With each iteration of the AfterShokz bone-conducting headphones, things have improved. Whether weight, hands-free or just sound quality. With the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, they are designed for swimming! So let’s head to the pool!
AfterShokz Xtrainerz Review – Swimming Bone Conduction Headphones
The 2019 release from AfterShokz comes in two flavours, the AfterShokz Aeropex which is the successor to the previous AfterShokz Air, and the new, if slightly bizarrely named AfterShokz Xtrainerz which has a focus to swimming. Before I get onto anything else, what on earth where they thinking with that name!
I can only assume that the marketing guy was on his lunch break. I think it is the random “X” at the beginning that unsteadies things. If it was just the AfterShokz
OK with that little rant of my chest… let’s take a quick look at how bone conduction headphones work, and then get on with the review!
How Bone Conduction Headphones Works
As humans we have evolved to hear via vibrations transmitted between the molecules in the air – funny that, what with us not being fish! But sound can be transmitted through other materials and substances – such as a piece of string and two cans – which is an EXCEPTIONALLY crude overview of bone conduction.
Sound waves are collected by the pina – that radar shaped thing on the side of the head we normally call the ear – the pina is actually shaped to funnel sound down our ear canal and towards the eardrum, or tympanic membrane
(AfterShokz has some good PR pictures of bone conduction, and as biology is biology, I thought I may as well save myself some work, and use theirs as illustrations!)
When sound hits the eardrum, it amplified by transmission through three exceptionally tiny bones (ossicles) in the middle ear, you might recall them from biology at school – the stirrup, hammer and anvil. Once through these bones the sound is converted into electrical signals by the cochlea that our brain can understand – when you look at our hearing this way, it does look for all the word like we are the biological equivalent of microphone system!
But if that is NORMAL hearing, where does bone conduction come in?
In the same way that the ossicles in your middle ear transmit sound waves – so can the bones of your skull – kind of why you can hear your own voice when you put your fingers in your ears! With bone conduction headphones there is a little flat rubbery pad where a headphone bud/earpiece would normally be. This pad touches your skin just in front of your ears as you can see below.
This is directly over the part of your head called the temporal bone. (Yes your skull is actually made up of twenty-two separate bones, not just a big bone noggin!)
The headphone pad vibrates, transmitting the sound THROUGH YOUR SKULL, bypassing your eardrum, into the sound sensing organ of the cochlear – giving you sound inside your head!
Those who have read a few of the TitaniumGeek reviews will appreciate that I’m not really one of hyperbole. But when you pause and think about bone conduction headphones – and that fact that we’re using structural conductive acoustics… for headphones, it’s actually is really rather cool!
So that’s the science dealt with, you’ve already seen from the pictures above the AfterShokz XtrainerZ have been for one dunk in the pool – but where they any good?
AfterShokz Xtrainerz – Design
First things first, we’ve got a slightly grizzled chap on the box, with an appropriately “1,000 mile stare” as he contemplates his coaches feedback on his swim, but what is in the box?
Obviously we’ve the AfterShokz Xtrainerz themselves, and a warranty card, but there is also an accessory box
Containing a charging / dock USB cable, a couple of earplugs and the dead tree manuals. We also get what looks like the same, albeit still very nice carry case as the with the Air
AfterShokz has opted to bundle the Xtrainerz with pair of swimming ear plugs. These are not particularly important for when you are underwater, as the water will act the same as the ear plugs. But are for when you head comes up to breath, ensuring that you’re focus can stay with the music in your head and not get disturbed by the outside world.
AfterShokz expects people to be, well people. People will throw their headphones in the case, and then gym bag without drying them. As a result the AfterShokz case is now vented.
As the charging cradle is exceptionally proprietary, you’ll likely want to keep it in the case so as not to loose it. As a result AfterShokz has included a little rubber cover to protect the USB connector from getting wet and corroding
It initially feels a little odd that AfterShokz would worry about corrosion to the USB cable, but not mention a thing about care for the Xtrainerz themselves. When querying this with the company they proudly answered that during development the finalised AfterShokz Xtrainerz were subjected to a 72-hour salt spray test, during which time there was neither corrosion, or water ingress.
Oh and you read that correctly as well, the AfterShokz Xtrainerz IP68 waterproofing means that they are protected against both chlorinated pool water, but also salt water
The charge / dock opens up to reveal four metal dots which allow the unit to both charge, or be loaded with music. The AfterShokz Xtrainerz have 4GB of storage for MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC playback
The AfterShokz Xtrainerz uses the latest version of AfterShokz bone conduction technology. Where previously there has been an iterative design of the ear pads between the AfterShokz Titanium and the Air,
With the new Xtrainerz units we have an entirely new design. The ear pod has been reduced in size by 30%, with the removal of the external square and breather holes. You’ll also notice the loss of microphone ports on the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, as you don’t have hands free function here, leaving the smooth lozenge-shaped transducer as the totality of the ear pod now.
As a result of being comprised entirely of ear transducer, the conduction as actually been increased in size, to provide an improved transmission of the sound waves to your skull, with what AfterShokz are terming PremiumPitch 2.0+
Basically meaning that the transducers are more given more of a direct angle against the edges of your cheeks, so you’ll hear more. But also those around you will hear less, with all versions of the AfterShokz there has been a degree of sound leakage due to the nature of the transducer. With the AfterShokz Xtrainerz we’ve a 50% reduction in sound leakage making them quieter for those around you.
In addition, to these technical changes, the weight of the AfterShokz Xtrainerz has been reduced by 15% from the already skinny AfterShokz Air units. With the new swimming units stated to weight 26g compared to the portly 30g of the Air. Although my scales do have the Xtrainerz as slightly heavier at 26g
I think it deserved to be highlighted that for comparison they weigh less than the Incus swimming cap.
On either side of the AfterShokz Xtrainerz we have two smooth rectangles – one to hold the 200 mAh battery on the LEFT side. Whilst we still have the 7% bump in capacity from the AfterShokz Air, we have a 15% boost in run time from 6 to 8 hours.
On the RIGHT side of the AfterShokz Xtrainerz we’ve got the MP3 player circuity and buttons.
Behind the RIGHT pod, there is the Mode button. Allowing you to switch between normal, repeat, and shuffle modes with a single press. Long pressing will change the EQ settings of which there are two. Normal and swimming.
This mode change is quite important, as it will reduce the base when in the pool to improve your listening, and particularly make the spoken word easier to hear
On the underside of the RIGHT pod are the buttons. Central is the multifunction power button. Press and hold to switch the unit on and have the audio assistant – Audrey – tell you the battery state. When powered on, the middle button is also the play/pause button.
The + and – buttons, are the increase and decrease volume buttons respectively. Pressing and holding the + button will skip to the next track, where as the – button will go backwards. Pressing both together will also get the voice assistant to tell you the battery status
As mentioned, the transducers are on the AfterShokz Xtrainerz are now completely smooth on the inside. Plus oddly dense. With other AfterShokz, it felt as though you had to be a little careful with the transducers. Here they feel completely solid, with no give, and when you tap them on the desk sound like they are just full of hard plastic. It’s certainly a much more reassuring feeling
On the outside, we’ve the AfterShokz logo, but nothing else as the heads-free functionality has been removed. So there are no additional buttons. Sad, but understandable
Understandable, and at the same time explained why AfterShokz has launched both the Xtrainerz for the swimmer but also the AfterShokz Aeropex for everyone else. The Aeropex aligns more closely with the previous Air, and is needed as bluetooth transmission is limited to about 5cm hence would be no use underwater. Even if you were transmitting music from your Fenix watch, you’d still likely not be able to maintain a connection during your strokes in the pool and get repeated audio drop outs.
The Aeropex is no slouch, and has the latest transducers as well, but the additional buttons and hands free functionality mean you only get a lower IP67 waterproof rating
AfterShokz Xtrainerz Review – Specifications
- Speaker type: bone conduction transducers
- Frequency response: 20Hz~20KHz
- Sensitivity: 98 ± 3dB
- Compatible profiles: MP3, WAV, WMA, AAC, FLAC
- Battery: rechargeable lithium-ion – 200 mAh
- Continuous play: 8 hours
- Standby time: 20 days
- Charge in: 2 hours
- Weight: 26g
- Waterproofing: IP68
AfterShokz Xtrainerz Review – Manual
There is not a specific PDF manual for the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, however AfterShokz does have a Product Support page which has everything you could want to know HERE
AfterShokz Xtrainerz Review – Bone Conduction in the Pool!
Without a doubt, the reason I’ve been such a fan of the AfterShokz over the years is the safety which they convey to the wearer. You are able to listen to music, or your specific training alerts, but also the surrounding world.
This makes Aftershokz, and bone conduction headphones a great choice for cyclist and outdoor runners. But I literally had no idea how this would mean they would work. So I rocked up at the local pool, with a few podcasts on the Xtrainerz and jumped in the pool
(Yes not my finest picture, but I’m limited for pictures actually IN the pool. It is one thing to take an iPhone IN the pool, but if you try to swim with it the water pressure is greater than the IP67 can stand, and you can end up with a very expensive glass brick!)
At the end of the first length. I wasn’t vastly impressed. I could only hear my own breathing and splashing. As the AfterShokz were at the bottom of the pool. They are so light that when I jumped into the pool, I didn’t notice they had come off!!!
Thankfully they were not difficult to find on the bottom where I entered the pool. But does explained why AfterShokz has a “How to wear your Xtrainerz” page
Let’s be fair that was pretty much my fault, I should have held them whilst jumping int the pool. At no point however did I have issues with the headphones staying on in the water. Like the Air before them the AfterShokz go around you head and over your ears. They have a springy nature, so they hold very well whether running, swimming or cycling, but can you barely feel them due to their weight
Whilst the whole concept of the AfterShokz bone conduction is terrific at letting you hear the world going on when you are out on the bike, or going pushing during your favourite park run. There is one issue – in the gym you can hear EVERYTHING ELSE as well. Yes it is nice that AfterShokz include the earplugs, but I think it is reasonable to say any AfterShokz headphones are not for gym dwellers.
Oddly enough though, on a relatively steady swim, especially breast stroke or front crawl you can get away without the earplugs. HOWEVER if you increase the pace to anything faster than about 2:10 per 100m then you do get too much noise through you ears and you’ll really benefit from the earplugs.
When it comes to getting music onto the AfterShokz Xtrainerz it’s all very year 2000. You plug the headphones into your computer, and they are accessed like any other portable storage device.
You drag and drop into the 4GB of storage and then plug. It’s all very simple. Assuming you are not living in 2019 and survive on streaming. I use Spotify, which was initially my biggest issue with the music playback function on the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus. I just didn’t have the MP3’s to put on it! Thankfully the Fenix will now allow you to download from Spotify premium, so that hurdle has been overcome. This is not possible with the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, nor can you stream Spotify, YouTube or even just the radio from your phone as there is no wireless playback.
AfterShokz Xtrainerz Review – Conclusion
The very locked down nature of the the AfterShokz Xtrainerz is something that you need to be aware of, and go in with eyes wide open before purchasing.
I’ve however found that I’ve adapted in a very positive way to the Xtrainerz. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, but no, before you get excited, AfterShokz is not certified for Audible downloads, so I’m stuck there. But what is does mean is that I’m downloading a lot of medical podcasts and listening to them in the pool. In an arena where there are no distractions.
Initially I felt that AfterShokz had dropped the ball a little here releasing what could be considered a crippled unit. Given how pervasive streaming is. But perhaps not having that never ending smorgasbord of media at the fingertips is a good thing. I’ve been much more picky about the podcasts I’d downloading, and have found that as I’ve not go the million and one distractions whilst in the pool, I’m able to pay attention, and retain the information more easily
There is not a great price difference between the Xtrainerz and the Aeropex. With the AfterShokz XtrainerZ coming in at £139 and the Aeropex at £149.5. But there is NOTHING in the swimming market to compete with the AfterShokz Xtrainerz at the moment. Sure you can buy a few waterproof MP3 playback headphones for about £50 on eBay. I’ve tried a few, and they are universally naff.
Realistically I don’t miss the heads free function from the Aeropex, with all my AfterShokz, I have used the hands free about six times.
Yes I won’t be using the AfterShokz Xtrainerz for running, I’ll stay with my older AfterShokz or Sony headphones so I can stream. When it comes to swimming it really appears that being a master of one thing, is better than a jack of all trades.
Here’s a 5* review for the AfterShokz Xtrainerz which I did NOT expect to be giving at the start of this review!!