Here Active Listening earbuds: Augmented reality for your ears (hands-on)
If you perused our Best of CES picks this year, you may have noticed our Top Wearable was Doppler Labs' Here Active Listening earbuds. Why were we so excited about the "hearable?" Read on for our ears-on impressions from CES.
Update: You can now read Gizmag's (initial) review of Here Active Listening earbuds.
Our coverage of Here's Kickstarter campaign in mid-2015 pretty much covers the bases of what Here is all about. But crowdfunding is a lot like a political election: after a while, you take all the campaign promises with a few truckloads of salt and wait, perhaps a bit cynically, to see if they really deliver the goods.
Having now used Here first-hand, the effect on our perception of our environment was so profound, we're convinced this is a bigger deal after using it than we were after watching the original campaign. That's not something you can say everyday.
The best way to describe Here is to check out this audio simulation the company mocked up (EQ changes start at the 20 second mark). There are fun effects like Reverb, which can make a small room sound like an enormous concert hall, and Flange, which could spice up a boring lecture by giving it a psychedelic quality that sounds like an acid-tripping scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. You also have simpler controls, like boosting or reducing treble or bass, and manual EQ controls, like you'd use for music on a smartphone.
On a technical level, each Here earbud receives audio through an outwards-facing microphone, tweaks that audio with an onboard processor inside each bud (based on the settings you've chosen in the paired smartphone app) and combines the real and processed sound to deliver your own personalized audio experience.
Doppler Labs says the latency comes in at under 30 microseconds, and in our listen at CES, we didn't notice any lag – my brain perceived it all as real-time audio.
None of this would matter if Here looked like you had a pair of miniature PCs strapped to your ears, but fortunately they're fairly subtle:
We may not know the full set of use cases for Here until we use it for an extended period, but some of the more obvious possibilities include drowning out a crying baby or loud engine on a flight, adjusting the EQ in real-time at a live concert to bring out the vocals or pound some extra bass, or fine-tuning a conversation to compensate for people who are unusually loud or quiet (if only they had these things in the 90s).
When you think of augmented reality, you probably picture something like Google Glass or Hololens, relying on displays to enhance or alter your visual perception of the world. But audio makes up an often-underestimated piece of your perceptual puzzle – Here is AR too; it just relies on a different sense.
Doppler Labs says Here is on track to start shipping this month, but there's currently a waitlist with more than 25,000 people on it to buy the pair of buds for US$249. Doppler is also partnering with the Coachella Festival, so attendees will get the chance to skip the virtual line and buy Here in advance to use at the Indio, CA event this April.
Product page: Doppler Labs