Can These Ear Buds Give You Superhuman Hearing?

here active listening review doppler labs superman earbud
Newsweek tests out the Here Active Listening ear buds, described as "digital ears" by their creators for their ability to let wearers curate the way they hear the world around them. Sho Murakoshi/Newsweek

The problem with your ears, Noah Kraft claims, is you can't turn them off. "You're born, your ears turn on, they're on 24 hours a day, and they don't turn off until you die," says Kraft, the founder of audio startup Doppler Labs. "It's not like we have ear lids—there's nothing you can do to stop that."

The solution that Kraft and his team came up with is "digital ears" in the form of the Here Active Listening ear buds. When they were first announced last year, they were described variously as Oculus Rift for your ears, one of the best inventions of 2015, and even Superman-style hearing aids. Doppler Labs claimed the device could filter out unwanted noise from the world around, such as the sound of a subway train or a crying baby, while still allowing wearers to hold conversations or listen to music. Essentially curating what they can hear.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $600,000, Doppler Labs finally began shipping the device last month, with one of the first pairs landing on our desk at the start of March. So, do they live up to the hype?

Here Active listening review
The Here Active Listening buds connect to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. Newsweek

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The first test was tuning out the sound of a busy office. After connecting the ear buds to a smartphone via Bluetooth, an accompanying app presented a volume dial. Turning it down to the lowest option of -22dB, the office fell almost completely silent. No more drone from the air-conditioning system, no more ringing phones, no more clitter clatter of keyboards. Only the odd high-pitched laugh made it through.

A second option on the app allows different frequencies to be adjusted through a five-point EQ graph. This is to tune out individual high- or low-pitch frequencies, while still allowing the wearer to hear the concert they are listening to or the conversation they are having.

A third and final option allows you to select the environment you are in, such as an airplane, crowd or subway, in order to tune out the world around, while a human speech filter allows voices to be amplified above other sounds.

here active listening review doppler labs
The Here Active Listening ear buds allow wearers to filter out sounds around them, like vacuum cleaners, subways and crying babies. Newsweek

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"The idea is about giving you personalized control over how you hear the world," Kraft tells Newsweek. "Everyone in the world hears the world differently and there's a subjectivity to that and an objectivity to that. We all have preferences. Just like any of our other senses, we have tastes. You might like spicy food and I don't, but the good thing is with other senses we have ways to curate that.

"We want this to be a part of your life, not just a piece of tech you throw on your face."

Can These Ear Buds Give You Superhuman Hearing? | Tech & Science