Runner Neo are the latest bone conduction headphones from Naenka, featuring wireless charging and with more battery life than their previous models. The Runner Neo are designed for runners who want to listen to audio without compromising their awareness of the surroundings.
I recently reviewed Naenka’s Runner Pro bone conduction headphones, (link here) the Runner Neo are the latest offering with lots of similarities but a few key differences. I’ve been testing them for a few weeks, here are my impressions.
Visually the Neo look very similar to the Pro, I opted for a green pair though they are also available in grey or red. They are an open ear design whereby the audio transmitter sits just in front of your ear on your temple or cheekbone rather than in your ear. The sound waves are conducted through your cheekbones allowing you to hear both the transmission and the sounds of your surroundings. They consist of a silicone coated titanium frame that wraps around your ears and round the back of your head / neck. This is very flexible yet doesn’t feel fragile. In order to suit all sizes the headset is simply tensioned by a piece of elastic that can be adjusted according to the size of your head. You may find that you don’t actually need to fit the tensioner. Along with the headphones themselves you are also supplied with a “wireless” charging cable and three pairs of in ear inserts which are designed to enhance the sound without blocking out external noise completely. The inserts are in three different sizes and there is also a pair of conventional ear plugs. A basic user manual is also included.
Although the name implies that the headphones are for runners, they would be equally suitable for other activities such as cycling or walking. Using the Runner Neo is fairly straightforward. First you need to pair them with another Bluetooth device i.e your phone. You can choose more than one device which is good if you want to share use of the headphones. Once paired you simply listen to the audio on your paired device through the headphones. The main control buttons are on the bottom of side part of the headphones which sits behind your right ear. The buttons are very small and you will struggle to operate them if you are wearing gloves, something to bear in mind for winter use. Be careful if you turn the headphones on whilst wearing them because a loud female voice announces “Welcome to Naenka Bone Conduction Headphones…!” Similarly when turning the headphones off the voice announces “Power off”. If you are wearing the in-ear enhancers these announcements are startlingly loud and there is no way to adjust the volume! Playback volume can be adjusted by the small buttons on the headset which also allow you to skip backwards and forwards between songs or podcast episodes. Other features include optional voice mode enabling you to speak to your smart phone to select audio. You can also answer phone calls at the press of a button on the earpiece (as long as you can remember where it is!) rather than having to dig your phone out of your bag should it ring whilst using the headphones.
Audio quality with the Runner Neo is good, I didn’t notice any improved sound quality compared to the Runner Pro version and I haven’t used any other make of bone conduction headphones so I can’t make any comparisons. The in-ear enhancers are anatomically shaped ear plugs that fit snugly in your ear and are designed to enhance the sound quality. They don’t need to be worn but they do significantly increase the volume without completely blocking out surrounding sounds.
The Runner Neo use a wireless charging cradle. This sounds a little deceptive as they still use a USB type wired charging cable but the headphones simply sit in the cradle rather than physically plugging into anything. As such there are no contacts or electrodes to get damaged or dirty. This is a key difference between the Neo and the Pro models as the Pro use a plug in charger. Naenka claim that you will get 10 hours of playback time between charges with the Neo, a couple of hours more than the Pro. To be honest I didn’t let the battery drain all the way down before I recharged the headphones and I estimate that I used them for 5 hours between charges. Small flashing LEDs on both the charger and headset confirm that charging is taking place and the light turns to constant when they are fully charged. The light on the headset flashes rapidly why the battery needs recharging.
Another important difference from the Runner Pro version is that the Neo don’t work as an MP3 player so you can’t load audio straight to the headphones themselves, you’ll need to take your phone with you on your run.
I wouldn’t describe the headphones as comfortable, I found that it took a while to get used to the feeling of running whilst wearing them. However neither are they particularly uncomfortable, I wore them constantly for a 90 minute run without issue. They remained in place without bouncing around even when I was running on uneven, fell terrain. I found that after wearing them for some time, when I took the headphones I could tell I had been wearing them and the sensation of having something in contact with my head lasted several minutes. This wasn’t uncomfortable, just something to get used to. I wore them both with and without sunglasses and also with and without a hat. The headphones are waterproof with a rating of IP66 meaning they can be used in the rain (good job as I got soaked on one particular run!) and you needn’t worry about getting them sweaty.
The advantage of bone conduction headphones compared with in ear “pods” is that you can still hear sounds from your environment, so if cycling you can hear traffic or if running you can hear someone running up behind you. However this requires the sound transmitting part of the headset to be held in place on your cheekbone which in turn requires a wired frame that connects the two “earpieces” and wraps around the back of your head / neck. This design means that you can’t lean your head back on something or lie on your side whilst wearing them which means that they are much more suited to active sport rather than recreation. I tried to use them for watching TV but found that my natural relaxed position wasn’t possible because of the frame.
Lightweight (30g including tensioner on my scales), waterproof (IP66), 10 hr battery life, wireless charging via USB type cable, Bluetooth connectivity.
RRP – £99 (15% Discount Code: David15)
Full details on Naenka website
Lightweight, easy set up, reasonably comfortable, good audio quality, cheaper than some other brands.
Loud voice when turning on and off! Their design doesn’t allow for recreational use eg wearing them whilst lying down.
The Naenka Runner Neo bone conduction headphones look very similar in design to the Naenka Runner Pro that I recently tested. The key differences being that the Neo use wireless charging and aren’t an MP3 player, however they last for longer before recharging and are fractionally lighter. I didn’t notice an improvement in sound quality with the Neo, to my ears the quality is good on both models. They feel stable in use and reasonably comfortable. At less than £100 they offer good value for money. Although the name implies they are made for runners they would equally suit cyclists or walkers or indeed anyone who wants to listen to audio without it interfering with their awareness of the sounds around them.