I remember the day I got my first Sony Walkman. The crisp clunk-click as I loaded the soundtrack to Breakdance – The Movie. The fresh, plush bright orange foam of the headphones. Clipping it to the waistband of my shell suit bottoms.
And then the strut.
Walking down the street with my own soundtrack to life blasting way too loud in my ears, made me feel like Leroy from Fame. Passing my mates on the street corner, breakdancing on taped together cardboard, I had the smug satisfaction of knowing that while they were spending a fortune on the massive batteries needed to power their Ghetto Blaster, I was golden for weeks with my AA batteries.
And so started my love affair with personal music systems. I’ve tried them all: The Discman, the MiniDisc player, and the early versions of MP3 systems.
It was the way I could shut out the world around me and sink into a symphonic sea of auditory distraction, taking me to lands beyond my own reality. I could drift into melancholic melodies or rage with a revolutionary anger and the world at large would have no idea, save for the tinny hiss emanating from my headphones.
Fast forward to my adult years and the ability to harness the power of music on the move became a gamechanger for me. When I started running and working out I also discovered what physical discomfort was. And music was the antidote.
We all have a power song. That tune that pumps you up; that unlocks the hidden potential still lurking in those fatigued muscles; that force that makes you pump your fist into the air like an involuntary convulsion that, from a distance, makes you look like you’re battling a swarm of wasps.
Headphones allow you to tap into this cosmic force all from the comfort of your own skull. This point is key, as what is hugely uplifting for you may be painfully annoying for someone else.
This point was hammered home to me during a very long and arduous mountain marathon. As I crested a peak I could here the faint and distant thrum of guitar, and as I progressed I could see the sound was coming from the runner ahead of me.
Now, I am pretty agnostic when it comes to Dire Straits, but when it’s blasted out across the beautiful vista that is the Mourne Mountains I get pretty shitty. This is what headphones were made for. Listen to your music but don’t inflict it on others. For the next 90 minutes my entire focus was on putting as much distance between this man and myself as possible. I came in across the finish line an hour quicker than I had expected.
Now headphones and earphones have come a long way since the early Walkman era, but one thing that hasn’t changed is my peculiar right ear. I really struggle to get earphones to stay in it. Even swimming ear plugs have caused me no end of issues, and at the same time have cost me a fortune.
The current ‘in ear’ phones that insert into the ear-canal like some kind of alien probe fit fine in the left but need a shoe horn to fit them into the right and a surgical procedure to remove it.
When I do manage to squeeze them in I hate the ‘bunged up’ sensation they cause, combined with hearing my breath like a bad Darth Vader impersonation and the reverberation of every step I make.
So I have generally opted for classic ‘on ear’ headphones. The problem with these? Chronically sweaty ears.
Add to this the total lack of situational awareness that both types of head/earphones create means that running or cycling in a busy town environment come with increased risk.
Enter the bone conducting headphone.
Ears are sooo last year. What all the cool kids do now is bypass them completely. Bone conducting headphones do just this. By vibrating the bones in your skull the sound is directly transmitted to the inner ear rather than via the eardrum.
What does this mean? It means no more bunged up ear-canal, no more sweaty shell-likes, and the ability to hear other stuff (like traffic) even when listening to your music.
There is a huge amount of different brands available, but Shokz (formerly AfterShokz) are a definite brand leader.
The OpenMove model seems to be Shokz’s entry level model. Coming in at about £80 they are far from the cheapest, but nearly half the price of their higher level models.
The IP55 rating means it is both sweatproof, pretty much dustproof, and can handle jets of water, so pretty good in light rain. Perfect, in my opinion, for trail running.
Sitting on the cheek bones in front of the ears, with the headband resting on the ears themselves before continuing around the back of the head, the fit feels really secure. The band itself sticks out away from the head. My concerns that this would bounce up and down when I ran were totally unfounded. The headphones stay put with no noticeable movement.
They have enough pressure to feel secure without ever feeling like my face is being squeezed. In fact once they are on I tend to forget they are there.
They are lightweight, coming in at 29g. When not in use they can be worn around your neck. They have a magnetic clasp that sticks the two sections together when not worn.
The controls are simple and pretty intuitive. On the left hand side is a single button which controls playing and pausing music, answering calls, and skipping forward or backwards (2 taps or 3 taps respectively). A long hold will activate your phone assistant (Siri or the Google lady).
On the right hand side are the volume controls and the charging port (USB-C). The volume buttons also act as the on/off buttons and change the audio settings (more about that shortly.
In The Box
The headphones come with a basic guide for use, a natty little carry bag, a USB-C cable (no plug), a pair of foam ear plugs and some ‘sticker skins’ to decorate/customise your headphones.
I am impressed with the sound quality of the headphones. At first it seems pretty much like witchcraft. Having the sound directly pumped into my brain whilst still allowing me to hear conversations felt pretty out there. The sound is clear and true in most conditions that I’ve tried them in.
Now lets be clear. The sound quality is in no way comparable to even a cheap pair of in-ear phones, that essentially seal off all other sound from entering your lugholes. If driving bass is your thing you’ll want to look elsewhere. That’s not why people use these things.
Bone conducting headphones allow enough sound for you to enjoy what you are listening too, but still allow you to hear other things in your environment. This is perfect for runners, cyclists, or walkers who frequent areas with hazards to be aware of. For me, I just like to listen to stuff and still experience the nature around me.
I rarely listen to music when I run or walk nowadays, it’s mainly podcasts and audio books. These headphones or perfect for this. They even have a vocal boost audio setting that sets up the level specifically for this medium.
For those listening to music there is the standard setting and the ear plug setting. The latter setting is for when you truly want to retreat from the world. Plug up your ears, change the setting and away you go. I use this setting when I am working with noisy machinery, something I have struggled to do previously with other types of headphones.
The biggest limiter I have found in sound quality is being in the wind. The sound of a gale thrumming my eardrums means I totally lose the audio from the phones. This of course would be negated by using the plugs, but I don’t want that bunged sensation when I run. Usually just lifting my hood is enough to deaden the wind to keep on listening.
Outside of Running
These headphones have performed excellently when I am working out too. No fear of them falling out mid burpee or mid lift, and no accidental button pressing when snatching a kettlebell. They are streamline, barely noticeable bits of audio sorcery.
I will often use binaural beats to aid my meditation, focus and creativity, in fact I’m using them right now. The OpenMove headphones work fine for this, however, depending on which frequency you are listening to, you can really feel the vibrations on your cheek bones. This can be an issue for some people. It usually doesn’t bother me too much, but if the volume is high it does become more noticeable.
I also use binaural beats when I have a cheeky daytime power nap. This is one limitation with the OpenMoves. Not being overly comfortable laying on your side (they also move from the cheek bone and lose the sound quality), they are also not useable when laying on your back, unlike other head/earphones. This is due to the band behind your head.
Battery Life and Connection
The battery lasts a good 6 hours when fully charged, probably longer if you don’t have the volume cranked right up. Charging seems to only take an hour or so, although I have never let the battery get totally flat.
Connection via Bluetooth is dead easy. You can even connect two devices simultaneously. The connection distance is excellent. I can be in different rooms, on different floors in my old stone house and still stay connected. You could easily keep your phone in your bag and work out in most gyms without issue.
Are the Shokz OpenMove perfect? No, but neither are my ears. If you are not an EQ nerd or bass connoisseur and want headphones that deliver good enough audio whilst still allowing you the ability to hear your surroundings then they are great.
For me they are the best headphones I have ever tried. They stay put, don’t make my ears sweaty, have simple controls, perfect sound quality for what I need, and are barely noticeable on my head.
I bloody love ’em!
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