Bone Conduction 101: How it Works, What it is and Will it Harm?

Music is a large element of everyday life but it has been for almost as long as People have now been on this earth. I often point to a discovery of the 40,000-year-old flute dating back to that ice age as proof for this, but in fact, the proof you’ll need is all around you, each day. We bear in mind ballads and music long after the folks who 1st composed them have died and rotted away (a thought which I find curiously reassuring) and the music industry, love it or hate it, is definitely a big business.

Though, whilst the ice age musicians probably lived during a world of stark violence, frozen, dull wastelands and tough, ‘kill or be killed’ inter-cave politics, they never needed to contend with road works, transport lorries, screaming babies or drunken rabble-rousers on their way to a stag night. Fortunate buggers.

Today’s listener has to accommodate all that and more, which can make listening to your music not just difficult, but also dangerous.

Now, nonetheless, present science has stumbled across a means in which you’ll be able to still listen to the favorite tunes, even when you’re wearing earplugs (no, I’ve not been sniffing discarded paint cans once more). It’s called skeleton conduction tech and no, despite the slightly strange name, it in truth doesn’t hurt…

Based on recent fields of study, contact with any sound over 100 decibels wears away a membrane known as a myelin sheath and leaves your middle ear liable to problems like tinnitus and temporary deafness, which can be the start of much more serious problems. Bone conduction technology is developed to bypass many sensitive portions of your ear and reduce the chance of inner-ear harm.

How? Well, in order to understand that, we need to first understand how our ears actually work. (HERE COMES THE SCIENCE-Y BIT) Basically, noise travels though the space, these sound waves are intercepted by quite a few structures inside the ear and are finally translated and transmitted into our brains (if it helps, imagine it much like the encoding/decoding of digital information, like that which leads the actions of a wireless mouse).

The sound waves first encounter a piece of cartilage (yes, the same stuff that a shark’s skeleton is formed of), which allows to focus the sound, this is called a pinna (but you may call it your outer ear without looking too ridiculous). 

Then, the sound waves pass into your middle ear, it is filled with air and in addition contains both your auditory canal plus your eardrum (my little brother burst his when he was little and virtually burst mine crying about it). The eardrum vibrates, passing the sound through to the ossicles, that are three small bones (that are in fact pretty essential to your sense of balance, I am told). These tiny bones transmit the noise to the cochlea, which is a fluid-filled structure that ‘encodes’ the signals for our noggin to ‘decode’.

Bone conduction tech vibrates the bones of the skull, sending the noise directly to the cochlea and bypassing the rest of their ear completely. The nerve impulses transmitted to the mind are precisely the same, however the sensitive instrument of our ear does not need to deal with the hassle of, to quote Anchorman’s Brick Tamland “LOUD NOISES!”

This method seems to be entirely safe; in fact, the notably deaf composer Beethoven applied a elementary version of this method to be able to create his most famous works. He attached a rod between his piano and his head and, as such, was able to hear the music he was playing.

So there you go, rather then exposing your sensitive ears to louder and louder volumes, just to drown out the background noise, you can alternativily stick your earpugs in and play your music at the proper volume. Make no bones about it (groan!)

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