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A safe soundtrack?

I have a confession to make.

I run and cycle with my earphones in and the music turned up as loud as possible - it helps when I need that extra burst, and gives me something to focus on during longer trips.

So I was alarmed when I read that accidents where walkers, runners and cyclists have been hurt when distracted are up almost 300% in three years, with an average of 17 accidents a day caused by so-called music player oblivion. The practice is considered so dangerous in some American states that earphones are banned for runners and cyclists.

Now Aftershokz has developed earphones it claims allow users to listen to music without blocking out the outside world. The earphones use military technology originally employed in the US that allows Marines and special ops teams to communicate without compromising external sound awareness. Sound is conducted to your inner ear via small vibrations on the ear bone instead of sound waves.

To see if the reality lives up to the hype I tested the Sportz M2 model, which come in a sleek black case and are fairly discreet, with a clip-on control box that features a switch to phone button for changing from music to answering a call. They fit perfectly, sliding under my helmet effortlessly, though the position is initially disconcerting. At first there's a slight feeling of pressure then a small twitching sensation as the music is fed on to my ear bone.

Besides the comfort advantage over regular earphones, the main thing you notice is that external sounds are clear. Cars I might not previously have noticed are less of a threat as I can hear them coming, increasing my confidence on busy roads, which I generally avoid. But this doesn't stop me getting a fright when the siren of an approaching fire engine blends seamlessly with the track I'm listening to, causing me to falter when the vehicle birls past. This blip aside, I'd say the earphones increase your awareness of the outside world tenfold.

Even when I stop and ask someone for directions, I speak unhesitantly with the music still playing, a little like talking to someone in a busy pub. All told, my ride is pleasant and safe, the earphones allowing me to focus equally on the journey, the soundtrack and whatever is happening around me.

The Sportz M2 have a few nifty little features such as a reflective safety strip on the back of the sleek black wraparound headband, volume control on the small clip-on box and up to 12 hours playback on one charge.

My only quibble would be the slightly reduction in sound quality, though this is far outweighed by feeling fully engaged with the outside world.

The Sportz M2 costs £70m; the Bluetooth version costs £100. Visit greavessports.com.

Sean Murphy

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