One of the hot holiday gift categories for 2017 is wireless earbuds, especially true wireless earbuds like Apple’s popular AirPods. This is the year that true wireless earbuds –the kind where each earbud is independently powered, with no wires whatsoever– blew up in popularity. As cool as they can be, if I were picking out something like that as a gift, I would skip the earbuds altogether and go with the new AfterShokz Trekz Air wireless bone conduction headphones instead.
I’ve had at least a dozen true wireless earbuds here for testing this year, and as impressive as some of those are, I would choose the AfterShokz Trekz Air every time. Here’s why…
The Problem(s) With Wireless Earbuds
The technology behind wireless –and especially true wireless earbuds– is impressive. But there are a series of trade-offs.
Battery life is an issue, especially when it comes to true wireless. These have to fit a battery in each earbud, without being so heavy that they’re uncomfortable or fall out. That limits battery life. While they come with a charge case that usually includes a fast-charge option (and will be advertised as offering 12 hours or more of total battery life), in my experience you are usually lucky to get four hours before needing to recharge most true wireless earbuds. Some I’ve tested only manage two or three hours at average volume.
Wireless buds are often better, but that means an inline battery compartment on the cord connecting the two buds, and that battery compartment usually ends up resting on the wearer’s neck.
Comfort and fit can be an issue for many people with any earbuds –wireless or wired. Manufacturers address this by including an assortment of ear tips and fins. Some are better than others (Jaybird always sets the bar high in this department), but the fact remains that sticking a bud into your ear canal isn’t always comfortable for some people. Getting a secure fit can also be tough. A poor fit not only causes discomfort, it seriously degrades the audio. And guess what happens if a true wireless earbud pops out? From head height, the drop could damage the earbud. There’s also the risk of losing one
If the person you’re shopping for is going to be using the earbuds for fitness, especially outdoor activity, there may be a safety issue. Earbuds tend to block ambient noise, especially when they get that perfect seal that’s required for ideal audio performance. That means the wearer doesn’t necessarily hear background noise, like an approaching car. Some running events ban earbuds for this reason.
Finally, true wireless earbuds can be fussy. They connect via Bluetooth to the music source (usually a smartphone or a smartwatch), just like wireless earbuds. But true wireless earbuds also need to connect wirelessly to each other. Some stay connected pretty solidly, others have issues with one bud or the other dropping out and having to be manually re-paired.
Why I’m Recommending AfterShokz Trekz Air Instead
The AfterShokz Trekz Air offer many of the same advantages as wireless earbuds. They’re very light weight and minimalist and they connect to your music source using Bluetooth, so there are no wires to get tangled up in. They are IP55 sweatproof and waterproof. They have built-in noise cancelling microphones for taking voice calls.
However, the Trekz Air use a completely different technology for audio delivery, called bone conduction. Instead of a driver in your ear canal, they employ a transducer that sits on your cheekbone, transmitting sound waves to the inner ear. The two transducer units are connected by a flexible, titanium headband. It fits behind the wearer’s head and uses gently pressure to keep everything in place. The result is a comfortable and secure fit.
Key advantages over wireless earbuds include:
- No worries about buds falling out
- Comfortable and easy to put on, no fumbling to get buds locked into place
- No connectivity issue between buds
- 6 hour+ battery life
- Situational awareness because nothing is physically blocking the ear canal
If you’re shopping for a true music lover, I would recommend on-ear or over-ear headphones for their superior audio. But for an active user who would otherwise be using earbuds? The Trekz Air offer many advantages.
To learn more, you can read my AfterShokz Trekz Air review. Trekz Air are priced at $149.95 and are popular enough that they are currently back-ordered through the AfterShokz website (early December delivery, so order soon). They are also available through retailers.