Hearing in Stereo

For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m “deaf” in my right ear. I’m using quotes there because I have some hearing ability in that ear, but for all intents and purposes, it’s poor enough that it might as well not work at all. I had a cholesteatoma when I was quite young, and a string of surgeries between when it happened and the age of about 15. In the process, I lost all three of the ossicles (bones in the middle ear that facilitate hearing), rendering the ear effectively useless. I’ve tried hearing aids over the years, but mostly found them to be too much of an encumbrance on day-to-day life. Instead, I’ve just developed strategies for reducing the impact it has on my life, such as making sure people are on my left side during conversations, sitting near the front of classes/presentations, and generally avoiding loud or crowded situations (read about the cocktail party effect for why these are especially bad).

One positive note out of all of this is that my bone conduction in my right ear is pretty much unharmed. During the many hearing tests I’ve done over the years, it was the one aspect in which both of my ears perform well. This is where the reason for this post comes in: the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium bone conduction headphones.

Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

Unlike most earbud or in-ear headphones, the speakers of the Trekz press against the cheekbones just in front of the ear, so the sound waves vibrate straight through the bone into the inner ear. The sounds have a different quality compared with traditional headphones because of this. It sounds more like it’s coming from a speaker nearby, instead of being pumped straight into the ears. It’s different, but they sound way better than I was expecting.

The upshot of all of this for me is that I can hear everything coming through the headphones. If you’re someone with perfectly good hearing, or at least balanced hearing, the impact of this might be a little hard to grasp. These tweets I sent right after trying them out for the first time might help:

Usefulness

Commuting and exercising

I first bought these because I was looking to buy something for commuting and exercising with. I’ve lost hundreds of dollars over the years to experimenting with new headphones, because nothing else has ever met all of my requirements and nobody offers refunds on headphones for “hygiene reasons”. My right ear has different physical characteristics to my left after all the surgeries, so most headphones I’ve tried either fall out of my right ear, or in the case of those that sit over the top of the ear like the Trekz, they fall off the ear. The first one is an easy win with the Trekz, as they don’t go into the ears at all, and I’m pleased with how well the Trekz seem to stay on my ears.

At work and home

For more stationary use cases, such as at work or home, I’ve always just used over-ear headphones. Being at a computer makes it easier to mess around with things like left-to-right balance or being able to play things louder with less sound leakage (I’m guilty of occasional bouts of dancing at my desk at work, standing desks make it too easy). The isolation provided by over-ear headphones is great for open plan offices too, especially when I’m trying to focus on a piece of work.

After using the Trekz on my commute home and around the house this weekend, I might even try them out at work too. I’d lose the isolation factor of my current over-ear headphones, but I would be able to hear the people around me more easily. The amount of sound leakage with the Trekz is really low too, so I wouldn’t be annoying people around me. Besides, as the guy who sold me the headphones said: “You’re the one with the disability. If they don’t like it, stuff ‘em.”

Wrap up

Yeah, I’m pretty biased on this one, but I’d recommend trying these headphones out if you can regardless of your hearing ability. It’s pretty neat to be able to listen to music while still hearing things around you and there are a few situations where that makes a big difference. For those like me with hearing problems, they’re a godsend, and a lot easier than having to change audio balance settings everywhere. I’m enjoying them so much that I’m willing to overlook the Limp Bizkit naming convention and I briefly considered buying a few more pairs just in case mine break and I can’t find them anymore.