Bone conduction headphones are generally marketed to people who are active in sports, many of which require helmets. There are also other uses for bone conduction, like people who work careers requiring constant environmental awareness, and many of those also need safety helmets. So, can bone conduction headphones be used with a helmet?
You can use bone conduction headphones with a helmet. Depending on the type of helmet, they can either work great or be very uncomfortable. Most bicycle helmets are comfortable with bone conduction headphones, but some motorcycle helmets can be tight and uncomfortable or push the headphones off.
Technically, there’s no reason not to wear bone conduction headphones with a helmet; some helmets even have bone conduction built in. But a lot depends on the type of headphones and what kind of helmet you’re wearing. Let’s look at this in more detail.
Can You Use Bone Conduction Headphones With A Helmet?
Bone conduction technology will work with or without a helmet. You likely won’t experience any deterioration in sound quality. On the contrary, it’s possible that your sound may be better with a helmet than without it.
The reason is that bone conduction quality improves with more pressure. People have found that a tighter-fitting bone conduction headset will produce better sound quality than looser headphones because the vibrations can then pass more directly into the bones around your ears. It’s similar to wearing standard earphones and pressing them deeper into your ears.
However, a lot depends on the type of helmet you’re wearing.
Let’s be honest; bone conduction headphones were designed for athletes, though not exclusively athletes use them. With that in mind, if you want to wear bone conduction headphones with a cycling helmet, you should have no problems at all.
Because cycling helmets don’t cover your entire head and usually don’t even reach your ears, they won’t interfere with your bone conduction headphones. The only parts that might complicate matters are the straps, but even these don’t usually get in the way.
Shokz, one of the leading manufacturers of bone conduction headphones, recommends that you follow these steps when putting them on to ensure that you wear your headphones comfortably with a cycling helmet:
- Hold your headphones upright in front of your face. The open end should point away from you, and the volume controls should face downward.
- Move the headphones back over your head and place the wraparound band on the base of your neck. If it helps, pretend you’re putting on a lanyard since the movement is the same.
- Keep the wraparound band against your neck, but lift the ear hooks up and over your ears. Let the transducers fit snugly against your temple bones. Don’t worry too much if the wraparound band moves a bit higher; it’s about the position, not the location.
- Now you can put on your helmet and fasten it. As demonstrated in the Shokz with helmet image below, Everything should fit comfortably, and no part of the headphones should be in the way of the helmet or its fastening straps.
The same principle will apply to safety helmets or any other type of helmet that doesn’t cover your entire head.
A motorcycle helmet is a different matter entirely. Because these helmets are made to cover your head fully and are also supposed to fit tightly (just like bone conduction headphones), wearing both can be uncomfortable.
But comfort is only one side of the difficulty. Your helmet can also push the headphones off when you put the helmet on, making it difficult to adjust them again afterward.
The best way to put on your helmet is to follow these steps:
- Put on your headphones in the same way as described for bicycle helmets above. The wraparound band should be low above your neck rather than wrap around your head, with the transducers snug against your temple bones.
- Put on your helmet with your forehead first, pushing the padding inside away as much as possible to make room for the headphones.
- Fit the rest of the helmet over your head in a face-first kind of way.
- Press it down firmly as you usually would.
- Now open the visor and use your hands through the opening to adjust the headphones and ensure they are in the correct position.
Now you can use your bone conduction headphones while wearing your motorcycle helmet. Just keep in mind that there’s no easy way to keep them in place when you take your helmet off.
Potential Drawbacks Of Bone Conduction With Helmets
As mentioned, the technology will work properly, but there are some possible drawbacks to be aware of.
The added pressure of the bone conduction headphones and the helmet could be uncomfortable. However, most people find they are no more uncomfortable than other types of earphones in a helmet. Those who wear them regularly also say that they quickly get used to the discomfort.
If you’re not used to bone conduction headphones, they can cause a slight tingle against your scalp, especially if you listen at high volumes. This tingling can get more pronounced with a helmet because of the added pressure.
The vibration against your scalp could cause skin irritation and even inflammation, especially considering that you can often sweat profusely in a helmet.
Imperfect Environmental Awareness
One of the primary reasons people choose bone conduction headphones is that they do not block the ears. This is especially useful for motorcyclists as it won’t affect their environmental awareness. Bikers can still hear the traffic around them and the sound of their motorcycle, which can often be an early indication if something’s going wrong.
However, relying on this too much isn’t advisable. The music or podcasts you’re listening to can still distract you from some external sounds you should be aware of.
Some health risks are associated with bone conduction headphones, mainly if you misuse them, like listening at high volumes.
- Hearing loss. Because your ears aren’t covered or plugged, you don’t always notice how loud the headphones genuinely are, which could damage your inner ear, causing hearing loss.
- The high volume and hearing damage can also lead to tinnitus, which is usually an early indication of hearing loss.
- Bone conduction has also been found to be associated with occasional cases of vertigo, which becomes more likely on a bicycle or motorcycle due to the added possibility of motion sickness.
Overall, these health risks are all directly associated with high volume levels, which is a significant problem with bone conduction headphones since you don’t realize how loud they are. To test, plug your ears with your fingers or earplugs while listening. You will notice that they immediately sound much louder (in some cases, almost twice as loud).
Motorcycles make this even more of a problem due to their loud engine noise, not to mention the noise from the other vehicles on the road. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to increase the volume. It’s not worth it.
It’s possible to use bone conduction headphones while wearing a helmet, and there’s no real reason not to do so. Just remember that there are some downsides, like discomfort and sensations you might have to get used to and the health and safety risks associated with bone conduction headphones.