty ear", but they aren't ideal. I didn't include this in my rating, but if I had, the rating would drop to 3 stars.
The headset is light and the in-line control/battery pack is not all that intrusive, especially if you clip it to your shirt. Wearing the headset for a long period of time offers no discomfort, but you will notice a persistent light pressure on your cheekbones where the transducers press against your face. This isn't uncomfortable, but it is noticeable after awhile. I would also note that the behind-the-head band is not particularly large, and I could see it not fitting very well on someone with a large head.
As I've mentioned earlier, there is a rechargeable batter built into the cable between the headset and the plug. This is the same location for the call button and music controls. It is used to power the transducers on your cheekbones to transmit sound. The battery charges in about 2 hours, and is reported to last about 12 hours per charge according to the manufacturer, depending on how loudly you have the volume cranked. I haven't really put the battery through its paces in an extreme way (full volume until the battery dies, etc.), but in the three days I've been using the device, I am still on the initial charge I gave it out of the box. My total listening time has been right around 12 hours, and as I write this I am listening to music using the headset and the indicator light isn't suggesting a low battery yet. While my rating may change as I more aggressively test the limits, my initial reaction is that I'm impressed with the performance.
**I will also mention that you can listen while the battery is charging, which is a feature I will enjoy while using them in stationary situations like at my desk or in the studio.
Overall, these are a decent niche headset with some specific uses where they shine. The Aftershokz M2 isn't an all-around solution for listening to music in all environments and situations. I do rather enjoy them, however, in the office and as a good option while I'm outdoors hiking, biking, or going for a walk.