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Shokz OpenFit delivers open-ear audio without bone conduction

They provide a middle-ground between regular earbuds and bone conduction's situational awareness.

Photo by Jon Turi / Engadget

The team at Shokz has made a name for itself in the bone conduction headset market over the past several years and they’ve decided to change things up a bit this time around. Today, the company announced its newest headphones and while it's still an open-ear design, it’s not bone conduction. The Shokz OpenFit Bluetooth earbuds ($179.95) are called “air conduction” in a twist on the brand’s bone conduction brethren. Like many open-ear buds before them, they are positioned just outside of your ear with an over-the-ear hook to keep them in place. As a lifestyle headset, they work well, keeping your hearing open (to some degree), staying in place when you move about and are easy to wear for long periods of time.

The OpenFit seems to bridge the gap between the audio quality of in-ear buds and the situational awareness of bone conduction. They definitely deliver better audio (including bass) than the bone conduction models and still let you hear some of what's going on around you. Sure, they're not quite a replacement for in-ear buds, but that wasn't really the goal. All that said, I found that they can be hit or miss with dance music, since there's an issue with handling hard hits on some low frequency sounds.

Externally, these start off on the same page as most similarly designed earbuds. They come with a charging case, fit over your ear with dolphin arc hooks and to the passer-by, won’t appear unusual. They’re matte black (or beige), made with a soft silicone exterior and feel very lightweight. It’s not outlandish to say you could forget you’re wearing them. They’re definitely lighter and more comfortable than the single-unit bone conduction models Shokz sells, and it’s nice not to have a band around the back.

Close-up images of the Shokz OpenFit open-ear buds in grey.
Photo by Jon Turi / Engadget

Like many earbuds, Shokz has graciously included touch controls including double-tap and long-press interactions. They respond well to your touches and taps, plus you can customize the functionality in the iOS or Android apps, although the latter won’t be ready at launch. You can use a single bud if you want and keep the other inside the charging case without issue, although you will be limited to that choice’s touch-control setting.

While Shokz’s previous offerings were primarily geared toward fitness (the OpenComm series aside), the OpenFit is pitched as more of a lifestyle product. They're something you can wear as you go about your day without leaning on digital transparency modes to hear the world. The earbuds themselves are IP54 rated so you’re good if you do work out in them, but the charging case is not. You’ll want to try to remember to wipe them off before stowing them to keep everything in good working order.

The OpenFit and its ear hook seem to work well at keeping them in place, too. I wouldn’t worry about them falling off if you’re running around, lifting weights, stretching or doing physical activities. It may seem like they could, since they’re not wedged into your ear, but so far I’ve found them to stay put.

Close-up images of the Shokz OpenFit open-ear buds in grey being worn by someone seen in profile.
Photo by Jon Turi / Engadget

As for specs, the Shokz OpenFit earbuds run Bluetooth 5.2, have a frequency response of 50Hz - 16kHz, support AAC and SBC codecs and there are 18 x 11mm customized dynamic drivers inside for the output. The battery life of the buds are rated at up to 7 hours of listening on a charge, with the case said to expand that up to 28 hours of playback. As with previous Shokz headsets, you get an hour's worth of juice with just 5-minutes of charging. That's great if you notice a low charge before heading out on a run with just OpenFit and a smartwatch or phone.

One of the frequent issues with bone conduction headsets has been the lack of bass. Shokz came a long way towards cracking the case with their latest OpeRun Pro headset. The OpenFit aren't bone conduction, so it was easier for the company to deliver a pumped up low-end profile.

If you’re a Shokz fan, you’ll probably enjoy these, especially for casual daily use at lower volumes. They work well for music and spoken word, and unlike the bone conduction models you’ll have better luck hearing your music if you’re in a busier environment. Although, keep in mind these are still open-ear models, so your listening experience isn’t totally isolated.

I've worn these while going to the store and doing other errands. If you keep music playing at normal or low volumes, you can enjoy tunes while also listening to and conversing with cashiers and other people around you. While you can take phone calls with a double tap, I chose to ditch them with a long press when interacting as a courtesy.

Close-up images of the Shokz OpenFit open-ear buds in grey.
Photo by Jon Turi / Engadget

You can even ride your bike while wearing these and still hear what’s going on around you if you’re careful with the volume. Bone conduction headphones (the Shokz OpenRun Pro specifically) are a more optimized situational awareness headset though, and visibly leave both ears open in case local laws have restrictions.

If you’re the type of person who enjoys cranking up your tunes, there are some caveats. The overall listening experience does offer rich bass, along with good mids and highs for this form factor. But if you tend to listen to dance music or hip hop, you may notice an issue with the handling of some very low-end drums. On some songs, mostly with hard hitting kicks at low frequencies, you may notice a crunchy edge. And once you hear it, it's hard to ignore. If you get the opportunity to test them first, I’d bring something along these lines to check your experience.

Listening to The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Three to Get Ready” was clear and pleasant, with a natural sound and smooth basslines. The UMC’s “Some Sepak Ill Thoughts” generally sounded good with a slight crunchiness on a specific ultra-low bassline section. Listening to both D.I.T.C.’s bass-heavy “Thick (Environmentally Friendly Version)” and the 4/4 techno of Ryan Elliot’s “Fermi II” both surfaced the kick-drum crunch a bit. Radiohead’s “Reckoner” was a pleasant listen throughout. Obviously it depends on the music and only seems noticeable on certain punchy and low frequencies.

Screenshots of the Shokz OpenFit app settings menu.
Photo by Jon Turi / Engadget

The app that Shokz released for OpenRun Pro in 2022 will now also work with your OpenFit earbuds and it’s relatively essential, since there are touch controls that you’ll want to customize. The iOS version will be available at launch, with the Android version arriving at a later date. Using the app, you can select from EQ presets or create your own, customize the touch controls, control playback and view battery levels for each earbud as well as the charging case.

There are two types of touch controls available, which are double tap and press-and-hold. You can select from pre-set combinations, which seem to cover enough options to satisfy most people. They’re a mix of play/pause, previous/next, voice assistant and lastly volume control (which is only available for the press-and-hold interaction).

The standard EQ preset seems to be the most common choice for most listening. Vocal and treble boost are similar, while the bass boost just increases the prevalence of low-end but not its power necessarily. Obviously you can use the custom option to find your own sweet spot.

Close-up images of the Shokz OpenFit open-ear buds in grey with the charging case.
Photo by Jon Turi / Engadget

Overall, these sound good for the form factor and Shokz fans that enjoy an open-ear experience may appreciate the move away from bone conduction for a change. For casual everyday use, the fit and audio experience is much improved, while still offering a degree of situational awareness. The issue with certain low-end frequencies and drum kicks is my only quibble with an otherwise solid listening experience.

Shokz OpenFit earbuds are available starting today at the company’s website, as well as Amazon for $179.95 in both black and beige options.