There’s only so much that can be done with wireless earbuds to make them new and exciting, right? Shokz have done something a bit different, giving users better comfort and significantly improved situational awareness, without needing to take away the joy of music.

What’s different about the Shokz OpenFit?

The short answer is they’re not in-ear they’re an around ear fit, that positions the audio output over your ears. Unlike many other options on the market, these aren’t designed to shut out the surrounding noise, rather to let it in; allowing the user to maintain spatial awareness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as they very much break the mould of wireless earbuds, the Shokz Open Fit isn’t a particularly cheap option. They’ll set you back $289.00 for a set, but in my experience over the last couple of weeks; it’s $289.00 well spent.

The design – It’s different, but it works

As someone who uses but doesn’t particularly like in-ear audio solutions, this is one of the better earphone solutions I can recall using recently. Sure, the audio does drop a bit of bass — in comparison to other in-ear solutions — and balance without that seal in your ears, but that’s the point; to provide you audio while also allowing you to maintain awareness of what’s happening around you.

I can think of a number of occasions riding my bike to work, or in public places when I’ve had earphones in that I could have benefited from these.

As mentioned, they’re an around-ear fit with the audio being played “at” your ear, instead of in it. What this resulted in for me, was extremely high levels of comfort — ie. I forgot I was wearing them till I tried to answer my phone — and the audio is present but doesn’t cut off the outside environment. Even as someone who wears glasses all day, I found these to be remarkably comfortable; they’re lightweight, well-balanced and of a physical size that they’re not intrusive.

That around-ear fit I’ve mentioned also contributes to just how good they are when it comes to staying where you put them! I tried, and I’m sure I looked like I was having some form of seizure, but in vain I was unable to get the OpenFit to come off without a very specific and conscious effort. No matter how I threw my head around, they just didn’t come loose.

Setup and use: You need the app briefly…

Unlike some headphones I’ve used recently, you do need the app to get these setup in the first instance. The main reason for this is so you can turn on multipoint connection, but there’s also a few little tweaks — preset equaliser settings and gesture controls for playback — you can make within the app.

Once you’ve done this, you don’t need the app in day to day use. Just open the case and put the OpeFit on your ears to start listening.

Like any Bluetooth device though, the connection is a case of pairing (my Pixel offered fast pair) to your mobile device and then getting into the app. This is where you can turn on Multipoint and follow the instructions to connect to a secondary device; I’ve added my laptop as I often use it for streaming (YouTube Music, YouTube, Netflix etc) and video calls.

Battery life

Even after around a month, I struggle to get a solid grasp on the battery life because it’s around a week of listening without needing to charge the case. The earphones themselves have lasted me a full work day without going back in the case, so I’m confident that the “up to 7 hours” listed on the Shokz site; with the case included I’m getting at least 4 working days of 5 + hours of listening at varied volume each day before charging is necessary.

I’d really like the charging to be faster than it is, with the case taking over 90 minutes (the site states 2 hours, but I’ve not timed it from flat to full) and the earphones taking an hour in the case when flat; that’s just too slow if you’ve forgotten to charge and about to commute.

The sound quality

Let’s get this on the table to start with: these aren’t for audiophiles. The sound balance and quality aren’t at that level, but that’s not what these are about. With that being said, and as earlier mentioned, they’re an open-ear bud that allows you to maintain situational awareness while still enjoying your media; whether it be podcasts, streaming video (don’t do this in a car or riding a bike…) or music when you’re on the move.

Because they don’t sit in your ear, creating a seal for the driver to push against it’s impossible to create and extremely difficult to even simulate bass. The audio balance, however, is actually pretty decent as long as you don’t turn them up too loud while listening to music. At high volumes, the balance is off and the speakers are driving beyond their capabilities and you’ll get flat mid-range sounds and distorted high register as a result.

If you’re happy with them at a middle range of volume, however, they’re fantastic. I used them in the office for several days and they were loud enough to knock out a lot of the white noise (not my more boisterous colleagues) but maintain enough awareness that when someone called my name, I heard them the first time instead of needing a tap on the shoulder or something thrown at me.

The audio was perfect for podcasts, and streaming video in a number of environments and hit the spot when out walking at night; I was able to hear runners coming up behind me and move out of their way. There is some scope to adjust the audio through an EQ within the app, or if you use one on your phone but be wary of trying to get too much bass: it’s just not happening!

For the application they’re designed for, I’m genuinely happy with the resulting audio delivery and user experience from the Shokz OpenFit.

Would I buy them?

For me in daily use, there’s probably limited application for these but if I was riding a bike to work in traffic regularly, or commuting after dark; I’d happily invest in a pair. They’ve got plenty to offer by way of battery, audio capability and features to just about any user.

For those who take pride in their appearance, not being and over the head option means your hair will not be messed up by the band and you’re ready to take the day on.

I’d be happy spending the money on these, and if you want to enjoy media on the move while maintaining awareness of what’s going on around you; you won’t be disappointed in them either. At $289.00 they’re not a spur of the moment purchase, but they’re well worth the money and don’t forget Christmas is just around the corner!

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Situational awareness is why I still have and use a late 1980s pair of Sony MDR-006 Walkman headphones, when I want music while I’m out and about. The old Sony have, so far, not had the cable fail in the strain relief, which was a far too common occurrence back in the day. These Shokz are a pair of earphones I’d happily buy and use for the same task, wanting music while on the go, but also wanting to be able to hear what’s going on around me. IEMs are fine for sound isolation, when you’re in a bus, train,… Read more »