One of the reasons I opt to wear earbuds instead of over-ear headphones is safety: I simply don't want anyone to know if I'm blaring music instead of paying attention to my surroundings. However, now there's a third option in the earbud/over-ear debate thanks the Aftershokz open-ear headphones.
Designed to be a safer alternative to traditional headphones, Aftershokz open-ear models rest against the front part of the ear and use bone conduction technology to transmit sound through the cheekbones and into the inner ears. Because nothing ever enters the ear drum, you're able to hear all ambient noise, making Aftershokz safer for runners and cyclists because they can still hear what's happening around them. They're also ideal for people who have--or are interested in preventing--hearing damage caused from traditional headphones.
There are two new models of Aftershokz on display at CES this year: a wired version (Sportz M2) and a wireless version that operates using Bluetooth (the appropriately named Bluez). You wear both versions behind the neck; the Sportz M2 feature round buds and a thinner band than the Bluez, which have a thicker band and a more rectangular shape.
They sit firmly in place along your ears and don't move or shift when you move your head--and they're sweat-proof and water-resistant, which makes them ideal for exercise. There's also a rubber strap that you can attach to the headsets to adjust fit, and because there's nothing that sits in or over your ears, they won't rub or irritate your skin.
Both headsets also let you take voice calls; the Sportz M2 has an in-line mic with buttons for taking calls and adjusting volume; the Bluez have a play button and a call button on either side and volume controls (and USB charging) on the underneath of the band. The Bluez also have a QR code printed on the inside of the band that takes you to a quick start guide when scanned.
The Aftershokz aren't only good for music and calls, however: Sight- and hearing-impaired users have used them in conjunction with screen reader and global guidance technology. Aftershokz CEO Bruce Borenstein told me that sight-impaired users have used the headsets to help with echo navigation, and that one user--a man who was deaf in one ear--was able to hear in surround sound for the first time using the headphones.
Military personnel, such as Seal Team 6, have also used bone conduction technology during missions to communicate with their team while maintaining awareness of their surroundings. All I know is that if it's good enough for Seal Team 6, it's good enough to keep me safe from zombies. Or, probably more likely, muggers.