There's no denying that the best way of listening to music is through a set of headphones. Unfortunately, however, headphones also keep us from hearing things like ringing telephones, knocks on the door and (if the movies are to believed) psychotic killers breaking into our homes. That's why California-based electrical/computer engineer Shari Eskenas created the SoundBrake – it's a li'l device that mutes your 'phones when it detects noises in your environment. We recently tried it out.
Here's how the SoundBrake works …
You start by plugging it into the headphone jack of your stereo, computer, smartphone, etc, then plugging your headphones into it. You then switch it on, press its red Auto-Adjust button, and let it "hear" the ambient sound level. As long as that level stays the same, the device will allow the music to reach the headphones. Should a louder noise occur, however, it'll silence the music for a few seconds to let you hear what's going on.
If it's getting triggered too often, you can hit its Hi button to lower its sensitivity. If it's not sensitive enough, on the other hand, you can hit its Lo button to increase it. And yes, it is a bit difficult to remember which does which.
When we gave it a whirl, we discovered a couple of things.
First of all, it's best-suited to users who wish to simply sit in a comfy chair and do nothing but listen to music or watch TV – the less active you are while using it, the better. Doing things like setting down remotes or grabbing crinkly chip bags will set it off. Likewise, we found that it didn't do well when plugged directly into the headphone jack of a laptop that we were using at the time – even relatively light keyboard use triggered it.
If you do wish to use it and a laptop at the same time, try using something other than the computer as the music source. Once we switched the SoundBrake over to an iPod placed on the desk a foot or two from the laptop, it wasn't triggered nearly as often. It did still cut the music when a nearby smartphone rang, and when a couple of canvassers rang the doorbell asking for money – just like it was supposed to.
Running an extension audio cable between the laptop and the remotely-placed SoundBrake is another option, although most people likely won't have such a cable readily at hand.
Using the SoundBrake on an iPhone that we were carrying with us while walking was definitely problematic. Things like the rustling of clothing, the sound of our footsteps, and even the SoundBrake itself moving against the phone all activated it. To be fair, though, that's likely not its main intended use.
Also, as far as we could tell, the presence of the plugged-in SoundBrake had no noticeable effect on the sound quality of the music.
All in all, it is a clever device, albeit a fussy one … setting its sensitivity does take some doing. In the right scenario, however – such as having a phone nearby while not doing a lot of bag-crinkling or keyboard-banging yourself – it could certainly prove useful.
It's powered by a USB-rechargeable lithium-ion battery that should reportedly be good for up to 100 hours on one charge, and it's currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign. If you want one, a pledge of US$29 will be required – the estimated retail price is $54. If all goes according to plan, units should ship next April.
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