Have you ever wished for a Bluetooth headset or other way to listen to your smart phone without covering your ears or distorting sounds While walking or running? This problem plagues both sighted and blinded individuals alike. For example, in-ear headsets offer incredible sound in a small package, provided you do not mind losing awareness of any sounds around you through sound cancellation. Over the ear headsets might not eliminate ambient noises, but they do reduce visualization by dampening ability to detect the location of a sound. Designs like the Apple earbuds manage to avoid these two pitfalls, but often fall out or become uncomfortable after awhile. Sighted individuals might be able to sacrifice auditory input, thanks to the ability to rely on vision; however, us blinded travelers of the world do not possess such luxuries. Every audio cue, texture of the ground, smell, and other stimuli creates a navigational beacon. This post will review the After Shokz Trekz Titanium, a bone conduction Bluetooth headset enabling one to listen to a podcast or GPS directions without obstructing external sounds.
Bone conduction for audio input is not a new invention. After Shokz state the idea originates from the US military as an earpiece concept allowing a team to communicate without blocking environmental sounds. This definitely runs counter to the Bose noise cancellation headsets of the Bradley’s CVC, which I used once upon a time. The After Shokz Trekz Titanium is the latest in a line of bone conduction headsets Specifically designed for outdoors sports enthusiasts and the blind alike.
The Trekz Titanium resembles many of the behind the head Bluetooth headsets, where the ear pieces’ wrap over your ears and loop behind your head. Differently, The Trekz Titanium do not cover your ears, but extends to the front of the ears so the audio drivers rest on the bone. Its through this bone the sound travels from the Trekz to your ear drum. Some individuals with hearing impairments stemming from the outer part of the ear find the bone conduction helpful.
The Trekz Titanium possesses three multi-purpose buttons and one charging port. On the external left tip of the left audio driver, a slightly raised triangular button acts as the action, for stopping and playing media content, and long pressing it prompts your digital assistant, like Siri or Cortana. Actually, when you long press the button, the Trekz announces Voice Dial. On the underside of the right arm immediately behind your right ear is where you find the two other multi-purpose buttons and the charging port. Starting immediately behind your ear, you feel the the cover for the USB charging port. Proceeding away from the ear, the two remaining buttons provides several different functions. The front button with a raised dot is the power on/off button, long press to pair with another device, and press once to increase volume. The back button is just the decrease volume button. Either button will prompt the announcement of the battery life. A special note about the volume buttons, they only work if your media, Siri, Voice Over, Talk Back, etc… Is playing, otherwise they just activate the battery indicator.
The Trekz Titanium arrived in a nice square box containing the headset, a case, USB cable, ear plugs, the serial number (for registering the warranty) On a business card, and manuals. While charging a new device is recommended, mine arrived with sufficient battery life for setup and testing. After placing the Trekz Titanium on, the power button was easily distinguishable. Pressing it for a couple of seconds brought about the clear announcement welcoming me to the Trekz Titanium, proceeded by an announcement to pair. Pairing through the Bluetooth settings on my iPhone required a mere minute to complete, and I was off using the Trekz Titanium.
As I possess normal hearing, I am able to clearly hear the Trekz Titanium and Voice Over speaking at the fastest rate in an office or quiet environment with the volume set to medium to low levels. When outside along busy streets, I had to set the volume to max and slow down the speech, and still struggled to hear Voice Over or media playing as a semi-truck or heavy equipment passed. In normal traffic, adjusting the volume slightly prove sufficient to compensate for cars. If you notice the Trekz Titanium sounding as if its coming through a can, readjust their positioning on your face until the sound quality improves. Music should come in full, though the treble and base will not be very robust. Sound bleeding still persists in the Titanium, but not nearly to the extent of prior versions. For example, setting the volume to max on both the Trekz and your iPhone will allow you to hear the Trekz when placed on your neck.
Controlling the Trekz Titanium
As a guide dog user with my left hand on the harness, I had no problems pressing any of the buttons. In fact, the two buttons on the right side of the headset almost requires your right hand to press, as a pinching motion will ensure you press the buttons. Pressing the action button on the left ear piece can be accomplished by any hand, without any over extension. If anything, you might be dismayed, since you will be pressing the left side against your head.
Comfort Wearing the Trekz Titanium
The overall comfort of the Trekz titanium Represents a significant improvement over previous After Shokz models. A word of caution for those who never experienced bone conduction, bone conduction requires the audio drivers to push against the side of your face, rather than resting on or inside your ears. The vibration of the audio drivers might annoy some unfamiliar with the sensation, but this only stands out when volume is set to max. If any weakness exists, the Trekz, as with any bone conduction headset, becomes very uncomfortable when Covering your ears with a winter cap, Otherwise, the Trekz fits nicely under hats and inside hoods.
The Trekz Titanium possesses several negative aspects. First, the microphones leave much to be desired. Whether dictating or using Siri, expect a bit of error. Likewise, do not try to conduct professional calls, as your voice will be moderate to poor quality. Secondly, the Trekz Titanium does not announce when it shuts down from low battery. An announcement states, “Charge Me,” but nothing prior to dead battery shutdown Related to battery life, expect about 6 hours. If you just want these for work out, fine, but those like me who might go from traveling to a meeting and back traveling might become concern about making it through the day.
Treks Titanium’s Conclusions
Over all, the Trekz Titanium is worth the price if the above does not concern you. The ability to fully hear my surroundings while listening to Blind Square and navigating or typing notes while in meetings or class restores a level of auditory freedom other earpieces and headsets deny. Wearing these for an hour or so at a time is perfectly acceptable, though this is not an all day comfort headset. If you are looking for a headset without covering your ears, look no further than the Trekz Titanium. For those with visual impairments, its plausible to argue for or against the Trekz as a luxury or necessary device. The main point of contention involves what independent living activity you require from the Trekz.