Bone Conduction Headphones vs Earbuds: Which Is Best For You?

Which headphones are right for you? With tons of options available, the classic earbuds are facing competition from a new player on the market: bone-conduction headphones. These headphones let sound travel through your temples and ears without blocking your ears from the outside world. 

These headphones send sound through your temples and ears without blocking your ears from the outside world. If you are looking for the best headphones, you’ll have to decide between standard earbuds and the latest bone-conduction headphones. The major difference between standard earbuds and bone-conduction headphones lies in how they send sound. 

Earbuds send sound through the air, but bone-conduction headphones send sound via bones. In this article, we are going to explore the comparison of bone-conduction headphones vs earbuds. We will check out their pros and cons to help you make the right choice. Let’s get started!

What Is Bone Conduction Headphones?

Bone-conduction headphones are also called ‘open-ear headphones.’ They sit right on your cheekbones. Unlike earbuds or over-ear headphones, they don’t go in your ears or cover them. But guess what? You can still enjoy your favorite music and podcasts crystal clear! So, what exactly are bone-conduction headphones

Instead of sending sound directly to your eardrums, bone-conduction headphones work differently. They transmit sound waves via the skull. These waves travel through your bones to reach your inner ear, where you actually hear the sound. 

This allows you to listen to your songs without sticking little speakers on or in the ears. It is like the podcast or songs magically show up inside your head. 

Understand the Functioning Process of Bone Conduction Headphones

To understand the functioning process of bone-conduction headphones, you first have to know how you hear. You hear sounds when there is a vibration in the bones of your inner ear. You’ve got three of these bones in the inner ear, known together as the auditory ossicles. They transfer sound vibrations via the cochlea. 

The cochlea is an internal ear structure that is snail-shaped and filled with fluid. When the cochlear fluid vibrates, lots of nerve endings convert those vibrations into electrical messages. Then, the auditory nerve transmits these messages to your brain. Your brain recognizes them as sound, and you hear your favorite songs. 

Generally, it is the eardrum that creates the vibration in the bones in your inner ear. Soundwaves enter your eardrum first, making it move. These movements begin the vibrations in the auditory ossicles, leading to the cochlear fluid vibration. However, you don’t need your eardrum to move to hear sounds.

There are many other methods to vibrate the bones in the inner ear, and that is the secret behind bone-conduction headphones. They use a technique known as bone-conduction audio technology. 

In this technique, a transducer takes audio data and transforms it into vibrations. These vibrations travel through your bones straight to the cochlea. Basically, bone-conduction headphones turn your skull into speakers, all without putting additional pressure on your inner ear bones and ear muscles. 

Your auditory nerves pick up these vibrations, much like regular headphones, and translate them to your brain in the same way. Since the eardrum isn’t involved that much, this technology is great for folks with hearing loss, as the bone conduction vibrations serve the eardrum’s role.

What Are The Types of Bone Conduction?

Two main types of bone conduction are available. They are:

Direct Bone Conduction

In this type of bone conduction, a speaker or transducer rests on the skin of the temples or cheekbones. When the speaker generates sound, it makes vibrations that are sent straight to the bones. This method is often seen in bone-conduction headphones, giving people a way to hear music while still letting outside sounds reach their ear canals.

Implanted Bone Conduction

In implanted bone conduction, a bone-anchored hearing aid or something like it gets put into the skull bone through surgery, usually at the back of the ear. The device that’s put inside sends vibrations to your skull bone, and these vibrations make their way to the inner ear.  It’s a medical treatment for specific kinds of hearing problems.

What Is Earbuds?

Earbuds are small headphones that are usually built of hard plastic. They sit inside your ears, just outside your ear canal. Earbuds are different from ear canal headphones, which use a rubber tip and go inside the ear canal. Many portable music instruments such as PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) or MP3s often come with earbuds when you buy the instrument. 

Earbuds are generally one-size-fits-all, but they might not fit well for everyone. Depending on your ear shape, they can feel uncomfortable or unstable. That is why they can fall out oftentimes, particularly during exercise. Earbuds are good for listening at low volumes, but be careful not to play music too loud. 

If it’s too loud, it can harm your hearing permanently because the sound is right next to your eardrums. Earbuds are a cheaper option compared to ear canal headphones or other types of hearing devices. People like them for their convenience because they are easy to transport, thanks to their small size.

The Advantages of Bone Conduction Headphones

Bone conduction headphones have gained popularity as running headphones mainly because they improve your awareness of your surroundings. Unlike traditional earbuds that go inside your ears, bone-conduction headphones rest on your cheekbones and transmit vibrations to your inner ear. 

This design allows you to hear everything happening around you while wearing them. One significant advantage of bone conduction headphones, particularly for those with hearing impairments, is that they provide clearer audio. For instance, someone deaf in one ear can listen to stereo sound through bone conduction headphones. 

Users with hearing aids can also keep them in place while enjoying songs through these headphones. They reduce the danger of hearing damage that can occur when listening to loud audio through earbuds. The eardrum, a delicate part of the ear, is more susceptible to harm compared to the bone and flesh that bone-conduction headphones work on.

Furthermore, the secure and slim design of bone-conduction headphones makes them attractive to physically active users. One bone-conduction headphone brand, Shokz focuses on creating bone-conduction headphones that are both durable and comfortable. Shokz originally developed their bone-conduction headphones for military use.

Some bone-conduction headphones come with built-in memory, allowing users to upload songs straight to the headphones. This feature can be an attractive selling point, particularly for active users. 

While bone conduction headphones excel as running companions, they are versatile enough for extended use, making them suitable for office or home office settings. Whether you’re hearing your computer’s audio or making calls, bone-conduction headphones offer a comfortable audio solution.

The Disadvantages of Bone Conduction Headphones

Despite the unique features and specific usefulness of bone-conduction headphones, consumers have had mixed reactions regarding them. The major disadvantage when using these headphones is the sound quality. They often lack volume, which can be irritating when running near busy roads. The bass levels of bone-conduction headphones are usually low.

Also, products claiming to increase bass can create a slight tingling sensation along the cheekbones. If you’re someone who loves music and considers yourself an audiophile, these headphones may not be your top choice. 

The headphone design also leads to some sound leakage, which might be an issue for those who prefer listening to music privately or in a quiet environment without disturbing others. 

Some users express concerns regarding the fit of these headphones, which can be uncomfortable depending on the specific model and user.

Another drawback is the cost, as bone-conduction headphones are notably more expensive than standard earbuds. Common Apple earbuds were priced at around $30 in 2020, while a few popular bone-conduction headphones were priced at $130. 

With this price difference, users could opt for regular earbuds that generally offer higher sound quality compared to many bone-conduction headphone models. Although there are some affordable bone-conduction headphone models available, most tend to be more expensive than the alternative.

The Advantages of Earbuds

The most affordable option for running headphones is a set of earbuds. They are built using well-established technology. Earbuds are very lightweight, discreet, and effortless to carry in every place. You don’t have to worry about a big neckband like the bone-conduction headphones. 

Earbuds generally offer better sound quality compared to bone-conduction headphones. Premium models of earbuds can provide audiophile-level music at higher volumes. In addition, standard earbuds come with noise-canceling features because they function by putting a block over your ear canal directly.

The Disadvantages of Earbuds

Running on busy streets with regular earbuds on ears poses risks, especially concerning road safety. It is because wearing earbuds makes it challenging to stay aware of your surroundings. For this reason, organizers of races increasingly prohibited the use of earbuds or headphones except for bone conduction models on single-carriageway roads that aren’t completely closed to traffic.

Another downside of wearing earbuds is the temptation to increase the volume too high, which might have lasting impacts on your hearing. The more comfortable the earbuds, the greater the risk, as you might be inclined to wear them for more extended periods. 

However, not everyone finds a pair of earbuds comfortable. Some models offer interchangeable earbud tips that conform to various shaped ears, but every earbud might be uncomfortable if worn for extended periods.

Which One Is Better: Bone Conduction Headphones Or Earbuds?

Bone Conduction headphones work well for folks who want comfortable headphones without putting pressure on their ear canals. This is especially good for those who have hearing impairments, are older, or dealing with ear-related illnesses like tinnitus. 

On the other side, earbuds are the go-to option for many people who look for top-notch performance and sound quality. Earbuds give you a more isolated audio listening experience compared to bone-conduction headphones. They are perfect for musicians, sound engineers, audiophiles, and other intensive listeners of music.


Deciding between bone-conduction headphones and earbuds ultimately comes down to your personal preferences. If you are looking for audiophile-level sound quality and a lot of bass and need to block out the noises of your surroundings, then earbuds are likely your best fit. They are also good for exercising on a treadmill.

On the flip side, if you’re into spoken content like audiobooks and podcasts, prefer staying aware of your surroundings while walking, and participate in races often, then bone-conduction headphones are the best option. We are hopeful that this article on bone-conduction headphones vs earbuds has guided you in choosing the right one for you.

David Huner
David Huner
I have completed my graduation from The University of Phoenix. Being a graduate, I’ve been writing on tech tips and products for several years. I love to write about all the latest trends in technology, as well as give my personal take on new products. If you’re looking for some inspiration or just want to read more articles like this one, check out our website!
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