Review: AfterShokz Sportz M2 Headphones

Gear

We usually go out for a bike ride to forget about the rest of the world, and leave our troubles, worries, electronics and the normal over saturation of society back at home. Often when we obsessively ride by ourselves, it’s nice to be able to listen to music, to help tick the miles away, relieve boredom, keep the rhythm during training, or just crank your favorite tunes. How can you listen to music and be safely aware of your trail surroundings? The AfterShokz Sportz M2 is an open ear sport headphones, which are lightweight, sweat and water resistant, and might just solve that issue. The design uses bone conduction technology, which allows the user to listen to music, and still safely hear the external ambient noise.

Headphones and earbuds block out most of the exterior noise from the world, which is fine when you are in a safe environment and just want to immerse yourself in your music. In the world of sports, whether it’s running, hiking, walking, or biking, you need to pick up the ambient sounds and spatial cues in the world around you. For safety reasons, you want to be fully cognizant of your surroundings, so you can hear cars, traffic, dogs, wild animals, and other trail and road users.

The AfterShokz system uses bone conduction technology to transmit sound through the listener’s cheekbones to the inner ear, bypassing the eardrum completely. The concept was initially developed for military special operations and law enforcement by Voxtech back in 2001, and AfterShokz has brought this technology to the consumer market. The sound is passed through to the bone via the systems orange colored transducer pads.

They have three models of the AfterShoxz: the tested Sportz M2 with Mic ($79.95), the Sportz 2 ($69.95), and the Bluetooth Bleuz ($119.95).

The main system is comprised of the neck band with its attached transducers, a long cable with a 3.5mm connector and the in-line controller. The kit also includes a nice carrying case, a USB charger, an extension connector and a user manual.

The battery powered in-line controller has a charging port, power switch, buttons for volume control, a microphone, an LED indicator and a call button. It’s the main operational unit that dictates everything that you receive through the sound transducers.

You hook the headphones over your ears and place the transducers on your cheekbone, just in front of your ear. You then clip the in-line controller to a shirt or hydration pack, turn on the power, plug the cable into your music device and start up your tunes.

The music comes through loud and clear from the orange rubberized transducer pads, and the fidelity is more than adequate, though obviously not on par with high-end headphones or earbuds. I was surprised at the decent volume level and clarity of the music, and because of the design, I could easily hold a conversation with someone, and hear my bike tires grinding along the trail and birds chirping in the background. The treble and bass were fine, though one odd sensation was that on some bass notes it would vibrate on your cheekbone, but I got over that feeling pretty quickly and rarely noticed it much. They sounded the best while listening at moderate volumes. On some occasions when I craned my head back I could feel the neck band poke me on the shoulders, but it was a minor annoyance. I wondered if the transducers were maybe just acting like mini-speakers, so I stuck my fingers in my ears, and the sound didn’t change much except for a slight loss of the treble, showing that the bone conduction technology was doing its job.

The system does require the in-line controller as a power source, and won’t work directly from your media player. The battery lasted me for over 10 hours, and I ended up charging it before it completely died, but it’s supposed to have around 12-15 hours of playback, depending on load. The charging took around 2-3 hours for a full charge using the included USB connector. I didn’t find the controller that large or heavy, and since it was clipped to my hydration pack, it stayed in the perfect spot for usage, without getting in the way. I used my iPhone for my media player, and I could take a couple of phones without any issues, and the conversation was decent for this type of interface. When a call comes in, you hit the call button on the controller to answer it, and when done, just hit the button again and the music starts back up.

Bottom Line
The AfterShokz Sportz M2 is an excellent open ear headphone for a sport oriented user, and it utilizes the unique bone conductor technology, so you can hear the spatial cues and ambient noise of the external world and still enjoy listening to your music through your media player. The system has a nice rechargeable in-line controller, which operates the power, volume levels and allows you to answer phone calls. The sound is transmitted through your cheekbones via the transducer pads, which are soft, comfortable, and water and sweat resistant. I didn’t have any issues with wearing the headphones when using a bike helmet, even for long periods of time.

I really liked this set of headphones, especially for biking, since they’re comfy, let me listen to music while banging along the trail, and still converse with people and hear the birds chirp. Just don’t expect super high fidelity when your music is being boned to you!

Strengths

  • Good fidelity and adequate volume level
  • In-line controller has long battery life
  • Fully aware of outside noises – excellent safety feature
  • Transducers are soft, comfortable and sweat resistant
  • Great bone conduction technology
  • Easy to answer calls when using smartphone

Weaknesses

  • Vibrations from bass notes and higher volumes might annoy some people
  • In-line controller is required as a power source
  • Not quite high-end sound

Overall Rating: 4 Flamin’ Chili Peppers

 

 

Sportz M2 Specs:

  • MSRP: $79.95
  • Speaker Type: Dual Suspension Bone Conduction
  • Sensitivity: 100 ± 3dB
  • Microphone: -41dB ± 3dB
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
  • Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion
  • Playback Time: Up to 12 Hours at low volume*
  • Charge Time: 3 Hours (with USB charger)
  • Cable Length: 130cm / 51.2 inches
  • Weight: 45g/1.6 ounces
  • Color: Black with orange pads
  • Warranty: 2-Year
About the author: Brian Mullin

Brian has been part of the Mtbr team since 2007, where he has become an integral member of the review and test staff, specializing in technical articles. He likes to push the limits in all the sports he obsesses in, whether it's mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, extreme skiing, or sport climbing. He takes those same strengths and a good dose of insanity to his reviewing and writing on mountain biking products, creating technical, in-depth and hyperbolic articles. Whenever he's not on the bike, he might be found watching MotoGP racing, otherwise look for him out on extremely technical singletrack.


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  • Scott says:

    I love having music on some of my rides but hate not being able to hear anything else but…I wonder how well this will work for those of us with beards…since it depends on bone conduction, the pads won’t sit right on the cheek bone as they should. These types of headphones may only work well with those clean-shaven, no sideburns gents…which eliminates most of my friends…

  • Charles says:

    Just ordered the Sportz 2. The same design minus the mic. Rode it today on my way to work and was very impressed on how well the sound is. Given the nature of the environment the headphones are supposed to be used, there is too much ambient noise to hear everything without blocking all of the noise. I was able to hear the birds chirp, my drivetrain go, and still hear my music clearly. They are comfortable and do not shift. I wear glasses and had no issues with the pads making contact with my cheekbones. Overall a very useful and safe product to hear your music and listen to your environment. The controller box is far enough from the headphones to clip to my pack without feeling I’m on a short leash. Build seems pretty solid and not wimpy like some products can be. Overall I’m very pleased and happy with this product.

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