Visiting the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show enabled me to take a glance at some of the latest revolutionary technologies that are coming out for 2016 and beyond. One major player at CES was touting audio technology, a group that took up a large portion of the show floor. While a lot of the standard headsets and noise-cancelling headphones were brought out in full force to differing price points and features, other manufacturers took to different routes to entice their customers, using innovative means to bring great audio quality to their consumers.
Sometime before the show, I received an email inquiry from a manufacturer called Aftershokz, who asked if I had any interest in providing coverage on a new bone-conducting headset technology. The headset, labeled as the Aftershokz Gamez headset, had a more specific proclivity to enhance the gaming experience. That isn’t to say, though, that the headset is only for video games; it still functions independently as a Bluetooth headset with a lot of the standard features that consumers have come to find as standard: music playback or as a device to receive phone calls.
The idea of bone conduction is as simple as it is fascinating. The headset does not rest and cover the ear canals; the Gamez headset instead goes over the ears but the audio conduction points rest on the cheekbones. This enables the wearer to be aware of their physical surroundings. The desired audio is then heard by sound waves that vibrate against the cheekbones, while maintaining awareness.
The Aftershokz Gamez headset comes in a green color. It weighs very little, but don’t let the lack of weight fool you into thinking that the headset is cheap. Aftershokz touts the headset as built from materials designed for military usage. The headset is made mostly of plastic, with the inner band made of rubber to have a stronger traction with the head that it fits around. The design is built to be sweat and dirt resistant. A small portion of the inner band is made of plastic, and is used to house, presumably, the audio speaker components. The front of the headset is composed of plastic and consists of merely a logo and a multi-function button. The underside of the headset consists of a power button, a flap that opens up, revealing a micro USB port, and then a volume control. The design is simplistic for ease of use, and features an inner band that can be used as a means of adjustment for different head sizes. Quite frankly, the adjustment band provided did a poor job at this function, constantly slipping out of the allotted niches. Furthermore, as a side note, Aftershokz included a small pouch to store the headset, as well as reflective stickers to improve visibility in poorly-lit locations.
This headset, as mentioned earlier, connects via Bluetooth to any device capable of using Bluetooth technology. Upon connecting, the headset announces via a voice prompt that the two devices are now paired and ready for usage shortly after a welcoming prompt. After using this device as a multipurpose headset, my impressions of it are positive. The headset plays audio back quite nicely. Playing music, audio came back crisply with above average impressions for equalizer settings. It’s no Sennheiser, but it definitely can rank as a solid headset for a decent, above average audio experience. Holding the volume up and down buttons changes the focus onto treble or bass, or levels them both out. The differences with each are pretty modest, confirmed by several people whom I had requested to test the headset. The differences are not unnoticeable, though, as a few of the colleagues noticed a difference in sound quality with different equalizer settings. Others noticed that they had to strain or focus entirely on separate aspects of the sound to notice the differences. The majority stated that the audio playback was sound, and met their expectations for the price point Aftershokz declared ($99). The bass did offer a slight tickle on the cheekbones, though, both from personal experience and from other observations. The people whom I allowed to test it noticed that there was a sweet spot that the Gamez headset needed to be touching in order to get the best sound experience; any further away than that and the sound would end up sounding poorer in quality.
The headset was noted by many to be extremely comfortable on the head, and did not have any impact due to its low weight. It can even be worn comfortably with glasses. From personal observation, the headset was entirely comfortable on my head for extended car trips (several hours) or on flights, while maintaining a comfortable level of environmental awareness. When testing the phone calls feature, the audio came back at adequate levels, with the voice being clear and not picking up any interference. Calls are answerable with a tap of the multi-function button, and can be rejected just as easily with the same button. The button also adds the feature to be able to resume and pause music playback.
We can’t forget that this headset is called the Gamez headset, which means that it has a focus on improving the gaming experience. The gaming experience that I enjoyed with this mainly consisted of mobile testing, which meant lots of games like Hearthstone, Brave Frontier, Puzzle and Dragons, or emulated games. The Gamez headset, in these tests, proved that it was stronger than a standard set of earphones that phone manufacturers provide. Even against Apple’s Ear Pods, which I found favor with for their sound quality, the Gamez delivers excellent gaming-related sound through its audio driver. The sounds are crisp and clear. With emulated titles, a lot of the instrumentation that may have difficult to imagine due to hardware limitation sounded better. Again, it’s not the strongest headset that I’ve worked with, but for its bone conduction innovation and for the price point, the sound quality is quite excellent and on par with some above-average earphones and headphones.
Aftershokz have created a great headset for the gamers in all of us. The headset, at a price point of $99, is a worthwhile investment that allows the wearer to maintain awareness of his or her surroundings, and is able to resist the elements using military grade materials. The lightweight headset is able to take on a multitude of features and tasks, and performs well against many different earphones and headphones. Some nitpicks are about the sweet spot needed for optimal listening, or that the adjustment band is kind of cheap and falls out frequently. The idea of bone conducting technology is one that could surface and become more mainstream, and it’ll be interesting to see how future iterations of the Gamez or bone-conducting headsets in general will improve.
Gamer Professionals would like to thank the team at Aftershokz for meeting at CES and for providing the headset for review.