AfterShokz OpenComm is a bone conduction headset for the Zoom generation

The noise canceling mic and open-ear design cater to the modern workplace.

Jon Turi / Engadget

AfterShokz’s latest bone conduction headset seems an ideal accompaniment to the world we live in today. The OpenComm is a communications-focused product by virtue of its boom mic, good for today’s busy home or mobile workspace in the age of endless Zoom calls in varying environments. At $159.95, this headset isn’t the cheapest on the market, but it provides a unique utility.

Buy AfterShokz OpenComm on Amazon - $159.95

I’ve always appreciated the open-ear style of bone conduction for my bike rides, since i’m able to listen to music and remain aware of my surroundings. The same is true for OpenComm at home or in the workplace, except that instead of busy streets your environment may include kids, pets, co-workers or delivery people, for starters.

The boom mic and its DSP noise-canceling tech make this a much better communications headset than its more sporty sibling, the Aeropex. And while you can still use these for music, they’re more in tune with pivoting between Zoom calls and YouTube cooking tutorials than turning up and tuning out. Bone conduction still doesn’t provide quite the same audio quality as standard headphones, but the trade off can be worth it depending on your use case.

The specs are close to previous models with a few enhancements to improve its use as a comms headset. The lithium polymer battery gives you 16 hours of talk time and a standby charge for up to 14 days. It takes 60 minutes to fully charge, but the company says you can get two hours of talk time after only five minutes of quick charging. The underlying bone conduction tech -- which bypasses the ear canal and passes audio directly through your cheekbones to the inner ear -- is seventh generation (Aeropex is 8th-gen). It connects via Bluetooth 5.0 with a 33-foot range, but NFC pairing is also available. The magnetic USB charger is also an appreciated perk, with the cable snapping into place easily of its own accord.

Aftershokz office-oriented bone conduction headphones.
Jon Turi / Engadget

The OpenComm, like most of the recent AfterShokz products are lightweight and relatively comfortable to wear, even for long periods of time. This complements extended use in a work environment when it feels like all Zoom all the time. People with long hair may have issues since the headband sits along the rear of your head, but wearing glasses with them is surprisingly doable. The transducers rest on your cheek with a relatively light touch, and you may have less chance of fatigue common with in-ear or over-ear headphones after extended use. These are also rated IP55, slightly less impregnable than AfterShokz’s sportier models, but potentially wearable in the shower if you’re fully committed to that entire three-hour livestream, while juggling the live/work situation at home.

AfterShokz OpenComm bone-conduction headset.

Since these headphones are more tailored to work-related communications, there’s a slight dip in decibel sensitivity compared to other AfterShokz headphones (96dB versus 105dB, +/-3dB). They may be a bit less capable for bumping beats, but bone conduction works especially well with the spoken voice, which is part of the reason it’s worked well in military applications.

The boom mic on the left side rotates about 270 degrees and is flexible, but without a metal core it’s not quite adjustable beyond rotation. If you want to move it out of the way while you eat, you’ll have to flip it up to your temple or back across your ear, not that either is uncomfortable. The standard power, volume and feature controls persist here for those familiar with AfterShokz’s layout, and there’s a multi-function button opposite the mic.

AfterShokz OpenComm bone conduction headset

The mic’s DSP noise canceling works great here, far better than normal AfterShokz models. In a comparison test with music playing in the background while I chatted, the Aeropex let background audio into the mix and reduced my vocal clarity for the other end of the line. OpenComm was able to ignore much of the background sound and focus on what’s being said, serving it up clearly even in the midst of minor cacophony. I’m guessing it would work well to isolate your comments from the sound of dogs barking or children generally wilding out. And if you joined a Google Meet from the grocery store, they may never be the wiser, even if you need to unmute.

And while you’re in meetings, listening to some tunes or suffering along with news of the political world, it helps to keep your ears open for that important delivery or to audibly keep track of people in the house and what may have just dropped onto the floor in the kitchen. Situational awareness has no bounds.

AfterShokz OpenComm are still very niche compared to most other headphones and some people don’t need to be quite so alert while at home. But if things get lively around your house, you probably don’t get a chance to immerse yourself in an audio-only wonderland anyway. If you’re out and about, the noise-cancelling boom mic will let you converse with less of the background noise normal headset mics offer. And if you’re somehow back at the office, these offer less chance of people sneaking up on you unaware while you’re looking at recipes hard at work.

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