When you think of wearables, you probably picture something like an Apple Watch, Samsung Gear or maybe even a VR headset like the Oculus Rift. But in the last year or two we've seen several hearing wearables pop up, using the same Bluetooth-connected principles to augment, enhance or block out your ears' experience of the world. Let's look at today's best hearing wearables.
Here Active Listening earbuds
The most advanced hearing wearable by a long shot, Here Active Listening gives you a virtual mixing board for real-world audio. Pop the wireless earbuds in your ears, and you can do things like cancel out that airplane engine or loud neighbor, tweak the EQ at a live show or raise human voices above other background noises.
The only major drawback right now is that Here isn't yet widely available. Apart from second-hand places like eBay, the only way to get a pair (for US$250) is to sign up at Doppler Labs' waiting list and hope for an invite sometime soon.
Soundhawk Smart Hearing Amplifier
While Here is an augmented reality product, Soundhawk does something much simpler: it serves as a relatively low-cost ($350), smartphone-connected hearing aid alternative. The company is very careful not to describe it that way, likely due to the wide-reaching wrath of FDA regulations, but I don't hear quite as well as I used to and I often use a Soundhawk to help amplify voices or TVs. It works great.
While the "Scoop" earpiece (above) is the main attraction, the Soundhawk system also includes a portable wireless mic, which optionally connects to the Scoop to help your ears zoom in on things like voices from a distance or TVs that nobody else wants to hear. Just plop the mic down or clip it onto a friend's shirt to get an amplified version of their audio from a distance.
Hush smart earplugs
Hush earplugs are wireless, but also designed to be comfortable enough to sleep on. The plugs play white noise or other soothing sounds (there are several options to choose from) to help you tune out distractions and get a better night's sleep. We tried them out at CES 2016, and they seemed to work as advertised, largely blocking out even a noisy conference hall.
The Hush plugs are up for pre-order now for $150 for a pair.
QuietOn Active Noise Cancelling earplugs
Along very similar lines as Hush, QuietOn (currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo) skips the white noise and tries to cancel out external sounds. We haven't yet used this one, though, and we know the quality of active noise cancelling tech varies widely in headphones. Time will tell how well this one sizes up.
The first backers are supposedly going to receive their QuietOn earplugs in April. Current backers are scheduled to receive theirs in June ($130 is the current minimum pledge to snag a pair, while the campaign lasts).
Dubs Acoustic Filters
Dubs are the predecessor to Here Active Listening system, from the same company, Doppler Labs. Dubs have the more streamlined job of simply serving as a volume knob for real-world audio. Here does that as well, so you'll only want to opt for Dubs if volume control is the only thing you need and you aren't the least bit interested in Here's EQ effects, filters and targeted noise cancellation.
With their simpler focus, Dubs have the advantages of being much cheaper ($25 a pair) and available now.
For more on today's wearables, you can hit up Gizmag's roundup of the top wearables from 2015.