AfterShokz Air Review
Pros: Complete awareness or surroundings, secure fit, lightweight
Cons: Expensive, subpar sound quality
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The AfterShokz Air uses bone conductive technology to literally vibrate sound through your cheekbones and into your ears. This leaves your ears uncovered, which is more comfortable and preferable in many situations, particularly when cycling. However, this does result in a drop in audio quality compared to traditional earbuds.
The AfterShokz Air performed quite well in all of our tests except for sound quality, but the unique advantages provided by their design still earned them one of our Top Pick awards.
This is the one area where the Air fell short, earning the worst score in the metric of 3 out of 10.
That's not to say these headphones sound terrible. We were still able to generally enjoy most genres of music we listened to, and podcasts were just as engaging as ever. However, the sound lacks some low end, resulting in a very thin soundscape, and higher notes can become a bit distorted and sound tinny. Bottom line, you buy these headphones because you want to listen to things on the go while leaving your ears uncovered, not because you're looking for a refined listening experience.
That being said, the conductive audio technology does present a few more sound quality variables than other earbuds, namely anatomy. Different sizes and shapes of cheekbones are going to produce slightly different sounds. Because of this, we had a larger number of people listen to these headphones in our testing, and while responses varied a bit, all thought that traditional in-ear buds sounded better. In fact, it was a unanimous opinion that the Anker SoundBuds, which are just 1/5th the price, sound better than the Air.
AfterShockz includes a pair of earplugs in the box with these headphones. Putting those earplugs in does provide a surprising bump up in audio quality, filling out the low end and relieving much of the tinniness at higher frequencies. However, using these headphones with earplugs kind of defeats their whole purpose of leaving your ears uncovered. Additionally, these headphones do produce a sound that is often audible to the people around you, so if you put in those earplugs to blissfully listen to music on a long plane ride, there is a good chance you'll get some annoyed sideways glances from the people next to you.
The Air are very comfortable to wear. The rubber coating keeps them in place but doesn't tug uncomfortably at your skin. The over-ear design is sturdy and keeps them from wiggling around, and they are light enough that you quickly forget they are there. We also had zero issues with the audio drivers making good contact with cheekbones, even with multiple people with different face shapes and sizes trying them on.
So why didn't these headphones earn a top score in our comfort metric? Solely because you can actually feel the sound vibrating through your cheekbones and into your ears. For some, this odd sensation blended into the background and was barely noticeable after a few minutes, while others found it just too odd of a sensation to handle. So if you want to give these headphones a try we strongly suggest you buy them from a reputable dealer with a good return policy, just in case you fall into the latter camp.
Here again the Air was near the top of the scoreboard, earning a score of 8 out of 10.
While the Air is relatively heavy at 1.1 oz (compare that to the 0.4 oz Jabra Elite 65t), the over-ear style offers a level of stability that makes that extra weight almost inconsequential. Yes, we could feel some tugs on our ears when we hit big bumps on a mountain bike ride, but otherwise we barely noticed the headphones were on. The rubber coating also keeps everything in place no matter how much you sweat, and the IPX5 water resistant rating means no amount of sweat is going to damage the internal electronics.
The one complaint we have with the Air's athletic performance is the fact that the over-ear style can sometimes get in the way of sunglasses, and that some helmet straps could interfere with the headphones as well. We generally were able to figure out a workaround with most helmet/sunglass combos, usually by putting sunglass temples over the helmet straps, but be aware you may have to do some tinkering to get these headphones to work well with your cycling rig.
The Air's battery produced a fairly impressive 7.5 hours of audio playback in our testing. Considering our favorite use for these headphones is cycling, and we rarely cycle 7.5 hours straight, that felt like plenty of battery.
The Air earned an average score in our portability testing. They are relatively small and come with a cloth carrying case, but are also slightly on the heavy side at 1.1 oz. The semi-rigid design also means these headphones don't pack down as small as traditional earbuds.
You certainly won't find these headphones cumbersome, but they're not quite as slick or packable as the charging cases of the Apple AirPods and Jabra Elite 65t.
The Air is only worth the money if you really want to listen to music on the go while keeping your ears uncovered. If you don't mind putting actual earbuds in your ears you can get better sound quality for much less with the Anker SoundBuds, or get top-notch sound quality for a similar price from the Jabra Elite 65t.
While you don't get a particularly refined listening experience, the AfterShokz Air is the best way we've found to listen to music on a bike whilst leaving your ears uncovered.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata