“Everything else is just a headphone,” says the super-slick publicity material for this remarkable new device from San Francisco startup Doppler Labs. It’s a rare treat when a company comes up with something as wholly startlingly new as this. It’s rarer still that, even in its very first iteration, it is also genuinely life-enhancing.
Full disclosure: I didn’t actually open my sample for a couple of weeks. A chap I know had mentioned over lunch in Manhattan “a cool new product you’d love” (and in which he’d invested). A cycle messenger later pedalled it to Brooklyn; I saw “Here Active Listening System” on the box, thought, “Ah, right, headphones,” and forgot about it. Only back in London did I finally open the box – and realise how true that slogan is.
Here One is a set of ear buds of the independently powered, truly wireless kind that everyone has been waiting for. Used as traditional headphones, you can stream music to them, take phone calls, and access Siri and Google Now.
But they do more to justify being called a “listening system”. They are two-way headphone set with a microphone in each earpiece that, in combination with a phone app, can be used to reduce extraneous noise, amplify speech and adjust the sound at a concert or in a cinema to suit you. Doppler, ever brilliant at explaining its new concept, describes this as “layered listening”, which is absolutely right. Here One can be tuned to filter sounds, making it possible to listen to music on your bike and still hear essential traffic sounds, or listen to sports commentary at a game without feeling isolated from the noise of the crowd.
“Remix your world” is another of Doppler’s annoyingly apt mantras, and that’s just what I have been doing – on trains and planes, in restaurants and coffee shops. These headphones just work – muting crying babies, squealing wheels, whatever you like. They look a bit on the big side, but augmented audio reality – which is what this is – is worth it. Fun, satisfying and useful.