Earlier this year we reviewed the Shokz OpenRun headphones, getting our first taste of the bone conduction method of listening to music, and offering some overall positive reviews. So, when Shokz debuted the Shokz OpenFit, its new open-ear headphones, we were excited to see how they would work with our running and outdoor fitness regimens.
Workouts can live or die by the music…which means some days, your headphones might be the difference between success or failure. It doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Taylor Swift’s “Red (Taylor’s Version)”, obviously her best album, or a playlist of all the best WWE entrance songs, you need the music to sound good. That’s why headphone reviews are so important (Editor’s Note: Arune, we really need to expand your music catalog).
Please note that while Shokz provided us with these headphones for review, the company had no involvement in this review, didn’t receive an advance look at it, and has not attempted to influence it.
What is the Shokz OpenFit?
Shokz describes it as:
OpenFit continues the Shokz open-ear concept to let users enjoy all-day comfort and hear their own soundtrack while staying open to the world around them. OpenFit offers an ultra-lightweight, open-ear construction to hear both your own audio and every sound around you with crystal clarity. DirectPitch™ technology produces a full audio experience to immerse yourself in your favorite songs, podcasts, and audiobooks. A flexible ear hook design combines stability and comfort. Moments are precious, and OpenFit gives you the freedom to hear every one of them.
Arune: I think this is the category we care about most and yet what we care about varies so much by person. Do you want incredible audio fidelity? Do you want thumping bass? Are you desperately looking for Linkin Park’s greatest hits to sound more moody than ever before? (Editor’s Note: Didn’t expect to get this inside look at Arune’s Most Played songs alongside this review did you?)
I’m not an audiophile so I won’t pretend to have the vernacular that so many others have. But, to paraphrase an American folk hero, what I do have is a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career of…trying out more workout-centric headphones than any one person or bank account should ever experience.
As much as I liked the sound on the OpenRun, sometimes I’d crank up the volume and feel like the music was flat – like all the various levels just blended together and were yelling at me.
However, the Shokz OpenFit was much better in that regard, delivering much crisper music and much clearer podcast audio during my runs through Los Angeles. I joked last time about WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes’ entrance song “Kingdom” but it’s become my test song for headphones because it’s easy for the audio to get blown out or sound tinny with the wrong headphones (which we won’t name here). The bass is noticeably better than the OpenRun and the guitar chords are wonderfully crunchier.
Did you feel the same, boss? Can you just PLEASE listen to this song too?
Drew: I briefly followed WWE in high school as Stone Cold and The Rock waged battle week after week but once those guys moved onto bigger (better?) things, I just didn’t enjoy the story or action enough to continue watching. So my chances of listening to WWE entrance music is 0%.
But, I did enjoy the audio quality. To me, the Shokz OpenFit feels like putting two little speakers at the entrances to your ear canals. You can still hear real life happening all around you but your personal speakers are, for the most part, playing music loud and clear.
I say for the most part because like traditional Shokz headphones, the sound from the Shokz OpenFit can get lost as the ambient noise ratchets up. Dump truck on the road next to the sidewalk you’re running on? Forget it, you won’t be able to hear anything.
With no noise canceling, the Shokz OpenFit isn’t the best option for daily use by readers in New York City but most suburban dwellers can easily use them throughout their days. The audio call quality matches that of the Apple AirPods Pro and no one on your conference call will even realize you’ve made the switch.
Arune: I also found the quality of calls better too, though I think it’s worth noting that these headphones have a ton of audio leakage and I don’t think calls will be very private if your volume is too high. Ultimately I think of the calling function on these headphones as a nice bonus but not the main consideration for something I’m gonna be using as I’m breathless on my runs.
It’s also worth noting that these are meant for outdoor usage so they’re not my favorite choice for a busy gym environment where you’ll hear everything around you…and not your music. I can see an argument for these indoors if you have a home gym or you’re not on something noisy like a treadmill or frankly just want music to feel like it’s in the background, but I’m guessing most folks will struggle with the audio transparency.
However, running outdoors with these keeps me connected to the environment around me and I appreciate the audio transparency in that context. Noise-canceling headphones make it way too easy to shut out the world and miss the sounds of life that warn of danger – either something coming at you or you coming at something/someone else.
Drew: Arune nailed the use case. Outdoor running where extra sound awareness can prevent catastrophe. That’s probably the number one most important aspect of this review. If that’s your use case, you won’t find many better options. The Shokz OpenFit just isn’t quite as good at the edge cases.
Arune: If you’ve never worn a pair of Shokz headphones, it takes a minute to get used to their placement next to – and not in – your ear. You’ll probably think you need to push them closer to your ear but the truth is that they’re where they’re supposed to be.
I don’t wear a lot of over the ear headphones as I’ve found they’re too tight or sweat pools in ways that ruin the headphones. The Shokz OpenFit feel weightless (only 8.3 grams) and their “Dolphin Ear Hook” somehow feels secure despite the fact it isn’t right. They also seem to stay in place for the most part but I’m no speed demon nor do I do a ton of sprints so Drew can speak more to fit at higher velocities.
However, be warned – if you try to adjust the OpenFit on your ears, the controls are…unpredictable. The controls are simple enough but I found the lightest touch could pause a song just as easily as skip forward while sometimes I felt like I had to punch my ear to get the controls to respond.
It’s gotten to a point where I only control audio from my phone when I wear these because it’s a frustrating experience especially if it’s a podcast where I skip past important parts or somehow skip to the next podcast.
Drew: Arune has revealed my number one problem with the Shokz OpenFit. The uncontrollable controls. On paper, they’re easy enough. The taps or holds are spelled out nicely in Shokz’ user guide. But the problem is the controls are unreliable at best and seldom work correctly. I didn’t even find Play/Pause to be that reliable and it’s only one tap on either earbud!
The controls were atrocious. You must be willing to control music with your phone for the Shokz OpenFit to work correctly.
As for the Fit, it was great. The tacky rubber coating and the almost movement-free ear hook made the Shokz OpenFit one of the more comfortable over-the-ear headphones I’ve ever worn. And they even played nice with sunglasses and beanies, a rarity in the over the ear segment.
Arune: Shokz says these last 28 hours so there’s almost no world where I can imagine draining the battery short of maybe a long travel day with loads of delays.
I’ve run up to ten miles with them (look at how I’ve grown since the last review, Drew!) and the battery has had TONS of life when I’ve come back home, so I’m very happy with how Shokz has delivered here.
Drew: I agree the battery lasts a long time. My usage while running or weightlifting never killed the battery. The only thing that killed the battery was the darn charging case. Or so it seemed. Supposedly, the case holds more charge and quickly transfers that over to the Shokz OpenFit.
In practice, my case just didn’t hold a charge long and could recharge my headphones about once before bleeding all its power away just sitting there. Several times it failed to charge the OpenFit despite alignment and magnet lock. Maybe my case was a dud but I found it way less reliable than the standard Apple AirPods case. The case and charging arrangement were only slightly more reliable than the buttons on the headphones. Both aspects of this device are stinkers.
Arune: One thing that Shokz seems to have mastered is making durable headphones. There’s nothing about these that feels less than premium to me in the fitness audio market and because these don’t go in your ear, there’s no ear gunk jamming up things.
And this is a good place to mention the tank of a case. It is a good design and one that makes sense for the size of these headphones but I cannot put this case in my pockets at all without feeling self-conscious about the bulge.
If that’s not enough, I’ve also stepped on them a few times and they’ve survived my 210lbs, so that seems like a helluva durable accessory.
Drew: Shokz OpenFit is built to last. The rubberized plastic body of my headphones doesn’t show a scratch or look very used after a long test period. This is abnormal when considering the other headphones I’ve tested and should be applauded.
Arune: So, this is probably the toughest category for me. The OpenRun was $130 and that felt like a decent value in a market where the Beats Fit Pro is $200 (though you can catch it on sale regularly).
The Shokz OpenFit comes in at $180 and that doesn’t feel expensive, but it does feel just high enough to make you think if you want those Beats or maybe the Apple AirPod Pro 2s which are great for not only the gyms but for all your Zoom meetings and phone calls.
As you can tell, I adore the OpenFit and I think it’s a great set of headphones for outdoor usage. That means it’s a very specialized device and the cost is just high enough to keep some folks from taking a flier.
Am I overthinking this?
Drew: Nope, you’re right on. Due to the near equivalent price points, I predict most people will buy and attempt to use their AirPods or GooglePods (Editor’s Note: He definitely made that up) for running or working out because they mostly want them for conference calls and listening to music. Only then will some of those same users, after having a subpar experience exercising in the various Pods, consider the Shokz OpenFit as an alternative.
That means they’ll always be second choice. If the price was $99, then I think Shokz could see more people choosing the OpenFit right away as an alternative to traditional earbuds.
Shokz OpenFit Summary
Arune: I absolutely love these headphones and the Shokz OpenFit are my new go-to headphones for outdoor runs. The sound quality and fit are a winner even if the touch controls are a nightmare for me.
If you can afford to have more than one pair of headphones and want something just for your outdoor activities, this is my #1 recommendation.
Drew: Between the twin fiascos of poor touch controls and a non-charging charging case, the Shokz OpenFit hasn’t gotten much run (Editor’s Note: Not his best pun) post-testing period. The sound quality is very good and sometimes it’s nice to run with little speakers versus earwax-sucking buds, but I just can’t rely on them to be ready and controllable when I need them. To me, that’s a fatal flaw, and I’d recommend various other Shokz alternatives before recommending the OpenFit.