AfterShokz, the company made waves with its bone-conduction technology, has a new pair of headphones out. The AfterShokz Bluez are open-ear headphones just like the company's other offerings, but with a bonus upgrade: They're wireless and connect to your smartphone or MP3 player using Bluetooth. Like other bone-conduction headphones, the £100 inc VAT Bluez are designed for a specific purpose: To let you hear your music and conversations without getting, well, run over by a truck. Assuming you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors or in louder environments, the Bluez might be the right headphones for you. (See also our AfterShokz Mobile review and AfterShokz Sports M2 review.) The AfterShokz Bluez are for use with a smartphone, as well as MP3 player, or tablet. See also: Group test - what are the best headphones?
Fitness level: Headphones have no fitness level; the Bluez are a good choice for anyone interested in working out in a noisy environment. They're also especially good for people who can't find a comfortable pair of standard headphones, since they rest on the cheekbone rather than on top of (or inside) the ear; as well as those who may have problems with their ear(s), since they operate by bypassing the outer ear.
Best activities: Like AfterShokz' other offerings, the Bluez bone-conduction headphones are best for outdoor activities such as running, hiking, and biking.
Design and features: These wireless, open-ear headphones are similar in design to AfterShokz' other bone-conduction headphones. The Bluez feature a wrap-around style, complete with two bone-conducting transducer pads at each end. The transducer pads, which are soft and rubbery, rest on your cheekbones and deliver sound through the bones, directly to your inner ear. They're a boxier design than their wired brothers, the Sports M1's, and look a bit as though you're wearing your sunglasses tucked behind your neck.
The Bluez are unlike the Sports M1's, in that they're wireless, which means the rechargeable battery is located in the headset. This makes for a noticeable difference in weight--the Bluez are much heavier than their wired counterparts. Most of this extra weight is concentrated in the back of the headset, which goes behind your neck. To counter this weight, or rather, to keep the headset from falling off of your head, AfterShokz includes an adjustable rubber band that attaches to the back of the headset and helps hold it in place.
Wearing the AfterShokz Bluez
While I was initially skeptical of this heavier model of headphone that was held in place with a rubber band, the Bluez proved to be surprisingly comfortable. Even though they're not as lightweight as AfterShokz' other headphones, they stayed in place nicely during runs and even managed to hang on if I whipped my head in different directions.
Most of the Bluez' buttons are located along the back of the headset, under the bottom edge. Here, you'll find the power switch, a Micro-USB port for charging, and volume controls that double as fast-forward/rewind buttons (just press and hold the buttons to skip through your playlist). These buttons are easy to locate and press while you're using the headphones.
The other buttons are located at the end of the headphones, on the other side of the transducer pads. On the outside of right transducer pad, there's a small, triangle-shaped play/pause button; on the outside of the left pad there's a call button for picking up incoming phone calls. There's also a small microphone on the left transducer pad. In my tests, calls were fairly easy to hear, though callers on the other end of the line reported the Bluez' sound to be slightly fuzzier than AfterShokz' other headphones.
In general, AfterShokz' headphones are not known for their high-quality audio. After all, they are bone-conduction headphones which means there's only so much bass (read: not very much at all) that can feasibly come through. Here, the Bluez are no exception--these are definitely not studio-quality headphones. However, the Bluez' sound quality is much better than that of AfterShokz' first generation mobile headphones, and you can actually hear some bass and decently clear midtones. The Bluez also get extremely loud, which makes them generally excellent for loud environments.
The Bluez seem to be AfterShokz' answer to Bluetooth headsets - the company even states that they sit comfortably in front of both ears while "most Bluetooth devices are designed for use in one ear." The problem with this, of course, is that, like other bone-conduction headphones, the Bluez offer absolutely no conversation privacy. So they're only useful as a replacement for your Bluetooth headset if you don't mind everyone on the street hearing your entire phone conversation. See also: Group test - what are the best headphones?