Bone conduction headphones are all the rage for running, cycling and gym work, but are you ready to spend hundreds on something you may not like? Cue the Padmate S30, a cut-price pair of bone conduction headphones that are selling for around half the price of rivals such as the Shokz OpenRun, Shokz OpenRun Pro and Mojawa Mojo1.
The reason that bone conduction headphones are so popular is that they have an open ear design. While normal earphones send sound to your eardrums, bone conduction headsets like the Padmate S30 send low frequency sound to your inner ear using your jawbones. They do that using transducers that sit in front of your ears, not inside them. That allows you to hear everything in your environment, such as cars and people, while also enjoying your choice of music, podcasts, or audio books.
The Padmate S30 gives you a sweat-proof design, six-hour battery life on full volume (something you’re going to have to use), and a useful pause button for when you want to stop the music temporarily. It also boasts USB-C to recharge, which is more convenient than the proprietary chargers most rivals insist upon.
However, there are a few things about the Padmate S30 we don’t like, chief of which isn’t a muffled sound to music, but a series of very loud beeps each time you pause the music or skip tracks. It’s seriously irritating.
If you’re after an entry-level bone conduction headset to try out the tech for yourself without risking a lot of cash, then the Padmate S30 is a decent option, but it’s a little rough around the edges.
Price and release date
- Cost $59 (about £45 / AU$80)
- Launched in February 2022
Available in black, dark green, and gray with orange (almost exactly like its pricier rival, the Mojawa Mojo1), the Padmate S30 is sold on Padmate’s own website for $59 (about £45 / AU$80), with worldwide shipping available. In the box you’ll find the headset, along with a short USB-A to USB-C cable and a set of foam earplugs.
That makes these some of the cheapest bone conduction headphones we’ve tested, alongside the Tayago Bone Conduction Headphones. For comparison, our current top pick, the Shokz OpenRun Pro, cost $179.95 (about £130 / AU$250).
- IPX5 (water resistant)
- Recharges via USB-C
- Lacks volume buttons
The Padmate S30 has an impressive (and sweat-proof) build, with a soft silicone covering over the headband, though the transducers that sit in front of your ears are made from hard plastic. It weighs a little more than its rivals at 30g, but nevertheless it is very comfortable to wear. The transducers are rather large and boxy, but don’t feel awkward.
The Padmate S30’s controls aren’t particularly well executed. Normally we’d expect to find volume buttons and an on-off switch behind the ear, but the Padmate S30 only has the latter. Volume has to be controlled via your smartphone, which is a little limiting.
What’s more, the headset’s pause button – so useful when out running or exercising – isn’t on one of the transducers, as is normal, but on the chassis behind the right ear. Usually buttons are positioned underneath, so you can pinch the headband to activate them, but on the Padmate S30 they’re on the side, which makes them more fiddly to press.
What we do like about the Padmate S30 when comparing it to other bone conduction headsets is that it eschews the proprietary charging cables that appear now to be so popular in favor of a much friendlier USB-C slot.
- Up to eight-hour battery life
- Mics for hands-free calls
- Controlling music causes very loud beeps
Pause the Padmate S30 while you’re listening to music or a podcast and you get a very loud beep in your ear. why? We have no idea. It’s a horrible sound. It happens again when you press the same button to initiate playback. It’s seriously off-putting.
Otherwise, the Padmate S30 is fairly light on features yet includes all the average runner needs, from a sweat- and water-resistant build to hands-free calls and long battery life. In fact, the 150mAh lithium-ion battery inside the Padmate S30 lasts eight hours at half volume. That might seem on a par with rivals, but in practice you’re going to use the Padmate S30 at full volumes at all times, which means it lasts only six hours.
That’s enough for serious training sessions though, and, as a bonus, it’s quick and easy to charge (even from a power bank) thanks to its USB-C slot. Recharging the Padmate S30 from empty takes about 90 minutes.
It is, however, not easy to control music playback. The headset has only one button – its on/off switch – it requires three presses to move on to the next track, and four to return to the start of the track. Going back to the previous track takes another four.
Sadly, just like pausing the music, any kind of attempt to control the music comes with a long, loud and thoroughly unpleasant beep. The same goes for waking Siri or Google Assistant, which requires a double-press.
- Average sound quality that lacks detail
- Good bass levels
- No vibrations from low frequency music
The Padmate S30 has an all-round average sound quality that’s fine for podcasts, radio and audiobooks, but less so for music.
Bass is no problem, with the Padmate S30 coping really well with low frequency sound, and neither did we notice any tickly vibrations when the volume was up high. However, when listening to music it seemed slightly muffled and treble highs were clipped. This isn’t unexpected on any pair of bone conduction headphones, which are far more about convenience and usability than they are about purest sound quality.
They all tend to be short on detail when compared to hi-fi-quality headphones, but the Padmate S30 are nonetheless noticeably a step-down from rivals in terms of sound quality. However, if you intend to mainly listen to podcasts, radio and audiobooks while running then the Padmate S30 will suit you well.