It’s an impressive sounding statement when a pair of headphones can proudly declare that they feature military-grade bone-conduction technology on the box. Aimed at the mobile gamer, the Gamez Aftershokz headset make use of this unusual technology to enable you to hear both your game and the outside world, and while it takes some getting used to, they’re surprisingly effective.
First impressions of the headphones are good, with embossed images and a magnetised box lid making it feel as though you’ve bought a premium product. Sadly some of that is lost with the headphones sitting in some extremely flimsy plastic moulding, which didn’t invite me to return them to the box when not in use, though with the included pouch it’s safe to assume that you’re not meant to.
The headphones carry through their military-grade technology with a militaristic metallic green finish, which carries around the band that wraps around the back of your head. The sound-conducting transducers at both ends hang over your ear, and rest on your cheekbones, which in turn transmit the sound to you via vibrations that reach your inner-ear.
The only controls you’ve got on the headset are two rubberised volume buttons and a power button that doubles for pairing. They sit alongside the micro-USB charging point, which is itself hidden by a rubberised cover to ensure that no moisture makes its way into the set, whether you’re out in the rain or excercising.
The set includes a rubber securing band which you can fit to the inside of the central band if you’re after a snug fit, and given the importance of the positioning of the transducers I opted to use it throughout. During my time using them, both indoors and out, I found that they stayed in position very well, even when performing more physically demanding tasks or running, and were comfortable throughout. I was also pleasantly surprised that they fit alongside my glasses when I wore both, which is a common problem with many of my over-ear headphones.
Syncing with your chosen device is as simple as holding the power button for ten seconds, at which point the headphones announce that they’re pairing. I had no problem then finding the headphones in my Bluetooth list, and they merrily connected to my iPhone, Windows Phone and PlayStation Vita with audio confirmation. Sadly they don’t connect to my PS4 which would have been a pleasant bonus, particularly with the presence of the in-built mic, but the PS4 doesn’t support Bluetooth headsets.
In use, they performed admirably across a range of applications, with game audio, including speech, coming across clearly, while TV programmes and films were similarly listenable. Music does however often lack some of the bottom end punch you may be used to from your traditional set-up, but the headset’s other functionality help to counterbalance that. The in-built noise-cancelling microphones certainly worked admirably for both phone calls and game chat, and their inclusion greatly adds to the AfterShokz offering.
The AfterShokz label feels as though it’s a good explanation of how the headphones feel when in use. With the audio being transmitted to your inner-ear via vibrations in your cheekbones you’ll feel a slight tingling sensation at lower levels all the way up to distinct rumbling at high volume. It’s likely to be a very personal choice as to whether you find it distracting or disconcerting, but I found them comfortable and eminently usable.
I found their best application was actually during exercise, and having swapped them for my old ear-buds, I greatly enjoyed running whilst listening to music and also being able to hear the world around me. The ability to hear traffic in these situations was invaluable, and equally being able to hear other people talking or your train announcement is also a massive boon. When combined with the fact that the Gamez are also sweat proof, you can be sure that no matter how hard you push yourself, or a game grips you, your headset is still going to deliver.
Given the way in which the sound is transmitted to you, there is a higher level of sound-bleed from the Aftershokz compared to an over-ear pair of headphones or ear-buds. Depending on the situation and the volume that you tend to listen to things that could be a problem, with other passengers on a bus or train likely to hear some of what you’re playing or watching, particularly when you’ve got them cranked up.
The audio quality is at its best when you’re static, with the set delivering a solid spectrum of sound, as long as you have the transducers in the correct position. If not, the audio lacks bass, and depending on the type of content you’ll be listening to that could be a deal-breaker. When out jogging, despite the fact that it didn’t feel as though the set had moved particularly, the audio was certainly less bass-heavy than my standard headphones. Of course, the different functionality balances against that.
The Gamez Aftershokz headset offers a remarkable piece of technology at a reasonable price, and while the audio quality is never going to challenge a set aimed at a true audiophile, the ability to hear the external world at the same time as your chosen content should make them distinctly attractive to someone looking for something a bit different.