Shokz OpenComm Review
This headset sends sound through your jaw—and it’s great for the blind
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Bone conduction headphones have a bit of a cyborg vibe to them. They are headphones that don’t sit on your ears, but rather sit against your jawbone. They use vibration to send sound straight to your inner ear, bypassing your outer ear entirely. These headphones have made steady progress in the personal audio market, and the options for consumers are continuously increasing.
They are an especially useful accessory for people who are blind, offering several benefits over traditional headphones that make them worth the investment. Bone conduction headphones are also beneficial if you have hearing loss related to your outer or middle ear, as the technology doesn’t rely on that portion of the ear to transmit sound.
In particular, the Shokz OpenComm headset, a full communications headset complete with quality audio and a microphone, has benefitted me as both a blind professional and an after-hours nerd.
About the Shokz OpenComm headset
- Price: $159.95
- Calling: Noise-cancelling boom mic
- Sound transmission: Bone conduction
- Battery life: 16 hours of talk time
- Fit: Open ear design
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
- Extras: Multipoint pairing, quick charge
With all these cutting-edge features, this headset is particularly useful for blind users who want to streamline their workspaces and audio while staying connected to the world around them.
What I like
Bone conduction headphones are usually marketed to runners and outdoorsy people who benefit from being able to hear what’s around them to avoid injury. This is a particularly useful feature for blind users who always need to be tuned into the sounds in their environments.
These headphones make it possible to move around while on the phone or listening to music without impairing hearing. You’ll be able to hear movement and voices so you can continue to be aware of your surroundings. This is useful outside, and in the office when you want to hear coworkers talking to you.
I will say personally that I would still be hesitant to wear these out on a walk. Music and voices aren’t blocking your ears, but they are still distracting, and I use audio a lot for navigation. These throw off my hearing just enough that I wouldn’t feel safe trying to cross a road while wearing them. They are great for moving around indoor spaces, though.
I can connect to multiple devices
As a professional writer and after-hours video game player, I spend a lot of time connected to headphones. I use a screen reader on my phone and computer, which means my devices are constantly making noise. This gets complicated when I’m taking a phone call and trying to take notes or running a game and trying to read stat sheets at the same time, so I need to be connected to two headsets at once.
I can wear the OpenComm headset and an earbud at the same time and still keep one ear free, which is much more comfortable. It also lets me take a call and use my laptop at the same time without letting my caller hear my computer.
The headset also has multipoint pairing, which allows you to switch from one device to another without having to reconnect your headset. This is useful if you constantly switch devices during work. And once you set up the pairing, it happens automatically, so it’s a seamless transition. Since I’m usually using both devices at once this doesn’t benefit me as much, but for anyone who uses one at a time it would be valuable.
It has accessible controls
Many headphones use lights and other visual indicators when you change settings, but the OpenComm runs on buttons and beeps. Answering calls, playing music, and changing settings all happen through the volume buttons or the multi-function button, so everything on the headphones can be operated by touch and sound. This means the headset was accessible right out of the box, and I can try all new functions without any sighted assistance.
What I don’t like
The vibration aggravates some users
While I’m a fan of these headphones in general, they do have a few drawbacks. The bone conduction of sound through the jaw has a vibration that bothers some people, but of course this would be an issue with any bone conduction headphones, not just the OpenComm.
The sound quality is just OK
Another downside of bone conduction technology is that the sound quality isn’t quite as good as with other headphones at a similar price point. These are more about function than mind-blowing audio experience.
The accessible features can get annoying
While the beeps are part of what makes these headphones helpful for blind users, they are sometimes uncomfortably loud. Worse, if you mute the mic, the device beeps repeatedly.
Should you buy the Shokz OpenComm headphones?
Yes, if you don’t mind sacrificing sound quality for versatility
Though they have a few drawbacks, the Shokz OpenComm headphones have been a major asset to me as a writer with a disability. They allow me a level of freedom in movement and multitasking that many other headsets don’t. I use them at work and when I’m spending virtual time with friends after hours, and they’ve held up well over time.
If audio quality is the most important thing to you, these are not the headphones for you. You’ll be happier with more traditional headphones. But, if you’re willing to take a slight decrease in exchange for the other benefits of the headset, this is an accessory that you will enjoy using.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.