Bone conduction headphones

Great for people with hearing impairments.

The Bone’s a separate set of headphones. It vibrates through the skull (instead of the ears) to play music.

When we came across British designer Hans Rimzen’s conceptual “Bone” headphones, we wanted to understand exactly how bone conduction technology works. It can’t be a far-fetched idea. After all, it’s been around for a while – even the famous 18th-century composer Beethoven knew about it. But recently, we’ve seen Apple patents circulating on this that would suggest bone conduction technology could be big business; so how does it work?

Here’s a little bit of biology

We hear sounds through our bones (bone-transmitted or bone-borne) and eardrums (air-connected or air-borne). The eardrum hears most sounds, which convert sound waves into vibrations and transmit them to the cochlea (or inner ear).

Instead of directing the eardrum as sound waves travel through the air, bone conduction headphones allow the user to hear the sound directly through vibrations in the skull. They exploit the bone structure and convert sound signals into pneumatic vibrations. Then, the cochlea will directly receive those vibrations. Therefore, the eardrums never get involved they are rooted in the same technology used in hearing aids. It is useful for people who were born without external ear canals, or those who find earphones painful or ineffective.

It’s a very cool concept that can work as a solution-focused on accessibility for the hearing-impaired community or in sports while running for example; since the headset frees the ears and allows listeners to be aware of their surroundings.

The Bone headset is also especially separate and is designed to be worn over the head like a headband. Touch playback controls create an intuitive user experience and the Rimzen design is created in part using recycled plastic making it a more eco-friendly alternative to most headphones.

Overall, it’s a promising project but there is no information on user testing in terms of functionality. So we appreciate the concept here. Besides, there are two flaws in bone conduction technology, including high-frequency sounds. The human hearing generally ranges from 20 to 20,000 hertz (Hz), while bone conduction is only really effective at less than 4000 hertz, with sound quality degrading at higher ranges.

Also, users may be able to feel the sensation of sound as it passes through the bones, which can be very annoying and the reason why bone conduction technology isn’t fully popular yet. Unless there are any other recipients, I think we’ll have to see if Apple can fix these issues.

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