Even though portable music systems such as the walkman have been around for almost 30 years, with the rise of smartphones, mobile listening has become much more popular. A new breed of wearables aims to further innovate the way we experience sound on the go, bringing about new opportunities for audiophiles, athletes, gamers and many others. Check out our overview with some of the most innovative wearable audio solutions already available or due to be released soon.
Muzik is a young startup in the field of headphones and earbuds, which set out to innovate the way we listen to music by making the experience more social. Muzik’s headphones have a set of buttons that allow sharing the song currently playing on Facebook or Twitter or adding it to a certain playlist for future listening. The headphones also allow directly sharing favorite songs with other Muzik users, adding a social layer on top of the audio product. The over-ear headphones from Muzik come in a cool design, work with Bluetooth and thus are able to connect wirelessly with your smartphone or computer. The release date is planned for spring 2014. The price has not been announced yet.
The Dash is a Bluetooth, in-ear headphone that not only works for listening to music and as a hands-free device, but can also replace some of your fitness tracking gadgets. The earbuds are equipped with optical sensors that can measure heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, along with an accelerometer that helps you keep track of the number of steps, the distance and the pace of your run. If you don’t want to carry along your bulky smartphone when running, the Dash works great as a standalone solution. Four gigabytes of integrated memory let you listen to music straight from the headphones without any external music source and the information about your pace, heart rate or other sports statistics is delivered right into your ear with voice feedback. In combination with a smartphone, the Dash can provide you with fresh tunes and also doubles as a hands-free speakerphone that uses an integrated bone conduction microphone to record your voice. The Dash just finished its Kicktstarter campaign with a huge success. If you missed it, you can still order it online. Delivery is planned for early 2015.
Even though boosting headphones’ bass levels has become a major trend among some of the most successful headphone companies, they still don’t deliver the full experience of a nightclub or a quality hi-fi system. If you actually want to feel the bass, then the Subpac is what you need. Inside a backpack-like construction, Subpac has a set of transducers that make your body feel deep frequencies in the range between 5-130 Hz. While I haven’t had the chance yet to test this wearable tactile bass system, I am a long-time transducers enthusiast with several units installed in my couch and bed and therefore have high hopes in what Subpac can deliver. The company’s website is full of testimonials from musicians stating that „this thing is dope“ (Lotus Fire) or „has forever changed the way I listen to music“ (Dubfire). In order to get the tactile sensation you will have to carry a small pack with an integrated amplifier and battery attached to your belt, which drives the transducer system on your back. The Subpac’s battery lasts for up to eight hours and the price of the whole system is currently at $349.
Bose QC 20i
One of my favorite audio wearables are the Bose QC 20i noise canceling earbuds. Perfect for travelers, they filter out any buzzing sounds from your environment, such as you would typically hear in plains or trains. With integrated microphones in both earbuds, the QC 20i analyzes the noise in your surroundings and then produces an anti-signal, thus eliminating surrounding noise to a large degree. This noise canceling also works great in other surroundings with regular noise levels such as on the street or in the gym. There, the QC 20i can significantly reduce the amount of noise coming from, say, cardio machines or background music, making it more fun to exercise while listening to your own audio book or music. The good thing with the noise canceling system is that you no longer have to excessively raise your volume just to outplay the surrounding noise, which makes the Bose earbuds solution a great deal to preserve healthy hearing, wherever you go.
Intelligent Headset aims to make your headphones your next smart interface. Designed for much more than just listening to music, these headphones are equipped with a bunch of sensors for contextual awareness and heavily rely on 3D audio for a more immersive feedback when gaming or interacting with the real world. Equipped with a GPS, a compass, a gyrometer and an accelerometer, the headphones collect information about your location, your movements and even your line of vision. Intelligent Headset wants to make its hardware a platform that developers can take advantage of. One of the applications the startup envisions is an audio guide that uses voice commands to lead you through your surroundings. The Intelligent Headset is available for pre-order for $420. Delivery is planned for July 2014.
Woojer is for those who love to feel the bass, but don’t want to carry a backpack-style transducer like the Subpac. Based on the same principle as its bigger brother just much smaller, Woojer can be clipped on to your clothes and can thus provide a tactile experience for your music and games. After a successful crowdfunding round on Kickstarter, Woojer isn’t yet on the market. Backers can expect their mobile transducer to be delivered this summer, while the rest might have to wait a little longer until they can feel their music with Woojer. The Woojer was available on Kickstarter for $59, the price and the shipping date for the regular market have not yet been announced yet. In any case, Woojer sounds like a cool device to get started with wearable transducers and we will be keeping an eye on them, hoping for a chance to try them out soon.
The Glyph is the headphones with superpowers. It not only lets you listen to music with its over-ear speakers, it also has two projectors integrated into its headband, ready to be placed in front of your eyes to provide you with a virtual reality experience. Each of the two optical systems consists of about one million micromirrors used to project images straight onto your retina. These make the technology small enough to be placed into what looks like the headband of a normal headphone, when not flipped down in front of your face. Offering the possibility to listen to music and also to watch information on a virtual retina display makes the Glyph on of the most versatile wearable audio product and an amazing technology to keep an eye on. Glyph ran a very successful kickstarted campaign and estimates to deliver to its backers by the end of the year.
For the future, we expect many more wearables for the ears to come to the market. Improved Bluetooth protocols for sound transmission will drive new audio products, and the ear is also a great spot for measuring health metrics. For more information, have a look at our article about hearables by Nick Hunn.