The good: Great at amplifying sound, Good audio quality, Excellent noise cancellation, Comfortable, Easy to use
The bad: Expensive, Music occasionally stutters, Poor battery life
Who should buy: People looking for high quality noise-canceling earbuds that also want to block loud background noise
Sitting at a cramped New York bar, I leaned in to hear my friend tell me about his first day at a new job. But between the blaring music and lively chatter of a typical Thursday happy hour, getting through the conversation without asking my friend to repeat himself again and again was proving impossible.
Instead of moving to a quieter spot, I popped in two sleek white wireless earbuds, pulled out my phone, and cranked up the volume. I wasn’t blaring music or a podcast. Instead, I was amplifying my friend’s voice.
Doppler Labs’ $299.99 Here One wireless earbuds let wearers manipulate sounds in the world around them. It’s powered by three microphones in each bud, which pick up nearby sound and process it at lightning-fast speed before passing it along into your ears. It has the potential to give people mastery of their personal soundscapes, letting us turn down the volume of honking car horns, airplane engines or, yes, the can’t-hear-yourself-think cacophony of a crowded bar. Doppler also wants users to be able to control how much outside noise they hear along with their music — a roadside jogger, for instance, might want to hear some traffic noise for safety’s sake.
There’s a health angle to be considered as well: Prolonged exposure to high-decibel sounds can result in hearing problems down the road. (That said, the Here Ones aren’t designed to help with hearing loss the way hearing aids do.)
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Doppler, which previously made fancy earplugs for concert-goers, is getting much closer to its true vision with the Here One. The company began shipping Here One pre-orders Feb. 21, and they’ll be available via Amazon, Best Buy, and AT&T this spring. But these earbuds aren’t perfect just yet. Here’s what it’s like to use them.
With the earbuds in, I could use Doppler’s app to raise or lower the volume of my environment via a slider, choose a noise filter that fits my current surroundings, or apply sound effects through a “live mix” option. I could also tap the earbud to pause my music or reset my noise filters.
Toggling the volume slider down all the way quieted my surroundings by 22 decibels, which nicely suppressed office chatter. Cranking it up to its maximum setting, which boosted my environment six decibels louder than usual, gave me what felt like bionic hearing. Not only were voices from across the office more crisp, but usually subtle sounds like keyboard taps and passing footsteps were amplified, too.
Using Doppler’s sound filters let me fine-tune these effects. The airplane filter reduces noise from jet engines, while a workplace filter cuts down on background conversations. There’s also a restaurant setting for raising the voice of your dinner companion, among other options. Of the available filters, I got the most use of the enhanced voice and office settings. At that crowded bar, for instance, the voice filter was better than the restaurant setting at helping me hear my friends.
Still, I struggled to get the Here One earbuds to stifle certain sounds, like a high-pitched police siren. Applying the white noise filter and lowering the volume all the way helped, but not as much as I hoped. Doppler says it’s planning to add new filters through software updates, including one designed to block out subway noise.
Another trick up the Here Ones’ sleeve: Adding sound effects to real-world sounds. Through the app, you can add echo, flange and fuzz effects, or boost the bass. These features are fun to play around with and might be nifty during concerts, but they’re not as useful in everyday life.
Noise modification aside, the Here Ones are solid wireless earbuds. That’s important if you want to use them as your everyday headphones — and for their price, you certainly should be able to. They work with streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, letting you control playback inside the headphones’ app. Music typically sounded rich and clear, but songs would occasionally stutter and skip, which wasn’t great.
But my biggest gripe about the Here Ones comes down to battery life. The earbuds only lasted for about two hours when I used them for both music streaming and noise filtering. That makes them hard to use during a long workday or flight. To be fair, they do charge quickly inside their case, but that’s not as good as a pair that lasts a full workday on a single charge.
Doppler Labs’ Here One earbuds are great at blocking outside noise and at helping you hear your friends over loud background chatter. That said, they could use some refinements, particularly when it comes to battery life. But the earbuds’ biggest hurdle to overcome may be social norms. Wearing a pair of headphones is typically a sign that you’re tuning out the outside world, not seeking to engage with the people around you. When putting on the Here Ones while talking to my friends, I had to explain what I was doing so I wouldn’t come off as rude. For some people, that may be more trouble than it’s worth.
3 out of 5 stars
This article was originally published at Time.com