Tag Archives: headsets

Review: Aftershokz Bluez 2

I like to run and bike while listening to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. This allows me to multitask and either get pumped up by my tunes, or catch up on some reading. I love to do this with Bluetooth headphones so I don’t have to deal with wires, but I am concerned about safety when I am am listening. Especially when I am on my bike. That’s where Aftershokz Bluez 2 bone conduction headphones come in.

aftershokz-open-box

The Bluez 2 are very nicely packaged. The box is set up like a book with a nice ribbon to pull it open. It looks as nice inside the box as outside. This book packaging is especially appreciated because the headphones truly excel for audiobooks and podcasts.

I train in an urban environment and have to contend with quite a lot of traffic. The area is also coastal and there is quite a lot of wind. When combining the traffic noise and wind, I sometimes have to increase the volume on my headphones to unsafe levels. Unsafe for my atmospheric awareness and for my eardrums.

This is especially troublesome on the bike. I am a new rider and am very nervous about what is going on around me – not enough to stop wearing headphones, but we all have our blind (or deaf) spots.

Connecting

I unboxed my Bluez 2 and paired them with my iPhone. Most things pair fairly easily, but these actually were easier than most. When I powered them on, they showed up in my Bluetooth menu. I selected them and they were paired. Very straightforward. Well done. If you have to pair to another device, or it doesn’t immediately work, just press and hold the power button for 5 seconds until the LED alternates between red and blue flashing.

After I paired the headphones, I started listening to a podcast. This was a remarkable experience. It is hard to describe. I was hearing everything around me in the room etc, but also, voices that seemed almost disembodied. It was literally like hearing voices in my head. I quickly adapted to it and actually have grown to love it. Audiobooks and podcasts are already a very intimate medium. I feel like the headphones make them even more so.

I also had no trouble with clipping. I like to wear my iPhone to my front. My favorite spot is in the center of my waist like a belt buckle. Many Bluetooth headphones will cut in and out when the iPhone is placed there. These I am happy to report do not.

Fit

I first helmeted up to go for a ride. By default, with nothing else on, the headphones fit me well and feel very light which is a huge plus. The only issues arose when I had to wear other clothing or gear on my head.

bike-helmetstrap

This is where some choices have to me made. Since I was riding on a sunny day, I also had sunglasses. Whenever dealing with headphones with a headband, there are often challenges when wearing sunglasses. The two pieces of gear tend to rub against one another and getting the fit right can be a challenge.

This is potentially even more of an issue with the Bluez 2. Since they are bone conduction headphones, they need physical contact with your cheekbones. Otherwise, their functionality is defeated. If possible, when wearing the bike helmet, if you can line the strap over the earpiece as shown on the right, it can really help enhance the sound.

I found that I had challenges with some winter headgear when running as well. My options were to wear the headgear without it going over my ears if it was at all snug, or wearing a relatively loose fitting beanie.

Performance

When I was out riding and listening a podcast, the experience was wonderful. I loved the fact that I could hear my tire on the asphalt and all the other environmental sounds. But at the same time, I felt almost like I was with a couple friends who were speaking with me. It really was amazing.

Throughout my ride of over and hour, I was able to clearly hear every part of the podcast with no trouble at all. What was really amazing was when I crossed over a bridge I have to use. There was a ton of traffic and the wind really had picked up. Normally when it is like that, my headphones are nearly completely washed out and I have to have the volume jacked way up.

This time, I could hear the traffic, the wind was whipping through my ears like rabid seashells. But I could hear every word of the podcast. It was like it was separated from all the external noise. I am not often “wowed” by a product, but this was a truly great experience.

I have had the same experience on both the bike and running numerous times now when listening to both audiobooks and podcasts. I even switched back to my standard Bluetooth headphones because the weather was really cold and I wanted a better hat on my run. Boy, did I suffer. It is night and day. I could no longer hear my footfalls, I felt like my head was stuffed up and in multiple areas, I had to turn them way up to hear anything. It was miserable.

The battery life on the headphones is good. I feel that I pretty consistently get 5-6 hours out of the headphones or 3-4 runs/rides. I would like if they could give a better projection of battery level like an approximate time left when pressing the button or a chart expressing what the time left is for High, Medium or Low means in terms of time.

Now, while these headphones are the best thing I have ever heard or used for spoken word during workouts, they are not quite as stellar when it comes to music.

When it comes to music, they are not as capable of pumping out a lot of bass. In order to get more bass, I had to turn them up and they actually tickled my cheekbones. Definitely an interesting experience. Music that has  more mid-range to high tones comes across better. This is not to say that it is terrible, it is just not as strong. I will still be wearing these when listening to music in training because I want to hear traffic etc. But I may wear my other Bluetooth headphones when racing.

Another consideration is when listening to the headphones when not working out. Unless you live alone, or you want to share everything you are listening to with your roommate or spouse, you may want to make another choice. The Bluez 2 sound like iPhone earbuds turned away from someone’s head. They broadcast everything.

Conclusion

I like this product a great deal and unabashedly recommend it to anyone. It has already become an indispensable part of my training gear. I like it enough that I am considering getting a second pair to have on standby in case these break. I like them that much. If you listen to spoken word especially, these will really enhance your workouts. And I cannot express the peace of mind that they have brought me by allowing me to hear what is going on around me.

You can buy these at Amazon with the my affiliate link below (I get a small commission).

Thump Bluetooth Headphones – Review

I visited the Thump Booth at the expo for the Virginia Beach Rock & Roll Half Marathon. There, I had the opportunity to meet the CEO of Thump, Todd Beetcher. His company originally named QAK was a start-up founded in 2011 as mentioned in the 2012 Denver Post article Headphones making noise, and Colorado companies join the party. It is a real treat to be able to speak to the owner of a company about his product. And Todd the “Thump-meister” is excited about his products.

Thump has four models of headphones starting with the entry level wired Thump Rap. Their mid-tier headphone is the Thump Blu — this was the one that founded the company. There is an advanced version of bluetooth headphones with the Thump XTreme. And they also have the Thump Fin which is a self contained mp3 player and headphone set for swimmers.

I am a major music, podcast, and audiobook addict so I bought a pair of Thump Blu to try out. I already have used several types of Bluetooth headphones with the Motorola SD-11 HD Flex being my current gold standard, so I will use them for comparisons.

The headphones come in a very nice reinforced Thump Case, which can be purchased separately. It is very solid, but light and pleasing to handle. It definitely will protect the headphones along with a couple other items.

As can be seen below, there is not a lot of excess packaging. Just the headphones, a quick start card, and the power supply. But not much more is needed. Just press the Phone button and hold until the blue and red LEDs are alternating and then open the Bluetooth settings on your phone. I tested with an iPhone 5s and it worked fine. It should work well with any modern smartphone that supports Bluetooth A2DP. Essentially most smart phones within the past 5 years should support.

The headphones themselves are very light which is good and don’t really draw a lot of attention to themselves. They also are designed to wear either above or below the ear, which is really unique. This enables them to be worn when laying back, dealing with a headrest and they can fit under a bike helmet. I successfully wore them under a bike helmet over the ear and didn’t have a need to try them the other way. I do prefer the sound when they are over my ears.

The sound of the headphones is very good. It is nicely balanced with a full spacious tone. They are not as bass driven as some headphones, but that is not a bad thing. They still sound rich and have good clarity.

One nice feature of the headphones that really like over the Motorola S10s, S11s, or even some Plantronics Backbeat 903+ that I have is the control functions. With all of my bluetooth headphones, I find it difficult to work the volume while wearing them.

I find it so difficult that I actually am in the habit of turning up the volume all the way and then using the volume on the side of the phone to control levels. This is not the case with the Thump BLU. It has discreet volume buttons that are easy to find and manipulate. This is a huge feature for convenience. Another usability feature involves moving forward and backward through tracks.

On the Motorola units, I have to double-tap a button to advance and triple-tap to reverse. I usually can advance fine, but reversing often involves multiple attempts. When running, this is difficult. The Plantronics were so hard for me to manipulate, I forgot how to even do it with them.

The last feature of the phone is a really good battery life. It advertises 7 hours off of a 1 hour charge and I feel it delivers on this. I do find it odd that it uses a USB Mini cable instead of the more commonly used USB micro. Also, while it delivers and excellent battery life, how do you know when the battery is dead? […] Yep. Silence. It’s little disconcerting. You hit play a couple times when the music stops before you realize that the battery is just dead. There is no warning.

The headphones are sweat resistant, but not waterproof. Keep this in mind. If you are planning to run in a heavy downpour, This is the statement on the Website:

Built for active people, Thump Blu is designed to be sweat resistant. We have a lot of runners who ask about rain. The simple answer is put it away. Thump Blu is not designed to be a water resistant device.

Also note, if you are a heavy sweater like I have been in the high heat and humidity lately, you might have troubles. I was running and sweating like mad on tempo run and one of the earpieces stop emitting sound. I thought I might have burned it up. But when I blew on it, some weak sound came out. Later, when I was in the light, I was able to see that within the earpiece is very fine screen. This screen can capture the sweat, which in turn acts like a film and obstructs the sound.

Also, note that the Thump Blu should not be worn in the front of the body in the belt buckle region. Due to the electronic placement, you will likely experience clipping (where sound cuts out for short periods). This is because your body is a giant bag of water and that can obstruct the signal. This is very common with bluetooth headphones and something I have suffered with all of them but the Motorola S10 and S11 series.

Overall, the Thump BLU is a solid product and a good entry level headset in the world of bluetooth headphones. It has a reasonable price in an area where $100+ is the typical starting point and sounds very good.

They can be ordered at http://thumpu.com or at Amazon using my affiliate link below: