Surgically implanted headphones are literally 'in-ear'

Thanks to a body mod that stuck magnetic speakers in his ears, would-be cyborg Rich Lee enjoys an unusually convenient setup for listening to music.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
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Leslie Katz
2 min read
Rich Lee is still experimenting with his new surgically implanted headphones. "So far so good. I have broken several devices over the past week in an attempt to fine-tune it, " he tells CNET. Rich Lee/H+ Magazine

Headphones can be so easy to lose -- but not when you have them implanted in your ears.

That's what Rich Lee decided to do. Inspired by an Instructables tutorial on how to make invisible headphones using magnets and a coil necklace with an attached amplifier, the 34-year-old entrepreneur went a step further and implanted one such headphone in each ear.

The scar on Lee's tragus is barely visible. This picture was taken the day he had his stitches taken out. (Click to enlarge.) Rich Lee/H+ Magazine

The magnets sit on the outside of the tragus, the part of the ear that projects immediately in front of the canal. The magnets function as speakers, and the coil around Lee's neck transmits to them.

The procedure, performed by Gilbert, Ariz., body modification artist Steve Haworth, "went very smoothly and the pain was surprisingly minimal," Lee, a self-described "grinder" (one of a growing number of people who get surgical enhancements to push the limits of human capability), reports on H+ Magazine.

The closer the coils move toward Lee's implant, the louder the sound becomes. Pressing on his tragus and moving the implant closer to the eardrum likewise increases volume. He's considering adding more magnets in other parts of the outer ear to enhance the effects. Bluetooth could eventually make a showing as well.

Still, as the system now stands, it's unlikely anyone would know of Lee's cyborgian status just by looking at him. The implants are undetectable to the naked eye, with only a tiny scar visible on the tragus, and he can easily conceal the coil necklace under his shirt so nobody sees that either.

So how does Lee plan to take advantage of his new subcutaneous system? In addition to listening to music, he has some creative ideas.

"I can see myself using it with the GPS on my smartphone to navigate city streets on foot," writes the St. George, Utah, resident, who also has a magnetic finger implant that allows him to feel electromagnetic fields. "I plan to hook it up to a directional mic of some sort (possibly disguised as a shirt button or something) so I can hear conversations across a room."

(Asked about the legality of such surreptitious listening, Lee says: "I live in the U.S. where apparently it is legal for things like PRISM to exist, so I just kind of figured there is probably a loophole in the law for this sort of thing somewhere.")

But Lee has more practical ideas for his new stitched-in setup. He's losing his sight in his right eye, and plans to hook his new system up to an ultrasonic rangefinder so he can hear hums when objects get closer or further away, thus (hopefully) making his hearing more bat-like.

"Echolocation is something I want to start practicing with now because I might be legally blind soon," he says. "The implant is going to allow for a lot of new senses."