Shokz OpenRun Pro review: The best skull music delivery system
Quick verdict: The best bone conduction headphones yet, even if they still struggle at high volumes.
- Sounds better than the old AfterShokz Aeropex headphones they’re based on
- Long battery life
- Quick-charge feature is handy
- Struggles at louder volumes
- Not as waterproof as non-Pro model
When it comes to bone conduction headphones, there really is no competition for Shokz in Australia. Overseas, there are brands like Vidonn and Tayogo, but look at what any serious cyclist is wearing while riding their bike and you'll either see a single AirPod or a Shokz headset of varying vintages.
So, it's a good thing that Shokz makes great headphones that sound better than they have any right to, given they don't go on your ears and just conduct sound through your skull, leaving your eardrums able to keep track of what's going on around you.
Shokz was known as AfterShokz until December 2021, and the almost 2-month-old OpenRun range of headphones is closely based on the Aeropex model, with some tweaks to improve sound quality and battery life.
The OpenRun Pro ($269) is $50 more expensive than the regular OpenRun. Along with the Aeropex models, which are still floating around in the wild, that would be the main competition for the Pro.
Shokz OpenRun Pro: Design
If you're new to the world of bone conduction headphones, then these might seem a bit odd. The transducers sit just in front of your ears and the sound is by gently, rhythmically trembling your skull.
On the older models, you could really feel all those vibrations in your bones and it could have kind of a concussive effect if a song attempted too much bass, but on newer models, you won't really feel it at all unless you crank the volume full blast. This allows you to hear the world around you and stay aware of your surroundings, which is important for cycling and road running.
Shokz headphones have come a long way in under a decade, and these look really sleek. The regular OpenRun model is physically almost indistinguishable from the old Aeropex model, but the OpenRun Pro model has some differences. These include larger volume buttons on the base, a more angular curve to the body of the headphones and the charging port has moved to the angled part, which looks nicer.
Probably the biggest change to the design is the mesh around the front to improve audio quality (which we'll get to in performance). From a distance, though, barely anyone will be able to tell the difference between the OpenRun and OpenRun Pro models.
While that mesh does improve the audio quality, it does turn down the water resistance rating from IP67 to IP55. I've worn my old Aeropex headphones through many heavy storms on my bike and never had to be worried about the headphones dying after getting too soaked.
It is somewhat frustrating to no longer be able to do that with the OpenRun Pro. The kinds of people who are likely to buy Pro headphones for running or cycling are the same kind who will head out in any weather. They're fine in sweat or a light drizzle, but if you're a rain, hail or shine workout enthusiast, then that might be enough to give you pause before upgrading.
The good news is that the OpenRun Pro has stayed light and comfortable. I frequently forget I'm wearing them. You do have to get a bit of a system down for where the straps of your helmet hit in relation to your OpenRun Pro, mask and glasses, but it's much easier than you'd expect. If anything, I find these more comfortable than the regular OpenRun/Aeropex, but it's pretty close.
Although the OpenRun comes in regular and Mini, the Pro is a one-size-fits-all deal. The difference between the 2 sizes was just on the headband size, and I always preferred the Mini, even though my measurements suggested the regular was the right size, just because I found it interfered less with my helmet. The Pro does seem to strike the right balance, though I would prefer a slightly closer fit. Of course, that comes down to personal preference, hair volume and helmet shape.
There is an app you can use to change the equalizer to better suit music or podcasts and to update the firmware. It crashes on launch on my iPhone 13 Pro Max, but it works well on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. Thankfully, you don't really need the app. It's easy to pair like a normal pair of Bluetooth headphones and even if you did install the app, you'd probably never use it.
Where the OpenRun Pro loses the most points is its use of a proprietary charging cable. Proprietary charging cables are the literal worst. I appreciate the ease of just being able to use magnets to connect, but the inevitability of losing the cables and having to go through a whole thing to replace them negates any prior convenience.
Like, it's fine, I'm not sure what the cable drawers of non-tech journalist households are like, but I have an entire box of perfectly nice Bluetooth headphones I can never use again because I lost their proprietary cables, and enough is enough.
Shokz OpenRun Pro: Performance
I've been intermittently using AfterShokz headphones since the early 2010s, back when they looked like medical devices and sounded objectively awful. It felt like I was musically electrocuting my skull. So, coming to the Aeropex last year was like a revelation. Some people get distracted by music, and so it's safer for them to ride without it, but I find I get distracted by the absence of music. The beat helps me keep a cadence and stops my mind from wandering too far off the task at hand, and so I used those Aeropex Minis for a few thousand kilometres.
The problem with the Aeropex Minis is that on songs like "Bad Habits" by Conquer Divide, the bass would vibrate so intensely at even half volume that it would be physically uncomfortable. Not as bad as the old days, but like holding a mild electrical charge to your jaw or as though each skin cell was in the world's most intense mosh pit.
That's been solved on the regular OpenRun headphones by just having less bass, which is hardly ideal but better than the old ways.
But on the OpenRun Pro, the mesh cutouts allow the base to move more comfortably. I do find there's a bit less of the high tones, but it's a worthy trade-off if you listen to anything other than acoustic folk and classical music while exercising.
It would be unfair to compare bone conduction headphones to regular headphones because they're different experiences for different purposes. A better comparison would be to listen to music out loud from good built-in phone speakers, only you're not irritating your fellow cyclists and you can still hear it over that zipping wind when you're heading down a hill at 50km/h+.
You're not going to get an audiophile listening experience where you can pick out the little audio details and accurately tell the difference between a crash cymbal and a splash cymbal. The singing voices sound good, you can get the rhythm to match your cadence to and you could get much more detail than you could a year ago. You can also hear the birds in the trees, maintain a conversation with your training partner and hear a car coming behind you, depending on which volume you have the music at.
The microphone on the OpenRun Pro is also vastly improved. I found that I could never have a phone call on the Aeropex while riding, even slowly, because of the wind noise overwhelming the microphone. But on the OpenRun Pro, the person on the other end of the line had no idea I was riding as long as I stayed under 20km/h. I don't really recommend chatting while riding, but if you work doing bike deliveries, sometimes you'll need to talk to a customer about how to find them.
The battery is another major area of improvement. 10 hours is nothing to be sneezed at and should be enough to satisfy most athletes. That's an improvement on the Aeropex's 8 hours. Thanks to the new quick-charge feature, a 5-minute charge is enough for 1.5 hours of use, which has saved my bacon more than once.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want the best possible sound quality from open ear headphones.
- Don't buy it if you frequently run or ride in heavy rain (get the regular OpenRun for that or even the OpenSwim).
The Shokz OpenRun Pro headphones are the best open ear headphones for exercise available. The improvements in sound quality are huge for people familiar with the technology, while still allowing for great awareness of surroundings, with no audio bleed. It is frustrating that Shokz reduced the waterproof rating of the OpenRun Pro, but it's a worthy trade-off for that extra bass response, and there's still the option of the regular OpenRun for people who continue to run and ride in very heavy rain and storms.
Shokz OpenRun Pro: Pricing and availability
How we tested
I used the Shokz OpenRun Pro for more than a month running, sitting at my desk and riding a few hundred kilometres on my bike. I was sent the Shokz OpenRun Pro by Shokz's Australian distributor for the purposes of this review.