You’ve probably heard about wearables for augmented reality, right? Some factory worker wearing 5-pound glasses with a display to help him put a screw into the right hole. Well, this article is about a very different kind of wearable experience. Much lighter, yet much more elaborate.

First, we need to clarify what bone conduction is. Bone conduction is a technology that allows you to listen to music, podcasts, or whatever your device is streaming while leaving your ears and ear canals completely open. Bone conduction headphones look almost like regular earbuds, but the speaker sits in front of your ear and the sound travels to your inner ear through your bones, not through the air, so people around you don't hear what you’re listening to.

Now let’s dive into the most pleasant augmentation which is possible exclusively via this technology.

As someone who has tested all types of headphones (except “in skull” implants), I’m 100% positive that this technology is the only way to achieve the level of augmented experience I'm going to describe.

Listening to music is in some sense already augmentation

You are going down the street, your fire playlist is on and you’re having a blast. You’re in a music video - your own director's cut. I love doing that. And it’s achievable via all types of headphones, which is good. But let's say you are walking in the forest, you want to relax, you want to meditate. You want to be mindful of your surroundings. Not really the right time for headphones, is it? But at that moment you start to lose that emotional layer of experience that only music can bring you.

I think I’ve solved it. And I took it from the forest to the city and it works like a charm. I got the same experience in the streets of a busy city as I did in the peace and calm of nature. There’s plenty of ambient music on YouTube, Spotify, or whatever you’re using. There are those brainwaves videos with pictures of transcendent translucent super-mindful humans flying through space - serious meme material, although I don't know if there is any real science behind these slowly changing tones and notes called brainwaves. But they do work for me. They do work for adding that extra emotional layer you start to miss when you put down your headphones with your music on.

There is also an app called Mubert which generates music with some really calm and deeply ambient genres. These are even better, stronger experiences because the music was made with the intention for it to sound like music contrary to brainwave sounds.

But wait, there’s more!

Remember, you’re still completely present in your surroundings because of bone conduction. No muffled distorted sounds of rustling trees because their sound must go around your airpod.

Are you a movie fan to the point that you listen to soundtracks? Well, I don't do exactly that, but I'm a recreational gamer and I love game soundtracks (what I'm going to describe is possible with movie soundtracks as well).  The World of Warcraft soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece and a perfect fit for this kind of augmented deepening of your everyday reality.

Like in WoW, you find yourself in some location, most likely going from A to B or working on something in that spot for a while. And the creators of the WoW soundtrack were working with that concept in mind. So the soundtrack is tailored for this use. Beautifully crafted and non-disruptive sounds like this can guide you through your forest walk or commute while uplifting you or transforming your emotional state ambiently while you’re still completely present and aware. It’s like being on a quest.

The difference between brainwaves, Mubert, or ambient soundtracks and regular music is the fact that the music is most likely trying to attract you to itself; it wants your whole attention. It wants your body to dance to it and not think of anything else or think of something that lyrics remind you. Getting augmented by ambient sound and music is in fact adding an extra layer to what already is. You’re getting more without losing a thing.

You might argue that you can do that with your airpods or your deep-into-ear earbuds. No, sorry, you just can't. If you haven't tried bone conduction, it might be hard to persuade you.

Earbuds cut you off from your surroundings heavily (and it might be what you want - to be in that music video of yours), you can hear “ the bass” of your footsteps through your skeleton being transmitted from your feet to your ears. Your voice sounds distorted to you when you need to speak. Also the feeling of having your ears “full of something” isn't quite comfortable; you can get used to it but why, if you don't have to? And of course, you need to put them in and take them out of your ear if you want to interact with people around you.

Nothing like that happens with bone conduction headphones. Your ears are free all day while the headset is on. If you have a friend who owns bone conduction headphones, ask them to loan them to you for just one day and you will see :)

Or, get your own pair, and you can be the techno-savvy wiz introducing this fascinating new tech to your friends.


Author: Darek Zahalka