When it comes to noise-canceling headphones, Bose is the agreed-upon industry standard. That's why the company's new QuietComfort 35 and QuietControl 30 -- which combine active noise cancellation and Bluetooth wireless for the first time -- have been so eagerly awaited by headphone junkies.
But active noise-cancellation technology -- which "cancels out" external ambient noise with mirror opposite sound waves -- isn't perfect. It generally does a good job with constant droning sounds like airline engines, the whoosh of a train or beach surf, but it can't magically blot out random uneven noises such as crying babies and police sirens.
Unless, of course, it's the Here One from Doppler Labs. The new wireless earbuds -- one for each ear -- offer what the company calls "adaptive-filtering smart listening." And when they ship in November for $299 or £250 (equivalent to about AU$408), the Here One headphones aim to deliver a potent combo of next-gen noise-canceling and Bluetooth music streaming that's primed and ready to work with your digital assistant of choice.
Second-generation smart 'buds
The Here One headphones look similar to their predecessors, the Here Active Listening headphones. Doppler Labs calls them "in-ear computers" because they have multiple processors that help identify background noise and create an ambient filter on the fly, using directional microphone arrays in each of the two independent earpieces.
Here One is made to be worn all the time, so that voice assistants -- Siri, Cortana and the like -- could potentially be talking all day long via a phone would be filtered to sound normal in everyday settings, creating what Doppler calls layered audio, or "mixed reality for your ears."
CNET got to try the first version of Here Active Listening earlier this year. That version raised eyebrows because it never included normal earphone functions for music playback: they were just really smart noise filters. Here One adds the set of EQ settings and noise/frequency filters from Here Active, but adds another layer of "adaptive" filters, which Doppler Labs promises will filter out -- or, enhance -- sounds around you: a siren, nearby conversation, or a crying baby.
Of course, Here's lofty goals raises a long list of practical questions. First and foremost is battery life. The independently wireless earbuds last about 3 to 5 hours on a charge, and charge up twice more in the included battery-pack case. That isn't enough for truly always-on and always-in ear-wear. Meanwhile, toggling between "passthrough" and "quiet" modes -- flipping between a conversation with the barista and solo music listening -- seems like it could be a challenge. And -- with respect to anyone who wears a hearing aid -- is it going to be socially acceptable to have your headphones in 24-7?
The sci-fi fan in me could see the Here One as an audio alternative to virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality tech for the eyes, focusing only on being a better set of earbuds. But the two ideas could dovetail, in theory, with the right apps and tech. (And now I include my requisite reference to "Her.")
More realistically, though, if Here One manages to mix music, voice feedback and everyday noise into something better than everyday active noise-canceling headphones, they could be onto something.
We'll know more when we get to try a pair later this year.