For a while I’ve been willing to write a post about this: Cycling and Music.
First of all, please don’t expect this to be a product review, even though I will be giving you my impression about 2 products I use. I have NO desire to start doing this type of things. All I really want to do is to ride my bicycle and share my experiences with you, but I do think that to share this is relevant as music has been a constant companion for me when I am out riding solo and I know that to be the case for other cyclists too, even though, according to my “research” (what I mean by “research” is the Facebook post I wrote few days ago asking if you listen to music while you ride your bike) most of you don’t. As far as product reviews go, there are good people out there doing product reviews on everything and they can do a much better job than I can, so at the bottom of this post I’ll add some product reviews I found in YouTube.
As this post turned out to be rather long, I decided to put some anchor links so you can jump to the part you may be more interested in.
- Why am I writing this post?
- The DIGICare Bone Conduction Headphone
- The Aftershokz Bluez 2 Bone Conduction Headphone
- Pictures of my bone conduction headphones.
- DIGICare reviews in YouTube
- Aftershokz Bluez 2 reviews in YouTube.
Why am I writing this post?
The first thing that has been inspiring me to write about this is that listening to music has a very positive impact on my performance while cycling. It acts as an additional incentive to keep the cadence high and in sync with the rhythm of the beat. If you are interested in learning the effects of music on physical exercises, give this document a read. I loved the opening sentence: “Despite what you may have heard, the connection between music and exercise didn’t start with Jane Fonda’s dance aerobics or the Sony Walkman portable cassette player. Try 300 B.C. Probably even earlier“. One thing that came to mind is that many young riders might not understand the “Fonda” connection, nor know what a Walkman was (Goggle them, if you don’t), but since I am old, I do remember them well 🙂 .
The second thing is that some time ago I participated in a heated online debate about whether it is right or wrong do listen to music while cycling. Even the Major of London, Boris Johnson, got into the discussion stating he would support a prohibition or ban on cyclists wearing headphones after a series of cyclist fatalities in London at the end of 2014. Check these newspaper articles, if interested: The Telegraph, The Independent.
Third… well, I think two are enough, but I also drew inspiration to write this post from the fact that I do spinning and anyone that has ever attended a well delivered spinning session knows how physically demanding it can be and how important the music is. Without music there simply is no spinning.
Another aspect of music while cycling is the environmental noise around you. I would gladly refrain from listening to music if riding around a beautiful forest path to listen to the sounds of the forest, the birds singing and so on, or simply to be in silence. On most urban environments, however, that is not the case and I would much prefer to listen to my favourite tones than to the petrol engines passing by. Even in nature, however, the activity I find myself doing also plays a role whether to listen to music or not. I love to go to the Swinley forest and ride the MTB tracks there while listening to music (typically loud and fast). It becomes like an open air spinning class to me.
Although there is no scientific evidence that suggest that riding with music increases the risk of harming yourself, as this study suggests, I believe that are things for which good sense is better than science.
The funny thing is that when I was out on one of my rides to Windsor some time ago and decided to record the ride and talk over it (my first, not very successful attempt at a Bike Vlog), I felt even more distracted than if I was just listening to music. I’ve not only heard about, but I’ve seen with my own eyes, how distracting it can be when you are riding in a group or with a partner and talking. I’ve seen a few accidents happening under these circumstances. It begs the question, if you should not listen to music while riding solo, should you also stay quiet when riding with someone?
It is logical to think that music can prevent you from listening your surroundings, especially if very loud, but the activity of listening to music does not require a high degree of attention, while talking to someone does and the brain has to multi-task.
In moments where I was cycling in busy environments, such as narrow roads with intense traffic of light and heavy duty vehicles I too have taken my headphone’s earbuds away from my ears.
Now this big introduction got me to the point that I really want to cover, or rather “uncover” in this post: My ears…
Up to an year ago they used to be covered. I had several in-ear headphones which I used while out riding my bicycle. Some of them, like the Sony DR-BT160AS were absolutely brilliant. Great sound quality, light weight and easy to use.
But just over an year ago I discovered that there are such things as bone conduction headphones. Google can do a much better job than I can at explaining to you how they work, but just in case you’re feeling lazy, they are headphones that sit in front of the ear (some sit behind the ear, like the Google Glass) and utilize bone conduction technology to deliver stereophonic sound through the listener’s cheekbones to the inner ear. So, that means unlike conventional headphones there are no earbuds and nothing is on top or “inside” your ears. Therefore your ears are uncovered and open to listen to the sound and noises around you. Of course, if you set your bone conduction headphone to a high volume the sound will tend to overcome the environmental noise, so each person that wants to listen to music while riding has to find their own level of comfort.
At first I was a bit skeptical to be honest and didn’t really want to spent the 80 quid for a good quality headphone. These types of headphones are not as easy to find as the more traditional in-ear ones and I had also read reports the sound quality they produced were nowhere near in comparison to good in-ear headphones. After a while curiosity took over I decided to buy a cheaper Chinese version from eBay.
The DIGICare Bone Conduction Headphone.
I end up buying a DIGICare Bone Conduction headphone from this eBay seller for about £50 (prices came down a little since) who had the product available in the UK and shipped it to me rather quickly, but there are many others to choose from, some perhaps even cheaper than what I paid for.
The first thing I think I need to say is that it works, although the hearing sensation is more like the one you would probably get if you touched tiny speakers to your cheekbones. What I mean is that, of course you will feel the vibration coming through your bone, but I believe most of the sound is picked up by your eardrums anyway. The DIGICare headphones come with a hard-shell case which may be useful if you intend to carry it around, in a suitcase or a bag, for example, but I don’t think I’d ever use it as such. Comes also with a pair of earplugs, which I thought it completely defeated the purpose of buying a bone conduction headphone in the first place, since you want to have your ears free. When I tried them is that I understood the effect the sound being carried by the bones had. In essence, one of the applications would be to completely close your ears to external noise and still be able to hear the sound coming from the headphone, which was a cool experiment, but that is what it was for me.
If I had to rate the DIGICare Bone Conduction headphone in categories such as sound quality, comfort and user friendliness I would give the following values out of 10.
Music Sound quality: 5 out of 10.
Like Maghan Trainor, for me is all about the bass. Although the sound is crisp and clear the lack of bass is a bit of a turn down for me. Sound leakage is pretty bad on them, but I believe that this is present in every bone conduction headphone.
Phone call sound quality: 9 out of 10.
I get occasional calls while riding and the audio quality for that is very good. Never had a problem understanding the person on the other side. The MIC appears to work well as well, as the callers on the other side rarely complained about not being able to hear me. The headphone has 2 MICs and one is for noise reduction. I think that in really noisy environments that may still be a problem, but then that would probably be true also if I was talking directly to the phone’s MIC.
Comfort: 6 out of 10.
I found them a bit uncomfortable to use over an extended period of time. While I was riding on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage last year there were days I wore them the entire day. After a while the pressure they were making on my cheekbones started to hurt a little, a problem you may not have in in-ear headphones as they rest inside the ear. Most helmets I used where no problem with the headphone, except the skiing helmet that I use to ride in the cold, which is closed over the ear.
User Friendliness: 8 out of 10.
I found them really easy to operate. I liked the fact that there were easy access buttons on both sides to pause the music or answer phone calls. The buttons behind the head were a bit more difficult to operate and some of them were, in my opinion, quite important such as the volume keys. To be honest though, they weren’t hard to get used to, once I memorized their position, and they were quite tactile friendly.
Bluetooth connection: 9 out of 10.
No issues here, although they are not super fast to connect. They start breaking at about 7 to 8 m with no obstacles and about 4 to 5 m with walls in between. One benefit present on this headphone and not on the more expensive Aftershokz below is NFC (Near Field Communication), which allows you to connect simply by touching the headphone to your smartphone.
If you are on a budget, want to try bone conduction technology and are OK to trade a bit of sound quality for the safety of having your ears free, than these can be a good option. I have had them for 1 year and have always used them when out on my bike. So far I had no problems with them. The built quality is good and they don’t feel cheap in your hands.
Aftershokz Bluez 2
One of the brands I considered before buying the DIGICare product was Aftershokz. I had done a bit of Google research before buying the DIGICare and Aftershokz appeared to be the best “affordable” Bone Conduction headphones one could buy. At the time they were retailing between £80 to £90 and that was more than I wanted to invested just to satisfy my curiosity. This has apparently changed now and recently they came down in price to about the same price range as I originally paid for the DIGICare ones, so I decide to get one to compare. Worth saying that the reason they may have come down is because a new generation is out now (the Bluez 2S) and they might be clearing stock of the old model. Aftershokz also has another, top of the range, model called Trekz Titanium.
I purchased the Aftershokz Bluez 2 from Amazon and paid £56 and the price appears to be have stayed under £60 ever since.
I have been using it for a couple of weeks now and in general the concept is exactly the same as with the cheaper DIGICare ones. The sound quality is considerably better though, with a much better defined bass. I still don’t think it can beat a good in-ear or over-the-ear headphone, but it definitely does a better job than the DIGICare one.
The operation of the Bluez 2 is a bit different than the DIGICare one. There are less buttons to play with.
To start the DIGICare one has a button on the left and a button on the right transducer (the little speaker that sits on your cheekbones). The Bluez 2 has only 1 multifunction button on the left transducer, which you use to play/pause music when it’s playing or to answer a call when the phone rings (amongst a number of other things… amazing how much you can do with a single button)
So these are my ratings on the Aftershokz Bluez 2:
Music Sound quality: 7 out of 10.
Yes, I believe it sounds better than the DIGICare one, but compared to a good in-ear headphone, such as the Sony DR-BT160AS they have still some way to go. To be honest, I don’t even know if this technology is able to produce the same quality of sound as a good in-ear or over-the-ear can. It might be a limitation of the technology itself. Sound leakage is heavy at higher volumes as well, but it doesn’t feel to be as bad as with the DIGICare one. I do believe the safety issue makes it worth sacrificing audio quality though.
Phone call sound quality: 9 out of 10.
I believe the call quality is the same as with the DIGICare ones, perhaps slightly better, but to be honest and fair I have not had as many calls in the same varied number of situations that I did with the DIGICare. Like the DIGICare it also has 2 MICs of which one is for noise reduction.
Comfort: 7 or of 10.
I think they are a bit better to use, but again, to be fair and honest I have not used them as much and for as long as I did with the DIGICare ones. What I can tell is that they are a bit smaller and appear to be lighter. Their centre of gravity is also different than on the DIGICare ones, where the battery and controls are on the back, while in the Aftershocks the battery and controls are on the sides. So they much thinner on the back and just a little wider on the sides. I didn’t feel the need to use the rubber strap that came with the Aftershokz, while I do use them on the DIGICare.
User Friendliness: 7 out of 10.
I felt it took a little bit more getting used to the Aftershokz than it did to the DIGICare headphones. To be fair and honest, this could well be because I was already familiar with the controls of the DIGICare. While wearing my helmet I found it harder to reach the side buttons on the Aftershokz than the back buttons on the DIGICare. The multifunction button also takes a bit more getting used to with its 2 second presses and double presses on the same button you use to both answer / end calls and pause / start music. The manual says it is possible to change the equalization of the sound by pressing both volume up and down simultaneously, but I never manage to do it that easily.
Bluetooth connection: 9 out of 10.
No issues here and they are a lot faster connecting to the phone than the DIGICare ones, however the DIGICare has NFC and the Afershokz does not. Haven’t really made the distance test, but I believe they will be at a pair with the DIGICare on this.
So, enough said about what I think of cycling while listening to music and my impressions on both bone conduction headphones. If you can afford to spend the extra cash and want to give it a try, I would recommend you go for the Aftershokz product, but keep in mind there are other brands available in the market too. If you happen to have or get something else and want to share it here with all of us, feel free to leave your comment below.
Pictures of my Bone Conduction Headphones
Click on the pictures to enlarge.
As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, I don’t want to go into the product review arena, so I have found a few reviews in YouTube that I considered to be interesting to share.
- This was the most positive review I found. I found it, however, to be… “too” positive. It gave me the impression that the person is more interested in driving sales than a true product review, but judge it for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=907wKWnWcBQ
- I found this one to be a neutral review and has good shots and explanations of the device: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GNZRfEDGio
- This was the most negative review I found: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yab9ONWnaDs
Aftershokz Bluez 2:
- This was an interesting and neutral sounding review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OFgZjsDdfc
- Review done at CES 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xADA1uh9MT4
- There is an unboxing portion in this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMGwIPOYTEk
Well, that’s it! Hope this can be useful and if it is, please feel free to rate this by clicking on the stars below and share, like and comment in social media.
Make your bones happy.
Note: Links on this page lead to Amazon and eBay product pages. If you decide to buy from them I get a small commission. Feel free to shop around though.