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When everyone else zigged, Aftershokz zagged. Instead of working out better ways to block out extraneous noise to let you focus on your music – and isolate you from the outside world – Aftershokz left the entire ear open, using bone conduction to transmit music tunes to your noggin.
The Trekz Air are Aftershokz’s new top-of-the-line bone conduction headphones, supplanting the Trekz Titanium as its premium offering (although you can still get the Titanium headphones, for £50 less than the Air). As the name suggests, they are lighter – 30g compared to 36g for the Titanium – as well as being more flexible, making for a more comfortable fit.
Having used the Trekz Titanium for many runs and cycles, I was surprised by how much these seemingly small changes actually affected the fit of the Air. The new headphones get knocked around less by helmet straps or the tops of shirt collars than the Titanium, because the lighter wraparound strap doesn’t droop so much.
Other than that, the experience is much the same. The sound quality is impressive and the headphones are loud enough to let you hear your music or – crucially for me, at least – your podcasts and audiobooks when running around busy city streets, while retaining the extra aural awareness of what’s going on around you. I didn’t notice any difference in sound quality compared with the Titanium but bone conduction relies on a good fit, so the fact that the Trekz Air stay firmly in place is useful in that regard.
Competitive runners should also note that Aftershokz has a partnership with England Athletics and its headphones are the only ones allowed in all UK Athletics races. Although many runners simply flout this rule and wear whatever headphones they like, if you want to stick to the rulebook and avoid any risk of being disqualified, then bone conduction headphones are the way to go.
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Naturally you can’t expect the sound quality to match that of in-ear buds or over-ear headphones – there is a trade-off you have to accept if you want the greater awareness afforded by bone conduction headphones – but the Trekz Air still sound good enough that the drop in audio standards doesn’t annoy. Even if it does, put on a bassy track, ramp the volume up to the max and enjoy the fizzy vibrations against on your cheekbones – you don’t get that with in-ear buds.
Take the Trekz Air on public transport and you might struggle to catch every word of a podcast, especially on a noisy underground train, but that’s not really where they’re meant to be used. They’re designed for outdoor exercise and that’s where they excel, with a water-resistant body and a fit that doesn’t budge even during faster runs.
The connection between phone and headphones was always perfect, and I found the Trekz Air to be impressively fast at linking up with my phone when I turned them on. I’d like it if they gave an indication of remaining battery life whenever you turned them, which is something that all Bluetooth headphones manufacturers should be forced to do by law in my opinion, but it’s easy enough to see the remaining juice on your smartphone.
Battery life is six hours, and it takes two to charge them from empty – a tad slow considering many Bluetooth headphones have a rapid charge function nowadays.
The Trekz Air remain a niche item – if you’re not a runner or a cyclist then there’s no real need to compromise on sound quality for greater ambient awareness – but they are the kings in that niche. If you already have the Trekz Titanium there’s no urgent need to upgrade to the Air, but they are an improvement in terms of their lightweight frame and secure fit. Whether that’s worth an extra £50 is a question for your wallet.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.