The best bone-conduction headphones may be grabbing much of the attention in the headphones market right now, but I confess that I’m not a fan of the open listening style, nor of their 'air conduction' open-ear wireless earbud rivals. In fact, in 2022 I wrote about why I think open-ear wireless earbuds are stupid for our sister site laptopmag.com.
My reviews on early open-ear models including the Bose Sport Open Earbuds and Sony LinkBuds WF-L900 didn't sell me on the concept, nor did they convince me that the style was the future of wireless audio for the earbuds market.
My comments haven’t stopped earbud manufacturers from cranking out open-ear wireless earbuds of course. And despite my dislike for the style and how unnecessary I think they are, I've been testing them out as enthusiastically as any other audio device. Although I didn’t think it was possible, I've discovered a pair of open-ears by Soundcore that may have changed my outlook on the air conduction design for good.
Soundcore by Anker make some of the best cheap wireless headphones on the market and introduced its first open-ear models in November 2023. The two new models include the entry-level AeroFit priced at $129 (and currently discounted to $79 at Amazon), and the AeroFit Pro costing $169. Both models are available to buy now and can be purchased directly from soundcore.com or via the usual online retailers.
I’ve spent the past three weeks using the Soundcore AeroFit Pro, and can honestly say that I’m impressed. In fact, my experience with the Soundcore AreoFit Pro has made me truly optimistic about what’s to come from the sub-category. Here’s why.
A real-world listening solution
Awareness and safety are the two biggest selling points for open-ear earbuds. These designs don’t seal off the ear, allowing sounds around you to be heard even while you're listening to music or a podcast, say. As someone who loves to hear music in its fullest presentation, uninterrupted by external sounds and noise, this style of earbuds aren’t ideal for me. Then I factored parenthood into the equation and discovered their true value.
I share a workspace at home with my wife, and we have a 3-year-old who runs around the apartment on weekends. Therefore, my attention is always divided between them and my job. The Soundcore AeroFit Pro served well for this scenario. Like all other open-ear entries, Soundcore's rest outside of the ear canal, enabling external sounds to get through and be heard, while listening to music or a podcast at the same time. I was able to respond to my wife whenever she called out to me from another room, and alert to my son's shouts when he needed me to help reassemble a toy.
Using the earbuds outside was most beneficial, especially on nightly runs, where I was highly aware of foot and street traffic. This provided a greater sense of security in urban areas.
What impressed me most about the AeroFit Pro was how natural ambient noise sounded during playback. There was an organic presence to it that didn’t affect the soundscape as terribly as some of the transparency modes on some of the best noise-canceling earbuds I've tried.
Nothing beats a wraparound design
These Soundcore AeroFits reminded me how beneficial a wraparound design can be for both casual listening and fitness. My son loves playing Keep Away with my AirPods Pro 2 whenever they slip out, so I needed something more stable during weekend work hours. Wearing the AeroFit Pro while chasing him around the house in between business calls was more secure. The pliable earhook wrapped nicely around my ears and kept each unit in place.
These buds were more serviceable for workouts, thanks to the modular design. The detachable neckband was easy to adjust and provided extra stability when performing lateral-heavy exercises. There is no IPX rating for the neckband: the buds are IPX5 sweat and waterproof. However, several sweaty runs later and the hard woven material still looks and feels new. The AeroFit Pro’s practical and stylish appearance also complement the compact charging case that holds up to 46 hours (14 hours per charge).
Healthy listening levels
More companies are developing safe hearing modes for their earbuds. Apple has already done this via Hearing Protection mode and Soundcore even has Safe Volume mode to limit the level of decibels in real time, protecting your delicate ears from exposure to loud sounds.
Unfortunately, this Soundcore feature isn’t available in the app for these buds. Despite this omission, the AeroFit Pro deliver rich sound at reasonable volume levels that's engineered to deliver a maximum level output of 89dB. This helps to reduce exposure to loud sounds that could potentially damage your hearing.
I played Tidal tracks at max volume for 4-hour stretches and never suffered fatigue. The AeroFit Pro’s 16.2mm drivers produce stronger bass than most rivals, but still lack the impactful resonance heard on most wireless earbuds. Mids and highs sound clear in loud environments. LDAC support ensures high-quality audio streaming with minimal latency on Android devices. Spatial audio with headtracking also comes part of the package, but music and movies sound hollow and is nowhere near the experience you get with the AirPods Pro 2 or the Bose QuiteComfort Ultra Earbuds via their new Immersive Audio tech.
I acknowledge the benefits of open-ear wireless earbuds and their new place within the true wireless market. Could I do without them? Yes, especially when many of the best wireless earbuds come with powerful transparency modes that produce clearer ambient listening results without compromising sound quality.
Most importantly, the listening experience on in-ear wireless earbuds carries greater sonic substance. Not only do in-ear designs deliver fuller sound, but the inclusion of adaptive listening modes and more music presets let you tailor audio to your hearing. Soon every earbud maker will have a safe volume mode programmed into their buds.
With its AeroFit designs, Soundcore has highlighted their potential with hybrid awareness while working or exercising situations, and the modular and sleek design has some of the best sound quality I've heard from a pair of open-ears. If other competitors can improve on the AeroFit Pro’s strengths, then open-ear wireless earbuds could have a breakthrough moment and be the earbuds shape of the future.
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A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.
- Lee DunkleyAudio Editor