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You may not think that, as humans, we have much in common with whales and elephants except that they are fellow mammals. But you might be surprised to learn that we can hear in a similar way to these colossal beasts via bone conduction.
But what is bone conduction, and how does it work?
Most of the sounds that reach our ears do so by air conduction. This is when sound vibrations pass down the ear canal causing your eardrum to vibrate. Your brain processes these vibrations and interprets them as sounds.
But there is another way we can hear things, and that is by bone conduction. This is a when sound bypasses your eardrum and is heard directly by the cochlea, aka the inner ear.
Beethoven – whose hearing faded as he grew older – discovered this by holding his conducting baton between his teeth as he played piano, using the vibrations travelling down the baton to hear the sound by the way of bone conduction.
Bone conduction is all about sound vibrations. In particular, vibrations on the outside of the bones located in your upper cheek and jaw. Any tiny vibrations that occur on the skin and bone, as produced by bone-conducting headphones such as those in the Aftershokz range, are carried through the bones to your cochlea. In a sneaky twist, your cochlea does not realise that the sound is coming from the bones rather than the eardrum, and you still process them in the same way, meaning you can hear the sound clearly.
This means that with bone-conducting headphones such as the Aftershokz Aeropex, you can play music or podcasts and the sound is carried to your inner ear directly via the bones in your face,
In this way, your ear canal can hear other ambient sounds giving you situational awareness and added safety, your ears remain pain-free and the headphones are more hygienic as germs are not transferred from your ear to speakers, as they are with in-ear buds.This unique feature gives you ears pain free for long time use, situational awareness for outdoor safety, dry and hygiene ear canal for sports.
This way of hearing is similar to the way whales communicate and hear each other in the ocean. In 2015, scientists discovered that baleen whales hear via vibrations in the whale’s skull. This led to restrictions on the amount of noise humans are allowed to make below water, for example during military exercises or from commercial shipping vessels.
Elephants also use bone conduction to hear messages from other elephants, messages often received from many miles away. The animals use their feet to sense seismic vibrations on the ground, with the vibrations passing up their foot bones all the way to the middle ear.
So the next time you are out running with your Aftershokz headphones on, take a moment to marvel at how the song you are listening to is reaching your ears in the same way a whale’s call reaches its mate’s ear through miles of water.