Battle Royale (with Cheese): Bose Frames Vs Aftershockz Aeropex
I love headphones, as you might have noticed; I’ve written at length about AirPods, Samsung’s Beans, and several other pair of musical earplugs recently.
But none get me more excited than the more expiramental types of headphones out there. The kind that dare to think out of the box.
For me, I don’t need noise-cancelling, surround sound, heavy bass headphones all of the time. In fact, most of the time I just want to have a soundtrack playing in the background while I’m working, preferabbly without blocking my ability to hear my surrounding enviroment and preferabbly without my surrounding environment having to be subjected to listening to “You’ll Be Back” for the hundreth time.
So, the two pairs of “headphones” that I’ll be comparing today are two of the most interesting I’ve come across: a pair of music-playing spectacles and a headband that sends sound through your skull.
As always, we begin here. I mean, they aren’t worth considering if you aren’t willing to pay for them.
The Areopex are definitely the cheaper of the two, coming in at $159.99, and come in four different colors; black (which is actually more of a dark gray), red, blue, and light gray.
It is worth mentioning that you can get Aftershockz bone conduction headphones for less- the Aftershockz Air run $119.99, and the Aftershockz Titanium run $79.99- but both of those are older models. Personally, the Titaniums were kind of painful to wear after a while, and neither sounded as good as the Aeropex. So for the purposes of this review, I’ll only be looking at the newest- and inherently most expensive- model.
The Bose Frames are a little pricier at $199, but it doesn’t stop there. I wear glasses every day, you see; without them, I’m about as blind as Matt Murdock or Mr. Magoo. The Frames, by default, come as sunglasses, and non-prescription ones at that. And from what I’ve read online, while you can get prescription lenses made for them, installing third party lenses will void the warranty. Strangely, Best Buy’s website says that the Frames are “approved and tested for prescription lenses at any strength. Warranty will be upheld through any licensed prescription lens installer.” Since Lensabl is selling the Frames and the lenses, I’m assuming that means they are a licensed prescription lens installer- but the Bose warranty that Lensabl’s website sends me to says “unauthorized repair, modification or customization of your product voids this warranty.” I tried texting Bose to get some clarification, but as of yet have received no response. I’ll update this section if I do. Until then… prescribe at your own risk?
That, of course, did not stop me from ordering a pair with prescription lenses from a third party vendor. There are a few vendors I could have used, but I went with Lensabl because they offered the frames and lenses, whereas other companies required me to purchase the frames and then either send them the frames or install the lenses myself when they arrived.
All in for my Coke-bottle prescription, the Frames from Lensabl, and shipping totalled $310- but Lensabl does provide you with an invoice to get a reimbursement from your insurance, which is nice.
What wasn’t nice was the delivery timeframe; Lensabl has a nifty tracker on their website to let you know which stage of production your specs are in; for reference, think about the pizza tracker on Domino’s website. Each stage even tells you approximately how many days away from shipping the specs are. The problem came when my glasses stayed on “At the Lab, in Production- ships in 6 business days” for almost two weeks. Once, it briefly blipped to “Applying Coatings- ships in 5 business days”, only to go back to the in production message. When I contacted Lensabl, I was told that there was an error in my lenses which required them to be remade, and I was assured they’d ship within a couple business days. Another week later, they finally said they were ready to ship, and I even got tracking from UPS… only for them to sit at Lensabl’s warehouse for another couple of days. They eventually arrived, but it took almost a month.
If you don’t need prescription lenses- or if you wear contacts- then feel free to ignore the last few paragraphs.
Winner: On their own, the Aftershockz Aeropex and Bose Frames are pretty competatively priced; the Aftershockz do come in $40 cheaper, however. And you don’t need to worry about paying extra for prescription lenses with the Aeropex. So, if we are judging them solely by price here (which we are), then the Aftershockz take this category.
Fit, Feel, and Finish
The Frames come in two styles- the classic, squarish Alto and the rounded Rondo, and the Alto come in either small or large (the Rondo only come in small). Personally, I liked the Rondo better- I’m usually a round-frames kind of person- but they were a little too small for my head, so I had to go with the large size Alto frames.
As sunglasses, they look quite nice. The only noticeable difference is that the arms on each end are a little thicker where the speakers are houses, but frankly I don’t think it is really noticeable. In fact, when I first got my Frames and was wearing them, my fiance couldn’t tell what was special about them besides that they looked “a little weird” on my face. But honestly, she says that about most of my glasses.
Admittedly, with prescription lenses they do look a little odd; the larger Alto’s look a little large even for my big head, but they don’t look bad; in fact, I could wear them as my daily glasses if I wanted to. I don’t want to; we’ll get to that in a bit. But I could.
Part of that weirdness is self-inflicted, however; these are sunglasses, and I did not get prescription sunglasses lenses; I got regular prescription lenses, because I figured my main use for them is going to be indoors while I’m working or writing.
I’ve seen some other glasses with “wearable technology” built in; the Bose Frames are, by far, the most discrete. I daresay unless someone catches a hint of music playing from your direction, they won’t ever question what you are wearing.
The Aeropex, likewise, are pretty discrete- especially if you have dark hair and get the dark gray model. But they are still noticeable; the bone conductors sit on either side of your temples, and the connecting bar hooks over your ears and wraps around behind your head. It is a comfortable design- after trial and much error (damn Titaniums)- but there are some drawbacks. Granted, the Aeropex are meant for active use, like bicycle riding and other sports were you want tunes but you also want situational awareness, but if you are using them around the house, that wrap around bar sometimes repositions the headset. The bar isn’t flush with the back of your head, nor does it sit on your neck like other headphones; instead, it hovers around where the back of your head and the back of your neck connect, so whenever I am wearing them while leaning my head back against something- like the couch or a pillow- it causes them to become dislodged. A minor annoyance, but it is definitely still an annoyance.
If you are like me and wear glasses full time to tell the difference between a door and a wall, then wearing the Aftershockz can, at times, feel cumbersome, as you have two separate things wrapping around your ears. The Aeropex are light enough that they usually don’t interfere with the arms of my glasses, but they are sometimes a noticeable addition to what is on my head. When they are on, too, they can be noticeable, too, especially if you have the volume turned up; since they are bone conduction, they vibrate. It is a very curious sensation to feel your music playing against your temples, and frankly, sometimes it can get a little annoying, especially after long listening periods. Every so often, I have to take them off and just let my head rest a bit- if I don’t, I’ll get a minor headache.
That’s were I am in love with the Frames. Because they are actually glasses- and because mine are prescription to match my regular glasses- I can just wear them. Of course, they are a little heavier than my usual pair, and when I first started using them I was aware of the larger arms touching the side of my face, but I was able to get used to them after a while- as one does with any new pair of glasses. But the first time I got up from my desk and the music I was listening to just came with me- without the sensation of having headphones in or any other peripherals on my noggin besides the ones I wear on a daily basis- was pure magic.
Let me break that down for you: I’m absolutely in love with the idea that something I wear every day anyway can also other things for me. When Google Glass was announced, I was totally on board for it. I didn’t care how weird it looked- it could have looked like Georgi LaForge’s visor and I would have bought it (actually, that would have been an improvement, at least for me). If it hadn’t been so prohibitively expensive, and if hadn’t failed miserably on the market, I would have bought a pair as soon as they were available. It is for that reason that I’m super excited about the prospect of Apple’s rumored Glasses. But realistically, I don’t need a heads-up display in my lenses; I have an iPhone with a perfectly acceptable screen to relay whatever information I need. And the few pairs of glasses I’ve seen on the market that do provide a heads-up display are, again, very expensive, bulky, or very limited in what they can and can’t do.
All I really need my glasses to do- besides allowing me to tell the difference between my cat and a stray possum- is play some tunes, answer some phone calls, and let me speak to Siri or Google Assistant. And the Frames do that without much added bulk. And they make me feel like Tony Stark while I’m doing it (or maybe, if they were sunglasses, the Doctor).
But that’s me. What about you? Perhaps you don’t wear glasses, or you wear contacts. If that’s the case, unless you want sunglasses that play music and make you look cool while doing so, then perhaps the Aftershockz are the better option; you can wear them indoors and at night without looking like you belong in a Corey Hart music video… or like Horatio Caine (read: silly).
And in fact, even with wearing glasses, I have loved using the Aeropex. With either the Aeropex or the Frames, they make it so that I don’t have to have anything inserted in or covering my ears, and that is ultimately what I wanted from these devices.
Both devices feel very durable- although only the Aeropex are waterproof (IP67 rating), so don’t go swimming or take a shower with your Frames on (I’m gonna have to remember that last one). But the Frames are IPX2 rated, so if you get caught out in the rain with them, they should be alright. With either pair of headphones, you’ll want to dry them off before charging them.
The Frames are built out of thick, durable plastic. The portion of the Frames that hold the lenses is slightly transparent, enough so that you can make out the wire that runs through them to connect the speakers. They have gold, metal hinges, which appear very durable- much more than the hinges on my regular specs. The proprietary, magnetic charging port is located on the inside of the right arm, but is close enough to the hinge that it doesn’t brush against your cheek, and there is one solitary button on the bottom of the right arm for controls. More on that in a bit.
The Aeropex are rubberized, and very flexible, but that is by design; again, these are meant for use with sports. But they do feel inherently cheaper than the Frames in hand, and where to duo-tones of the rubber meet, they can look a little haphazardly glued together. This does nothing to hinder function, but it is something I always noticed when I would pick them up. There are thicker fins at the end of each ear loop, which sit behind your ears, and on the bottom of the right fin you’ll find volume up and down buttons and their own proprietary, magnetic charing port. On the left bone conductor, there is also a small button that is used for multiple functions.
Winner: For my personal use, the Frames win, hands down. It is one less thing for me to wear. But if you don’t need glasses, the Aftershockz are actually the winner here, because they don’t require you to wear lenses over your eyes to listen to music.
Sound Quality and Use
So enough about how they feel and how they look. How do they work? How do they sound?
As mentioned, the Aeropex are bone conduction, meaning that instead of having traditional speakers, they vibrate to send the sound through your cheekbones. The clarity is surprising for sound that doesn’t go through your ears. Of course, you aren’t going to get the same level of sound texture as you would get from AirPods or Beats or literally any pair of headphones that gets closer to your ears, but that’s not what these are for. Bass is mostly non-existent, except for feeling more intense vibrations on your head.
The Frames, likewise, have no Bass to speak of, but the sound is also surprisingly good. These are more traditional speakers, but they are aimed at your ears in such a way that it honestly makes you feel like the music is coming from a stereo system elsewhere in the room (hence my earlier surprise when I got up from my desk and the music stayed with me).
What is also surprising about both of these headsets is that, in most situations, people around you can’t hear the music. Sure, if you are in a silent room and sitting directly beside someone else (but you should be social distancing, shouldn’t you?) they will be able to hear some sound bleed. And arguably, it is more audible from the Frames. Likewise, if you have the volume raised very high, they will be more audible to passersby. But if you are listening at a volume that is reasonable to give you background music whilst still hearing what is going on around you, most likely you’ll be the only one hearing the tunes unless someone gets right up in your face (and they better be wearing a mask, am I right?).
As far as sound goes, honestly, I think they both sound just as good as each other. I’m tempted to give the edge to the Frames, simply because they don’t vibrate, which may irritate you, but other than that, they both sound great for what they are. I will say that I feel like I hear my surroundings better with the Frames, as sometimes I find that I still need to pause or turn down the Aftershockz to hear someone speaking to me.
The Aftershockz do have an option for a fuller sound; that’s by plugging your ears with any old pair of earplugs. And this will indeed make them sound louder and fuller, but also more muffled and unpleasant. In short, just don’t.
I’m not going to talk too much more about how they sound; I mean, compare them to your favorite pair of headphones, and they simply don’t sound as good. But as I’ve said already, they aren’t meant to. Instead of providing immersive sound, these headphones add a soundtrack to your daily lives. And both do an excellent job of that.
As far as using the headphones, well, that’s where they start to differ. The Aftershockz are a bit more traditional- as mentioned, they have a volume up and down button and multi-function button. The multi-function button- as described- works for multiple functions, including playing and pausing tracks, skipping tracks, answering and hanging up calls, and summoning your assistant of choice. The volume up button also serves as the power button with a long press, and activates bluetooth pairing with a longer press. The buttons are good, but a little small and mushy; they always seem a little hard to find when you are feeling for them with your fingers, and they take a pretty decent press to activate. When using the long press on the volume up button, I definitely need a stabilizing finger on top of the headphones to make sure I don’t dislodge them.
The Frames, on the other hand, only have one button; a little golden knob that sticks out of the bottom of the right arm. This is a multi-function button as well, and like the Aftershockz button, will do all of the same tasks, and it feels nice to use; your fingers automatically catch on it when you reach up to the Frames. Bose recently updated the Frames (like, literally, while I was writing this story and wearing them) to add a volume control function; it is a little wonky, but holding down the button and turning your head left or right will raise or lower the volume. It takes some serious getting used too. A cool feature, but would it have hurt to just include buttons for volume? I need a stabilizing finger to make sure I don’t take my glasses off when I use the singular button with the Frames as well, but that’s more natural with glasses; it is the same exact motion you’d make to straighten your specs or take them off, so muscle memory works in the Frames’ favor.
The Frames also have a nifty battery saving feature; when you take them off and sit them upside down on a table, they will automatically turn off after two seconds. This is an awesome benefit, as we will see in a just a moment. One press of the multi-function button will have them instantly power on and connect again, which is a little nicer than holding down the volume up button on the Aftershockz for 3–5 seconds.
Winner: Honestly, this one is a tie. They are both easy to use and neither on outshines the other when it comes to sound. While I do wish the Frames had volume control buttons instead of the turn-your-head method, I do prefer a lot of their other features, like the automatic shut off when they are sat upside down. And the single push button feels much more tactile and responsive than the mushy buttons on the Aftershockz.
Battery Life and Charging
Oh boy… I knew we’d have to talk about this eventually. Let’s get it over with.
So the battery life on the Frames… well, it ain’t great. They get a decent 12 hours of standby life, but if you are listening to them constantly, they’ll crap out at 3 and a half hours. That said, you probably aren’t going to listen to them for 3.5 hours straight. I used them off and on while I was working, and they generally would get me through an 8 hour work day. But it is worth keeping in mind if you are wanting to use them for a prolonged period of time away from a charger- like a lengthy hike or bike ride- because they may not last the whole trip.
The Aeropex fair much better in this regard; they’ll net you around 8 hours of listening time. I couldn’t find an exact number on standby time, but in my usage, they would last for days in standby- I would literally leave them connected and sitting on a table and come back to them a day or two later to find that they were still almost fully charged and still connected to my phone. They don’t have that nifty shut-off feature that the Frames have, but they honestly don’t need it- although it is nice that the Frames will free up my bluetooth signal by disconnecting automatically like that. More often than not, I would try to listen to music on my phone only to realize that the Aeropex were still connected somewhere in the house.
Both the Frames and Aeropex have a magnetic charging cable, and they are both, sadly, proprietary. The Aeropex connects to the bottom of the right fin, and it is reversible, so you don’t have to worry about which way it is connected. The Frames connect to the charger on the inside of the right arm, and it is not reversible even though it looks like it could be, so be prepared to fight with it trying to make the magnets connect for a few seconds only to realize it is backwards. The Aeropex will get you from zero to full in an hour and a half, while the Frames will take two hours to top off.
Oh, and the Aeropex give you two charging cables in the box. That’s a nice touch to make up for the proprietary connector.
Sidebar: I’m realizing now that I never talked about what was in the box, so, let’s cover that really quick. As mentioned, the Aeropex give you two charging cables, a rubber, magnetic carrying case, and a pair of generic-as-hell earplugs in case you want to listen to the music and block out your surroundings… again, don’t bother with this. The Frames come with their single charging cable, a little pouch for the cable to go into for… reasons… and a hard shell glasses case; the case is nice and will fit your regular specs as well, so if you go out with both the Frames and another pair of glasses, you can always leave one in the case.
Winner: The Aftershockz are definitely going to last you longer, and they charge a little faster. I don’t think the 3.5 hour batter life of the Frames are bad, as I don’t feel like either of these pairs of headphones are designed to be listened to non-stop for hours. But yeah, it’s the Aftershockz.
As you can see, both the Bose Frames and Aftershockz Aeropex have their own distinct use cases, and their own pros and cons. The Aeropex came out on top as far as the Battle Royale is concerned, but really, it depends on what works best for you.
I have loved the Aeropex, and over the last few months I’ve used them almost daily. But the Frames are easily going to replace them in my day-to-day use, simply because I can wear them and nothing else. And that, to me, was worth potentially voiding my warranty and spending double the price of the Aftershockz to get prescription lenses.
More than anything, though, I am excited for the future of these stranger headphone concepts. I could really see us getting to a day where many eyeglasses manufacturers are building bluetooth specs, and bone conduction seems to be gaining some steam as well; after all, Apple did recently patent a hybrid bone conduction/in ear headphone design. And glasses. Maybe they are the same thing. Maybe we’ll never see them.
But I’m certainly intrigued.