Doppler Labs, the company that wants to stick a Jarvis-like computer in every ear, will go live with its first bionic buds. Anyone can buy the device later this year, and it is some futuristic stuff. We’ve been following Doppler Labs for a few years now. The company made its first inroads to your ears via a set of fashionably-designed earplugs. Since then Doppler has been plugging away at the concept of what it calls “active listening” with the idea that it might be the first company to turn in-ear computers into a thing. In February, we had the opportunity to test out Doppler’s proof-of-concept Here Active Listening System, a set of computerised buds that altered the sound of the world. It was an impressive if imperfect execution of its lofty ideas.
Available for pre-order now in the US and later this spring elsewhere, the new Here One is the company’s first proper consumer product. It will be available to anyone who can shell out $US300 ($408). Like the Here Active Listening System, Here One is a pair of smart wireless earbuds. They process sound from the world around you and either amplify, deaden or modify it, depending on what settings you use. With the concept product you could use the company’s app to block out the unwanted sounds of your commute or modify the sound of live music. Some of the more experimental settings allowed you to do things like apply psychedelic flange to the world, just in case the bad trip scenes from Fear and Loathing are something you’d like to experience without taking drugs.
The company is also beefing up the audio powers for its first widely-available product. The Here One will be a set of truly wireless buds that can stream music and access phone-based assistants like Siri and Google Now. This is something of the white whale for the audio world. Despite a number of Kickstarters and even a few products that are coming to market, nobody has nailed it yet. And again, the combination of sound from your phone and sound from the real world can be customised, so you can wander around aware of what’s going on while also rocking tunes.
Additionally, Doppler Labs is launching some new audio processing powers, based in part on feedback from the early adopters who bought into Here Active Listening.
First, you’ll be able to personalise the sound of the Here One using a brief on-boarding procedure that takes about one minute per ear. You’ll be asked questions and played some sound, and your input will be used to tailor the device’s algorithms to your ears.
Second, Doppler says it has improved its real-world sound filtering so that the buds can better differentiate between the screech of a train and the shrill voice of your whiny best friend. Oh goody.
Doppler isn’t disclosing the specifics of the hardware under the hood, but it will say that it’s using several processors and several microphones to make the magic happen. In particular, the microphones are “directional”, meaning that the system can tell which direction sound is coming from and adjust its listening powers accordingly.
Doppler Labs’ ambition is to create “the last thing you ever put in your ears”, and the company knows it hasn’t gotten quite there yet. For one thing, Here One still needs a phone to work, so it’s not quite Jarvis-in-a-bud yet. What’s more, the hardware is still on the clunky side and limited battery life will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Hell, I’m not even sure Doppler’s ambitions are something I want or that people will accept. Do you want a computer talking into your ear at all times forever? That said, with all the promises Doppler is making about its forthcoming product — I’m ready to listen.