We're seeing a lot more sound-enhancing earbuds hit the market these days, with big audio players like Jabra and Sony entering the OTC (over the counter) hearing-aid space. And while Sennheiser's new Conversation Clear Plus are a "hearing enhancement device" not OTC hearing aids, they are designed to help folks hear better -- and clearly understand conversations -- in noisy environments, "such as in a busy restaurant or on a loud street." They're available for pre-order now and are due to ship on January 20 for $850.
The buds have both active noise cancellation to block out noise around you, and Ambient Awareness mode to allow sound in when you want. Sennheiser says that, thanks to Sonova chip technology (Sennheiser's consumer division is now owned by Sonova) and Sennheiser's Automatic Scene Detection feature, "which analyzes the noise level of a user's environment and matches the speech enhancement level to their surroundings," you can filter out background noise and also hear the people you're conversing with more clearly. The same technology is also used to enhance voice calls.
Sennheiser didn't mention in its press release whether these earbuds can wirelessly stream music and other audio like a standard set of true-wireless earbuds. But we've confirmed they do. A spokesperson said they work well for music listening, though that isn't their "primary application," and Sennheiser's Momentum True Wireless 3 earbuds would offer the best music listening experience. He explained that an accompanying app has an audio streaming option that also allows you to move a slider to adjust between ambient sound and streaming audio volume levels to get the "perfect balance" between the two.
According to Sennheiser, the Conversation Clear Plus buds are rated for nine hours of battery life on a single charge, and their charging case offers an additional 27 hours of juice. We look forward to getting our hands on a pair to test out in the coming weeks.
Update, Jan. 6, 12 p.m. PT: This story has been updated to reflect additional information about using the earbuds for music streaming.