Exactly one lifetime ago, in July of 2019, I proclaimed my love for the AfterShokz Air bone conduction headphones. I’ve been using them on nearly all workouts—indoors or out—since then. Well, until now. The newer, more modern, and (best of all) smaller Aeropex Mini, which were originally announced at CES 2020, have been on my skull for the past couple of weeks. And I love them even more.
What is This “Mini” Business?
If you’ve researched bone conduction headphones in the last little bit, you’ve likely heard about the Aeropex by AfterShokz. Those have been the de facto standard for the best bone conduction headphone since they were released roughly one and one half years ago. The Aeropex Mini are the same headphones, just smaller.
Well, the band is smaller. Like, that’s it—just a half-inch shorter band. The headphones themselves are the same size. But the smaller band makes a bigger impact in overall fit than you might realize. I’m a bald dude so I don’t have hair to fill the extra space left by my AfterShokz Air, which makes the Aeropex Mini a great choice for me. The fit is much “tighter.”
Of course, you may be wondering what size you should get. Good news: AfterShokz has a guide to help you figure that out. If you have a big ol’ fat head or lots of hair, you probably want the full size. But if you have a smallerish head, not a lot of hair, are a child, or want a snug fit, the Mini is the jam.
Oh, there’s one other minor difference: the Aeropex Mini are only available in black. The regular Aeropex come in red, gray, blue, and black. That’s a bummer if you like colors and have a small head, but hey—can’t win ’em all.
Otherwise, you get a standard and familiar layout here: multifunction button (play/pause, answer/hangup, bring up Google Assistant, and more) on the left pad, volume +/- and charging port on the right side behind the ear hook. That’s it. Unlike most other AfterShokz, which charge over USB of some variety, the Aeropex uses a proprietary magnetic charger. I assume they went this route to get a better seal and higher IP rating (IP67), but it might be an annoyance to some. Just don’t lose the cable!
While our sister site How-to Geek has a most excellent explainer on how bone conduction technology works, I’ll give you the quick and dirty. Basically, they bypass the outer ear to pump sound directly to the inner ear. How? Through your cheekbone. Almost like they’re using bones to conduct the sound.
It’s a cool, unique experience, but it’s not jarring. It doesn’t take any getting used to. But using bone conduction headphones is also unlike using any other sort of headphones they don’t go on or in your ear. This has a few benefits, but mostly it doesn’t block your hearing, so you have full situational awareness.
That makes these great any time you need to hear what’s going on around you—like for cycling or running. Or any other activity where you want music or a podcast but still need to be able to hear.
I generally liken using bone conduction headphones to being in the same room with a playing TV. When you’re watching it, it has your attention and you focus on the audio from the TV—but you can still hear other things. If someone starts to talk to you, the TV audio sort of drifts into the background so you can focus on that person’s voice. Bone conduction headphones do basically the same thing. It’s incredible.
But Cam, How’s the Sound Quality?
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: bone conduction headphones don’t sound as good as earbuds or headphones. But that also doesn’t mean they sound bad. And the Aeropex (Mini) sound better than any other bone conduction headphones I’ve ever heard.
As I said earlier, I wore the AfterShokz Air nearly every time I was on the bike for well over a year. The sound quality on those is fine—after all, I’m more interested in just having music for my workouts than getting the best sound quality—but the Aeropex (Mini) is on a different level. Where the Air can sound sort of muddy or muffled, the Aeropex sound alive—crisp and sharp. Articulate.
Of course, you have to keep your expectations in check here—you’re not going to get defined low end from a set of bone conduction, for example. They tend to be heavier on the midrange, which offers the broadest frequency coverage. You know, the most “bang for your buck” so to speak.
That said, every set of AfterShokz also comes with a pair of earplugs, which dramatically changes the overall audio experience. The Aeropex Mini feature two EQ settings as a result—the default profile is designed for open-ear use, so it pumps as much bass into them as they can handle. With earplugs in, however, it sounds like pure mud. Switching over the other EQ profile by pressing and holding both volume buttons for three seconds dramatically cuts the bass so they sound better. But in reality you can use either EQ whenever you want. It’s all about what sounds better to you.
But that also brings up my biggest issue with the Aeropex (and Air, for that matter): when you switch between the two settings, the voice response says “EQ changed” with no indication of which profile you’re on. I gave this a pass on the Air over a year ago, but I figured that AfterShokz had surely fixed this on the newer models. Nope. I wish it responded with “EQ 1” and “EQ 2” at the very least. In fact, this is exactly how it works on the OpenMove—they have three audio profiles, and it announces each one (standard, vocal booster, earplug mode) when they’re activated).
But, truth be told, I always use my AfterShokz as open-ear headphones, so I literally never change audio profiles. But that’s me—you may want one pair of headphones for all uses and like the idea of pairing earplugs with bone conduction. In that case, the OpenMove might be a better choice for you. Just keep in mind those are “lifestyle” headphones, so they’re not as robust (IP55 vs. IP67) and don’t last as long (6 hours vs. 8 hours of battery life).
Finally, I want to touch on call and communication quality. I recently did a four and a half hour indoor cycling event using TrainerRoad’s group workouts feature (which supports video and audio), and the Aeropex Mini were amazing. They sounded great and everyone could hear me perfectly. That’s a huge win for anyone looking for a way to talk on the phone without clogging their ears.
If phone calls and voice chats are you primary concern, however, you might be more interested in the OpenComm, which appears to be similar to Aerpoex, but it features a boom mic for better call quality.
The whole time I had the Air, I only used them on the bike. But since I’ve been testing the Aeropex Mini, I find myself reaching for them pretty regularly—both on the bike and off. I wear them around the house. I wear them while I’m working. I wear them to the store. I wore them while I was walking around downtown taking pics for the iPhone 12 Mini review.
Sure, earbuds or regular headphones sound better. But the benefits of the Aeropex Mini outweigh the (very few) cons. They’re light, last all day, are incredibly comfortable, and stay out of my way. They’re quickly becoming my go-to headphones for nearly all uses.