Is it possible that you can still keep your Bluetooth headset on while you auscultate a patient’s chest? Absolutely!
At CES 2016, I was fortunate enough to make my way over to the Aftershokz booth in the Health and Fitness exhibit hall. Aftershokz makes a lineup of bone conduction headsets for athletes. The benefit they were touting is that you could still enjoy your music and keep your ears free for hearing traffic, someone approaching, and the general sounds of your environment. Well, that sounded right up the public safety alley to me.
I took a quick tour through their booth and listened to some focused sounds under a few sets of uni-directional speakers with their new premier product, the Trekz Titanium. Impressive is an understatement. The recordings playing for ambience were from Central Park in NYC. I was able to hear the cars driving by, the birds chirping, the conversations of passersby, and more, plus I still heard the music – all of it. At the end of the demo, I was given an opportunity to review this fine headset for myself in a much less controlled environment, so of course, I jumped on it!
Let me say that my experience with them has been mixed. If you were expecting a flawless, OMG, DROP EVERYTHING AND GET THESE kind of review, that’s not exactly what you’ll find, but it’s close. That said, I think this is by far the best Bluetooth headset I’ve come across. No, they aren’t perfect, but they are excellent.
I spent the next day with these things on my head, walking around the CES exhibit halls, which are plenty noisy, listening to music, talking with a couple friends I go with to the annual show, and carrying on conversations with vendors galore. At the end of the day, my ear lobes were sore and I had some pressure spots developing in front of my ears on my jawbone (not to the point of damaged skin, but noticeable). What I quickly surmised was that you shouldn’t spend an entire day with these headphones on, but that they would still be excellent for even up to four hours of continuous use while engaging in sports and fitness, walking, and even shift work. The rest of the time, they’ll rest unobtrusively around your neck, ready to slip back on to hear that music or take that important phone call. I learned that I can keep them on and running all day long and slip them on and off my head as needed.
Right now, I’m dealing with a doozie of an upper respiratory infection that has managed to work its way into my lungs, flaring up my asthma and giving me bronchitis. Inspiratory and expiratory wheezing, ronchi, and
even diminished bases at times. I was able to distinguish all this without removing my Aftershokz Trekz Titanium bone conduction headset. One of the major drawbacks I have encountered using ANY other Bluetooth headset was that I couldn’t have access to the headset while auscultating a chest. That is no longer going to be a problem for EMS practitioners with the Trekz Titanium.
As far as sound quality goes, I hope you aren’t expecting an audiophilic experience, because you’ll want to get a set of noise-canceling and isolating earbuds, and you might want to upgrade those silicone ear pads to the ones you can get from
the brand Comply (trust me, you won’t be disappointed). You are dealing with bone conduction sound here, so there is some expected drop in audio quality, but it isn’t that much. Although you might miss out on the finer details of a concerto, you’ll have no problem rocking out to your choice of music for a workout at any reasonable volume, from background noise to drowning out the world. Compared to a couple other bone conduction headsets I’ve tried, the Trekz Titanium is by far the best. Volume range is no limitation here either. You can make them uncomfortably loud if needed.
What may surprise you is the superb call quality you’ll experience. Now, I own a Plantronics Voyager Pro headset, given to me at a previous CES a few years ago. I’d consider its call quality to be well above average, but the Trekz Titanium surpasses it. Although I do still work in the field in EMS, my full-time job is in I.T. working in a Data Center for the only trauma center in Northern Nevada. I haven’t been able to find a phone or headset that will allow me to be standing in front of a computer system in the Data Center while talking at a conversational voice to the system engineer on the other end of the line. In my own truck, I have to at the very least roll up my windows or turn off the heater/AC and turn off the stereo, and often just plain pull over to be a part of a phone conversation with even my best Bluetooth or wired headset. The road and ambient noise is just too much, and I have a pretty well-appointed truck. Not so with the Trekz Titanium. I can be standing next to an in
dustrial Data Center Air Conditioner or rolling down the road with my stereo on and AC at full blast and my caller can’t even tell. Noise cancellation is hands down the best I have encountered. I know there are plenty of commercials advertising that their headsets will allow you to talk clearly to someone while you are in a rock concert or by a running locomotive, but this is definitely the real deal.
Placing a call is as easy as pressing and holding the button on the left earpiece. You will be prompted to state your call command and you can say to text or call a person in your contacts, or with my Android, it would eve
n search Google Now. A short press will start music, pause it, and resume it. I used it regularly with Google Music a
nd had no problem starting or stopping music. If the app closed itself, it would open the app and start from the first song in the library. Ideally, you would set your playlist, start it, put your phone away where ever you store it while you work out and just go. Range away from the headset was greater than 30 feet through an exterior building wall for me. I would have liked another set of buttons to skip forward and back on tracks, but that will have to be done on the phone itself.
Battery life has been far in excess of what the advertised expectancy is. I have left them running for several days and only found battery life to be medium after listening to about 3 hours of music per day and taking about half a dozen calls on them. No disappointments here. They recharge with a typical micro-USB charger, like most smartphones and accessories take.
So the pros and cons:
ExcellentOutstanding call quality.
- No removal to auscultate to you can be online with medical control or your supervisor while assessing a patient’s breath and chest sounds or responding to a summons on a 2-way radio.
- Long battery life – several days with moderate use, and quick to charge.
- Decent, but not audiophile, audio quality. More than adequate to entertain you while walking, running, working out, etc.
- Great volume range.
- Lightweight – your head and neck won’t complain about extra weight wearing you down.
- The call/voice command button is easy to get to, even with a gloved hand.
- Includes a carrying case for protection when you are not wearing them – I’ve not used the case because I’m almost always wearing them!
- Sweat and dust resistant. They are meant for working out with, after all.
- One Size Fits All – Non-adjustable headband means that on no necks like me, it sticks out the back making it move off the ideal placement when I lean back, but not really that bothersome. You’ll get use to it in a couple hours and adjust as needed. If you have a muscular head and neck, maybe it wouldn’t be too big of a deal.
- No padding at all on the ear loops – This hard plastic only headset meant my earlobes were quite tender after wearing for more than about 3-4 hours. For me, I would just leave it on my neck until I was listening to something and then drop them back down when finished.
Neither Pro Nor Con:
- The amount of tension exerted against the law was sufficient to keep the headset in place, which is great for exertional activity, but if left for a couple hours or more, then it could cause skin breakdown. Give yourself a break after a couple hours of use.
My final verdict
The Trekz Titanium by Aftershokz is a fantastic headset for what we do in public safety, able to handle sweat, snow and drizzle, dust, and you can keep wearing them while you take care of patients, run your patrol beat in a squad or on bike, work out at the station, or even while you hike through the forest on a rescue mission. You don’t have to worry about them incidentally falling off. They offer superb call quality and a pretty good audio quality for music on par with a decent set of headphones, but they leave your ears free to hear your pager, station tones, and 2-way radio, or even somebody walking up to you.
They retail at $129.99 and seem to only be available at the Aftershokz website for now, but older models are available on Amazon, so I suspect since it’s a new model, it’s just a matter of time before they are available elsewhere. They come in Ocean blue (like mine), lime green, and a nice, subtle gray.
Check out the literature and manufacturer specs here: