I’ve recently discovered the world of bone conduction headphones. A recent ear infection prevented me from putting anything in my ear, and over my ear was equally as sketchy. Bone conduction headphones let me still enjoy hands-free music and sound, and all while keeping my wits about me with full awareness of the things around me. My first set was perfect for swimming – an activity that I never imagined I’d be able to enjoy while listening to music, but that set was purpose built for that activity – they were kinda hollow and lacked punch for anything in open air. I needed something that would take me through my toughest workouts at the gym, no matter if it was running, hitting the bag, or picking up heavy things and putting ‘em back down repeatedly. Enter the Runner Neo Bone Conduction Headphones from Naenka. After a brief charge to get them ready, it was time to see if they could back up their claims.
Naenka doesn’t put forth a bunch of flashy marketing speech on their box – they list the important specs, they show it being worn, and you immediately know the capabilities of the Runner Neo. In fact, the intended use (albeit not the only one) is in the name. It puts a smile on my face when the marketing is simple because it means that Naenka lets their product do the talking. Let’s get into the specs and then let it do exactly that.
On the back of the box are five specs – Bluetooth 5.2, IP66 Waterproof, Wireless Charging, Dual-mic ENC Noise Reduction, and 10 Hours Battery Life. Let’s dip into each.
Bluetooth 5.2 is the latest Bluetooth standard as of January of 2020, adding three primary advancements over its predecessor – Enhanced ATT, LE power control, and Enhanced Attribute Protocol. Enhanced ATT helps with pairing, and, most importantly, transactions from two or more applications simultaneously. This means you won’t drop your connections switching between apps, and it’s now possible to have more than one device connected to the Bluetooth stack. It also carries with it more advanced encryption, courtesy of EAP or Extensible Authentication Protocol, keeping everything secure. LE power control (or LEPC) pairs with that perfectly, allowing the transmission of power between said two devices to be variable. This is important when the two devices that are connected might be at different distances from the sending device.
There are three primary waterproofing ratings — IP65, IP66, and IP67. IP65 is able to protect against water jets projected by a nozzle from any direction for at least 15 minutes at a rate of 12.5 liters per minute. IP66 is able to handle powerful water jets — 100 liters per minute in fact, and sprayed directly at them for at least three minutes. IP67 is full water protection for up to 30 minutes at 1 meter under the ocean. The Naenka Runner Neo is IP66, which is well beyond sufficient for handling sweat and the incidental water spray. If you happen to take a shortcut through the park and the sprinklers come on, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
Wireless charging is fairly straightforward, carried out via a small cradle where the Runner Neo sits to charge. As the device is sealed against any water ingress, the charge cradle is similarly sealed. Merely place the Runner Neo in the cradle and you’ll see a light pulse on the device, as well as a corresponding charging light on the cradle, meaning it’s taking a charge. Thankfully it’s a rapid induction charger, filling from empty to full in just two hours.
ENC or Environmental Noise Cancellation is able to take the sound during a call, isolate against any background noise, and remove it. It does so by producing an active sine wave of sound opposite that of the sound you want to keep (e.g. voice or music), thus “canceling” it out with this counter wave. Dual-MIC ENC does this same thing, but with two microphones, able to pull additional environmental distortion from multiple directions to isolate and remove. This isn’t just buzzwords either as that isolation results in you having a cleaner voice output without having to crank the volume on your microphone or your headphones to achieve it.
The last bullet is self explanatory and simple to measure – “10 hours of battery life”. As a matter of course, I ran the Runner Neo’s 160 mAh/4.2v Lithium Ion battery dry several times and I’m happy to report that these deliver roughly 10 hours at 60-70% volume, and slightly less with higher volumes, just as advertised.
Unpacking the box, there are a handful of goodies beyond the headphones. I chose gray for my headset, but these are available in green, gray, and red. Naturally there is the aforementioned charging dock – it connects via an integrated USB-A cable. Two ear plugs lie inside of a small plastic shell. I suspect this is for those moments when you want to block out everyone, though I found the “sound quality enhancers” more interesting. There are six ear canal-shaped silicone “plugs” that you can put inside your ears. Provided these sit comfortably in the ear, they offer a seal that instead acts as a sort of ‘sounding board’. Entirely optional, but these are a nice inclusion as they take good to great. The headset weighs in at just 30.3 grams, or 1oz – impossibly light, which is fantastic for long term usage. Naturally there’s also a manual, but the setup couldn’t be simpler.
Turning on the headphones is accomplished by holding in the + volume button for three seconds to boot the device and put it into pairing mode. Instantly, my phone recognized the device, identifying it as “Naenka Runner Neo” – no need to search for some weird product name this time around. Clicking on it had my phone connecting, prompting me to allow access to my address book. The device immediately sounded off with “Welcome to Naenka Bone Conduction Headphones – pairing…”, followed by “Bluetooth is connected”.
The simplicity of the Runner Neo is commendable – there are two buttons on the right side that’ll sit behind your ears – a + and – for controlling volume. On the front of the right lobe of the headphones you’ll find the third button – a function button used for answering calls and using Google Assistant. Tapping this Function button on the right ear piece will answer an incoming call or hang it up. Double tapping it pops up Google Assistant, allowing me to search with the power of my voice. It’s also your pause/resume button for music, podcasts, audiobooks or whatever. Holding in the + button for a second will skip to the next track, and the same hold on the – button will go back to the start of a track, or back up to the previous if already at the start. Holding the + in for five seconds will turn off the device, reporting back with “Power Off”.
The audio on the Naenka Runner Neo is solid, giving a more robust sound than others we’ve tested. Adding the silicone plugs into your ears takes them from good to great, similar to the effect you get when you swim with diving bone conduction headphones. They are still far from any in-ear earbuds, which is fair to say for any bone conduction headphones, but they still carry the primary advantage of not being in your ears, and still allowing you to keep spatial awareness. Running, especially on the street, is an activity where remaining acutely aware of your surroundings is paramount to not ending up a hood ornament. While it’s reasonable to expect drivers to be aware of you, they are called “accidents” for a reason.
As an aside, one of our Editors, Holly Hudspeth, finds earbuds and over-the-ear headphones to be uncomfortable. The pressure on the side of her glasses that transfers to her head, or just sensitive ear canals, or both leave her with little options, but the Naenka Runner Neo works perfectly for her. They allow her to play games, answer calls, and still keep an ear out for her young kid, Gavin, and all without the discomfort she’d otherwise experience with earbuds or cans. A nice added bonus to a headset otherwise designed for sports.
I put these to use during my boxing routine. I’m just now getting back to working out after having the labrum in my hip repaired, but one thing hasn’t changed – the music in my gym is terrible. The Naenka Runner Neo allowed me to play whatever I wanted while still remaining aware of what’s going on around me. I could hear my instructors commands clearly, while successfully ignoring the noise-on-repeat – a win-win for me.
There is one hiccup with the simplicity of this device – the + button button that shuts down the device also skips a track. So, if you are in the middle of your favorite audiobook, you’ll end up skipping to the next chapter before the device announces “Power Off”. As a result I have gotten into the habit of ensuring I was at the end of a chapter before I powered off, lest I need to back up. A firmware update to move the shutdown to the function button would solve this issue completely, but without any way to interface with it, and no official app, that’s not going to happen. A minor inconvenience, but a present one nonetheless.
There’s one last thing to discuss – the price and local storage. Many devices carry 16 to 32 GB of storage locally to ensure you can use the device without a secondary device like a phone. For diving bone conduction headphones this makes sense, as your phone needs to be able to hold whatever audio you want while you swim. Here, at least, there’s little reason to have the local storage, and that allows Naenka to come in a little cheaper than other devices in the same category – $60 to $70 in this case. The MSRP of the Naenka Runner Neo is $109.99, but I’ve got a present for you for reading this far into the review – a 15% off coupon if you use the code “GamingTrend” at checkout, bringing the price down to just over $92. You’re welcome!
You’ve got options in the market for bone conduction headphones. There are headsets that are cheaper, there are more than a few that are double or even triple the price, but I’ve not found one that offered this level of audio quality that were this light, or with this much battery life. While there is the minor hiccup with the track skip issue, the Naenka Runner Neo is an easy recommendation across the board.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
Runner Neo Bone Conduction Headphones
Excellent battery life, comfortable, lightweight, and all with great sound, the Naenka Runner Neo are some of the best bone conduction headphones on the market. Combine that with an excellent sub-$100 price point and these are a must-have for any sports enthusiast.