Here Active Listening earbuds: Augmented reality for your ears (hands-on)

Here Active Listening earbuds:...
Here earbuds process incoming audio, based on your chosen settings in a paired app, to deliver a personalized sound experience to your ears
Here earbuds process incoming audio, based on your chosen settings in a paired app, to deliver a personalized sound experience to your ears
View 3 Images
Here earbuds process incoming audio, based on your chosen settings in a paired app, to deliver a personalized sound experience to your ears
Here earbuds process incoming audio, based on your chosen settings in a paired app, to deliver a personalized sound experience to your ears
Here looks pretty subtle in-ear
Here looks pretty subtle in-ear
The buds start shipping this month
The buds start shipping this month
View gallery - 3 images

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.

The buds start shipping this month
The buds start shipping this month

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:

Here looks pretty subtle in-ear
Here looks pretty subtle in-ear

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

View gallery - 3 images
Mr. Hensley Garlington
That sounds interesting and the examples given make them quite appealing.
Mr. Hensley Garlington
Actually, I think the tech could and should be integrated into the usual earbuds that aim to simply play music or make calls. Certainly makes them more useful.
I like the concept, but I'm struggling to come up with a use case that would justify that cost. The 3 use cases mentioned here either already have a better solution or are unproven and/or not really that useful for the cost.
if the eq setting options are open source I see lots of practical effects being used. stuttering problems can be addressed by giving the stuttering person a slight feedback time delay to their own voice, it seems that this could do that very well. as some one with mild to moderate hearing loss the idea of being able to boost voices, or turn down ambient noise excites me, especially at this price.
Island Architect
Garsh, isn't this wonderful!!
We can all now be walking around looking like Mr. Hyde.
They could be a little bigger.
Maybe black.
Paul Anthony
How does your own voice affect this?
If these could be tuned to mask a particular frequency, or generate a complementary and cancelling frequency, perhaps this device could counteract the effects of my tinnitus.
Don Duncan
At 73, I have trouble understanding some words on TV. I notice it is worse with British and other accents. If a speaker (Jonny Miller) delivers his lines in a low staccato I have to replay over and over sometimes, and I still don't get it every time. Sometimes I get it on the fifth time if I'm persistent but this is irritating.
I would pay $250 to stop this. But would Here do that?
Dirk Scott
This is great, sort of hearing aids go mainstream. This will allow us all to age gracefully pretending we are tweaking aural reality out of choice, when we are really banging up the volume so we can tell what everyone is saying. Can it play sounds to neutralise my tinnitus too?