Riding outside with headphones is a contentious issue. There are many who, rightly, point to the need for some level of distraction over long rides. It might be podcasts to pass the time or it might be music to help with a bit of motivation when you need it most. Then there are those who, also rightly, point to the need to stay aware of one’s surroundings while outside. However, as technology progresses there are companies who are finding solutions for both sides. Wherever you stand on that debate, with the prevalence of indoor riding there’s a whole new need for headphones while riding a bike.
Each use case brings with it unique challenges and they are significant. If it’s outside the biggest issue is keeping awareness of your environment but there are also issues involving battery life, the potential to lose expensive earbuds, and comfort fitting in among helmets and sunglasses. Inside, there are issues of sweat and it’s a virtual stress test of mic quality for those who use it. There is one option there that adopts a unique technological solution to the issues.
The Aftershokz Aeropex headphones show up on our list of the best headphones for cycling because of their use of bone conduction technology. At the end of 2021, the company rebranded and came out with the Shokz OpenRun Pro as an update. We’ve now spent enough time with this new option and are ready to share our thoughts with you. If you like to ride indoors, or outdoors, while listening to music or talking to people, keep reading to see if this is the right product for you.
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Design and aesthetics
When it comes to the concept of bone conduction headphones, there’s really only Shokz, formerly Aftershokz. There are some other smaller players but realistically your choice is Shokz. The brand has really dialed in the system and the OpenRun Pro reflects a combination of those same technologies as well as some new innovations designed as a response to previous drawbacks.
If you’ve never used, or seen, a set of bone conduction headphones from Shokz, then it’s good to start with the basics. The form factor is a wireless, Bluetooth 5.1, system with a band connecting each side. The band is titanium but there’s a soft-touch coating over everything. So the details of the interior construction are only important to understand that it’s light and strong with a fair bit of spring.
As the band comes to an end behind the ears, you’ll find a squared-off housing. The left side has no external details but on the right-hand side, you’ll find controls and a magnetic charging port. The controls are multi-purpose volume up and down as well as long-press for power. When off, an even longer press puts the OpenRun Pro headphones into pairing mode. There’s a status light there as well but unless the power is low, or you are pairing, it remains off.
Continue moving forward and the headphones travel over your ears. The shape of this bridge over the ear is one of the changes from the previous version. It’s now just a bit more rounded but it continues to be otherwise the same balance of security but only partially the way the headphones sit on your head. Meaning, yes this bridge does sit against the top of your ears but there’s very little weight because of the spring action that comes from the band behind the head.
The last piece of the Shokz headphones are two pads, technically transducers, that sit against the upper portion of the jawbone. These are the special sauce that make these unique from typical headphones. The transducers sit in front of your ears, not on them or in them, and there’s no speaker but rather a smooth spot that vibrates. The left has a multi-function that can call your voice assistant, pause, or skip a track. The tricky bit though is that there are clearly speaker grills on both units.
It turns out that there’s not a ton of difference between a speaker that vibrates the air and a transducer that vibrates the jaw bone. Vibration is vibration and there is still some sound leakage in bone conduction headphones. The OpenRun Pro attempts to counter this by creating openings on four sides of the transducer. On the ear side of the core of the headphones, the sound is transmitted directionally to the ear. Then, the other three sides have the ability to emit a sound in the opposite phase. The two sounds interact and attempt to achieve an anti-phase cancellation. The design does also mean a slight downgrade of the waterproof rating to IP55.
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There are two important, and distinct, ways to look at the Shokz OpenRun Pro. We are cyclists and this review is all about using a pair of headphones on a bike. In that regard, these are a runaway success. The previous version was already really good but it had a couple of challenges that this version overcomes.
The OpenRun Pro is 20 per cent smaller than the previous Aeropex and that’s a big deal on the bike. The space they compete for is the same space the back of your sunglasses and your helmet retention occupy. There’s very little space there and making the headphones a little smaller is a big help in all-day comfort.
Traditionally I’ve been a bit grumpy about riding outdoors with headphones. I like to hear what’s going on but I also like to take the time as a bit of quiet meditation time. Then I started riding with the OpenRun Pro and it completely changed how I do things. You can hear what’s going on because your ears remain completely open. Understanding someone talking to you is still a bit challenging, given the competing audio for your eardrums, but cars coming up isn’t an issue at all. You can also hit the multi-function button once and your music will pause.
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I’ve always ridden with headphones inside though. On that front, these are an upgrade. Both indoors and outdoors, it can be tough to hear over wind or a fan and drivetrain noise. The Aeropex was just loud enough that at full volume they worked. The OpenRun pro has volume to spare and if I’m watching something that’s voice-heavy inside, I can swap the EQ to the vocal setting through the companion app and it’s easy to hear dialogue over intervals. The other issue inside is that it’s easy to kill headphones with sweat. These are slightly downgraded in the IP rating but they are still fine to handle sweat and weren’t bothered by a short downpour outside.
The other consideration with any headphones is day to day, off the bike, use. On that side, you have to adjust expectations a bit. The sound quality absolutely does not match similarly priced headphones with a different design. I think it’s unreasonable to look for studio-quality music when working hard on a bike but you might find these lacking at other times in your life. The OpenRun Pro is better than the previous generation but without sound isolation, it’s just never going to match up. This has been greatly improved but the sound is still hollow in comparison.
The mic is a disappointment and there is no adjusting expectations for that point. It’s a multipoint noise-cancelling mic and it works okay. It actually works better than a lot of inexpensive competition and remains clear enough to work with a fan pointed at your face during intervals inside. The problem is that it’s only middle-of-the-pack and it lacks the clarity of better options. Despite transmitting sound via bone conduction, the mic remains a standard system that doesn’t use bone conduction. It’s workable but it feels like the opportunity is within reach for an exceptional mic and this doesn’t get there.
Elsewhere, charging and battery life are more mixed than good or bad. The 10-hour battery is enough for most long rides but not all of them. The full charge is exceptional at one hour from dead, and the quick charge is equally impressive with an hour and a half of listening time from a five-minute charge. Unfortunately, the proprietary charging adapter is a hassle at home and unworkable when riding. In most situations, things are going to be fine on this front but I’d love to see a standard USB-C port and either a smaller size or longer battery life.
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I spent a fair bit of time discussing the pros and cons of the Shokz OpenRun Pro. They are far from perfect and there are issues with the mic, the charging cable, and the sound quality. Despite all that there’s nothing else that matches their performance on the bike. Not only that but even off the bike I use them more than most of my other headphones for essentially the same reason as I use them on the bike.
I can remain a part of the environment using the OpenRun Pro. Outside that means I can hear traffic and I can hear other riders without fear of losing an earbud. When I’m on the trainer I can hear a movie, or music, or teammates in a Zwift race but I can also hear my family if they come out to ask a question. Off the bike, it means I can play video games, or watch something on TV, without disconnecting from my family. If someone talks to me, I can hear them. The only time I choose different headphones is when I want isolation either for the best sound quality or for concentration. If you want to use headphones while riding your bike there are only a few good options and the Shokz OpenRun Pro is one of them.
|Ease of pairing||Getting to pairing mode is obvious without cracking a manual but there’s no support for the latest smart pairing technology||8/10|
|Sound Quality||Decent but there’s a hollowness, oddly not the point of these headphones||6/10|
|Comfort||Manage to find room in the limited space occupied by helmet retention and sunglasses and remain comfortable for a six hour ride. Lighter and smaller would still be appreciated.||9/10|
|Battery life||10 hours is a middle ground. Some true wireless headphones are getting remarkably close. Charging is a hassle.||7/10|
Tech Specs: Shokz OpenRun Pro
- Price: £159.95 / $179.95
- Waterproof rating: IP55
- BluetoothVersion: 5.1
- Battery Life: 10-hours
- Charging Time: 5 minutes – 1.5hrs of use, 20-min charge – 60% of full battery, 30-min charge – 90% of full battery, 1-hour charge – 100%
- Weight: 29 grams
- Color Options: black, blue, beige, pink