Best Hearables – New and Hot Smart Headphones
What-ables Are Hot? Hearables Are Hot!
The wearables market has really exploded over the past few years, and most consumers have heard of wearable technology in one form of another. Your mom has a Fitbit, a few of your co-workers have Apple Watches, and even though there aren’t many Borg-looking people walking around with Google Glass resting on their noses, the concept of a wearable camera is far from dead.
However, a new category of wearables called hearables is emerging. They’re based on two premises. The first is that you can do a lot more with headphones or earbuds than simply listen to audio. The second is that you don’t always need to stick a little speaker directly in your ear to hear your favourite music or podcasts.
It’s a new field, for sure, but as consumers are starting to feel fatigued with what seems like new iterations of the same old products, look for more hearables to become available.
New and Upcoming Hearables
Want to get your hands (or ears, rather) on some of this new technology? Here are a few hearables that are either currently available for purchase or should be out very soon.
1. Bragi Dash
The Dash isn’t the first hearable on the market, but it’s definitely the one causing the most waves. This is largely to its functionality — it’s a music player with four GB of memory, a fitness tracker with a heart rate monitor, and a smartphone extension all in one. However, the Dash is also turning heads because of its ridiculously small size: just two little slugs that slip right in your ears. No wires, no buttons, and it comes with a carrying case that’s also an on-the-go charger.
The only downside to the Dash is that it’s not actually out yet. After being delayed for over a year due to production issues (it was originally supposed to go out to initial backers of its $3 million USD Kickstarter campaign a full year ago), Bragi is ready to send out the first units. Now, we wait. If the Dash is as amazing as it looks and as awesome as Bragi has promised, it could be the defining product in the hearables category.
Essential Reading: Where’s the Bragi Dash? An Update
A less sleek, less hyped hearable that does most of what the Bragi Dash can do, FreeWavz is a pair of lightweight wireless earbuds that hook over the ears to provide a snug fit. Their audio quality is top notch, they’re sweat proof, and there are no wires to get in your way when you’re working out.
More than headphones, though, the FreeWavz is a doctor-invented device that’s a heart rate monitor, a blood oxygen saturation monitor, and a full-on fitness tracker that measures distance travelled, calories burned, time active, and more. Audio cues give you updates on all of your vitals and workout details.
They’re not out yet, but you can pre-order a pair; the company expects that they’ll ship in December of this year.
3. Kuai Multisport Biometric Headphones
This is one upcoming hearable that, like the Bragi Dash, has the potential to cause a major shift in the fitness tracker market and the wireless headphones market. The Kuai Multisport Biometric Headphones are meant to replace a whole gear back full of equipment: it has the great sound of a quality pair of headphones, eight GB of memory to hold about 2000 songs or a enough podcasts to keep you entertained for days, a built-in heart rate monitor, an accelerometer for your fitness tracking functionality, and smartphone sync for making and taking calls.
Perhaps what’s coolest about the Kuai hearable is that it’s got live smart coaching. This means that you’ll receive live audio feedback about your form and performance as you’re exercising, allowing you to make corrections and stay informed regarding your progress. The headphones hook onto the ear for security, and they’re totally waterproof, so you can swim with them. The company expects to ship the first units to their Kickstarter backers in December.
Essential Reading: Search Kuai: Your Multi-Sport Smart Fitness Headphones
4. Jabra Sport Plus Hearable
Jabra is a longtime headset maker, so they understand the importance of crisp audio and a comfortable fit. Their Sport Plus headphones are wireless headphones that won’t irritate your ear, plus they keep tabs on your heart rate as you’re running, cycling, or being active in some way.
They sync with the Jabra proprietary app, which is OK, but more than that, they work with a number of popular fitness apps so you can integrate your heart rate data with your workout data. Unlike the Bragi Dash, the Jabra Sport Plus don’t include any fitness tracking capabilities, but if heart rate data and good quality wireless audio are mainly what you’re after, this is a useful hearable.
Additional Reading: 10 Best Sports Headphones: Klipsch, Jabra, Bragi and More
5. SMS Audio BioSport
Similar to the Jabra Sport Plus but at a slightly lower cost, SMS Audio’s BioSport monitors your heart rate while pumping quality sound right into your auditory canal. They’re earbuds aimed at the fitness set. The big disadvantage that the BioSport have compared to what Jabra’s got is that they work only with RunKeeper.
Additionally, they’re not wireless; BioSport does make a wireless model, but it currently does not contain a heart rate monitor. This is definitely a simple hearable, but if you’re looking for a more entry-level pair of earbuds that does more than amplify your playlists, these are a good place to start.
6. Finis Neptune V2
Designed especially for swimmers, the Finis Neptune V2 is an mp3 player and headphone combination for use in the water. Swimming laps without motivating audio has been the norm, much to the disappointment of water-logged music fans everywhere. Thanks to the aforementioned bone conduction technology, though, the Neptune V2 allows swimmers to hear their favourite tunes as they crawl, butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, or freestyle through the lanes. The device attaches to goggles for security, and the whole unit is completely waterproof.
7. AfterShokz Bluez 2 & Trekz Titanium
All extra Z’s aside, these two headphone-like devices from AfterShokz use this innovative bone conduction technology to yield superior sound. The Bluez2 are currently available, while the Trekz Titanium are wrapping up a hugely successful Indiegogo campaign that’s funded more than nine times over; they should start to ship out in December.
As with other bone conduction headphones, the models from AfterShokz are perfect for outdoor runners, cyclists, and anyone else who wants to listen to their playlists while remaining aware of their auditory surroundings.
8. Avegant Glyph Hearables
This device looks like an ordinary pair of large DJ or gamer headphones. However, when you flip down the headband-slash-visor, this unassuming-looking hearable becomes a one of a kind personal theatre. The Avegant Glyph uses a virtual retinal display for a deep and crisp image and superior optics. The audio output is equally outstanding, with noise cancellation for minimal distractions. And, because it can be used to display content from pretty much any device, the Glyph can be used for watching movies, playing games, and looking at just about anything.
Like a lot of the other devices on this list, the Glyph is not out yet. However, Avegant expects to be shipping them before the year’s end.
Smart Headphones: Beyond Just Audio
If you’re already sticking little earbuds in your ears to listen to digital audio files, you’ve got a lot of potential. Sure, they can provide surprisingly big sound for their small size, but the direct contact with such a sensitive part of your body opens doors for the measuring of all sorts of biometrics. Things like heart rate, blood pressure, and even blood oxidation levels can all be monitored from an ear contact, and the data is, on the whole, more accurate than that obtained through wrist contacts.
Some smart headphones go even further, put out as a more fully featured workout tracker or media consumption device. Some include accelerometers, which is the same instrument most fitness trackers use to measure things like distance travelled, steps taken, and so on. Others look like over-the-ear headphones but can flip down to double as a viewer or personal screen — the ultimate devices for quiet, private media time.
Sound That’s Cheeky
Other hearables allow you to listen to music without actually sitting on or fitting in the ear. It sounds crazy — how are you supposed to hear your music if there’s nothing near your ear? — but it works thanks to bone conduction technology. These devices actually rest on the cheekbones. The sound vibrations go through to the cochlea, the spiral bone inside your ear that’s responsible for hearing. This process allows you to hear surprisingly well, and there are several devices on the market and coming up that use this approach.
Freeing up the ears is practical in a number of different applications. It allows you to be more aware of your surroundings, audio-wise, which improves safety for joggers, cyclists, and anyone else sharing a road with motor vehicles. Additionally, swimmers have always had to take part in their sport without the motivating beat of a good playlist to get them through their laps, but thanks to bone conduction, listening while swimming is now possible. There are other uses for this technology beyond athletics, but that seems to be the initial market that manufacturers are concentrating on.
The Sounds of the Future
If last year was the year of the wearable, it’s quite possible that 2016 will be the year of the hearable. With a number of exciting products about to be unleashed on the patient masses, and with dozens of others sure to follow, the hearable market is one to watch.
Whether it’s smart headphones that do a lot more than amplify your workout music, headsets that work via bone conduction technology, or devices that combine sound with other functionality, it’s certain that the headphone landscape is about to go through a major shift.
What hearables are you most excited about? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.