Doppler Labs’ bionic hearing earbuds let you tweak live sound with a smartphone app

At first, the idea of a hearing aid for people who can already hear just fine seems ridiculous — but if you entertain it for a second, it starts to make a bit more sense. Imagine what it would be like if, with the help of technology, you could make your already good hearing better. What if you could filter out certain noises and amplify other ones to customize what you can hear? Well, if NY-based startup Doppler Labs has its way, you might soon be able to.

Doppler’s product, which it showed off this year at CES, is called Here. It’s essentially a set of earbuds that gives you the ability to selectively filter and amplify sounds from the world around you in real time, thereby allowing you to fine-tune your hearing for certain environments. If properly adjusted, this little gizmo (which its creators refer to as the world’s first “hearable tech” device) could help you do things like hear your dining partner better in a crowded restaurant, understand your friends at loud concerts without them screaming in your ear, or even eavesdrop on people from the other side of a room.

We had our doubts about the technology’s effectiveness, but when we got a chance to actually try them out, we were absolutely blown away. Once we had them in our ears, Doppler’s demo guy immediately fired up the “crowd filter” on the accompanying app, and our jaws dropped as the din of a thousand background voices suddenly disappeared. Here we were, smack in the middle of Pepcom, surrounded by a zillion noisy journalists — but all we could hear was the voice of the guy running the demo. It was astonishing, and that’s just one of the many tricks these buds have up their proverbial sleeve. Demo guy then proceeded to adjust the volume of his voice, add reverb, and even tweak the treble and bass levels — all in real time, without any kind of lag.

Here’s how it works. On the outward-facing part of the earbuds, there’s a set of microphones. These pick up audio from the surrounding world, which is then sent through a digital signal processor (DSP), and subsequently played into your ears with no perceivable latency (i.e. under 30 microseconds). With the help of a smartphone app, you can adjust how the DSP behaves, and make the headphones produce sound waves that add, remove, or augment the original audio signal. It’s basically like having a volume knob and EQ settings for every single sound that enters your ears.

The range of potential uses for this tech is huge. Want to tune out the annoying pop music playing in the grocery store, but still hear the cashier when you get up to the register? Wish there was a mute button on that crying baby on your red-eye flight? Feel like your car stereo doesn’t have enough bass? With the right signal processing algorithms, Here could totally make it happen.

The earbuds aren’t quite available for purchase just yet, but Doppler is currently shipping to Kickstarter backers, and it expect to have the earbuds available to everyone else before the end of January. When that happens, you’ll be able to get your paws on them for about $200 bucks.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Booze-filled ski poles and crypto piggy banks

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our 10 favorites.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

Common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Emerging Tech

Bright ‘hyperactive’ comet should be visible in the sky this weekend

An unusual green comet, 46P/Wirtanen, will be visible in the night sky this month as it makes its closest approach to Earth in 20 years. It may even be possible to see the comet without a telescope.
Emerging Tech

Meet the MIT scientist who’s growing semi-sentient cyborg houseplants

Elowan is a cybernetic plant that can respond to its surroundings. Tethered by a few wires and silver electrodes, the plant-robot hybrid can move in response to bioelectrochemical signals that reflect the plant’s light demands.
Emerging Tech

Gorgeous images show storms and cloud formations in the atmosphere of Jupiter

NASA's Juno mission arrived at Jupiter in 2016 and has been collecting data since then. NASA has shared an update on the progress of the mission as it reaches its halfway point, releasing stunning images of the planet as seen from orbit.
Emerging Tech

Beautiful image of young planets sheds new light on planet formation

Researchers examining protoplanetary disks -- the belts of dust that eventually form planets -- have shared fascinating images of the planets from their survey, showing the various stages of planet formation.
Emerging Tech

Delivery robot goes up in flames while out and about in California

A small meal-delivery robot suddenly caught fire in Berkeley, California, on Friday. The blaze was quickly tackled and no one was hurt, but the incident is nevertheless a troubling one for the fledgling robot delivery industry.
Emerging Tech

High-tech dancing robot turns out to be a guy in a costume

A Russian TV audience was impressed recently by an adult-sized "robot" that could dance and talk. But when some people began pointing out that its actions were a bit odd, the truth emerged ... it was a fella in a robot suit.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s smart capsule could be used to release drugs in response to a fever

Researchers have developed a 3D-printed capsule which can monitor patients' vital signs, transmit this information to a connected device, and release drugs in response to symptoms.
Emerging Tech

‘Crop duster’ robot is helping reseed the Great Barrier Reef with coral

In a world first, an undersea robot has delivered microscopic coral larvae to the Great Barrier Reef. Meet Larvalbot: the robot "crop duster" which dispenses coral babies on troubled reefs.
Emerging Tech

Self-driving dirt rally vehicle offers crash course in autonomous car safety

Georgia Tech's AutoRally initiative pushes self-driving cars to their limit by getting scaled-down autonomous vehicles to drive really, really fast and aggressively on dirt roads. Here's why.