I thought open-ear earbuds couldn't deliver top sound – Oladance proved me wrong

TechRadar senior audio writer Becky Scarrott wearing Oladance OWS in silver
(Image credit: TechRadar)

It's a dilemma that continues to fuel heated debates among music lovers across the globe: is it better go in, on, or over your ears when selecting the best headphones for your musical pleasure? 

I am not here to tell you which option is best overall (although that would be over-ears for flights, true wireless earbuds for a compact commute, something wired for when hi-res musical clarity and detail is a must), but I am here to tell you there's another way. 

No, I'm not talking about the best bone conduction headphones either. There exists a realm of wireless headphones called "open-ear". These come in compact wireless charging cases similar to regular true wireless earbuds, but unlike in-ear propositions, a decent seal betwixt ear canal and the neck and silicon ear tip of your earbud is not necessary – the earpiece is not going to enter your earhole at all. 

The market for open-ear earbuds is still somewhat niche; JBL recently released a set of transformable buds, although Sony's Linkbuds may also have caught your attention, or perhaps the sportier Cleer Audio Arc. No? Well, Oladance claims to be the world leader in open wearable audio, so get ready to learn why they're a good idea. 

"Similar to Cleer but better" was the pitch and, when added to that name (as an ex dancer, I'm a horrible sucker for a product with "dance" in the moniker), I agreed to try them out. And I'm so glad I did. 

Opinion: Oladance's open-ear design is healthier, safer, and the bass is more than acceptable 

Oladance OWS open-ear earbuds in their case, held in a hand on grey background

Oladance OWS are like silver cyberpunk ear cuffs, in the best way. (Image credit: TechRadar)

I've been sent the 'Space Silver' colorway by Oladance (cream, blue and orange finishes are also available) and the aesthetic is distinctly silver ear cuff – which I consider a very good thing. Cyberpunk jewelry complete with Bluetooth 5.2 and 16.5mm speakers, you say? Music to my ears…

And you read that correctly – while most earbuds sport 5mm or even 6mm drivers, Oladance's OWS houses a whopping 16.5mm dynamic driver per earpiece. Because of this, the company actually calls them "wearable stereo speakers" rather than headphones. 

And despite what you might be thinking, it's safer on your hearing, since the drivers are further from your ears. It's also safer in general because, having tested them, I can tell you that conversations can still be held – and you'll hear road traffic. 

Then, there's the delicate issue of how secretive you are regarding your playlists. Adore Gaga but don't want the office to know? You'll love Oladance's headphones. I was astounded that people on desks next to me couldn't hear my music (especially since it was Toto's Africa at the time) because I could hear the song clear as day. I naturally assumed sound would leak to any similarly-uncovered nearby eardrums, as is the case with open-backed headphones such as Grado's stunning SR80x… but not a bit of it. 

Oladance's solution is truly a feat of engineering too, because it doesn't hurt at all. There's no clipping sensation and no feeling that something is ready to burst out from any part of your ear. 

They're comfortable for hours on end – and you can put it to the test thanks to the 16 (yes, one six) hour battery. 

Oladance OWS in their case on silver background

Oladance's open-ear design fits incredibly comfortably and lasts for 16 hours. Impressive.  (Image credit: Future)

Fitting them is a breeze once you get the hang of it – they simply slide around your ear and rest on it. Oladance is rightfully proud of the multi-point support system that spreads the weight of the earbuds evenly across your ear – they didn't even touch my concha, fossa, scapha or antihelical fold (read: any potentially tender bit of your outer ear and its intricate folds) and yet they felt secure enough to shake my head. 

These headphones are easily as secure as any other true wireless earbud design I have tested. OK, the fact that they don't entrap your ear with potentially ouchy clips means I wouldn't want to go upside down in them, so despite their IPX4 water resistance rating, canoeing and aerial dance (where somersaults are a given) would probably be a no. But for running the OWS are a no-brainer. 

And one of the key benefits of the design is that they're sociable too! While other earbuds might have "transparency", "speak-to-chat" or "talk-through" functions, Oladance OWS offers barrier-free communication at the same time as music – and that makes me feel connected to my office colleagues and not, at the same time. 

How do they sound? Remarkably good. The on-ear touch controls work well (and take care of volume too). Tracy Chapman's Fast Car is expansive and emotive, with the central shaker surrounded by a mournful, impactful guitar. Chapman's vocal is textured, detailed, and grippy through the lower midrange too. 

Soft Cell's Tainted Love is energetic, agile and expertly held in check across the frequencies within a cohesive, fun, zealous mix. 

How's the bass? Stormzy's Vossy Bop is just a tad lighter through the grime-heavy low end compared to class-leading over-ears – but it's emphatically not lean to a fault. For me, it beats any of the dedicated bone conduction solutions I've tried to date. 

Oladance's OWS headphones absolutely smashed their February Kickstarter campaign and are available now for $150 (which is around £135 or AU$255). 

If you want a set of portable earbuds devoid of the inherently intrusive nature of in-ear options, and with a battery life that puts Apple's latest AirPods Pro to shame, add them to your list. 

Becky Scarrott
Senior Audio Staff Writer

Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.