Listening to music on the go? Headphones come in all sorts of flavours. Old-school earbuds. Over the head, gigantic over-ear contraptions. Nearly as large, on-ear contraptions. In-ear monitor style sealed units. Multi-driver. Single-driver. Wired. Wireless. The list goes on.
Then, there are the bone conduction headphones. If you haven’t seen them before, they work by transmitting vibrations to the sides of your skull, typically right in front of your actual ears. The technology isn’t new, but has recently been brought up to current standards by a couple of headphone specialists.
They are usually connected to a playback source via Bluetooth, and typically aren’t the last word in high fidelity, though the better designed units do sound pretty good for something that actually bypasses your ears entirely. Audio is transmitted through the driver pads, which are in direct contact with the sides of your face. This transmits vibrations to your cheekbones, which then carry on to your eardrums.
For runners, this is a great way to retain full situational awareness while listening to music, because your ears are not covered at all. It does take some time to get used to the sensation though, and you typically do have to turn the volume up louder to fight with the noise from the street.
We know that blasting loud music directly into your ears is bad, but what if the loud music is coming in through bone conduction? We’ll have to look that one up.
Anyway, the folks at Los Angeles based, Zungle have come up with the clever idea of combining a pair of bone conduction headphones with sunglasses.
The Zungle Viper is available in three frame colours, a whole bunch of lens options, and have arms that feature audios drivers built into them. Being connected by Bluetooth, the device also sports a microphone for receiving phone calls on your mobile phone.
The additional bulk on the arms are well hidden by the styling, and we also found the sunglasses to be very balanced, front to back. This means that they are less likely to slide off your face as you walk or run around with them.
Control buttons are hidden in the lower edges of the arms, and once we paired it up, it wasn’t difficult to get used to them. The audio drivers need to actually touch your temples to be effective, and even though the sunglasses did a decent job of conforming to all the faces that we tried them on, everyone is different, and there is an off chance that they won’t fit you properly.
They do work as advertised, though it feels a little strange initially to be able to move around with sunglasses, have music in your head, and fully unobstructed ears. The drawback of bone conduction headphones is also that as the volume goes up, you reach a point of diminishing returns.
At higher volumes, people around you will be able to hear what you are listening to as well, and it doesn’t get very much louder in your own head even as the headphone drivers start to feel like they are tapping forcefully on your face with every hit of the beat.
Thankfully though, it’s entirely usable at sane volumes, even when on a training run in town.
The device is charged with a proprietary cable that plugs into each of the arms, and uses a USB connection for power. The two arms of the sunglasses have their own individual battery so both need to be charged at the same time. When fully charged, the logos on the arms light up cyan. Playback time on a full charge is around four hours, depending on the volume used.
Music transmitted through the arm’s drivers are clear and audible, though when compared to high fidelity in-ear units they sound a little boxier with a pronounced mid-bass bump, probably tuned to make up for the lack of sub-bass that is usual for bone conduction drivers.
The built-in microphone means that you can also conduct phone conversations with the sunglasses on, which will no doubt draw looks from strangers on the street because without a visible earpiece or microphone you’ll pretty much look like you are talking to yourself.
Still, the biggest drawback of this well-designed piece, which also features interchangeable lenses that you can buy separately, is that the arms don’t fold flat, and it does not come with a carrying case. Regular boxes for sunglass won’t hold it on the account of the extra depth from the arms that will not fold flat. You will have to find a small bag to store it after use.
Available online at www.zungleinc.com