Bone Conduction Technology (History, How it Works & Differences)
You may have come across the word “Bone conduction” and may be curious to know what that means. What are some strange headphones that don’t need you to plug anything into the ear?
You may be a hearing impaired individual who is fed up from pushing the device into your ear.
Or, you may be a sportsperson who wants to listen to soft music while you practice.
No matter who you are, you might want to know about this emerging technology that is gaining popularity in the market – Bone Conduction Technology.
Here you can see the recent trends of bone conduction technology from past 2004 on Google trends. As the graph clearly indicates, the popularity is increasing.
So before I discuss anything about this technology, let see what you will get to learn in this article:
- How do we hear?
- Bone Conduction Technology: How it works
- Bone Conduction Headphones
So before I discuss what bone conduction technology is and the bone conduction headphones, let me first give you some information on how we are able to hear.
This is important because that’s how you will differentiate bone conduction technology with others.
So, how do we hear? If you know then that’s good, but if you don’t, we need to know the mechanism of our ear. How our ear receives the sound? How it processes it through? How our brain simulates it?
You might be thinking.”Oh gosh, that a lot of biology right there. So boring 😴”. Bare with me, we are not going to talk all the biology here.
I will be giving you just enough information that you need to know how bone conduction works. After we begin to discuss the bone conduction technology, you will get that “Ahh, now I get it.” moment 🙂.
How do we hear?
You can see in the above diagram how our whole ear looks like. There is the outer part of the ear that is hanging at the sides of your head. That thing is called Pinna.
Pinna is not a bone but a muscle that collects the sound from the surrounding and sends the sound wave to the middle ear via the ear canal.
At the end of the ear canal and the beginning of the middle ear is the eardrum. The eardrum is connected to 3 small bones called Malleus, Stapes, Incus. These bones are also called Ossicles. When the sound wave from the outer ear strikes the eardrum, these 3 bones get vibration.
The Ossicles – in turn – sends the vibration to the inner ear. The inner ear consists of the snail-like portion known as Cochlea. This Cochlea is connected to the auditory nerve that sends the electrical signal to the brain.
Cochlea consists of tiny hairs inside it. These hair are responsible for the transmission of an electrical signal to the auditory nerve. The brain in return sends the response of what the sound is and how much is the intensity.
So basically this is it. It’s how we hear. No more complexities. The main point we need to know is that the eardrum needs to get the sound wave in order to link that vibration all the way to the brain. If the eardrum doesn’t vibrate, no signal is sent and that means we can not hear the sound. This is also known as the Air Conduction. That means that we hear from the sound wave transmitted via air.
Bone Conduction Technology: How it works
So, we know how we hear. Eardrum gets the sound wave, vibrates those three bones, sends to the inner ear and to the brain. But what if the eardrum doesn’t vibrate. This is the situation with hearing impaired people. Their eardrum is damaged and cannot hear the sound as the sound wave is not transmitted.
Air conduction is not only the way our ears can hear sounds or our brain response to the sound. Now comes the bone conduction methodology. It uses a methodology to send the required vibration direct to Cochlea. You might be confused. Just take a look at the below diagram to understand bone conduction.
In bone conduction technology, the sound from the surrounding is transformed into the vibrating wave by the bone conduction device. It sends that vibration to the inner ear. The hairs in the cochlea get the required signal and transmit the electrical signal to the brain.
This is basically how we hear via bone conduction technology. I hope you have also understood why is there a difference between bone conduction and air conduction hearing.
The main principle of bone conduction was discovered in the 1500s. Girolamo Cardano – a physician, mathematician, the philosopher was the first to notice that humans can also hear through a rod or spear. He encapsulated all his findings in his controversial publication De Subtilitate.
But no one ever tried to utilize this concept to help the deaf or hearing-impaired until Ludwig Van Beethoven do so in the 18th-19th-century. Those were the time when the number of hearing devices were fashioned to improve hearing.
Ludwig Van Beethoven was a deaf composer from German. He first uses this methodology. He used to play his music and also listen to it. While playing the piano, he used to put a rod joined in the strings of the piano and bite the rod to hear the sound. Amazing, isn’t it? A deaf composer in the 18th century invented this. He is the pioneer of bone conduction methodology.
After Ludwig Van Beethoven invented bone conduction methodology and at the 20th century when the electricity began to take the boom many inventors and scientists came up with a different implementation of this methodology.
One of the first sights of this technique was at 1935 when inventor Edgar Hand received a patent to make something special, some kind of telephone that can be equipped with a headband which in turn can be used to transmit the vibration through the head.
Clairdon Cunningham was an engineer for defense contractor General Dynamics who developed a helmet for communication between the pilots conversing the loud sound of the jet in 1957.
With such a rise of this technology, it is always growing and inventing. In the 1980s, James P. Liautaud came across a device that can be used while doing outdoor activities like running, bicycling, gardening and also listening to a radio or taped music alongside. This was a device that was worn around the waist with a speaker on.
One of the first improved implementations of this technology was in 1994 when inventor H. Werner Bottesch made a music headphone that was attached behind the user’s ear and send the vibration through the bones. He also made it more attractive by allowing the frequencies of the sound to amplify which were not being transmitted through.
At present, there are much more than just the headphones being made with bone conduction. Many innovative entrepreneurs are coming up with ideas like caps and glasses. When it was invented we were only able to listen to the sound but now we can amplify the sound and not only we can use it in our daily scenario but also they are water resistance and dust resistance.
Bone Conduction Headphones
In normal headphones, air conduction technology is used, meaning that the music or sound we want to hear goes from our ear canal to the middle ear and reaches the brain via cochlea. The path covered by the normal headphones acts on the air conduction as described above directly from the pinna.
We have also look at how the bone conduction technology acts. It sends the sound wave from your bones of the skull and cheeks to the inner ear. You can get a clear concept from the diagram below:
Bone conduction headphones are a major implementation of bone conduction mechanism. They are made in such a way that the waves are sent from your bones around the outer ear. They are effective for listening to sounds and music. It is also useful for hearing impaired people.
How it differs from other headphones?
If you are a normal listener, it is obvious that you may have used the in-ear headphones, noise cancellation headphones, earplugs. But what is similar among all those headphones is it goes right into your ear. They may vary in size but does the same thing.
Not only in headphones but with the help of bone conduction technology many people are coming up with other materials too. There are caps, glasses that use this technology which is made for communicating with others while retaining the focus of the surroundings.
With bone conduction headphones, you can listen to music and also talk to people or work simultaneously. They wrap around your head and are easy to wear. Many sleek and stylish design helps the outdoor entertainer to listen to music while playing or cycling or scuba diving.
They are like a headband with some transmitters on. You get a normal band like a headset that has 2 transmitters on each side sending the vibration from your cheekbones. They are super comfortable, sweat and water resistance and are stylish in design.
Many people who first use the headsets are amazed by how they can hear the music and still listen to the traffic at the same time. It’s like your ear has some background music going on and you also listen to your surroundings.
With a rise in technology, devices are now much simpler and comfortable then they were in the 18th century. While we can use these headphones for our regular use, it is gaining popularity for hearing impaired people.
A traditional hearing device was much like the in-ear device. You need to stick it inside your ear. The problem is your device may fall down, your ear may get hurt due to the plugs inside it and some of those devices are more expensive too. The traditional hearing aid device is ugly and large too. You need to take care of them more carefully.
After the invention of bone conduction headphones, hearing impaired people are getting the most from these devices.
Some of the benefits they can enjoy from these headphones are listed below:
- Light and comfortable
- No need to plug anything inside your ear
- Stylish and sleek design
- Amplify the sound according to the necessity
- Provides decent sound
- Sweat, water and dust resistance
If you still have some doubts, regarding this technology, read this article. We have collected some frequently asked questions and provided a detailed review.
The future is really great. Scientist & researchers are finding ways to use this technology to advance both medical and recreational technologies. For hearing impaired people, whose ear canal is closed or deformed, BAHA (Bone-anchored hearing aid) is really helpful for treating hearing loss.
Many new products are being built-in with the help of this system, and the market along with competition is increasing rapidly. Speaker systems, Bluetooth devices, underwater stereos, and deep sea communication systems are some of the products where the implementation has been carried out.
There are further researches going on to make the headphones 3D enabled and deliver a high-quality sound. It will be at its best in the near future. There are companies Like AfterShokz which are providing the best in the market headphones such as AfterShokz Trekz Air.
So, that was it. You get to know a lot of information. You know now how we hear, what is bone conduction technology, its history, implementation till date and how it is beneficial to hearing impaired people.
What I can suggest to you is to try it out. That’s the better way to know the device and the technology used. Here is the list of 10 best bone conduction headphones in 2020.
If you find the article, informative and helpful, do share it with your friends and the people who will get help reading this. Also not forget to give your input via commenting below. What do you think about bone conduction headphones? Is it good enough yet?