Not only do they look super space age, they’re headphones that don’t actually sit over your ears. I know! Magic! Let’s take a look at the Marsboy Bone Conductive Headset in our full review and find out just what makes them tick, and actually whether they’re worth the investment.
Overview & Unboxing
If you’re not entirely sure what “bone conduction” is, well you’re probably in good company. The basic premise is actually quite simple. Bone conduction is the act of passing sound based on the resonance of it through the bones in the skull to the inner ear, rather than via the ear canal directly. For a practical example, bone conducted sound is the reason why one’s voice sounds different out loud, to when recorded and played back. Subtle differences in tone and frequency based on the travel route of the sound wave account via the bones in the skull account for this. This technique is used in some hearing aid products as well.
More recently however, Google utilised bone conductivity in their Google Glass product to transmit information that sat beside the wearers’ ear.
So, there you have it. So, what are the advantages of such a product? Well it’s been suggested that using bone conduction headphones, rather than in ear/over ear headphones would provide a couple of benefits. Firstly, they would be more hygienic. No more cleaning the ear pieces because you’ve had a particularly bad cold! That point stands for itself doesn’t it. Secondly and perhaps more striking however is it alleviates the threat of volume jumps and pitch differences from damaging your inner ear. That is indeed a worry that many who wear headphones regularly have to combat.
So, firstly thanks to Marsboy for reaching out to us to review this product. It’s certainly something we’ve been interested in and a device that is marketed for sport, as well as comfort ticks our boxes. For more of their products, check out their Amazon page.
The Marsboy box is an uninteresting affair by all accounts. Traditional cardboard-brown coloured boxes don’t usually set pulses racing, and Marsboy seem content to let their product ultimately do its talking. There are some call outs on the front stating it’s bone conduction technology, as well as the fact this device is used for both playing music and taking calls via a paired smartphone. Other specifications mention the Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity, and the suggestion a 6 hour battery life in total, a charge time of less than 3 hours from flat and a standby time of up to 10 days.
In the box you don’t really get too much. The headset is front and centre on a plastic pull out, complete with a PBT Bandage. Essentially this “bandage” is a rubber support that can be used if the users’ head is particularly small and the unit doesn’t feel all that secure. A nice touch. Also included is a micro USB charging cable, 2 safety ear plugs (more on that later) and an instruction guide which is quite thorough whilst not being very large at all.
Performance & Use
Disclaimer here. I’m used to using either large over the ear (my preference) headphones, or secure in-ear headphones when doing something a little more active than sitting at a keyboard. I’m used to both wired and wireless connectivity on those headsets, so in terms of comfort, I’ve experienced a little range. The Marsboy Bone Conduction Headset offers something entirely different. To begin with, as with most sports-oriented headsets, the connection between both “ear pieces” sit behind the head and come to the front. This is no different. The neck-band, with its on/off switch, covered USB charging port, bluetooth LED, and volume up/down buttons, sits behind the head meaning the conduction pads sit over your ear, and settle just in front.
The plastic construction is rigid enough, with flexibility where it belongs, in the ear-arms. This allows a comfortable fit for the most part, even if initial uses of the device feel a little alien due to the unusual placing of the pads. This is easily overcome after a few sessions however. The device is very light coming in at just 43 grams and this helps make the device feel very comfortable. The pads seem to grip the head about right, and there is still a little wiggle room for activity as well.
Both the left and the right conduction pads have buttons on them. Sitting on the left pad is phone/call button and the on right is the play/pause button. The call button, in sync with the microphone actually make dictating to a smartphone very easy. Both buttons work as intended, but it’s a little troublesome that there are no skip track buttons on show here.
Technically, pairing this device is the incredibly simple. Turn the device on and use your smartphone to find the Marsboy bluetooth ID, and tap it. Done – connected. This will then automatically connect next time your device is in range of the Marsboy headset.
Now, on to sound. This is where things get a little murky, quite literally. Let’s start with the positives. The bone conduction works. Of that there is no denying. The sound can be turned up plenty loud and the volume control is well stepped. That is, unfortunately, all that is redeeming about this headset.
The lack of isolation is the biggest problem here. The Marsboy can be heard from 10 feet away with them sitting on a cushion, almost as easily as they can when they’re on a users’ head. Follow that through to the logical conclusion and they aren’t really a device you can use in public unless you want to be snarled at! I very much felt like I was as well using my smartphone as a speaker, as use the Marsboy headset whilst in the gym. Couple this with the fact that, by design, these are situated in close proximity to a users’ ear anyway, and you get a strange spatial sound effect to contend with.
The included safety ear plugs are intended for use when world noise is not required, or becomes excessive to ensure the best sound experience. In truth, the only time one can truly assess this headset is with ears pinched closed, or whilst using ear plug noise cancellation (as I’ll call it from now on). Only then do you understand what bone conductivity is bringing to the table. This is, sadly, not enough. The sound is either tinny and spatial without the ear plugs being used, or muffled and devoid of highs with them. The clarity of the sound can only be described as ‘broken’. It’s not quite as bad as listening to music whilst your head is under water, but it’s a close second. I spent a good hour trying different EQ settings in various software on my Android device to attempt to flatten the sound, but failed miserably. With the ear plug noise cancellation lows are actually acceptable and there are vibrations of the pads when a particularly heavy rumble hits, but nothing too concerning. Mids and highs are almost non-existent however. By contrast, without the use of the ear plugs, the lows are non-existent and the mids are acceptable with the highs being unbearably tinny. The choice of either of these particular evils is yours!
The audio from calling is, strangely, much better perhaps due to the lack of huge tonal shift. Callers sounded clear and close, whilst the microphone on the device did a good job of representing my voice to callers. All rounds that’s a plus point of this device for sure.
I’m a little confused truth be told. I know there are many bone conductive headsets out there which are well reviewed which leads me to believe there is something in the technology. Hell, the medical community endorse similar technology for impaired hearing treatment. So that’s really why I’m most disappointed with this headset. I expected something cool, smart and refreshing, and experienced something smart-looking, comfortable, but sadly missing all the major ingredients of an audio headset. The sound quality on this device, whilst perfectly loud enough, just lacks any flavour at all.
By far the biggest issue with the Marsboy Bone Conduction Headset though is the lack of any isolation of the noise from the vibrating pads. Even firmly pressed against the head of the wearer does little to dampen the audio being played. In fact, if anything, it can amplify it depending on the type of music being listened to.
Could this device be for you? Well, perhaps others will have more luck with it, or perhaps others will be more forgiving? For a device weighing in at £49.99 though, it’s imperative that it gets the basics right and unfortunately, despite its lightweight construction, good bluetooth connectivity, strong battery life (we surpassed 6 hours of use in testing) and comfort, it fails to deliver that most basic of functions; half-way decent audio.