The Padmate S30 is the first bone conduction headphone I’ve ever used. I’ve known about the technology in passing but experiencing it for myself was nothing short of revelationary. Hearing without using your ears? Incredible but true. The USD $59.00 Padmate S30 looks quite different from any headphones you might have seen before; in fact it looks more like a modern hearing aid.
That’s because no part of this headphone sits in, on or over your ears like a traditional headphone. Instead, you get fancy bone-conducting drivers that rest on your temples. From this optimal position, the S30 uses the magic of science to drive audio right into your inner ear by vibrating your jaw and cheekbones.
The result is the most surreal audio experience I’ve ever had. It’s hard to describe other than saying you are hearing audio inside of your head rather than coming from outside your ears. This means you still hear the world around you at the same time. Now, if you’ve ever used open-back headphones, you’ll kinda understand but this is truly next level. A key difference is, no one else can hear what you’re listening to since there aren’t any soundwaves coming out of the headphones.
Padmate S30 Bone Conduction Open Ear Sport Headphones Review
There are plenty of reasons why you might still want to hear the world around you while you wear headphones. Maybe you want to be aware of traffic as you take a run or you don’t want to miss the last call of the train while you commute. Or maybe, like me, you want to track your kid’s homework progress while listening to a podcast. You get the picture.
In this case, the Padmate S30 is targeted toward people with an active lifestyle and has designed the headphones to cope. It’s built from durable plastics and is IPX5 water and sweat-resistant so you can work out without worrying about your sweat or splash of water damaging them. Aesthetically, they do look the part but my Green sample looks so plain and dull compared to the product shots online. It’s supposed to be a two-tone colourway but the two greens are so similar they might as well be the same colour. There is a Grey/ Orange one that looks much better as well as a Black one.
The bone-conduction drivers are held by a loop that connects to the batteries which are also connected by a piece of flexible plastic tubing. The design ensures a snug and comfortable fit that stays in place as you move about. Additionally, unlike earbuds, you never have to worry about one of the earpieces falling out. Not everyone will find that plastic comfortable, especially around the soft skin behind the ear. My wife couldn’t stand it for more than a few minutes.
There are no controls on the headset save for a power/multifunction button located on the right side. Aside from powering on the headphone, this button also performs basic functions such as play, pause, skip media, ending and answering calls and Bluetooth pairing. A double press activates either Siri or Google Assistant. The button is quite stiff, requiring a good amount of pressure to activate. It also takes a noticeably long press to power on or off the headphones – something like 6-secs which feels like an eternity. And you don’t have a voice prompt either but a series of tones which can be confusing to interpret.
That wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t hidden underneath your ear lobe when you wear the S30. After so many failed attempts to use it while I was active, I decided that it’s just faster to reach for my phone anyway. I’d love to see some form of touch controls on the temple drivers or better placed physical controls towards the back. The LED indicator is also strangely located at the bottom of the battery section where you can’t see it unless you flip the headphones upside down. This is also where you find the hidden USB Type-C charging port under a rubber flap that protects it from the elements. The S30 will charge to full in about an hour and half which isn’t bad.
Talking about charging, the battery life on the Padmate S30 is actually quite good. It will last you close to 8 hours on a charge with the caveat that you’ll need to keep the volume to a maximum of 50%. That isn’t always possible given the open nature of the headphones. With so much ambient sound competing for the bone-conducted audio, you often have to crank the volume up to hear. In those scenarios, the battery will drain much faster for just 4 hours. This is still plenty considering most workouts won’t go beyond 3 hours.
I feel it in my bones
Ok, but how do they sound? That’s kinda hard to say given the way these headphones work. Since we all have variations in our bone density and structure, the bone-conduction won’t sound the same for all of us. To me, the S30 sounds like your regular cheap set of earphones that are usually bundled with your phone. The sound is serviceable but far from rich and textured. I couldn’t perceive any bass whatsoever which left all my music sounding rather soulless.
However, listening to podcasts or watching YouTube videos was fine enough. The other thing to consider is the open nature of the S30 which has to compete with the ambient sound in the room. In most cases, I had to turn the volume all the way up which had the adverse effect of a tingling sensation on my temples as the drivers work harder. I found it really distracting and uncomfortable. Again, your mileage will vary.
In terms of call quality, I used the Padmate S30 for my Zoom calls as well as phone calls. It sounded just fine indoors but when I was outdoors, I struggled to hear and be heard. My wife said I sounded clear but faint with a fair amount of street noise coming through. More importantly, I struggled to hear her over the din of traffic noise and people mowing their lawns.
Another thing to consider when using the Padmate S30 for Zoom calls or watching videos is the atrocious latency or lag between the video and the audio. The S30 uses Bluetooth 5.0 but doesn’t support aptX or any of the faster codecs. This means you hear everyone you are seeing about a second or two after their lips move which is extremely disconcerting. The same goes for watching YouTube or Movies and don’t even bother trying to play CoD Mobile where the latency will kill you.
In general, though, the Bluetooth connection is rock solid up to 10m which means you can keep your device safely tucked away in a gym bag while you complete your workouts. Pairing is simple enough/ Powering on the headphones puts them into pairing mode. There isn’t any multi-point connection here though so you always have to disconnect the headphones from one device before pairing another.
The Padmate S30 is a fascinating piece of audio tech thanks to that bone conduction. It’s still the most surreal listening experience I’ve had and I’m not sure I hate it or love it. I think the audio quality is passable but not pleasurable. I can’t say for sure if it’s just Padmates execution of the tech or my own peculiar bone structure. And so it becomes a challenge to recommend because I just can’t say how they will sound to you specifically. That, however, doesn’t stop them from being perfectly serviceable headphones for sports. I like the open nature and what that allows you to do while still listening to your music. If that sounds like something you need, then have a look at these headphones but there are better sports-oriented earphones out there.