The screaming vagrant on the subway, the construction crew outside your window, your neighbor the aspiring cellist—all painful sounds that a good pair of earplugs can block out. But Doppler Labs has a new product that goes even further: their Bluetooth-enabled "Here Active Listening" earbuds pair with your smartphone via an app, which lets you control a variety of elements, including volume, frequency levels, and effects. That means you get to choose what you listen to in a club—no more complaining about the shitty subs, fam.
After exceeding their Kickstarter goal of $250,000 by $130,000 (with 20 days left at the time this post was written), Doppler's "Here Active Listening" earbuds are set to hit the market in December 2015. Composer Hans Zimmer, Quincy Jones, and Tiësto (who is an official partner and investor) have endorsed it, and clearly, people are curious. But I wanted to see if this product is worth using, or if it's just marketing noise. So I headed to Doppler's office in New York's SoHo neighborhood for an exclusive demo of their latest device.
While you may not know their name, you've probably encountered Doppler's debut product, Dubs. They've sold nearly a quarter million pairs in less than a year, with revenue reportedly in the millions. While Dubs are a sleeker version of the classic foam ear plug you often encounter, Here doesn't intend for you to block out sound. Instead, you can change things like the bass and treble frequencies and volume levels. Other options include flange, reverb, and bass boost, with more in the works.
"We're now in a world where people are incredibly discerning, whether being health or culture conscious," says Doppler Labs founder and CEO, Noah Kraft. "What we learned from Dubs, which actually have 17 parts in them, was how to get so much functionality out of something so small. We want our products to be discreet, but also deliberate."
I asked Kraft how he envisioned electronic music devotees who spend most of their time terrorizing their eardrums at clubs and raves using Here: "We want it to be both for the super audiophile who wants to curate every song, element, and band of EQ, or someone who uses the shortcuts—which is the ability to save settings," he replies. "Say you go to the same club every day or weekend, you can save your perfect EQ levels, and every time you walk in there, you get that [setting]." The product will also offer preset sound setting based on the acoustics of various popular venues like Brooklyn Bowl and and the Blue Notes jazz club. "Instagram your ears," their Kickstarter page suggests.
But how does all of this work? Here earbuds use a complex digital signal processor to take in the audio you don't want to change and put it back out to the world. In a matter of nano-seconds, it alters the audio you do want. Finally, the two audio bands come together ("with nearly zero latency," Kraft adds) and it basically creates anti-noise, which plays back the audio you do want to hear. While all of this technical gymnastics is occurring in the small ear buds, to your own ear it's just live audio, altered the way you want it.
Playing devil's advocate, I raised the question: "What might an artist performing music think about your product, which gives listeners the ability to change their art?" "I've been in so many rooms where it sounds so bad. Right now we have two options: leave or bitch. We're not forcing this on anyone, if you want to be able to curate your live audio environment, we're just giving you the tools to do it—it's not about changing the music of making it better," Kraft replies.
"We're not telling people how to use our product, we're just giving them a tool. It's like Ableton—we all have different perceptions of what the right volume and EQ might be. Lets give ourselves the power to do it," he adds.
After trying out Here for myself, I see more practical use in the product's ability to tune out non-musical aspects of the everyday world. Being able to mute the abrasive screech of a subway or the pummeling jackhammer on the street while holding a conversation with a friend seems like a pretty sweet deal. But I'm not sure if the average club-goer will bother with skewing the glorious sound pouring out of their favorite clubs' monitors—or if we even need that much control. "Here" promises a lot of customized options to enhance your sound environment, but I'm guessing most people are going to stick with the presets.
Here and will be hitting market in December of 2015. Head to their Kickstarter page for more info.
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