One of the big trends we’re expecting at CES 2017 are “truly wireless” earbuds, much like Apple’s AirPods. But unlike others out there, the IQbuds from startup Nuheara have a bit of a twist. IQbuds aren’t just truly wireless earbuds for music, they can also be used to augment the sound happening around you to dial-back ambient noise and elevate the sound of someone talking.
Nuheara launched IQbuds on Indiegogo last year and is shipping its products to backers now. IQbuds will be available to the general public in March for $300.
If the idea of IQbuds sounds familiar, you might be thinking of the upcoming Here One product from Doppler Labs. Doppler Labs launched its Here augmented reality earbuds last year and is supposed to follow-up with its Here One product, which also acts as regular headphones, in early 2017.
I’ve used prototype versions of both Here One and IQbuds, and it’s true, the goals of the technology are very similar. Nuheara is hoping to beat Doppler to market, and is showing off the final product at CES.
The idea behind these kinds of augmented earphones has some similarities to hearing aids. But make no mistake, IQbuds (or the Here One earphones) are not medical devices, nor are they classified as such by the FDA. But David Carrington, Nuheara’s co-founder, tells me that they want to target the millions of people who either suffer from light hearing loss, or just get frustrated trying to have conversations in busy bars or restaurants. He sees the product as sitting distinctly between hearing aids and traditional noise-canceling headphones.
The IQbuds can work with an iPhone or Android app to set preset modes to augment what type of hearing you want. So if you are in “Restaurant mode,” the buds will be set to tune out the ambient noise of music or indistinct crowd noise and will amp up the voice of the person you’re talking to. In my tests with pre-production units, it worked. At a crowded restaurant the person I was speaking to’s voice was amplified and the background noise seemed to fade in the background. Taking the buds out of my ears, I was suddenly flooded with a bunch of auditory noise I simply hadn’t heard before.
Of course, you can also use these as regular high-fidelity wireless earbuds. The buds aren’t as slim as AirPods, but they felt better in my ears than those awful Sol-Republic Amps Air. I also appreciate that you can control the buds with touch controls on the side. Battery life is reported to be an impressive 16 hours for on-the-go Bluetooth music and 32 hours for augmented hearing. If they can live up to those claims, that’s easily the most impressive battery report we’ve seen from truly wireless earbuds.
Of course, at $300, this type of product isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for truly wireless earphones and you also want to be able to control the sounds around you, they’re certainly a compelling look at what the future might be.