http://potatodelivery.blogspot.com/2011/12/different-shapes-and-sizes-of-potatoes.htmlPrior posts featured a 2016 taxonomy of Hearables that are no longer with us, in stealth, not entirely wireless, binaural, Smart, or still waiting in the wings.  What’s left?  At present, not as much as one might hope, at least if one is an audiologist.   The winner’s circle is small and, as the Table below attests, doesn’t cater to those with hearing loss.  One otherwise happy consumer, probably possessed of normal hearing, nails it on the low end:

“Ultimately … they are only wireless earbuds”

Which is not to say that the four finalists are not without their charms, or that some aren’t multitaskers.  All four are little and cute; talk to each other pretty well; advise the wearer on a variety of topics; enable music listening in most any situation; and fill in as earplugs when needed or when power runs out.  Most handle phone calls and curate fitness. Some act as coaches; some let you swim to music;  some let you curate the outside environment (surround sound); most have a dedicated app that works with iOS, Android or both.  

 

Is That All There Is?

 

Consumers always expect more (column 2 in Table).  The present batch of early adopters of Hearables are very happy that the finalists are wire-free and stay put in the ears.  They are not happy with battery life, outdoor Bluetooth connectivity, range or inter-ear communication.  And they want Hearables to do more stuff.  Just look at those missing Amazon stars.  It is hard to please these folks, even when they admire the product.  Consider this consumer’s middling review of Earin:

ultimately couldn’t justify the price given the few features … they really are truly wireless buds, delivering solid sound and some decent range when listening to music … The buds were sleek while housed in a stylish little charging case that didn’t take up too much space while giving you a sense of being that much cooler for having them. However, with that said, they only are wireless earbuds. No microphone to answer calls, no volume control, they exist to get your sound into your ears privately and that’s it. (ital added for emphasis)

Which sounds bad but is economically good because consumer preference drives demand which means more and faster innovation to satisfy those preferences so consumers can discover new things lacking to be unhappy about.   

Audiologists, too, have reason to find the present Hearable lineup lacking.  There’s not much if anything in the Table in the way of augmenting sound, enhancing speech, mitigating competing noise, or devising far field solutions. It’s almost as if Hearable designers think people with hearing loss don’t exercise or listen to music.   And it may be a bit purposeful, even for Hearables in the wings that aim to improve hearing for all.  Here’s visionary Noah Kraft again, along with Doppler co-founder Fritz Lanman, delineating the fine line between hearing aids and Hearables in a way that sounds a lot like the current FDA distinction between hearing aids and PSAPs:  

 [We] want to reinvent hearing for everyone, including many with hearing difficulty:  [Our product] isn’t a hearing aid; if it were, it would be subject to a torrent of medical-device regulations that the company is happy to avoid for now. If you’re in real need of a medical device, you need to go buy a hearing aid. That’s the fact of the situation, and it’s a regulatory decision about who needs a medical device and who doesn’t.

Well. Hearing Economics looks forward to this time next year when we get to see the 2017 Hearables Hot Potato finalists.  Of course they’ll be tinier and cuter, but we hope they’ll also be multitalented, highly articulate, and dedicated to assisting everyone with ears, even people with hearing loss who want to listen to music while they swim.   

 

Table 1.  Smart, Wireless, (mainly) Binaural Hearables on the Market Now

Device & Website

Price & Consumer Ratings

Reviews & Claims

Features

Visions & Slogans

Bragi Dash

bragi-dash

 

bragi-portable-charging-case

 

bragi-charging-case-and-connectors

 

$299/pair + charging case, own battery

Amazon reviewsbragi-dash-amazon-reviews

Consumers said:

  • Good fit
  • Good pairing with 2.0 software update
  • small range “keep phone in right shirt pocket to avoid cut-outs with head turns & running”
  • “decent” audio, high frequency roll off
  • Doesn’t replace ear plugs
  • Audio transparency “not worthwhile outside due to wind noise”
  • Touch control is unreliable
  • Voice quality on calls impressive
  • Works well with app
  • Lots of bubble noise when swimming
  • No multipoint BT technology
  • “worst” customer service ever

Reviews from Wareable and Wareable again; Audioexpress, Digitaltrends

Said this and more:

  • Comfortable, secure
  • Short battery life
  • Good sound quality but not for Bluetooth radio
  • “glitchy” Bluetooth 
  • touch sensors hard to operate & temperamental
  • Inaccurate fitness readings
  • heart rate info not stored
  • swim fit sleeves hard to manipulate
  • sketchy” swim data 

 

  • bone conduction mic for phone calls
  •  4GB storage (1000 songs)
  • 2-3 hours battery life per charge, 5 charges max
  • 23 embedded sensors
  • multiple silicon tips
  •  NFMI inter-device communication

Phone/Music/Environment

  • Knowles Versant advanced voice technology
  • dual armature drivers
  • “audio transparency” for surrounding sounds
  • “passive” noise cancellation (earplug)

Fitness

  • realtime feedback (steps, duration, heart rate, swimming)
  • Water proof up to 1 meter

Controls

  • touch command
  • head nod/shake (for bone conduction mic)
  • Bragi iPhone and Android app
  • automatic power down

Future

  • custom molds 

Listen. Track. Communicate.

 

Listen to music while you swim.

 

Power through your day.

Samsung Gear IconX Fitness Tracker

samsung-gear-iconx-images

samsung-gear-iconx-side-view

samsung-gear-iconx-case

$199/pair + portable charging case

Amazon reviewssamsung-iconx-amazon-reviews

Consumers said:

  • Good connectivity, though maybe not in crowds with lots of BT devices
  • Short battery life (3 hrs without BT; 1.5 hrs with BT; perhaps less if ambient noise feature is on) but recharges in an hour
  • Excellent sound quality (impressive bass) if earbuds are synchronized with each other
  • Comfortable good fit (even for “smallish ears”
  • Excellent touch controls
  • Don’t move when running
  • Not quite ready for prime time; bat life is major problem

Reviews from wareableyoutube, digitaltrends

Said this and more:

Stay connected, except in crowds with lots of Bluetooth users

Good sound quality; horrible sound quality

“fewer sensors, more purpose”

No drag and drop music files

Good fit, bad fit, stay in, don’t stay in, lose low frequencies

Very much a beta product at this time

Battery life too short to get through a full workout

  • No voice mic
  •  4GB storage (1000 songs)
  • 1.5 – 3 hrs battery life, 3 charges
  • voice assistant
  • 3 colors
  • Gel tips

Music/Environment

  • SBC (codec), older Bluetooth compression method with poorer sound quality
  • “ambient sound” mode for surrounding sounds

Fitness 

  • Heart rate, steps, distance, speed, calories
  • real time voice updates
  • in ear coach can be activated or deactivated
  • Splash resistance
  • S Health Android app

Controls

  • touch command
  • Chose either ear as master

Cord free.

 

No strings attached.

 

Without the need for a phone.

 

Stay aware.

 

Bring your songs.

Earin

earin-wireless-bluetooth-earbuds

earin-with-portable-chargerr

$279.49/pair + capsule case charger

Amazon reviewsearin-amazon-reviews

Consumers said:

  • Interaural BT RF problems outdoors (wind, fewer reflective surfaces):  “Company needs to put more time into stereo dynamics”
  • Good range 
  • Absolutely no customer service!”
  • “Ultimately … they are only wireless earbuds

Reviews from eetimes, gadget

Said this and more:

  • ambitious but flawed
  • no mic 
  • no phone

 

  • 3 hrs/charge, 3 charges per capsule
  • Music streaming/sound isolation
  • Earin app

“True Wireless Earbuds”

 

“Absolutely no wires”

 

Lightest True Wireless Earbuds in Existence”

Apollo 7 Erato earbuds

apollo-7-erato-different-colors

apollo-7-erato-charging-case

$299/pair + charging case 

Amazon reviews (only 4)apollo-7-erato-amazon-reviews

  • “Rock solid” Bluetooth connection 
  • Tiny and comfortable
  • Very good audio quality, balanced, deep/tight bass, rich & warm mids and crisp highs
  • OK or “not good” for phone calls

Review from verge

Said this and more:

  • too simple”
  • “decent mic”
  • no fitness tracking
  • no audio passthrough
  • no way to easily check battery life

 

 

  • Phone (mono only)
  • Music
  • Siri
  • Water proof
  • VC button on each bud

 

 

 

 

“True Wireless Technology”

 

Award Winning

 

Ultra Light, Low Power

 

Multifunction

 

This is the 17th post in the Hearables series.  Click here for post 1, post 2,  post 3, post 4,  post 5,  post 6, post 7, post 8,  post 9,  post 10,post 11, post 12, post 13 ,  post 14, post 15, post 16.

 

image courtesy of potato delivery