AfterShokz Sportz M2 Review: Decent Sounding Headphones, No Ears Required

The idea of AfterShokz headphones seemed sweet—the bone conduction sports headphones could pump music through your cheekbones instead of your ears. But the original headphones sounded pretty weak, and they came in fourth place in our Best Running Headphones Battlemodo. Now the second generation is here, with a claimed "21 total improvements" over the original. So I strapped them to the sides of my head to see what's changed.

What Is It?

Bone conduction exercise headphones that transfer sound with your ears uncovered.

Who's It For?

Runners and cyclers who want to listen to music and maintain maximum situational awareness.

Design

The two bone-conductive buds are held together by a behind-the-neck plastic band. A cable leads to a small battery pack clipped to your shirt, and connects to a phone or music player. The battery box has a mic for phone calls, volume buttons and an on/off switch.

Using It

Charge them via USB, put them on, and turn on the on switch. Then they act pretty much like normal headphones, except that the cheek-buds pump sound in through your face.

The Best Part

These are the first headphones I might actually consider wearing while biking around NYC. Because the bone conductive buds leave your ears completely unblocked, you can hear everything around you (provided you don't have the volume cranked too high). The sound of wind rushing isn't any more a problem than it is for your naked ears.

Tragic Flaw

Sound quality is not as good as most regular headphones, although it has improved a lot since the original version. The highs and mids are better balanced, but they remain muddy. There is still no bass to speak of. You can feel the bass in your cheeks a little, but you can't really hear it. I suspect it's because bone doesn't transmit low frequencies well.

This Is Weird...

These things bleed sound profusely, so the people around you can very clearly hear what you're playing. Almost as much sound comes out the back as the front. That doesn't matter for running, but forget using these in a quiet environment.

Test Notes

  • These are 30 percent lighter than the older AfterShokz. The reduction has made these a lot more comfortable—no pain during any of my hour-plus runs, and no issues with them shifting out of place.
  • The inline mic worked quite well. I was able to take a call without breaking my stride, and the caller said he could hear me just fine.
  • They come with a very nice divided hardcase, to keep your headphones and the accessories safe and organized.

Should You Buy It?

If you cycle with music, or if you run on city streets where you need to be aware of what's going on around you, then sure. These are good for the "safety first" crowd. For people who prioritize sound quality, these are a non-starter. They definitely sound better than their predecessors, and they don't sound awful by any means. But you can get the amazing-sounding Sennheiser PMX685i for the same price. [AfterShokz]

AfterShokz Sportz M2 Specs

• Weight: 1.6oz
• Sweat/water resistant: Yes
• Cord length: 4.25 ft
• Hands-free: Start/stop, volume, mic
• Price: MSRP: $80, $70 at Amazon
Gizrank: 3.0