Shokz is one of the most reliably interesting companies I cover, which is saying a lot. In its first iteration, it made bone conduction headphones, which conducted soundwaves through your skull, that were so profoundly uncomfortable, we said we’d rather not wear headphones at all. Then 2022’s OpenRun Pro (8/10, WIRED Recommends) somehow became one of my favorite pairs of workout headphones. They were light, secure, and surprisingly great-sounding, and allowed me to keep an ear out for traffic or children while still listening to podcasts while biking or working in the garden.
So I was immensely curious about the company’s latest product. In a briefing, Shokz spokespeople noted that customers wanted comfortable, all-day headphones that didn’t circle your neck and didn’t have to be securely wedged, fit, or heat-molded into your ear canal. Hence, the OpenFit are open-ear headphones that rely on “air conduction” technology. They are tiny speakers that deliver sound from directly above your ear canal.
Do the earbuds work perfectly? No. But are these some of the more interesting headphones I’ve ever tried? Yes, and in a crowded market, that’s a lot.
The OpenFit buds come in a compact, palm-size case with a power indicator light and a USB-C charging port. Each bud is covered with a soft silicone and has a slim ear hook, with a tiny weight at the bottom to hold it in place. Each bud weighs 8.3 grams, or about 3 grams more than my Beats Fit Pro (9/10, WIRED Recommends). I didn’t notice the weight difference that much.
The headphones came with instructions on how to slide the buds into place, but I still had to confirm with Shokz directly. It just doesn’t seem like this should work. You slide the headphone back and tuck the body of the unit behind the tragus of your ear. (That’s the little nubbin that sticks out and shields your ear canal, and, yes, I had to look up what it’s called.)
It works, but it just doesn’t feel that secure, especially if you’re not sitting quietly at your desk. It wasn’t until I tried the OpenFit that I realized that my ears really are the coat hooks of my head. I tuck my long hair behind them; I put on sunglasses every time I go outside and push them up on top of my head. With almost every movement, I dislodged the OpenFits and had to find them in my hair or on the floor.
I also accidentally pushed the buttons a lot. The buttons themselves are unreliable; sometimes they’re sensitive enough that readjusting my hair can stop a song. Other times I can determinedly tap “skip” several times at a stoplight without any result whatsoever.
I tried wearing them in one of my favorite ways to use the OpenRun Pro, to listen to music while biking to pick my kids up from school. But the combination of hair, sunglasses, and bike helmet was too much for the OpenFits. I spent the whole ride paralyzed in fear that I would accidentally tap the testers out and crush them under my bike wheels, so when I got to my kids’ school I put them back into my pocket for the ride home.
I admire the hubris of a company that claims to have invented air conduction technology. Most sound waves are conducted through air—air is the medium that’s in between you and your speakers, after all—but making a speaker this tiny, that sounds this good, designed to be used this close to your ear, is actually quite a feat.