Bone conduction is something you might be interested in if you enjoy having cutting-edge audio equipment, but it differs from air conduction in several ways. The most frequent kind of hearing, in which sound waves enter our ears and travel to the eardrum and beyond, is air conduction hearing. Contrarily, bone conduction hearing relies on your skull’s bones to transmit vibrations to your inner ear.
But in all honesty, anyone who always has to be aware of their surroundings may benefit from them, whether they be a parent who stays at home or a biker who needs to hear the traffic around them.
But because this technology differs significantly from the one used in typical speakers and headphones, not everyone will find it appealing. In this guide, we’ll discuss how bone and air conduction function and their advantages and disadvantages.
What Is Bone Conduction?
When we talk, we hear ourselves through air conduction. However, we can also hear them through bone conduction. The vibrations produced by our voice cords are sent directly into the inner ear via the skull. The inner ear is unconcerned with how the vibrations arrived. It turns them into electrical impulses, which it sends to the brain, which decodes into sound.
This is why when we talk, we perceive our voices differently. When we listen to our voices on recordings, we only hear the air-conducted section, which is unusual.
Ludwig van Beethoven, the famed nearly-deaf composer, discovered bone conduction. He discovered that if he attached a rod to his piano and nibbled on it while playing, he could hear it.
The rod would vibrate, and the vibrations would be transmitted to his inner ear via his teeth and then to his skull. It may not seem like the most pleasant experience, but it accomplishes the job. Fortunately, modern bone conduction is more sophisticated.
We now distinguish between two types of bone conduction devices: bone conduction headphones and bone-anchored hearing systems (BAHA).
What Is Air Conduction?
The human ear is divided into three sections:
Outer Ear: The pinna (ear shell), the external auditory canal (ear canal), and tympanic membrane comprise the outer ear (eardrum). The outer ear’s role is to direct sound waves into the ear canal. These sound waves vibrate the eardrum, much like a dynamic driver’s diaphragm.
Middle Ear: The ossicles and the Eustachian tube make up the middle ear. The ossicles are three bones that vibrate with the eardrum and transmit enhanced vibrations to the inner ear. The Eustachian tube aids in maintaining proper middle ear pressure.
Inner Ear: The cochlea, vestibule, and semicircular canals comprise the inner ear. The vestibule and semicircular canals’ primary role is balance, so we’ll ignore them for the time being.
There are three fluid-filled channels in the cochlea. When these canals respond to the vibrations of the ossicles, they start hair cells in action. When these hair cells move, neurotransmitters convey electrical signals to the brain, which interprets them as sound.
To put it simply, airwaves reach our inner ear and vibrate the eardrum, which transmits the vibrations to the inner ear. The inner ear translates these vibrations into electrical impulses, which our brains subsequently decode as sound.
Air conduction requires the proper functioning of all three regions of the ear.
Bone Conduction Vs Air Conduction
So, now that we understand how air conduction and bone conduction function, let’s see how they compare.
Keep in mind that this comparison is focused towards the typical customer, hence BAHA will not be included.
Fit and Comfort
You should never have an issue with bone conduction headphones not fitting properly. Bone conduction headphones sit on your cheekbones, as opposed to in-ear devices, which may not have proper ear tips, or over-ear models, which might cause ear perspiration or discomfort.
When it comes to headphones, the statement “you’ll forget you’re wearing them” is frequently used, however it may be taken fairly literally here. At least, not when they’re not playing. Keep in mind that these cheekpieces must vibrate against your cheekbones.
These vibrations should not be visible at modest volumes, but as the volume increases, the vibrations become more obvious and annoying. Naturally, the better the model, the less visible these flaws will be.
Bones serve many functions, but listening isn’t one of them. The ossicles are an exception, but even they could accomplish their function quite fine if they were constructed of a different substance. When you think about it, the ossicles have no involvement in bone conduction.
All of this is to indicate that, due to the inefficiency of bones for this purpose, bone conduction headphones cannot be expected to provide audio quality that is even somewhat equivalent to that of ordinary headphones.
Although some models provide greater audio quality than others, even the best of them fall short of the audio quality found in entry-level in-ear headphones. They may be used to listen to music, but they are most effective while listening to podcasts.
One of the primary advantages of wearing bone conduction headphones for sportsmen is the increased awareness of their surroundings.
However, they do suffer from substantial sound leaking and should be avoided in calm surroundings.
Which Is Better for You?
When determining which sound conduction is best for you, you should always begin with the following question: What will you use the headphones for?
Air conduction headphones are superior for listening to music and blocking the outside environment.
Open-back headphones can also provide audio quality without providing isolation. Bone conduction headphones are unrivaled when it comes to staying aware of your surroundings, but the audio quality is mediocre at best.
If you have conductive hearing loss, bone conduction headphones can help, but you should always contact a specialist for a more permanent solution.