In the early 2000s, a new type of headphones began to appear—headphones that played music via the user’s bones. At the time though, the systems were expensive, and the quality was low. Complaints commonly swirled about muffled and distorted sound, the difficulty coming from transmitting vibrations through bone with enough power to amplify the nuances of songs.
Today that problem has been solved. According to the CEO of one conduction system pioneer, Bruce Borenstein of Aftershokz, “You need to be on the 20 – 20,000 Hz frequency range. We have been able to power dual transducers with enough vibration to make the sound musical, which has been our big breakthrough.”
By leaving the user’s ears free, bone conduction systems offer the key safety advantages over traditional earphonesthey of playing music without compromising awareness of environment. Bone conduction is also better for your ears; the Audiology Foundation of America has been quoted as supporting the concept, stating that it causes less damage to the ears than ear buds.
It’s entirely possible that the future of headphones is no headphones at all. So here’s a look at the technology that may just take its place…
Coros – Smart Cycling Helmet
Positioned at the intersect of active sports and mobile lifestyles, Coros, a new sports tech startup out of Redmond, WA, recently announced its first product, the Coros™ LINX Smart Cycling Helmet. The product, officially launching on Kickstarter September 7th, 2016, delivers sound to the rider by means of bone conduction technology.
While aesthetically attractive and technically snappy, this product is meant to go well beyond a “cool” factor and right into the heart of safety and practicality. “LINX solves so many issues for all of us as dedicated cyclists,” said Chuck Frizelle, President and Co-Founder of Coros, and a former executive with Microsoft, Xbox, Plantronics, and Jawbone. “Think about it–precision audio in your ears while you ride–without any ear buds–so you can be safe and enjoy your music, take calls, get navigation prompts…I mean that’s totally awesome.”
As with other bone conduction devices, the new helmet utilizes small transducers that vibrate against your cheekbone or jawbone and allow sound to reach your audio cavity without passing through an eardrum. You can listen to music and podcasts, follow directions (The Coros™ Smartphone App, available for Apple iOS or Android, works with your phone’s GPS), make phone calls and even communicate with other bikers, all without losing audio awareness of your immediate surroundings.
Through the app, cyclists will also be able to save rides and routes and share favorites with friends. As you would expect, the app will integrate with existing popular cycling apps.
Included with the Coros™ LINX system is the handlebar mounted Coros™ Smart Remote. Control volume, skip tracks, pause music, take calls and more without stopping to fumble with your phone. Said to be easy to install on any handlebar, it is designed to be the silent partner to the Coros™ LINX Ultimate Audio Platform, giving you an easy, safe way to control how you amp up your ride.
Pricing will be $200.00 with up to 50% off on Kickstarter while supplies last. You can keep updated on the product and the soon-to-launch Kickstarter campaign here.
Zungle Panther — Sunglasses
In an Indiegogo campaign that just wrapped up on July 29th, 2016, Zungle Panther sunglasses raised over $2.1 million. While blocking out the UV rays to protect your eyes from the sun, these sunglasses/headphone replacements are outfitted with built-in bone conduction speaker technology for your listening pleasure. There is also a noise cancelling microphone so you can take calls as seamlessly as you would with standard earbud chords or a Bluetooth earpiece (the audio stream is suspended on incoming calls, then resumes upon completion).
The sunglasses connect to your device via Bluetooth, and music playback is controlled with the jog dial on the right ear. The glasses have a 4-hour battery life and can be recharged with the concealed USB charging port.
Estimated shipping for supporters on Indiegogo is February 2017, so you could be hitting the slopes with them next ski season if you happen to be in the Northern hemisphere–or the beach if your home constellation happens to be the Southern Cross. No prescription lenses yet, but for a fee, many companies like Pearle Vision will replace standard lenses with Rx lenses for you.
Cynaps — Headset In A Jogging Hat
Just put on the cap and touch a button to take a call or hear music from your phone or PC; the sound is conducted directly from the cap into your inner ear through vibration.
Cynaps, like other bone conduction devices, doesn’t put pressure on your ears. However, the biggest selling point for joggers and other athletes is eliminating the risk of the “speakers” being dislodged. Anyone who has gone for a run or visited the gym with a set of ear buds in knows that the constant movement requires constant adjustment.
Cynaps claims that even with protective earplugs in, the sound through the hat is crystal clear. Tech specs include a 700mAh battery, talk time of 6-10 hours, standby time of 30+ days and charging time of 2-3 hours. After having raised just over $130,000 in Indiegogo cash, the cap is available for $59 with the 2016 version having “new and improved transducers” already installed.
« A » Speaker — The Speaker Only YOU Can Hear
From Akoustic Arts in Paris, France, comes a speaker that only you can hear. Said to be “like listening to headphones, without the headphones,” the << A >> speaker is taking your head entirely out of the location equation.
The speaker has a distinctive honeycomb-style grill set in a frame and works in an entirely different way from conventional loudspeakers. « A » does not produce ordinary sound waves with a single, moving electromagnetic coil and cone. Instead, it generates ultrasonic waves (high-frequency sound waves) that are converted into audible sound waves.
Stuff listed the « A » speaker as one of, “Our five favorite gadgets from CES,” saying, “The « A » speaker is one of those fabulous creations that your brain tells you is completely impossible, even while you’re listening to it.” According to the review, “When the speaker isn’t aimed directly at you, you don’t hear it at all.”
« A » is available in two versions: Original (20x20cm / 8″ sq.) and Junior (9x9cm / 3.5″ sq.) both of which can be fixed to a stand or wall-mount. « A » gets plugged through its core. There are two line-input/outputs so you can plug in your smartphone to the first one and link up another « A » through the second. Like any other external speaker, you can connect « A » to any of your audio devices through a 3.5mm mini-jack—smartphones, tablets, computers, stereos, TVs or mp3 players.
On Indiegogo, the speaker raised over $220K, which was over 650% of their goal. The Original « A » speakers in white or black are priced at $890, with the Junior version at $500–all with expected availability in September of this year. The speakers come with a stand, a charging cable and a 3.5mm mini-jack. 3-D sound from 2 speakers will set you back $1,850.
BatBand – Headband Headphones
From Studio Banana Things–the company that brought the world the original ostrich pillow–now comes the Batband™. Described as “an elegant piece of sound technology allowing you to listen to your private soundscape as well as the world that surrounds you,” BatBand works by sending sound into your skull in three places: two above your ears and one at the back of your head. Low-profile touch controls are built into the band with sensors on the left controlling power and phone calls, and a slider on the right for volume and changing music tracks.
The BatBand is like an Alice band on steroids, slipped backwards on your head. Its rather substantial form could make certain headgear – hats, caps – or even hairstyles difficult to wear with the device. Their Kickstarter campaign was wildly successful with 4,516 backers pledging more then $820,000 to bring the project to life. BatBand costs $199 and is currently available at a special price (25% off RRP) for a limited time, shipping excluded.
Gail is a Chicago-based food scientist who writes for leading US and European food and technology publications. A devotee of all things shiny, electronic and buzzing, with a passion for building on-line communities and conservation, she is an entrepreneur and founder of a sustainability and social media startup who moonlights on weekends as DJ Moongirl on Moonalice Radio. Clients range from rock bands and media companies to high-tech startups.