Move over, earbuds. Bone conduction headphones are the wave of the sonic future.
Instead of vibrating the air inside your ears, bone conduction headphones transmit sound by vibrating the bones in your face and head — and you don’t have to be a spooky skeleton to use them.
In fact, you can experience bone conduction right now by sticking your fingers in your ears and talking. Your voice sounds louder because the sound waves travelled through your skull and jaw, bypassing your outer and middle ear and going straight to your cochlea, the small organ that converts sound into nerve pulses your brain can interpret.
Bone conduction headphones are great news for anyone who doesn’t want environmental sounds blocked by earbuds, like people caring for babies, exercising in a gym or working in a shared space. They’re also helpful for people with hearing loss caused by problems with the outer or middle ear.
At the forefront of bone conduction technology is a company called Aftershokz, which was founded in East Syracuse, New York, but announced this week it is moving its headquarters to Austin.
It will operate out of WeWork University Park until March 2020, when it plans to lease the entire second floor of Domain Place. The company said it intends to employ 40 people in Austin this year and 85 by the end of 2021.
Aftershokz sells a mix of wired and wireless headphones that rest just in front of users’ ears. It also offers OptiShokz, a line of bone conduction audio sunglasses. The company markets largely to the fitness community, as many runners, bikers and swimmers want to listen to music or podcasts during long training sessions without endangering themselves or others with noise-cancelling products.
Yes, you read that correctly — swimmers, too. Aftershokz will soon release bone conduction headphones that function underwater. Since BlueTooth doesn’t work beneath the surface, these headphones will store music, as well.
Unfortunately, there are some factors that can interfere with bone conduction audio: a thick skull, for instance. The thickness of users’ skin and cranial bones will affect the quality of sound, audiologist Dr. Cliff Olson said on a podcast produced by the company.
Aftershokz has seen 200 percent year-over-year growth since 2015. It sold 1.5 million wireless headphones last year, a company spokesperson said.
Aftershokz is not unique in its decision to relocate to Austin. Forty-six companies switched their national or global headquarters to the city in 2018, the local Chamber of Commerce reported.