The Earshots headphones are perfect for runners, mountain bikers, and anyone else who wants headphones that don’t shut them off against the rest of the world.
They’re not without their faults though. What I’m going to do now is list a litany of issues I have with the Earshots. And then tell you why I love them anyway.
But First, An Earshots Comparison Against Aftershokz
It’s a small niche that the Earshots have entered into. In a market obsessed with blocking out all external noises, a few headphones sit apart. The most notable among these are the Aftershokz bone conductive headphones.
Aftershokz don’t cover your ears at all. They sit in front of your ears and conduct sound through the bones of your head. Leaving your ear exposed like this is perfect in so many ways. It makes riding while listening to an audiobook safe. For me, it makes running with my dog so easy when I can hear the tinkling of her harness behind me. It makes kayaking with dogs super convenient when people want to talk to you and tell you the same joke about the dogs not helping with the paddling. It even made working in the office so much better, having the ability to talk to people and answer questions without going, “What?” as I removed the headphones.
I’ve owned several pairs of Aftershokz and the Earshots are the only other headphone I’ve come across that allows me to hear my environment while listening to something else. As such, I’m going to use Aftershokz as my comparison for much of this review.
Ease Of Use, Not Great For The Earshots
There is only one button on the Earshots. One on each, that is. They both have the same function, turn it on/off, play/pause.
There is no double-tap to fast forward. No long press for Google/Siri. No volume up or down.
To make matters worse, the button isn’t particularly user-friendly. You need to press quite hard to use it. At first, I found this a bit painful. With the earphones on, I was pressing them into my own ears. After some use, I found a method that was simple enough in which I squeezed the earphone and not my ear. It’s not a single finger press like you’d be used to (with every other) headset you’ve ever owned though. You need to use your opposable thumbs. Monkeys can’t use Earshots.
To make matters even worserer, the Earshots don’t turn on when you remove them from the charging case. Nor do they turn off when you place them in the case. I got used to this after a while but it’s such a simple feature and something I expect, I still find myself sometimes putting them to bed and needing to go back five minutes later to turn them off. It’s annoying when you Earshots are still connected to your phone when though they’re on charge in the other end of your house.
Turning on the Earshots needs an extra-long press. Long press is a scourge that’s over-used on modern products. I find myself long pressing on just about everything these days, from my phone to my bike lights, when a normal press should suffice. The Earshots long-press is just long enough for you to wonder if it’s working. The woman inside them yells at you, “Power on.”
I’m not sure why she’s so loud. It’s okay during the day but in the dead of night you might want to power them on before you put them in your ears.
As I said, the button is stiff and awkward. If it was positioned on the front you could press with one finger, as I’ve done with pretty much every other headphone I’ve ever worn. A simple design fix I’d hope and something I expect they’d change on the next iteration.
Earshots Sound Quality, Meh
You probably don’t come to this niche, the open ear headphone, expecting great sound quality. And you don’t get it. The Aftershokz and the Earshots both provide the kind of sound quality that is fine so long as your expectations are low.
I had a tune in my head the other day, so I scrolled through Spotify and popped on the Earshots. Thirty seconds later I hit pause. Why waste a good song on some decidedly ordinary sound.
Don’t get me wrong, if you were running or riding, the sound quality would be good enough to keep you motivated. If you’re relaxing and listening to tunes, find something else. There is no bass and the sound is thin and reedy.
I own a pair of $40 Edifier TWS headphones that absolutely kill these for sound quality. They were no competitors for the Jabra headset (before my dog ate them). Open ear headphones are generally quite specifically for workouts where you want to hear your environment. They’re not for enjoying tunes in the quiet of your own home. Earshots are definitely no exception there.
Earshots Call Quality Is (Maybe) Woeful
Awful. Completely useless.
Let’s think about these things as being headphones rather than a headset.
I did not talk to anyone who didn’t complain about the call quality. Most calls required me to swap to the handset so the other party could understand me.
It’s extremely disappointing to have had one of the main functions of a headset fail so badly.
Comfort, A Big Win For Earshots
This is a very subjective issue. I find Afterhokz excruciating in a very short amount of time. On the other hand, my wife converted to Aftershokz as soon as she tried mine on. It was a revelation to her, a woman who hates putting earbuds in her ears. She finds Aftershokz so comfortable that she’ll often wear them for hours after she should have taken them off. She might answer a phone at work and find the phone collides with the Aftershokz headphones next to her ears. Otherwise she might not realize they’re there.
For me, I know that the clock is ticking as soon as I put the Aftershokz on. If it wasn’t for this fact I probably wouldn’t own a pair of Earshots. As much as I loved everything else about Aftershokz, I really needed an alternative that I could wear comfortably for longer periods.
I’ve been listing to the cricket while at work, wearing a single Earshot for hours. I’ve had no discomfort. I think in part, this is because the loop that goes around the ear is flexible, meaning it can mould to the ear. In contrast, the Aftershokz is stiff plastic. If it doesn’t fit your ear, then you’re in trouble.
As an aside, I broke several pairs of Aftershokz. That stiff plastic doesn’t like being mistreated. As the sort of person who finds ways to carelessly mistreat everything he owns, I like the apparent durability of the Earshots. I’ve only had them a month so I can’t speak for their long term durability. But so far they look like a product I can use and abuse in ways that comes naturally to me.
There are other less subjective elements to comfort. Aftershokz take up more real estate than Earshots. And the band that connects them can collide with helmets, hair, etc. Earshots are a true wireless headphone so they mitigate some of these issues. They do have a loop that goes over the ear but it tends to interfere less with glasses than Aftershokz do. There is more room to move this loop around. It is more flexible and the quality of the music isn’t depending on the positioning of that loop (like it is to some degree with the Aftershokz).
In Use, Yes Here The EarShots Shine
As I said in my intro, there is really only one headset I’ve tried that fits in this niche, the Aftershokz. The Bose Open-Ear would also compete here but it’s difficult to get price and availability on them. They’re Bose, so they’re no doubt excellent (and expensive), but good luck getting a pair. From the look of them, and from reviews, they have a big chunky frame that doesn’t sit well with glasses. And here we can start to see where the Earshots shine.
I could never get my Aftershokz to play well with glasses. I feared the Earshots would be the same. I needn’t have worried though because they fitted with ease.
There are those magnets, which feature prominently in their list of features. They work well to hold the headphones in place. You’re not going to lose these things during exercise. My dearly departed Jabra 65t headphones (that proved that puppies and headsets aren’t compatible) stayed in place through anything I could throw at them. Most other headphones would not. Indoor cardio is the worst. I sweat up a storm. Sweat plus movement made most headphones lose their grip. This is never going to happen to the Earshots. (Plus, my wife can’t sneak up on me while I’m working out to Netflix or YouTube videos.)
I can’t be sure, but I’m reasonably convinced that the Earshots make less wind noise than the Aftershokz. I’ve been able to listen to podcasts and stories by using one headphone in one ear in situations where I reckon the Aftershokz would have been too noisey (eg headwinds). Also, the ambient sounds from traffic and people is quite clear above the wind and podcasts noise.
Open ear headphones are so good to use in so many ways. Just walking the dogs I’ll bump into people who want to say hello or have quick chat. A quick press on the headphone button (using all your fingers!) and you can converse like a normal person. You don’t need to pull out your headphones, just pause the track and keep talking. I mentioned kayaking earlier. And really, just about anything you might do in public is better when you have open ear headphones.
Here in Australia, we don’t have bike lanes. What we have is an extra-wide footpath that is a shared bike/pedestrian lane. If you’re hitting 80, like my mum, then you hate these things. Having 20-something cyclists weaving past you isn’t an enjoyable way to stroll. They’re not great for cyclists either, having to negotiate distracted pedestrians. And the worst are people with headphones. They have no idea what’s going on and act like it’s your fault when your passing scares them. I can see the attraction of enjoying good tunes. I can’t see why you’d block the world out though, not when you’re in a fluid environment. As a cyclist, you’d be barmy if you blocked off the world like this. That’s not a recipe for longevity. And that’s where Earshots are so great. I wear just the one and that’s perfect for podcasts and audiobooks. (I don’t ride in busy city environments, usually riding a combination of bike/pedestrian paths and quite streets. I wouldn’t ride with anything in my ears if I was still tackling city streets. That would be a horrific act of stupidity.)
I Give The Earshots Two Stars
I feel like the Earshots I own are a beta product. They nailed their main function but have so many other issues it’s hard to rate them highly. That said, if my dogs ate these headphones, I’d buy another pair. They’re the only headphones in this niche that I can wear long term. They’re the only headphones I can or would wear while riding.
I read a bunch of other reviews about the Earshots prior to purchasing this pair. I feel like those reviewers had the rose coloured glasses on when they wrote their rather glowing reviews. None mentioned the litany of issues I’ve outlined. Earshots are a local(ish) start-up made by a guy in New Zealand. We Aussies love our Kiwi brothers and sisters and I think they wanted this product to do well. My feeling is, at the asking price, they should be much (much!) better. I feel like I’m buying into the first iteration or a product in its infancy and the next version will address many of these issues Ive mentioned. If that’s true, then I’m happy to have supported a product that can be so much better. If I’m an early adopter of what becomes a successful and mature product, then I think my investment will have been worthwhile.
For you, if you’re reading this review and deciding whether to buy Earshots, I’d tell you to consider your needs. Do you need headphones that don’t cut you off from the world outside? (Yes, you bloody well do. Are you a moron?) Then buy these. They’re something of a single-minded product, being good at just that one thing and bad at so many others. But that one thing is reason enough to for Earshots to be part of your repertoire of audio devices.
Update, Earshots Warranty Procedure
UPDATE: Earshots responded to my Facebook DM. They apologised for the long delay getting back to me. They’ve had COVID problems, much like the rest of the world.
My left Earshot stopped charging. What it does instead is it gets very hot. This is potentially a warranty issue. The procedure on the Earshots website is to fill in their form and send it to them. Which I did.
I got no reply.
I then tried direct messaging them on Facebook. I noticed they’d put up a post the day prior so I knew they were active on Facebook.
I got no reply.
A few days later, I went back to their website and noticed they had included a chat function. Emily was online. So I sent a message to Emily.
I got no reply.
It’s been several weeks since both my Earshots were working and I still haven’t heard from them. I’m hoping to update this post soon with some good news about their incredible support and heartfelt apologies. But right now, all I can tell you is Earshot’s warranty is non-existent.