Bone Conduction vs Air Conduction: What’s the Difference?

» Posted by on Jan 25, 2017 in Bone Headphones | 0 comments

Bone conduction and air conduction both refer to the transmission of sound. The main difference is that air conduction uses sound waves that travel through air while in the case of bone conduction the sound is transported via mechanical vibrations. While air conduction tends to produce a better quality sound, bone conduction headsets are more useful in environments where air conduction is impractical. These environments may include loud working environments and underwater activities. Hearing aids also use either air conduction or bone conduction to provide sound to patients that have partial or total loss of hearing.

Air conduction is the main way that we receive sound. The sound waves travel through the air into our ear canal and meet the ear drum. The ear drum oscillates when hit by sound waves and generates vibrations that are transported through the middle ear by very small bones. These vibrations are picked up by the cochlea in the inner ear. The cochlea uses its hair cells to transform vibrations into electrical impulses which are then transmitted to the brain. The brain interprets these impulses as sounds and that is how we hear. Hearing aids and other devices that use air conduction do so by amplifying the sound that is transmitted through the ear canal. Air conduction hearing aids only work if the patient is not missing a part of the internal ear and is still able to process sounds.

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Bone conduction is different from air conduction in that it bypasses a few steps when interpreting sound. Instead of using the ear drums to generate vibrations, bone conduction uses the device itself to do it. These vibrations are then carried through the bones in the skull to the inner ear. The cochlear then picks up on these vibrations much like it would pick up on vibrations generated by the ear drums. The process from the inner ear to the brain remains the same as with air conduction. Bone conduction technology provides an alternative to air conduction. It is useful to patients who for one reason or another cannot use conventional air conduction hearing aids. It is also used in loud environments to provide clear communication devices.

Air conduction devices have always been preferred to bone conduction options because they usually provided a higher quality stereo sound. However, the technology has improved vastly over the few years and bone conduction devices now provide stereo sound at a quality that is nearing that of air conduction. Bone conduction is used especially with underwater communication products, with new completely submersible mp3 players and devices. While bone conduction technology isn’t likely to replace air conduction, it is becoming a practical solution for people that require communication in noisy or otherwise impractical air conduction environments.

Bone conduction works in a different way than air conduction does, which ensures that technology based on it will always have a niche market where air conduction is simply impractical. Air conduction still maintains a superior quality of sound and is present in most of the audio communication devices today.

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