Runner Pro headphones by Naenka use bone conducting technology rather than traditional ear pieces. They are designed for sports use where having an awareness of your surroundings is important.
Personally I don’t use headphones on any of my runs, I prefer the sounds of nature and to be alone with my own thoughts. I have used them to try to relieve the monotony of being sat on a turbo trainer, but I find that the slightest head movement causes them to fall out. I do however use normal earphones to listen to podcasts and watch videos at home and I get annoyed whenever I catch the wire and pull the earpiece out. So I was interested to see how a set of headphones that didn’t rely on in-ear earpieces would perform.
First impressions on receiving the Runner Pros were good; the box is classy and looks like it contains expensive chocolates!
Runner Pro Features
The box contains the headphones, USB charging cable, elastic tensioner and a pair of standard foam ear plugs. There are also some basic user instructions. No chocolates. Neither is there a carrying case of any kind, although Naenka do sell one as an optional extra. To my slight embarrassment, never having worn a pair before I couldn’t quite work out how to put them on! The instructions didn’t include this so I had to visit Naenka’s website to look at the photos! Once I’d figured that the band went round the back of your neck rather than over the head, things made more sense. Maybe the instructions need dumbing down to include this information. The “earpiece” doesn’t sit over your ear but rather on your cheekbone just below your temple and the sound is conducted to your inner ear through the bone.
The headphones are lightweight (coming in at 39g on my scales, including the tensioner) and very flexible. Operation is very straightforward, even I didn’t need to read the instructions to work out that you turn them on with the small button and adjust the volume with the larger button. It is easy to locate the buttons whilst wearing the headphones but less so if you are wearing gloves.
Pairing the Runner Pros with a phone via Bluetooth is again very straightforward and it is possible to pair with more than one phone which is useful if you want to share the headphones with someone. As well as linking via Bluetooth the headphones are also an MP3 player capable of storing 8GB of files. This means that you can listen to audio directly off the headphones if you don’t want to take your phone with you. To get audio files onto the headphones you plug them into a computer using the USB charging cable and drag your chosen files onto the Naenkas. When I did this the headphones simply showed as USB Drive (E:) rather than being named. Switching between Bluetooth and MP3 is done by double clicking the on / off switch. Audio files automatically start where you left off and play in order that you uploaded them. Long pressing volume + / – allows you to skip forwards and backwards between files.
Although named Runner Pro, the headphones are also designed so that they can be used for swimming. They have an IXP8 waterproof rating, but as Bluetooth doesn’t work under water they will only work in MP3 mode, (do people really listen to music whilst swimming??) Their waterproof rating means that you needn’t worry about damaging them if you wear them whilst running in heavy rain.
Charging is done via the USB cable which has a magnetic port which seats firmly on the headphones. A red LED light indicates that the headphones are charging. This changes to blue when they are fully charged which takes around an hour and a half. Battery life claims to be 8 hours so they aren’t going to get you through the Bob Graham Round! Also this is with volume set at 60%, they will drain more rapidly if you have them set to play louder.
Runner Pro on test
So, having sussed out how to use the headphones and charged them fully it was time to see how they performed. The first question I wanted to answer was would they stay in place, especially whilst running on uneven and downhill terrain? Yes they do. Although at times they felt like they were about to slip off, they never did. Wearing them was a strange sensation and took a while to get used to. I used the elastic tensioner to increase the grip slightly although I probably didn’t need to. However I do have a small head and the band of the headphones projected quite a way out from my neck rather than sitting snugly against it. I’m not sure if this led to a sub-optimal fit or not. I was able to wear a hat (buff) whist also wearing the headphones. I liked the sensation of being able to hear both the sounds of the environment and the headphones at the same time and found that I could tune in to one or the other. When I needed to concentrate – such as when running down steep, uneven terrain – I completely zoned out of what I was listening to, so they are probably best suited to use on less technical terrain. I did also need to turn up the volume quite loud when I was running in windy conditions. The fact that you can still hear the environment around you whilst wearing the headphones would probably make them a better choice than in ear headphones for anyone running on roads or cycling. You would probably be more alert to danger from traffic whilst wearing bone conductors compared to in-ear headphones. Some events don’t allow the use of headphones whilst taking part – this is for safety reasons where you might not hear shouted warnings or sirens. Bone conduction headphones might be a good compromise (check with race organisers to confirm).
I often wear sunglasses when running, even if it isn’t sunny, as I find that they also keep the wind and insects out of my eyes. I was a bit concerned that I might not have enough ears to wear both the headphones and my glasses at the same time. It turns out not to be a problem and works best if you put the glasses on last.
Sound quality was good (although I haven’t tried any other brands so can’t give an honest comparison) and although they feel slightly strange, the Runner Pro aren’t uncomfortable. The longest I wore them for is a couple of hours after which it was good to take them off. I’m not sure I’d like to wear them for any longer without a break.
Lightweight (39g on my scales), Waterproof (IXP8), 8 hr battery life (230mAh battery) USB charging via non standard magnetic cable, MP3 & Bluetooth
RRP – £99 (16%Discount Code: David123)
Full details on Naenka website
Having never used bone conduction headphones before, it is difficult to compare the Naenka Runner Pro to other brands on the market. However, first impressions are good as the Runner Pros give good sound quality, are stable in use and feel reasonably comfortable. They also seem to offer good value for money against other headphones of similar specifications. I won’t be taking up wearing headphones whilst running, but these would be excellent for use on the turbo trainer and for general use.