Bone conduction headphones not from AfterShokz? The headband-style Naenka Runner Pro looks and sounds very similar to the various other bone conduction headsets on the market (through which vibrations are sent through your jawbone directly to your inner ear), but its dual audio modes make it a unique product.
This is the only bone conduction headset we know of that's waterproof and has a built-in MP3 player, in addition to Bluetooth streaming from a smartphone. That ‘memory mode’ makes it instantly attractive to runners who really don’t want to have to take their smartphone out on a run, but also to swimmers, who until now have had very little choice when looking for the best waterproof headphones.
Of course, there are issues with the sourcing of MP3 files. With music streaming now endemic, you could be forgiven for thinking that this product is a few years too late, but there are a few clues in the list of the list of supported audio formats.
As well as playing MP3 files – now really only available as podcasts and radio show downloads from services like the BBC iPlayer – the Naenka Runner Pro supports WAV, FLAC, APE and WMA files. That’s a fair few lossless file types. It’s got 8GB storage on board, which is room for around 1,500 songs.
It’s not that the Naenka Runner Pro is the only bone conduction headset with a built-in MP3 player, but the only other example, the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, can’t stream over Bluetooth, so has limited functionality outside of the pool.
The Naenka Runner Pro is physically impressive. It weighs a mere 33g and is comfy to wear for long periods. It also works well in the pool, though you do have to remember to wear earplugs, which improve the sound quality no end.
Versatile it may be, but the Naenka Runner Pro does have some significant drawbacks. For example, it only lasts for about six hours on one charge, and the proprietary charging cable is poor quality. It links to connectors magnetically, but barely. Besides, who wants to carry an easily lost proprietary cable anywhere?
We also experienced frequent loss of connection when the Naenka Runner Pro was paired with both a smartphone and a computer via Bluetooth. There were similar issues when cabled up to drag and drop MP3s, too.
These niggles aside, the only bone conduction headset that give you a choice of either Bluetooth streaming or MP3 playback generally impresses. Sure, you can wear a pair of Apple AirPods Pro or another pair of the best true wireless earbuds, but if you don’t like things in your ears and you want to remain tuned in to the ambient noise of your surroundings – be that the doorbell in your house or traffic during an urban run – the Naenka Runner Pro is flawed yet unique.
Naenka Runner Pro price and release date
- $119.99 (about £88 / AU$165)
- Available now
- More affordable than the AfterShokz Xtrainerz
Naenka is a brand of bone conduction earphones manufactured by Shenzhen Mengqu Life Technology Co. in Shenzhen, China. The Naenka Runner Pro is sold on the Naenka website (opens in new tab) for $119.99 (about £88 / AU$165), down from an original list price of $149.99 (about £110 / AU$200), with worldwide shipping available. You can also buy the Naenka Runner Pro on Amazon US (opens in new tab) and Amazon UK (opens in new tab).
The closest competitor is the AfterShokz Xtrainerz, going for around $149.95 / £139.95 / $219.00, so the Naenka Runner Pro certainly is competitively priced.
Naenka Runner Pro design
- Bone conduction transducers
- IPX8 rated so waterproof for swimming
- Stores 8GB audio files
The Naenka Runner Pro looks almost exactly the same as the AfterShokz Xtrainerz. It weighs a similar 33g and has the same enclosed cavity design (hence its IP68 waterproofing), slim headband and question mark-shaped earpieces that hold the bone conduction transducers.
There’s no way to alter the fit, so those with larger heads are definitely going to find them more comfortable. For those with smaller heads the headband is going to hang off the back of the neck a little too much. That said, it hangs over the ear firmly enough and didn’t move around during several workouts during our test.
The Naenka Runner Pro relies on buttons rather than touch or gestures. Its tiny on-off switch does everything, with various double taps, long presses and the like initiating pairing, accepting/ending/rejecting calls, playing/pausing/skipping tracks, for switching between devices, calling up Siri or Google Assistant, and switching between Bluetooth and MP3 mode.
Getting files onto the Naenka Runner Pro’s 8GB innards is simply a case of drag and drop, though during our test the proprietary cable consistently lost connection to the computer we attached it to.
Naenka Runner Pro battery life
- 230mAh battery
- Six-hour battery life max
- Annoying proprietary cable
If there’s a major drawback to the Naenka Runner Pro, it’s battery life. However, that does depend on how you’re going to use it. For instance, if you plan to use it on a run or during a workout or a swim each day, you can likely use it a few days in a row without worrying.
However, if you’re likely to want to wear it while commuting, shopping, or working in a home office to listen to music, take calls and participate in video meetings, the Naenka Runner Pro is going to come up short. During our test we had music on full volume and got about four hours from it. Used more quietly, it’s about six hours. It also appears to use about twice as much battery power if you rely on the ‘memory mode’.
A further annoyance is that its 230mAh battery can only be recharged using a proprietary charging cable. It magnetically attaches to four connectors on the battery on the Naenka Runner Pro’s right-hand temple, but the connection is rather weak and needs to be checked. It takes about an hour to recharge.
Naenka Runner Pro audio performance
- 16mm drivers
- Frequently loses connection to sources
- Plays MP3, WAV, FLAC, APE and WMA file formats
The Naenka Runner Pro is the only waterproof bone conduction headset we know of that also have a built-in MP3 player. A long press of the on/off switch toggles between the two modes.
Musically, these both impress. In Bluetooth mode, there’s plenty of involving lower mid-range tones and plenty of detail, with relatively good bass response (for bone conduction headphones) that’s just about enough for a high octane workout playlist. They also go fairly loud, and happily we didn’t experience any of the infamous ‘tickle’ that some tend to be sensitive to as sound waves vibrate down cheekbones when bone conduction headphones are used at high volumes.
However, when listening to a podcast while, say, running along a busy road, it’s sometimes necessary to cup an ear with one hand to make sure you don’t miss something. That’s never the case when wearing the headset in the home, where it’s loud and dynamic, though those around you will hear some leaked audio.
If you use the Naenka Runner Pro in memory mode in a swimming pool then you should also use a pair of earplugs, a foam pair of which are included in the box. That’s the same with the AfterShokz Xtrainerz. Doing so vastly improves sound quality when your ears are above the water. It basically blocks out the splish-splash of your ears connecting with the water, instead keeping a closed environment for the sound waves to stream through your cheekbones into your inner ear. While submerged – or if you wear earplugs – the sound quality is equally impressive.
However, there is another dimension to sound quality in the pool; everything you listen to must be a digital music file because Bluetooth doesn’t stream through water (so you can forget placing your smartphone close to the pool; if you want to do that then buy a pair of the Zygo Solo). The Naenka Runner Pro supports MP3, WAV, FLAC, APE and WMA file, and during our tests the sound quality was fuller and more dynamic compared to tunes streamed over Bluetooth. It’s a similar case when they’re used in memory mode for workouts and runs.
However, we did experience frequent loss of connection when the Naenka Runner Pro was paired with both a smartphone and a computer via Bluetooth. There were similar issues when cabled-up to drag and drop MP3s, too, which is a worry.
Those issues aise, although the Naenka Runner Pro are aimed at active users, we think they’re also relatively good for using around a home office for taking and making hands-free calls and using them during video conferencing. Although they’re equipped with just one microphone they’re able to produce a clear, concise sound. But those dropouts were a constant worry …
First reviewed September 2021
Buy it if
You want a pair of headphones for workouts, swimming and a home office
The ability to stream from a smartphone and play MP3s while the wearer remains ‘situationally aware’ makes the Naenka Runner Pro a good all-round choice for some. Crossing busy roads, driveways and just being around traffic can be very dangerous if your ears are plugged up with earphones. The Naenka Runner Pro’s open-ear design means you get the best of both worlds.
You want to leave your smartphone at home when you run/swim
Do you have any MP3s? You probably don’t anymore, but even those firmly ensconced in the era of music streaming can easily source MP3 files of podcasts and radio shows. If that’s what you listen to then the Naenka Runner Pro is an excellent headset for swimming, and for running and workouts when you don’t want to be carrying your smartphone.
Don't buy it if
You want a headset that can go all day
With just four to six hours battery life, the Naenka Runner Pro is fine for going for a run and/or a swim, but it’s not going to get you through a day in your home office without recharge. The provision of a rather poor quality (and annoyingly proprietary) charging cable is a disappointment.
Your never listen to podcasts
Given the scarcity of MP3s these days, we’re not sure the Naenka Runner Pro is worth bothering with unless you're going to listen to podcasts. However, if you can muster some old MP3s, it can take about 1,500 songs.