AfterShokz’s latest bone-conduction headphones are a good option for those who don’t get on well with regular earphones during exercise
- Good price
- IP55 water resistant
- More aware of surroundings than with normal earphones
- Don’t sound as good as regular earphones
- Temperamental fit
- Mediocre battery life
Bone conduction headphones have become increasingly popular among fitness enthusiasts in recent years because of the benefits they have over regular in-ear headphones. The principal of these benefits is that they leave your ear canals clear, so you’re much more aware of your surroundings during exercise.
The OpenMove headphones on test here are the latest entry-level model from AfterShokz, a brand whose name is synonymous with bone-conduction headphones and, at £80, they’re almost half the price of the company’s excellent but rather pricey Aeropex. Could they be the headphones that bring the technology to the masses?
AfterShokz OpenMove headphones review: What do you get for the money?
If you’re wondering how they differ from the pricier Aeropex, there are a number of key distinguishing features, not least relating to their build. Indeed, although with both models the sound is transmitted to your cochlear via drivers that rest just in front of your ears, the earhooks that house these drivers and hold them securely in place are made from different materials.
To be more specific, where recent premium AfterShokz headphones have a rubber-coated titanium construction, the OpenMove uses polycarbonate earhooks coupled with a titanium neckband. This makes for a rather different fit and feel – the ear hooks are much less flexible, in particular – and the OpenMove also weigh 3g more than the flagship model at 29g.
In terms of connectivity, the OpenMove use Bluetooth 5.0 and, as with most other Aftershokz models, you can use the headphones to take phone calls via their built-in dual noise-cancelling microphones. Where the OpenMove start to come up short compared to more premium models, however, is in terms of their waterproofing. Rated IP55, they can only withstand a shower, where the IP67-rated Aeropex can be submerged in a metre of water for up to 30 minutes. In other words, this new entry-level model is water-resistant rather than waterproof and you certainly can’t take them swimming.
This difference is likely because they charge via USB-C as opposed to the magnetic charger found on the Aeropex. And, on that subject, it’d be remiss not to mention that the OpenMove have worse battery life, delivering just six hours of usage between charges versus eight hours from the Aeropex. That’s enough to get most people through a marathon, but it’s considerably shorter than the battery life you get from some regular in-ear headphones nowadays.
One area where the OpenMove hold the trump card, however, is in terms of EQ modes. Along with the standard and earplug EQ modes found on models such as the Aeropex and Xtrainerz (the headphones come packaged with a pair of earplugs for times when you don’t want to hear what’s going on around you), the OpenMove also offer a new vocal booster EQ mode intended for listening to podcasts and other spoken-word recordings.
AfterShokz OpenMove headphones review: How do they sound?
The Open Move use an older generation of Aftershokz’s bone-conduction technology than the Aeropex (8th-gen vs 7th-gen), but I was relatively impressed by the sound quality. Although they’re certainly no match for regular in-ear headphones in their price category when it comes to audio fidelity, there’s plenty of detail in the mid-range and treble-frequencies, which makes them very well suited to listening to spoken-word content.
Their lack of bass will come as a disappointment to anyone accustomed to the heavy thump typically associated with silicone-tip exercise earphones. Perhaps more frustratingly, I found the overall sound quality very sensitive to the placement of the eartips. Both head and jaw movements result in movements of the driver housings, which in turn can boost or attenuate particular frequencies on one side, which is something you’re less likely to experience with regular earphones.
I found that using the supplied earplugs increases the volume overall, especially in the lower frequencies, to the point that both music and vocal recordings can sound a bit muddled, so using the earplug EQ is a must for times when you want to isolate outside noise. The good news is that, to my ears, this mode delivers the most balanced listening experience of all. As for the new vocal booster EQ mode, this does exactly what it says on the tin and makes it easier to hear the spoken word without having to crank up the overall volume. It’s a handy addition and is easy to activate by long-pressing the volume up and volume down buttons simultaneously.
AfterShokz OpenMove headphones review: What else do we like?
Importantly, the AfterShokz are very good at the same thing that all bone-conduction headphones are good at, which is letting you stay aware of your surroundings when you wear them. Whether you’re just walking the dog or running or cycling, they feel much safer than regular in-ear headphones, which can leave you feeling oblivious to traffic and other runners and pedestrians around you.
Although I had some teething issues with getting the right fit, I otherwise found the AfterShokz to be relatively stable and comfortable during exercise. Indeed, if you can live with the possibility of subtle changes in volume on either side as I’ve outlined above, the upside to the OpenMove’s design is that there’s no need to keep pushing them into your ears as they become increasingly sweaty. Not only that, but there’s no risk of having each step you tread amplified, as can be the case with earbuds that create a seal in your ear canal.
Despite having an inferior IP rating to the Aeropex, the OpenMove IP55 water resistance also makes them well suited to exercising hard in all manner of weather. The decision to use a USB-C port for charging is also a welcome addition since it means you can bring one fewer charging cable with you if you have a phone or other device that uses USB-C, and it also doesn’t matter if you lose the cable that comes with the headphones.
AfterShokz OpenMove headphones review: How could they be improved?
The trade off for OpenMove letting you stay fully aware of your surroundings is that, if you’re somewhere particularly noisy, you may end up hearing more of your surroundings than your chosen audio content. That’s not really something that can be improved, per se, but something to consider if you’re trying to decide whether bone conduction headphones are for you.
If you tend to run, walk or cycle on quiet country lanes and want to be aware of approaching traffic, they’re a great choice, but for busy commutes in big cities, you may well arrive at your destination feeling you’ve missed a chunk of your podcast or radio programme. For noisy commuter trains and plane journeys, at least, you can make the most of the provided earplugs and earplug EQ mode.
My only other significant gripe is that the buttons on the right ear hook can be a bit tricky to use during exercise. They’re close enough together that you can press them simultaneously using one thumb but they’re fiddly to use when wearing gloves, even thin ones.
AfterShokz OpenMove headphones review: Should I buy them?
In many ways, Aftershokz’s latest entry-level headphones are the perfect introduction to bone-conduction technology. They embody the results of many years of research and development and come in a package that’s both attractive and affordable.
The only catch is that those who are serious about running or cycling will undoubtedly benefit from saving up a little more for the brand’s flagship model, the Aeropex. They not only have a superior design and fit, but better battery life and waterproofing.
In summary, then, if you have a strict budget of £100, the OpenMove are a solid entry-level choice, but the Aeropex are still the model to go for if you’re serious about moving away from conventional earphones.