When you think of sports headphones, you probably envisage something that comes at least vaguely close to your ears, as is the case with the best bone conduction headphones. While not covering or invading your ear canals, these do at least strap around your head and sit very close to your shell-likes – see the Shokz OpenRun or even Oladance's Wearable Stereo open-ear solution for reference.
But there is another way. A New York outfit called SONR, which specializes in audio swimming aids, just released SONR Music: "a 100% waterproof music player that uses bone conduction technology to enable swimmers to listen to their favorite songs, audiobooks, and podcasts even underwater".
Let's call it what it is. At 35g, this circular disc with a central push button for playback (that puts me in mind of the timer included in the board game Articulate! Your Life) it's a musical head puck. And I think I like it.
SONR says you place it anywhere on your head (bone conduction tech won't work unless you get that bit right) either by slipping it under your swimming cap or using the strap included, and you're good to go!
OK not quite – you need content. It sports 8GB of memory so you can upload playlists or podcasts to it for your training session and control playback via the button: one press for play/pause, two presses to skip a track, three to go back.
There's also Bluetooth compatibility for smartphone pairing and streaming "during dryland training such as cycling and running", so presumably the range isn't ideal for long distances from your smartphone. No Bluetooth version or range is quoted in SONR's press release, so it seems unlikely you'll be able to leave your phone poolside and stream while you swim.
Opinion: is it different? Wildly. But that might also be SONR's greatest strength
SONR has previously released a Swim Coach Communicator, a radio receiver with a similar, bone-conduction design that allows your coach to bark at you while you complete laps – but the option to upload your own content and use Bluetooth connectivity is new.
You get a goggle clip, USB charging cable (it charges via 4 pin Magnetic charging cable, also useful for connecting to your laptop and dragging/dropping those audio files to the SONR Music's drive) and swimming earplugs in the box, but you don't need to wear the earplugs to get the bone conduction music. Your ears can stay completely free if that's your preference.
As someone with smaller ears who has suffered both the loss of an earbud mid-move and flimsy bone conduction headsets sliding down the back of my head when my ponytail shifts mid-run, I welcome any musical product that'll get me through a training session without having to be retrieved from the floor. And one that isn't a neckband but still goes nowhere near my ears, delivering audio only I can hear, is a new one on me.
Did I mention that this thing is waterproof to the point that it'll survive being submerged in water up to two meters deep for up to two hours? These are credentials even some of the best waterproof headphones shy away from – and despite my reservations on how it might feel through the bass, I'd love to hear it.
The SONR Music is available for pre-order now, priced $89 (rather than the regular MSRP $129) in black, orange, yellow, or blue, with shipping expected to start from July 20. Those prices roughly equate to £70 or AU$135 if you take advantage of the early-bird discount, although there's no mention yet of when the device is available in regions other than the US.
SONR assures me that after a few minutes, users don't even notice that the device is there – other than the music. And that is an interesting proposition for sure.