There’s a continuing debate about the safety issues of wearing headphones whilst cycling. It makes complete sense that, particularly when cycling in heavy traffic, you need to have all your senses available, and that the ability to be aware of other vehicles around you is of paramount importance.
Obviously, if you’re wearing a pair of standard headphones then this isn’t going to happen as they generally fit in or over the ear and preclude any of the environmental sounds going on around you.
Enter the Aftershokz Blues 2S Wireless Bone Conduction Headphones! That’s a snazzy title for a product isn’t it – I think I’ll just refer to them as the Aftershokz Blues 2S from now on in this review!
Most headphones that are of a practical size for cycling at least, are of the earbud design which basically means that the ear bud and speaker is put inside the ear canal. This essentially plugs the ear to sounds from the outside world. This is of course great if you are sitting on a noisy train and just want some quiet time alone with your music. In fact, some higher end headphones are “noise cancelling” which means that they include technology that actually works to eliminate any suggestion of outside noise at all.
Awesome! But not really if you’re a cyclist because, and I’m not really going to put this up for debate, you need to be able to hear traffic around you. This is a shame because cycling with music is actually great – it can be a lovely calming backdrop on a long ride or a pounding accompaniment to interval training or a chat on the radio to keep you entertained as the countryside whizzes by!
Let’s just pause for a moment and say that it’s also wonderful not to wear headphones and to just take in the sounds of nature, the singing birds, the babbling of the brook as you cycle past and the lowing of cows in the distant meadows. Personally these life affirming sounds are often drowned out by my rasping gasping for breath, pounding heart and moaning – or is that just me?
Anyway, music is good but not if you can’t hear the double decker bus creeping up behind you or the car just about to cut you up from the left!
The Aftershokz Blues 2S offer an ingenious solution to the problem in that the speakers/transducers ie the bit where the music actually comes out, rests in front of your ears rather than going into your ears and blocking them up. The sound travels through your cheekbones into the ear and, as the ear canal is still open, you can still hear what is going on around you in the outside world.
This does, of course, almost sound too good to be true. Surely there are some problems and drawbacks?? Well read on my friend, I’ve been riding with the Blues 2S’s on for about a month now and have got to know the ins and outs pretty well……….
Aftershokz Blues 2S in the Box
The first thing to say is that the Aftershokz Blues 2S come packaged in a pretty cool box. I received them as a gift and the packaging exudes quality and it feels like a bit of an experience opening them for the first time. The package opens out in a sort of gatefold design and is thoughtfully clasped together with a magnet.
I guess this sort of thing shouldn’t matter but I’m a complete sucker for experience and quality and this ticked my boxes all the way the first time I opened it.
The headphones themselves look good and come in a nice olive green finish (you can get other colours too!) – it has a slight metallic look and feel to it and the headphones feel sturdy with an attractive chunkiness to them.
They seem to be essentially a “one size fits all” size although there is an elasticated strap to use if you need it. May be our heads are all very similar sized? I don’t know but I must have a pretty big head (!) as I’m a 6’5” male with an extremely large brain (!)and they fit me just fine.
On the bottom on the right hand side you have the controls for connection and volume and on the speaker on the left hand side there’s a multi function button for receiving phone calls, skipping and pausing music etc.
The headphones charge from the USB port on a computer and there is an included cable for this which connects to a small charging port on the headphones.
Getting the Aftershokz Blues 2S’s Set Up and Ready
The Blues 2S’s come with the usual type of instructions on a large multi language sheet. I have to admit to finding these types of fairly standard instructions intensely irritating, badly designed, stressful and cheapskate. To save my temper my ever patient and wise partner read out the instructions so that I didn’t have to navigate the bastard sheet of multilingual paper and actually set up was very simple.
I won’t bore you with the details but, suffice to say, we had the headphones connected via bluetooth to my LG G5 smartphone in a couple of minutes. There was no problem with the bluetooth and this has been my continued experience. I simply switch the headphones on, get the music rolling on the LG G5, the phone goes in my back pocket the music wirelessly bluetooths through the headphones – no connection problems, no lack of signal, job done!
Using the Aftershokz Blues 2S Headphones Whilst Cycling
Ok, so now down to the important bit – do they work! In a nutshell YES, absolutely! It takes a bit of time to get used to how they sound and the sensation of wearing them though. Initially, I noticed a small sensation of vibration in my cheekbones. This isn’t unpleasant at all and not at all painful but it is noticeable. Also, it takes a little bit of time for your brain to adjust to the fact that the sound isn’t coming from within your ear canal. I know that sounds a bit weird but you can still hear the outside world but with a musical backing track and that does take a bit of getting used to. It’s a bit like living your cycling life in a movie with a soundtrack – funny!
And, the important bit is that you can still hear the outside world and have the music on at a reasonable level. I don’t think you can hear as much detail though, or that might just be me and my brain overloading. I think I instinctively prioritise the sound of the music internally and this might be different for different people and I think that, sometimes at least, my brain sort of shuts off the outside world sounds and just concentrates on the music.
However, the sounds of the outside world are clearly there and you can remain fully aware of traffic noises whilst you are wearing them. The one thing I do find difficult to hear with them on is the sound of my gear change though and I was quite surprised how much I rely on sound to keep everything running smoothly down there! I personally can’t easily hear the particular frequencies of the gears chattering whilst wearing the headphones but this might be different for different people.
Similarly, I personally find it a bit of a struggle to hold a conversation with the headphones on. Not because I can’t hear both the other person talking clearly and and also the music as well but just that I think my brain just gets a bit freaked out and doesn’t quite know where to concentrate.
Let’s pause for a moment and point out that I am a typical man in that I absolutely cannot multitask in any way at all. In fact it’s a family joke! There’s no wonder then that, when presented with the choice of two things to concentrate on when previously there has ever only ever been one, my poor brain gets a bit stressed out!
Generally the Aftershokz are comfortable to wear. In fact yo could wear them all day and not notice them in a way that you really can’t with most other headphones. The only problem I found with them is that, in combination with the straps from my bike helmet, they get pushed into my head a bit and sometimes pushed back off my cheekbones. This would probably be easily fixed by adjusting the helmet straps a bit but currently it’s not such a big problem that I can be bothered to sort it out.
Lazy! Yes, I know!
I also find it tricky to adjust the volume whilst riding. This might just be that I need a bit more practice but it would be better if the push button was on the side rather than underneath but that’s a small point I think. The multi function button on the side is much better, even in gloves, but with a gloved hand at least volume adjustment on the go is not really possible.
Battery wise the headphones are supposed to last about six hours at a moderate volume. I haven’t tested this but battery life seems OK. There’s a low battery warning voice in the headphones that starts way before the headphones run out of juice and I haven’t found battery life on a single ride an issue. I haven’t ridden for six hours on the go with them though!
The Aftershokz are sweat proof as well and, although I’m winter riding at the moment and not coming home drenched in sweat at the moment, I’ve got very wet in the rain several times and the headphones have been fine.
Sound quality of the Aftershokz Blues 2S Headphones
The Blues 2S’s aren’t audiophile headphones and don’t come close to what you experience from specifically designed high end headphones. However they are not pretending to be this either and they have many many other qualities. In fairness the sound quality is as good as what you would get from a standard pair or in ear bud headphones that might come supplied with a good quality phone.
The sound quality is fine for most things. Spoken word is good and using the headphones as a phone headset works well for both speaking and listening. Electronic/pop music sounds fine although to my ears I would like a bit more bass and the sound is a little thin and tinny. I think the headphones would struggle to do a really good job with anything classical or particularly subtle sounding.
But high fidelity listening isn’t on the Blues 2S’s job description. That’s not what you buy them for. Don’t get me wrong they sound absolutely fine but a standard pair of headphones for the same price will sound much better. They sound as good as a pair of headphones that might come provided with a good quality smartphone and no more.
Other uses for the Blues 2S’s
You can of course, if you wish, take and make phone calls on the headphones – no problem! They are also great for getting notifications from your phone whilst you are on the go so if you have Map My Ride set to give you updates for example you can get stats right into your ear every mile!
Less annoyingly and more usefully, if you use Google maps to help you with directions then you can of course get the direction, along with your music, into the headphones as well.
I love this connectivity and convenience of this type of tech!
Sometimes though it’s just nice to switch everything off and just, well ride the bike!!
Sum up and conclusions
I really like these headphones. They work really well and are ideal for riding with. I can hear the outside world, the music sounds good and they are sturdy and easy to use.
I personally don’t use them for anything else though. I wouldn’t naturally reach for them to listen to music with any time other than on the bike as the sound quality isn’t exceptional and I usually want to cut out the sound of the family anyway!
They aren’t inexpensive and, if you are looking for a general pair of headphones or absolute sound quality is your priority then the same money will buy a better sounding pair of standard headphones.
However for riding safely on the bike, running or any other exercise to music they are brilliant. If you know that you will specifically use them for this then go for it, they do exactly what they promise and are great fun to use as well!