Remember Headphone Emergency I, where my designated running headphones broke at a most inopportune time? I had a long run planned while away from home, and wound up scrambling to Target for some emergency JLab FitSport headphones. They worked great and all was well.
Until it wasn’t – the third-ever time I went to charge my new headphones, they… didn’t. I tried a couple different plugs and sockets before absconding to the internet, where I found multiple reviews citing this exact same problem.
That’s the bad news. The good news is JLab was very accommodating about replacing them. In fact, they simply gave me credit in the amount, allowing me to choose to upgrade to a more expensive pair if I wanted. So I did.
HEADPHONE EMERGENCY II, PART I: JLAB EPIC AIR SPORT
The JLab Epic Air Sport is an over-the-ear true wireless Bluetooth model of headphones. They boast a pretty incredible 70 hour charge, noise awareness and cancellation modes, a portable charging case, and a bunch of business/movie features I don’t care about; click here if you want to explore this model fully. They retail at $99.
Unlike my original comparatively cheap JLabs noted above, I have not run into any trouble with these headphones as far as charging or battery life. As advertised, their charge time is LONG. I’m not an audiophile per se, but the sound is pretty good too.
However, there are a lot of areas where the Epic Air fell flat for me, some of which are potentially universal and one of which may be specific to me.
Let’s start with the latter. I must have a weird ear shape or something, but hard-molded ear hooks simple don’t work with my earlobes. I had this problem with my cheap Amazon pair, and I had it with these headphones too. I had to really jam the buds into my ear to get them to stay, regardless of which size of in-ear foam I tried. Even then they frequently found a way to jiggle out, and I had to make mid-run adjustments on the regular.
This leads me to my first real complaint, which is that the Epic Air is WAY too sensitive. While adjusting either bud, without pressing down on anything, I would almost invariably end up pausing my music without meaning too, and sometimes found myself cycling through regular/be-aware/noise-cancelling modes to boot. The end of the world? Certainly not, but annoying.
Speaking of which, I never tested the noise cancellation, but the Be Aware mode didn’t work for me. All that happened when I used it was that my music was now muffled by a whistling noise. This may be connected to my weird earlobes? But it wasn’t usable.
Now, all this being said, I don’t consider the JLabs to be a complete waste of money. For the price, the battery life is darned impressive, and they do have a ton of features outside sports, which may appeal to more casual joggers. Or maybe it all boils down to my frickin’ weird earlobe shape. They also have a nifty attached app that lets you control your settings and check battery life in a more user-friendly way, and the charging case is great for travel.
At any rate, they’re workable, and I plan to keep them as a backup option. It’s always smart to carry backup.
Backup to what, you ask? Well, a couple months later…
HEADPHONE EMERGENCY II, PART II: AFTERSHOKZ AEROPEX
Are you a Jenn Trip Recap superfan? Did you read my November trip report about the 2021 Wine & Dine Half? If so, you may recall that I had a casual chat with some 10K runners at the Caribbean Beach pool bar the first day of my trip. I had been looking at Aftershokz bone conduction headphones at the expo, and when they came up my new bar buddies RAVED about them. I’m not ashamed to admit they absolutely pushed me off the fence. Heck, they even upsold me. (The cheaper pair is only water resistant; I need waterproof here in the Caribbean.)
So when the Aftershokz Black Friday sale rolled around, I pounced on a pair of Aeropex headphones. These have since been replaced with the OpenRuns, but they’re virtually identical if you’re looking to get a pair. Or Amazon and such probably still have the Aeropex. OpenRuns retail at $129.95, but as I said, sales do roll around.
If you’re not familiar with bone conduction headphones, they’re super nifty – they bypass your ear canals entirely, beaming your music STRAIGHT INTO YOUR SKULL. This may sound like I’m spouting nonsense but it’s more or less how it works; you’re accessing your inner ear from the outside via your bones instead of the inside. Metal.
Either way, you’re giving your eardrums a break from loud music AND leaving them open to your surroundings, increasing health and safety. For races where headphones are discouraged, I doubt bone conduction counts.
I also find them crazy comfortable, and unlike more traditional headphones, I’ve had ZERO trouble with the fit – no bouncing, no slipping, no adjusting. It’s magnificent.
There are some cons that don’t bother me overmuch, but are worth noting. The sound is darned good for bone conduction, but it’s not nearly as powerful as even cheaper traditional headphones can provide. That’s kind of the trade off in exchange for ear health and surrounding awareness, but you do have to sacrifice your bass boost.
Also, the battery life is only 8 hours. That’s not terrible, but it’s not nearly as robust as a lot of other models on the market, including the JLabs I review above. I’m okay with it because it’s not like I’m an ultramarathoner. I’m never gonna run 8 hours straight. But it does mean I do more recharging between runs.
They also don’t seem to have all the fancy business and movie features that the JLabs have, but if you’re mostly using these for sports it shouldn’t matter.
Those cons aren’t a big deal for me, and I am here to say I am unabashedly in love with bone conduction headphones. Better for you and for me, better fit!
One final note: when I went to their website just now, they’ve apparently rebranded to Shokz? In case you’re googling.
Either headphone model is a serviceable choice. Depending on your individual needs (and earlobe shape), the JLabs might even be a better selection for you personally. For me, the Aeropex is where it’s at. File me under bone conduction for life. I can’t wait to take mine to the races – literally!
One last thing: it goes without saying, but this post is completely unsponsored. Neither company knows who am nor would they care if they did. Which means I am free to give my genuine opinion in all its glory. Relative anonymity has its perks.
Don’t forget, you can follow FRoA on Twitter @fairestrunofall and on Instagram @fairestrunofall. If you have any questions or thoughts, leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. See ya real soon!