This week we're providing a series of Vulture Hacks: expert advice, gear guides, and recommendations to help you maximize your entertainment experience.
Can wireless earbuds make live music sound better, and possibly even give you superhuman hearing?
That’s the claim Doppler Labs is making about its Here Active Listening wireless earbuds, which can remix the sounds of the outside world via a user-controlled app. The earbuds essentially serve as audio bouncers, sucking up sounds and manipulating these waves before letting them pass on to your eardrums. The functionality in part resembles tools you'd find on a home stereo receiver, with volume, an equalizer (for adjusting the levels of different frequencies), and preset listening modes. That provides listening options that range from the curious (there’s a “Psychedelic” sound mode for when you want to get weird) to the practical (a filter that weeds out subway background noise).
Since Doppler Labs touts Here's abiltity to make live music more interesting, I gave the earbuds a field test at the Panorama music festival this summer — and they delivered on that promise. A “Carnegie Hall” filter gave the Arcade Fire’s set a fuller feel, as if we were in a concert hall and not in an open-air field on Randalls Island. It was likewise enjoyable to apply the “8-Track” filter to LCD Soundsystem’s retro-leaning sound.
Still, it was the non-music applications that I found most interesting. Music festivals are very loud places, and it can be hard to hold a conversation over the din. Digging into the Doppler app, I quickly found settings that helped. The key is how the app allows users to adjust the volume of specific frequencies, meaning you can turn down noisy ones and crank up the ones you need. In practice, this allows the earbuds to serve as discreet noise-cancelling headphones when it comes to background noise, while increasing our ability to hear people speak. On the Panorama bus back to Brooklyn, I found that cranking up the middle-frequency ranges (human speech) and turning down ultra-low frequencies (the rumble of the bus) allowed me to clearly hear hushed conversations in a way that I had never before experienced.
It’s also easy to picture the product serving therapeutic purposes for people who suffer from auditory processing disorders, where certain types of sounds can come off as either uncomfortably loud or impossibly quiet. When you factor in that the Here One earbuds, which will be out this holiday season, also enable users to stream music over Bluetooth, it becomes a case of there being at least one feature that most people will find useful.
While it's disconcerting to think about how the earbuds could be used to pick up gossip or company secrets, giving users this level of control over what they hear could have wide-ranging implications for workers looking to battle distracting open offices, travelers trying to dull the sound of jet engines, and even hung-over subway commuters who just aren't in the mood. (Or who want the train to sound like Carnegie Hall, if that's your thing.) Preorder the $299 Here One earbuds here.