I have never run while wearing earphones. I don’t like the experience of wearing anything in my ears at the best of times and wear over the ear headphones at my desk. I’m also concerned about being unable to hear traffic, cyclists coming up behind on shared tracks, or being unaware of someone following a bit close for comfort.
Many of the local races I enter have gone as far as to ban the use of earphones, due to the number of runners who render themselves completely incapable of hearing race marshall instructions, other runners trying to overtake or emergency vehicles. On one occasion I saw an earphone wearing runner have to be physically dragged out of the way of an ambulance by other runners.
All that said, while I am lucky to do many of my runs with friends from the Athletics Club, marathon training does involve some very boring solo runs. So I started searching to see if I could find some way to play music without compromising safety.
I first spotted the AfterShokz headphones in a Runners World review, where they got a decent rating. I liked the look of the behind the neck headband and the possibility of listening to music while still being able to hear other things and after reading a few other reviews online bought a set.
First impressions on unwrapping them were great. They come in a sturdy case (nice to chuck in my suitcase when travelling) that also contains a cable to charge the internal battery. The headphones themselves feel solid and well built.
There is a small battery pack with these headphones, the battery pack also has the volume controls and on/off switch. This pack is listed as a downside for the headphones in some reviews however it is very light and clips onto clothes easily. Possibly the biggest downside of these headphones is they are yet another thing you have to remember to charge.
The experience of listening to music with the headphones is at first a bit strange. It would best be described as like listening to ambient music in a room, it’s not the same experience as you get with regular earphones. You can have a conversation with someone while your music is playing quite comfortably. They do leak a bit of sound (as you would expect) however as these are designed for sport and not for listening to music in the office, that’s fine.
I took them out on a five mile run. The headband is very comfortable and the pads don’t slip at all. As the band sits low behind your neck it would be usable with a cycle helmet on. I could also comfortably wear these with my chunky running sunglasses. When running on quiet streets the sound quality is great yet you can hear everything around you, and don’t get that “cut off” feeling of earphones. Naturally, as your ears are left open on a noisy road you do find the music a bit overpowered by traffic noise. That is, I feel, a reasonable trade-off for the safety of being able to hear well.
I purchased these headphones with some trepidation as I have plenty of other headphones and earphones in my drawer that I have worn once, hated, and never worn again. However I am really pleased with them. They give a great balance between being able to have the enjoyment and motivation of music while you run and keeping safe and aware of your surroundings. I am now enjoying putting together playlists of my favourite music to make those boring round the town training runs a bit more fun.