High school students made this BT headphone adapter, but is it too simple to sell?

Spiro X1 Headphone Adapter
Spiro X1
You’ve got to hand it to Daniel Greenberg. He has the kind of conviction and passion you expect to find in a seasoned Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur. Except that he isn’t. Greenberg is 17 years old and still in high school.

Which makes his debut project as the founder of Spiro all the more remarkable. Greenberg and his two partners, David Lopez and Avery Greenberg have come up with what they think will be the next must-have accessory for music enthusiasts: The $50 Spiro X1, a Bluetooth audio transceiver that can plug into any set of headphones that have detachable cords.

The Spiro X1 looks like something out of TRON.

“We believe that we can be the reinvented headphone wire for the 21st century,” Greenberg confidently declares. Maybe he’s right.

The Spiro X1 looks like something out of TRON.  Its round design does a good job of blending in with the look of a lot of popular headphones  – especially if the pair you own are made by Beats – but its large size and electric blue LED ring makes it look like you’re trying to give your cans ground-FX style lighting.  I’m not sure if Dr. Dre would approve.

It does indeed replace your cord, if the cord you have is of the non-remote variety. Once paired with your phone, the device lets you control volume level, play/pause and answer/end phone calls using its built-in microphone. But there is no ability to skip forward or back a track. “We were considering using the volume buttons [for this feature],” Greenberg says, “[but] it can get confusing… we wanted to keep it simple.”

While a focus on simplicity is commendable, it could also be the X1’s undoing. For many, needing to dig out your phone to change tracks negates the whole premise of the convenience offered by removing the physical wire in the first place.

The other area of weakness that might give some buyers (cough) pause, is battery life. Greenberg claims it’s good for about 5 hours of listening. Granted, that ought to be enough for most people’s daily needs, but if you’re a frequent air traveler, you should probably pack your existing headphone cord as a backup, or have a portable battery in tow.

By now you’re probably thinking, “This has already been done,” right?

In fact, as commenter Raphael Salgado points out below, there have been at least two remarkably similar products on Kickstarter in the recent past. One of them — the $59 BTunes — was successfully funded. However, like X1, the BTunes also skimped on functionality, opting to eliminate the volume adjustment. “Our assumption is that: you pick a playlist (or a radio) to listen and you adjust the volume to your liking, that’s it,” says founder, Dp Deng via email.

Perhaps a better question is, “Why eliminate the cord at all?” After all, a product like the Outdoor Tech Adapt doesn’t sacrifice any functionality, and it’s $10 cheaper. Plus it’s designed to work with any wired headphone, not just detachables.  Yet, that subtle difference is why Spiro founder, Daniel Greenberg, thinks the Spiro X1 can gain an audience. “A lot of people we asked said they didn’t want that,” Greenberg says, “Why would you want to plug your wire into something else, just so you can leave your phone in a backpack or a pocket?”

While a focus on simplicity is commendable, it could also be the X1’s undoing.

He’s got a point (and the BTunes’ success certainly adds weight to that idea), except that the lack of a track-skipping feature means the Spiro X1 won’t solve the backpack/pocket problem either.

Greenberg’s determination to eliminate the headphone wire also creates a new problem that the Adapt handily avoids: With a dongle the size of the X1 protruding inflexibly from the bottom of your headphone cup, there’s a genuine risk that an impact will not only damage the X1, it could destroy your detachable cord jack.

Greenberg doesn’t see this as a very likely scenario, but admittedly, he and his team have done very little real-world testing. That is, unless their Kickstarter video counts as testing. “On the first shot of the day, the headphones flew off the guy who was doing parkour and fell 10 feet to the ground,” he recounts, “Somehow our device did not break.”  The wear and tear the Spiro X1 experienced during the making of this video seems to constitute Spiro’s entire durability QA process.

None of this is to say that the Spiro X1 has been poorly designed. Despite its almost laughably humble origins (the company is running off of a grand total of $3,000, money which Greenberg says is a combination of a loan from his dad and savings from his part time job as a lifeguard), it has nonetheless managed to attract some decent talent to help make the X1 a reality. The lead engineer and designer on the X1 is Syed Rahman, who is probably best known for his work on the hugely successful Micro 3D printer, which began shipping to backers earlier this year. Greenberg solicited Rahman’s help on the X1 via HH Design, a Facebook group for designers who attend hackathons. Though still very busy with his work on the Micro, Rahman decided to join Greenberg’s tiny team. “I figured it’d be a fun break from all the 3D printing designing I’d been so consumed with,” Rahman told us.

He got a little more than he bargained for. Greenberg was so intent on getting the Spiro X1 to market quickly, Rahman was forced to work much faster than he would normally have liked, noting that he had to crank out “everything from the physical industrial design and all the graphic design for the Kickstarter in a short amount of time.”

The team has had its design vetted by Dragon Innovation, a company that specializes in evaluating the viability of a product before it goes to the manufacturing stage. While not a guarantee of success on its own, it’s worth noting that other successful crowdfunded companies such as Orbotix and LIFX have used Dragon to vet their designs.

Even though the X1 is his first hardware product, Greenberg’s convinced he can ship to backers in their choice of color (black or white) and jack size (3.5mm or 2.5mm) in time for the holidays. Assuming 30 days for his funding period, that barely leaves 6 months to go from prototype to shipped product. On the other hand, Greenberg could be wildly off the mark. More experienced companies have underestimated their timelines on Kickstarter, much to the irritation of backers. Hardware is after all, hard, as they say.

Greenberg only has to convince 1,500 people to get to his $75,000 funding goal – as we write this, they’ve nabbed $6,500 from 109 backers with 19 days left to go. But with its awkward design, limited battery life, and lack of a track skipping feature, my concern is that there may not be enough people looking to shell out $50 to partially replace the remote headphone cord their cans shipped with.

But that’s OK. Greenberg has plenty of time to find the next big thing. And with his drive, passion and energy, I wouldn’t want to bet against him.

Updated on 6-02-2015 by Simon Cohen: Added the section acknowledging similar crowdfunding projects

Features

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now.
Home Theater

Plex is the latest player to contemplate the subscription streaming game

With massive reach thanks to its client app being supported virtually every media device on the planet, Plex is now looking at the future of its media curation platform. A future that may include free and subscription services.
Gaming

Get extra life with our tips and tricks for 'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe'

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a much more difficult game than you'd believe based on its adorable art style and 2D perspective. Here's how you can master the game's toughest challenges.
Cars

The 2020 Lexus RC F goes on a diet to run faster and hit harder

The Lexus RC F has been one of the heavier cars in its competitive set since its introduction. The Japanese firm's engineers set out to shed weight as they gave the model a mid-cycle update.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

Yamaha’s MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable spreads analog joy throughout your home

It can be tough to listen to your favorite analog tunes anywhere besides the room where your turntable is located. With its MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable, Yamaha allows you to stream your tunes throughout your home.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.
Deals

Need a smart speaker? Amazon knocks $50 off Sonos Beam soundbar with Alexa

If you're looking to add some oomph to your home audio setup, then through February 3, the Alexa-enabled Sonos Beam is on sale for $50 off, bringing this excellent smart sound bar down to just $349 on Amazon.
Home Theater

Walmart abandons its plans for a streaming Netflix killer

Rumored plans for a Walmart owned, Vudu-labeled Netflix streaming killer have been shelved according to a new report from CNBC. The billions it would have needed to invest in order to compete apparently gave the mega retailer cold feet.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Here are some 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.
Deals

Here’s a look at the hottest 4K TV deals for January 2019

There's no doubt that a good 4K smart TV is the best way to take your home entertainment setup to the next level to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. We've got the best 4K TV deals right here.