Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Bone-conducting Headphones Work

Author's Note

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, when listening to rock music was almost like a religion. And most of my favorite performers -- from big stadium acts like the Rolling Stones, Peter Gabriel and U2 to punk bands like the Ramones, X and the Stooges -- play really, really loud. Nevertheless, amazingly, even in my mid-50s, I still have pretty good hearing. One reason, I think, is that I always avoided crowding the stage like other fans did, because I found that I could hear the music better if I stayed farther away from the speakers. In addition, whenever I went to nightclubs with overpowering acoustics, I always made sure to wear earplugs -- or, if I forgot to bring them, to stuff a damp wad of toilet paper in each ear. In the digital music age, I've always avoided wearing ear buds and stuck with the big clunky old-school headphones that make me look like a 1920s wireless telegraph operator. Even so, I'm still careful never to turn the sound up all the way.

Related Articles


  • Blue, Laura. "How bad are iPods for your hearing?" Time. July 28, 2008. (April 22, 2012),8599,1827159,00.html
  • Bottesch, H. Werner. "Bone-conductive stereo headphones." U.S. Patent Office. June 21, 1994. (Apr. 23, 2012)
  • Cunningham, Clairdon. "Helmet Communication System." U.S. Patent Office. June 17, 1957. (April 23, 2012)
  • Hand, Edgar H. "Receiver Support." U.S. Patent Office. March 30, 1937. (April 23, 2012)
  • Hass, Jerry. "How Does the Ear Work?" 2003. (April 23, 2012)
  • Kuchera, Ben. "Is your skull the best speaker? Audio Bone headphones say no." Ars Technica. February 2009. (April 23, 2012)
  • Liautaud, James P. "Personal electronic listening system with an air and bone transducer mounted on the clothing collar." U.S. Patent Office. March 30, 1982. (April 23, 2012)
  • Mai, Francois Martin. "Diagnosing Genius: the Life and Death of Beethoven." McGill-Queen's University Press. 2007. (April 23, 2012)
  • Ostrow, Nicole. "One in Five U.S. Adolescents Has Hearing Loss, Researchers Find." Bloomberg News. Aug. 17, 2010. (April 22, 2012)
  • "Using MP3 Players at High Volume Puts Teens at Risk for Early Hearing Loss, Say Researchers." Science Daily. Dec. 28, 2011. (April 22, 2012)
  • Weir, Laila. "High-Tech Hearing Bypasses Ears." Sept. 16, 2004. (April 23, 2012)