One of the often-flaunted benefits of bone conduction headphones is that they don’t leak sound. It makes sense that soundwaves passing directly into your jawbones wouldn’t be heard by others. But why are there so many reports that others can hear what someone’s listening to over bone conduction headphones?
There are cases where others can hear sound from your bone conduction headphones. Bone conduction isn’t as loud as regular air conduction earphones, so people tend to increase the volume more than they usually would. This increases the vibrations, making the sound audible to those near you.
It’s frustrating when one of the reasons you bought bone conduction headphones is not as accurate as the marketing material stated. But why can others hear sound from your bone conduction headphones, and is there anything you can do to solve it? Let’s look into the science behind bone conduction headphones to find out.
Why Others Hear Sound From Your Bone Conduction Headphones
To understand this phenomenon, we must look at what sound is and how regular (air conduction) headphones work.
Sound travels in waves, which our ears detect as vibrations. Speakers and regular headphones also emit sound waves by creating vibrations in the air, which travel to our ear canals, where our brains pick them up and interpret them.
What Bone Conduction Does Differently
Bone conduction headphones also work through vibrations. The technology is nearly identical, except bone conduction headphones send the vibrations directly through your cheekbones and into the cochlea, bypassing your eardrums. The key takeaway is that bone conduction headphones still vibrate, which regular headphones also do, so they aren’t all that different.
Factors That Affect Sound Leaks In Bone Conduction
Two primary factors affect the amount of sound leakage coming from your bone conduction headphones:
1. Sound Volume
Like regular headphones, the louder your sound is, the more sound will leak.
Bone conduction headphones are less loud by nature. Even at the same volume settings, the fact that your ears are open to environmental sounds means that you can’t hear the music from your bone conduction headphones as clearly as you would if you were using regular earbuds, for example.
This often makes us turn the volume up louder. Louder volume means more aggressive vibrations from the vibrating pads on the headphones, and the backs of those pads are in direct contact with air that can send vibrations to other people.
More aggressive vibrations also mean that the vibrating pads spend more time further away from your skin, allowing vibrations to pass through the air more freely, leaking even more of your sound for others to hear.
2. The Quality Of The Build
Bone conduction headphones should only vibrate against your cheekbones and nowhere else. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Some lower-quality headphones’ frames aren’t as sturdy as others, causing the vibrations to spread from the vibrating pads to other parts of the headphones that are not supposed to vibrate.
These other parts aren’t necessarily as snug against your skin as the vibrating pads, and the vibrations that pass through them can bleed into the air, allowing others to hear the sound from your bone conduction headphones.
How Bad Is The Sound Bleed From Bone Conduction?
The sound bleed from bone conduction headphones isn’t much different from regular headphones or earbuds. It’s slightly better, for the most part, but it depends on several factors:
- High-quality bone conduction headphones will have less audio bleed than lower-quality sets, just like regular headphones and earphones.
- We have so much noise around us most of the time that people will hardly notice the sound coming from your bone conduction headphones, just like you seldom hear the sound leaking from someone’s earbuds.
- If you increase the volume, you also increase the chances of others hearing the sound from your bone conduction headphones.
- People will hear it more clearly in quiet rooms than in public, but the counterpoint is that you don’t need to push your volume so high in quiet rooms, so it balances out nicely.
So overall, we can’t say that the audio bleed from bone conduction headphones is any worse than with regular headphones. It’s primarily similar but leaning slightly towards being better.
How To Stop Others From Hearing Bone Conduction Headphones
You can stop or limit audio leakage from your bone conduction headphones in the following ways:
1. Listen At A Lower Volume
If you think there’s a chance that your sound might be bothering others, the simplest option is to turn down the volume. If the room is quiet enough that someone else could be affected by your sound, there’s a good chance that you won’t need to have the volume that high anyway.
If you really can’t turn down the volume, perhaps bone conduction isn’t the perfect option for you. You could opt for a high-quality pair of wireless earbuds with environmental awareness features instead, which will give you higher-quality sound that’s easier to hear while still letting you listen to what’s happening around you.
2. Buy A High-Quality Set Of Bone Conduction Headphones
Buying better quality ensures that the unit won’t vibrate as much. Better manufacturing will keep the vibrations mostly limited to the vibrating drivers against your cheekbones and not throughout the frame, limiting the amount of audio leakage even at higher volumes.
3. Look For Leak Limiting Technology
More and more manufacturers are developing and implementing technologies to limit the vibrations others can hear from your bone conduction headphones. For example, Shokz implements its trademarked system called LeakSlayer, which works like a reversed version of active noise cancelation.
4. Find A Set That Fits Perfectly
Your bone conduction headphones should fit snugly. The drivers should sit firmly against your cheekbones, leaving as little space as possible, and the frame should be tight against the back of your head instead of hanging loosely around your neck. The more loose the headphones are, the more vibrations will escape for others to hear.
Some sets are adjustable to achieve the perfect fit. Those would be ideal since you want them tight enough without causing discomfort.
Is Bone Conduction Worth It Despite Sound Leakage?
Even though lower sound leakage is not an advantage of bone conduction headphones, there are other benefits. The primary advantage is perfect environmental awareness. No regular headphones can offer the same environmental awareness as bone conduction headphones since they don’t cover your ears at all; you can still hear everything around you clearly.
Furthermore, bone conduction is ideal for users struggling with certain types of hearing loss because they bypass the eardrums and go straight to the cochlea.
If you have hearing problems or need perfect environmental awareness, bone conduction headphones are worth it despite the slight amount of audio leakage that goes with them.
Far from what marketing gimmicks say, others can still hear sound from your bone conduction headphones. The way technology stands right now, there are no perfect ways to stop it entirely. But it shouldn’t be so bad that it would bother other people more than other headphones would, and there are simple ways to reduce the amount of audio bleed from your headphones.