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How Do Bone Conduction Headphones Work?

Bone Conduction HeadphonesSummer is the perfect time to head outdoors for a run, a bike ride or a nice leisurely stroll around town. While wearing headphones to listen to music is a great way to enjoy these activities, with bustling traffic and potential hazards all around, they can isolate you from your environment and pose a significant safety risk. Fortunately, advancements in listening technology can help. Bone-conduction headphones use an acoustic approach to provide an innovative way to enjoy music while simultaneously still being aware of one’s surroundings.

Although most sounds are transmitted through the air to our eardrums, bone-conduction headphones rely on sound being transmitted through vibrations on the bones of the head and jaw. The sounds from these headphones bypass the eardrum and relays sound directly to the inner ear. Bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA) have been using this style of sound transmission for years to help people who have hearing difficulty.

Interestingly, this process of sound transmission is how we are able to hear our own voice.  The well-known composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who eventually went deaf, is noted for discovering this means of hearing. By biting his composer’s wand and pressing it against his piano, he could transmit the audio waves into physical vibrations. In this manner, he could “hear” and work on his famous works. 

Unlike traditional headphones, bone conduction headphones sit on the outside of the ear. This leaves the ear canal open to ambient sound while also transmitting music from a portable device. This makes bone-conduction a wise choice for avid cyclists, runners, or walkers who would like to enjoy music while staying alert and aware of their surroundings.

Dr. Lindsay Bondurant, director of the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI), uses these devices personally. She says along with outdoor activities, bone conduction headphones are useful for swimmers, snorkelers or scuba diving enthusiasts.

“I wear my bone conduction headphones while swimming  - because these devices work using vibration, they’re great for use underwater,” said Dr. Bondurant.

Users say bone-conduction headphones are very comfortable to wear and produce an adequate sound quality. Due to their open ear design, these headphones may be helpful for anyone with hearing loss and who wears hearing aids. They are also potentially helpful for tinnitus sufferers as they allow ambient sounds to enter the ear canal and may effectively act as a masking solution for individuals suffering from this condition. 

While they have several safety and design advantages over traditional headphones, bone-conduction headphones can still damage hearing when music or sound is played at high volumes. PEI offers a wide variety of hearing accessories and hearing protection – all customizable to meet your individual needs. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 215.780.3180.