Smart Headphones - Trends 2018: Environment Filtering, Audio Trainer, Head Gestures, and Direct Connection to Alexa

    And again about the headphones, this time talking about the so-called. “Smart” headsets. I will talk about how different developers see them and within what concepts new devices are created.

    It is known that the development of audio assistants is one of the most popular and advanced areas in the modern IT industry. Last year, Gartner experts estimated this market at more than $ 3.5 billion. This affected the concept of a wireless audio headset. Thanks to voice assistants, it becomes not just an accessory for music and communication, but a full-fledged, universal interface for data input and output. There are other technologies that make gadgets smarter, for example, selective noise reduction algorithms, etc.

    We have already talked about the acclaimed Google pixel buds, a polyglot headset that has impressed many already during the presentation. Under the cut, we will continue to talk about other devices that will determine the main technological trends in the near future. This is not a detailed review of devices with an attempt to identify the best, but an analysis of the functionality and technologies that will be demanded by users.

    IQbuds - active "ear plugs" from Nuheara

    This device - commercially available, wireless headphones bold Australian startup Nuheara. The developers report that they have already paid for the project and earned $ 3.5 million in selling the gadget in the first 12 months of sales and are not going to stop.

    The main feature of the device is the ability to filter the sounds of the environment and highlight the voice of the interlocutor when talking in a noisy place (busy shopping center, airport, subway), using selective noise cancellation algorithms. In reviews, the sound is rated as “quite tolerable” and “good”. I suppose it’s as good as possible in the channel form factor.

    The device also has a special mode of selective noise amplification, which can be used to cross streets in places with heavy traffic. It is quite natural that a highly sensitive broadband microphone was used to apply the functions, which allows you to receive a sufficiently powerful and accurate signal for further processing. IQ buds can be used as a voice interface (i.e., as a normal wireless microphone) of the “Siri”, “Alice” or “Google Assistant” control.

    Samsung Gear IconX - a hybrid of a headset, a player and a fitness trainer

    Gear IconX - new wireless in-ear headphones from the Korean giant. Before describing, I want to note that their predecessors, which appeared in 2016, were an extremely controversial product and failed in the market due to a weak battery and traditional problems with a falling off BT connection.

    Having corrected the errors of the “first pancake”, it turned out a really multifunctional device that works for about 5-6 hours in the mode of active music playback or conversation (the maximum time in the active mode is 8 hours). Another distinctive feature is the built-in player that plays music from memory with a capacity of 3.4 GB, which prolongs the operation time by reducing the energy consumption for the work of the “blue tooth”.

    For the sound, there are 3 codecs, a standard SBC, an advanced Samsung Scalable Codec for working with native devices and AAC for transferring audio data when working with an iPhone.

    The main “smart” chip is to delegate the headset functions that are inherent in a fitness bracelet. For example, a heart rate monitor (also known as a heart rate sensor) is built into the headphones. They also notify the owner of the speed, which with the help of a GPS sensor determines the smartphone.

    Voice notifications - this is probably the strongest side of the headset. So the gadget can tell about the distance covered, the duration of the workout, the calories spent. Moreover, the headphones take on some of the functions of a personal trainer and motivate the wearer in the process of doing exercises or running with encouraging remarks.

    With this function, an obvious misfortune - it spoils everything, because the timbre of the voice, which is trying to cheer up, is cloyingly “positively” and never motivates. I suppose that the bass roar of my Greco-Roman wrestling coach from distant childhood in the 90s would have been much better suited for voice motivation of this kind.

    I found it difficult to assess the usefulness of the fitness functions of the gadget. Judging by some reviews of users who are accustomed to the pedometer, the accuracy of determining the speed and distance using GPS is lower, and there is a serious error. The difference in the distance with the pedometer of a smart watch in one of the reviews that I have ever seen reached one kilometer (I cannot vouch for the honesty of the reviewer). I could not find such discrepancies.

    Headphones are criticized for their lack of protection from sweat. I can not confirm the information that was in the article on . I admit that this design can miss something, but I hardly believe that the Samsung product was not tested for splash protection. I assume that the author was buried in the ear or a defective copy of the device was caught, which may explain his case.

    Interestingly, to control the headphones through the touch pad on the outer part of the case, you can choose both the right and left earpiece. All touch control and is carried out with the help of gestures.

    In addition to the fitness functions, there are interesting nuances related to control, for example, stopping playback when pulling both headphones from the ears, voice menu, launching Google Now / Google Assistant or Siri voice assistants, adjusting the volume using vertical swipes.

    If we talk about the dry residue, the device leaves more positive than negative impressions. In this case, the criticism in the reviews, which is a lot on the network, is as controversial as the laudatory odes.

    Sony Xperia Ear Duo or a device that teaches shaking your head correctly

    At Sony, when designing their smart gadget, they relied on the innovative use of gestures. Chip Xperia Ear Duo was the combination of touch control and head gestures.

    So they can be controlled with the help of the usual tachets and svayp, you can answer the call, nodding, and switch tracks, turning your head to the right and left. Head movements are captured by the built-in gyroscope, and the special algorithm rather accurately interprets them as a control gesture.

    Headphones allow you to customize alerts based on your location. Also, the smart features include the ability to work with Google Assistant and Siri, for which, however, hardly needed any special integration. Also, the gadget software gives you the opportunity to listen to alerts in the calendar and reminders.

    An interesting feature is the ability to listen to music and at the same time their surroundings or, for example, the voice of the interlocutor. This eliminates the need to remove headphones or turn off the music for the sake of security and, if necessary, to talk. The technology was called “open sound”.

    “Open sound” does not become porridge with ambient noise, on the contrary, it creates the illusion that music plays from an external source. The sounds of the surroundings are also well distinguished, for example, the approaching car or the interlocutor's speech. This feature makes them related to IQbuds.

    ECS Liva Aston Smart - Wi-Fi and Alexa

    The exhibition release of Elitegroup Computer Systems (ECS) is the full-size “smart ears” that were first shown at Computex 2018 in Taiwan. Contrary to the fashion for intra-channel “gags,” the company decided to create full-sized ears, thereby slightly increasing the battery capacity. It didn’t help much; due to the energy consumption, the headset is able to work autonomously for no more than 6 hours.

    Live Aston Smart is equipped with WI-FI and the ability to autonomously control Amazon Alexa voice assistant. Thus, the user, using only "smart" wireless headphones, will be able to use the vast majority of the functions of Alexa without using additional devices. Possibilities are open for voice control of home appliances, multi-rooms, smart home systems, etc.

    The gadget is connected to the smartphone using Bluetooth 4.2. At the same time, the functions are complemented by the possibility of voice calls and the already mentioned navigation through the tracks. The premium version of the device provides active noise cancellation, while the closed acoustic design and in the basic version isolates well.


    It can be stated that “smart” headphones have ceased to be a promising concept, but have become a truly sought-after trend in the world of the Internet of things. In the near future, smart headphones will appear more and more. Probably, they will even make the sought-after segment of smart watches and fitness bracelets move. I will be glad to lively discussions on the topic. Traditionally, I propose to participate in the survey. Photo

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