Air conduction vs. bone conduction – discovering open-ear audio

Man wearing Bose Ultra Open Earbuds while cleaning the kitchen with his wife

Your earbuds of choice can change your entire listening experience. As the market gets crowded with flashy features, it’s essential to know the basics of headphone technology. Bone and air conduction are two popular methods of transmitting sound in open-ear headphones, great options for situational awareness and all-day comfort. What are open-ear headphones? Open ear means the earbuds do not insert into your ears like conventional earbuds or clamp down on your ears like standard headphones do.

Read on to learn more about air conduction vs. bone conduction.

What is air conduction?

Air conduction uses the air passing through the ear canals from the outer ear to the middle and inner ear to deliver sound to the eardrums — this is how everyone experiences sound in their day-to-day life. The sound moves through the air into your ears in the form of vibrations, and your inner ear bones then translate this into audible sounds.

What is bone conduction?

Bone conduction uses sound vibrations through your cheekbones into the inner ear to create the sound you hear. Bone conduction is a great method for those living with hearing impairments, and since it bypasses the eardrum completely, it can work in conjunction with hearing aids. Bone conduction headphones act as your eardrums, translating sound waves into vibrations and delivering them to your middle ear.

Woman wearing Bose Ultra Open Earbuds while sitting in the back of a car listening to music from her phone

The differences between air and bone conduction for audio

The significant difference when looking at air conduction vs. bone conduction is that bone conduction doesn’t rely on the eardrums, whereas air conduction sends vibrations to the ear canal. One negative is they deliver a weak bassline for music. Higher-pitched sounds and voices are especially clear, so bone-conduction headphones are great for listening to podcasts and taking phone calls if it isn’t too noisy outside. Air conduction headphones provide a much higher quality of overall sound. Bone conduction testing has also found that bone conduction headphones have a limited ability to perceive the sound of multiple voices in a surrounding environment.

The benefits of air conduction

Air conduction is the preferred method of sound delivery for earbuds. The sound provided by air conduction headphones is familiar and comfortable and doesn’t take you out of your listening experience. In contrast, the vibrations you feel with bone conduction headphones might initially be surprising or even unsettling.

Audio quality of air conduction

Air conduction is far superior to bone conduction for sound quality, especially if you want to enjoy a thumping bass with your music. With this audio transmission method of spatial audio earbuds, you can experience the richness of a wide range of sounds, from deep baritones to high pure tone falsettos on the upper hearing threshold. Studies measuring hearing have even found that air conduction is superior to bone conduction for speech intelligibility.

Air conduction’s premium comfort

Air-conduction-powered open-ear headphones are ideal for all-day comfortable wear, especially for active people and runners. In fact, some competitive races don’t allow you to wear anything in your ears, so this type of earbud could work to listen to music while maintaining awareness of your surroundings.

Man sitting on a train using the Bose app to adjusting his Bose Ultra Open Earbuds

Sound clarity of air conduction

The clarity of air conduction sound is far superior to bone conduction, as you can hear all the subtle flourishes that the music producer meant you to hear when creating the music in the studio. There’s a much more comprehensive range of sound frequencies and crisp quality.

Ultra Open Earbuds’ minimal sound leakage

Through research and testing, Bose has created a design that prevents the sound leakage issues experienced with other open earbuds. These breakthrough buds are as stylish as they are functional, allowing quality sound immersion and awareness of the world around you. They give a comfy hug to the edge of your ear, which is so unobstructive you may forget you have them on. Bose Ultra Open Earbuds also have the best-in-class ANC transparency mode, allowing for impact listening combined with full natural awareness.

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Bose Ultra Open Earbuds
$299.00
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2 Colors