Headphone use on bikes is always a hotly debated internet forum topic. Most people fit into one of two categories: It’s either “perfectly acceptable”, or it’s “a surefire way to kill yourself”. In recent years, though, there has been an increase in available options for those who fit into the quieter, third category: those who want to listen to music whilst they ride, but don’t want to block out traffic noise in doing so – of which I am one such proponent.
For a while I cycled with a Far End Gear ‘OneGood’ earbud, which offered a solution to my requirements at a reasonable price. It was only ever an interim solution until I found what I was looking for though, as I never liked only having music in one ear (and only being able to hear traffic in the other). With regard to other options, YurBuds never appealed on the basis that they fill the ear too much for me to believe they would still allow me to hear traffic; the Bose SIE2 probably sound amazing and reportedly allow for a lot of ambient noise to be heard, but you need deep pockets; and the Aftershokz – which use bone conduction to transmit the music, thereby keeping your ears free from obstruction – look weighty and need charging, which is just extra faff.
Using technology originally designed for use by the likes of the FBI and CIA, the earHeros consist of a tiny (and I do mean TINY) speaker which, when inserted into your ear, allows your ear to remain ‘open’ to other ambient noise. An even more tiny retention lock keeps the tiny speaker in place.
Yes, there actually are a set of headphones in that picture.
The first time I tried the earHeros I found the sensation of inserting them into my ears quite odd, to the point where it made me shiver a bit. You do quickly get used to this feeling though. Once in, and particularly once the very simple and very clever retention lock is in place, they have a ‘barely there’ feel to them. I had put them in before leaving the house and my wife started talking to me so – out of habit – I moved to pull one of them out to hear her clearly as you might with a normal earbud, only to realise that I could actually hear her perfectly well. I promptly stopped listening to what she was saying whilst I revelled in this realisation and got in trouble for asking her to repeat herself anyway. Some days you just can’t win…
Out on the road, the effect is brilliant. Your music is clear, yet so is the traffic noise. The only way I can describe it is that the ‘barely there’ headphones combined with your music playing whilst still being able to very clearly hear everything else that is going on makes it feel a bit like you’ve had implants inserted that allow you to play music in your head. Slightly bizarre, but very good. Wind noise does still occur (with helmet straps and wires for air to pass over at speed, wind noise is rarely avoidable), but as the speaker is inside your ear I find it less prevalent than with other ear buds.
Music in both ears is a win over the OneGood. Not filling your ear is a win over YurBuds. Their weight and simplicity is a win over Headshokz. The Bose definitely have the edge from a sound quality perspective, but that applies to a good portion of the earbud market anyway. The two areas where the earHeros suffer are the slightly tinny sound and the price. That said, the tinny sound is kind of expected given the minuscule size and it is a small offset compared to being able to hear your music and the traffic so clearly. I don’t consider the price to be much of a surprise given the technology and quality (and you still get a chunk more pocket change back than you would from the Bose) and if you’re in Australia they’re on offer at the time of writing, making the price ($99) less painful anyway.
As someone who would only bother wearing headphones on the bike on the odd occasion, I now find myself using these on almost every ride. Even if I put them in and decide not to listen to music (or I run into a mate out on the road and end up in a conversation), I don’t feel the need to remove them. You don’t even need to faff with them at the café stop so that you can hear your barista taking your order – if that’s not a massive benefit…