AfterShokz Aeropex Headphones | $160 | Amazon
Cooking is a passion of mine and I like to use that time to catch up on podcasts. Maybe it’s a symptom of the always-on mentality of today, but this is a good time for me to make progress on my podcast backlog. On days when my chef’s knife feels like a weight rather than a tool, being able to listen to a podcast is all the motivation I need. And when I’ve let the dishes pile up, the excuse of a great episode is all that’s between me and a clean kitchen.
There’s just one slight problem; I need to listen to my podcast and what’s happening in the kitchen at the same time. In other words, cooking can be chaotic, and using regular headphones or earbuds restricts my hearing too much. When I’m cooking or cleaning, I want to hear my wife, who often wants to talk after a long day of work. I don’t want to miss that, but I did every time I wore headphones. Before you say I should try speakers, I have, and they don’t work. Between the kitchen fan whirring at full speed and everything else that’s happening on the stove, the only way to hear the speakers is by maxing out the volume, which is even more chaotic. So I decided to try the Aeropex headphones from AfterShokz instead, which use bone conduction for an open ear listening experience.
The Aeropex doesn’t look like traditional headphones, and that’s because AfterShokz is not a traditional manufacturer. AfterShokz headphones hook around your head to rest directly in front of the ears, transmitting sound via bone-conduction technology. According to the AfterShokz FAQ page, “transducers send mini vibrations through the cheekbones and deliver sound directly to the inner ear, bypassing the eardrum.” AfterShokz headphones can deliver sound without obstructing your ears, allowing users to listen to their headphones while still clearly aware of their surroundings.
While the technology has been used in hearing aids since the 70s and for the military, it’s never caught on in a big way. It is popular among runners and cyclists, which makes sense since they need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. But the reason they’re such a niche product is that they don’t sound as good as regular headphones in a similar price range. But they don’t have to because they excel in very specific situations. Cooking is one of them.
With the Aeropex, I finally have a pair of headphones that meets my unique needs. No matter what I’m doing in the kitchen, I can listen to my podcast and still be able to monitor the myriad sounds produced in a busy kitchen. When my timer goes off or when hot oil begins to splatter, I hear it clearly while also learning about The Amazing Lives of Migratory Birds from NPR’s Fresh Air. Having tried the Aeropex only, I can’t speak for all products from the manufacturer, but my experience has positively influenced how I cook, clean, and complete other chores.
The Aeropex are comfortable to wear over long periods, and their unique shape keeps them in place. No more wireless earbuds that begin to slip out randomly when my hands are busy. I’ve worn them for hours and I never once had an issue with soreness or fatigue as I do with other headphones. Although listening to a higher volume can be uncomfortable, the transducers cause significant vibration on the point of contact that this doesn’t happen. I keep mine at about half volume, which is a good balance between hearing what’s being played and what’s going on around me. Increasing the volume can drown all that out, which defeats the purpose.
Unlike some of the other headphones I’ve tried, these headphones have actual, physical buttons that you can press. The Aeropex only sport three, with each of them having multiple purposes. Holding either of the volume buttons when the headphones are paused prompts the device to state its battery life — low, medium, or high. And the play/pause button can be used to pick up calls, redial, and skip to the next song.
The Aeropex headphones have an IP67 rating, which protects the pair against dust and submerges in water. While I doubt I’ll be dropping these in a meter of water for 30 minutes, I don’t need to worry if they get a few droplets on them. Though waterproof, the headphones won’t charge if moisture is detected on the magnetic charging pad.
Not that you’ll be charging very often, since the Aeropex have an eight-hour battery life, and a standby time of ten days. I can attest to the latter, as I routinely leave mine on only to return a day or two later with no significant difference in battery life. The battery life claim is not something I’ve tested meticulously, but, anecdotally speaking, eight hours sounds about right. Either way, they include two proprietary magnetic induction charging cables in the packaging, as well as a silicon carrying case and a pair of earplugs.
The earplugs are supposed to help with the sound, and, sure, they do help the bass on the headphones sound punchier, but they don’t fix the overall muddy sound. Also, wearing earplugs defeats the purpose of the open ear concept. These headphones would be my last choice if I really wanted to listen to music, but that’s not their purpose. As much as Aftershokz has improved the sound quality and sound leakage, their purpose is a compromise between being able to listen to media and staying aware of your surroundings. I’m fine with that, and I think they sound fine for what they are.
Finding the right pair of headphones for a specific situation feels like a really privileged thing, but when you spend ten hours, if not more, cooking and cleaning in the kitchen every week, a $159 price is worth it. I’ve enjoyed my Aeropex mostly while cooking, but they’ve been great when I’ve gone on walks. This lets me simultaneously listen to Triple Click, or the MinnMax Show, and hear traffic while crossing a busy intersection. I’m also planning to use them when I go cruising on my longboard. When I’m working from my bedroom, I use them to monitor my cats and make sure I don’t miss a delivery.
The Aeropex’s lacking sound quality may be a turnoff for some. Still, their performance in situations like the ones I’ve used them for is why I consistently pick them over Google’s Pixel Buds, Jabra’s 65ts, or my pricey Sony WH-1000XM4s.