Smart Earphones. That's what Doppler Labs calls its new Here One ($424.86 at eGlobaL Digital Cameras) totally wireless headphones. The question is: Are they really smart or just too smart for their own good?
The earphones will be available online in March for $300. (That translates to about £242 or AU$391, but the Here One website only shows shipping addresses for the US, Canada, UK and most of Europe.)
They're not the first totally wireless (separate left and right buds) earphones to lay claim to the "smart" mantle. Bragi's The Dash, which got off to a somewhat rocky start, has been on the market for several months and shares some of the same features as the Here One: Touch controls, a noise-isolating in-ear design, multiple microphones, a pass-through mode that lets you hear the outside world, so-so battery life, and a companion app that lets you control the headphones "smart" features. Oh, and like the Bragi, the Here One comes with a charging case that has a built-in battery that delivers over three full charges.
Out of the gate, the Here One is the more polished product and a step ahead of the Bragi in terms of sound quality, delivering a reliable wireless connection with only the occasional Bluetooth hiccup. Using one of the included different-sized ear tips, you should be able to get a fairly comfortable, secure fit that will keep these guys in your ears even during a gym workout (yes, they're sweat-resistant and some accessory fins are coming for runners, but they aren't available at launch).
So long as you get a tight seal, the Here One clearly sounds fuller than Apple's (the other big truly wireless headphone on the market). The Here One delivers meatier bass and decent clarity for a Bluetooth headphone (a good wired in-ear headphone that will cost less than half the price will easily best it, however). The AirPods ($249.00 at Amazon Marketplace) are significantly more comfortable to wear but they have an open design and let in a lot of ambient noise. But they cost just over half as much as the Here One, too.
Here One's special sauce: Noise filters
Aside from the good sound quality the Here One's differentiating factor is its noise filters. The earphones are equipped with six microphones and you can choose to tune out the outside world with a noise-canceling filter or tune it in with a pass-through filter.
If you're saying, "What's the big deal with noise-canceling headphones? Aren't Bose and other companies already doing that?" The answer is yes. But the Bose QuietControl 30 noise-canceling in-ear headphones cost the same as the Here One, but come in a bulkier neckband design. And while the noise-canceling feature is very well implemented on the Here One as well, it's the customizable filters where the headphone sets itself apart.
Some of the preset filters work well. For instance, walking around New York City using the city filter really cuts down on the noise, making this a much better totally wireless headphone to use in noisier environments than the AirPods. But picking which filter to use can be a challenge. Differences are subtle, and the Here One doesn't automatically make suggestions based on the environment or switch modes.