Audeara A-01: Headphones tuned for you
The Audeara Kickstarter page, like so many others, is littered with inspirational language. Phrases designed to fire your enthusiasm, to get you excited and to get you to part with your cash. Some are your typical headphone manufacturer soundbites: “perfect sound, always” and “hear notes you didn’t know were missing” could have been transplanted from any number of other headphone sales websites Others, though, are a touch more intriguing.
These are headphones that are “designed by doctors and engineers” to adapt to each of your ears and deliver a personalised, flat sound. Everyone has some degree of hearing loss and hears sound in subtly different ways; these headphones, says Audeara, are designed to overcome biological this inconsistency and deliver audio the way it was meant to be heard.
“Every person hears differently and every person hears differently in each headphone. We tailor the sound for each person based on these two principles.” Still a bit hyperbolic, admittedly, but it is, at least, saying something a little different from the headphone crowd.
How does it work?
You might, at this point, still be a little sceptical. But keep reading. There is some solid science behind the claims. Here’s how it works. Instead of simply plugging in the headphones or pairing and then listening, with the Audeara A-01 you have to test your hearing first to make sure the headphones are profiled correctly for your ears.
It’s a simple enough task: the app plays a series of tones at different frequencies, the idea to establish the threshold of your hearing at each frequency for each ear, after which the software creates a personalised EQ setting for each of your ears and stores it in the headphones.
There are varying levels of test you can run. I opted for the basic eight-frequency test to start with and followed up with the “Ultimate” test (32 frequencies) but the same process applies for all, including the High Detail test (16 frequencies). The software plays a beep at a given frequency in each ear and you then adjust the on-screen slider until you can barely hear it, then move onto the next test.
It’s an interesting process to go through. I found that each of my ears differed quite differently as to the threshold of hearing for each frequency and, at around 16kHz, I couldn’t hear any of the test tones at all. You can see my results in the centre and left screenshot below.
I also gave the headphones to a colleague with tinnitus and who has difficulty with hearing high frequencies. His results are shown above in the screenshot to the far right. The results correlate roughly with his recent hearing test and show that around 8kHz his hearing sensitivity tails off significantly in both ears. Note that the lower the trace, the more sensitive your hearing is in these graphs.
Does it work?
Undoubtedly. Play music through the Audeara A-01 without the personalised profile engaged and it sounds a little bottom heavy; the sound is tubby with a rather muddled middle and a smoothly rolled-off top end. Not bad, but unremarkable as far as headphones go.Engage the personalised profile, however, and suddenly the bass tightens up, the tubbiness goes away. And although there’s still that smoothly rolled-off top-end, the mid range opens up and I can hear things I couldn’t hear before. They sound like completely different headphones.
It’s a shame, then, that even then, the sound quality isn’t absolutely first class. There’s still a lack of high-frequency sparkle, even with the personalisation profile enabled. They also have a somewhat compressed sound to them, a lack of space around instruments and they lack the depth of soundstage that the very best headphones deliver.
Listening to Mike Masse’s live acoustic cover of Blackbird on a pair of top-end headphones and you can clearly hear the hubbub of conversation in the background, the clink of cutlery on plates and the chink of glasses as drinks are served and this gives the recording a sense of space and atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re right there, in the venue. On the Audeara A-01, that background noise is subdued and merges into the music.
But you might not care about this. If you have hearing damage and struggle to hear certain frequencies clearly, the Audeara A-01 offer a unique solution and one that seems to work effectively. Most importantly, perhaps, you can continue to tweak your profiles as your hearing changes and as you get older. That’s great; I’d just love to hear it applied to a better pair of headphones.
Features, design and accessories
I was sent a pair of prototype Audeara A-01, so I can’t really say much about the design and comfort as yet. Currently, they’re unremarkable but seem to be well made, with a metal headband, a snug fit and robust build quality, which is a good start. They’re built around a pair of 40mm mylar drivers and give you wireless operation with active noise cancellation (ANC).
The noise cancellation is reasonably effective but not as good as you’ll get with a pair of Bose QC35 – they only take the edge off background noise and don’t deaden it with quite as much ruthless efficiency. The battery life isn’t as good as you get with a pair of the Bose, either, quoted at 12 hours with Bluetooth and ANC activated or 30 hours if you hook up via 3.5mm cable. The QC35 delivers 20 hours with Bluetooth and ANC enabled.
Still, you do get a decent selection of accessories with the Audearas. They come with a hard case, a detachable 3.5mm cable, a 1/4in adapter and a dual-plug adapter for use on flights.
Since the Audeara A-01 is part of a Kickstarter project it’s difficult to deliver a verdict as a normal review would, simply because there’s always an element of risk and the price changes depending on how many people have backed the project. Still, it is possible to make some definitive judgements. First, the RRP of $499 Australian dollars (around £300) is too high. For this sort of money, you can pick up a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 or Sony MDR-1000X and both sound better to my ears, without any kind of personalisation.
But the technology works impressively well, improves sound quality immensely over the standard output the headphones kick out and you can be pretty sure that they’ll sound as good to you as they do to me, which isn’t always something that can be guaranteed.
Plus, at the time of writing, if you pledge money in advance of the shipping date, you’ll get a pair for around £181 ($299 Australian dollars), and that’s not bad at all for a pair of Bluetooth, active noise cancelling headphones of any description, let alone a pair that adapts to your hearing like these do.
What I’d really like to see, though, is this technology applied to a top-end pair of headphones like the Bose QC35 to see what difference the technology could make. I’m quite sure, they’d sound absolutely amazing.