True story: a few years ago I was in the East Village when I heard the disco version of the Superman theme playing loudly. A man on a skateboard was riding back and forth, around and around, blaring the Superman theme for all and sundry, sharing the horns of John Williams’ most uplifting hymn with the world (to a disco beat). The Wearhaus ARC is not like that at all.
These headphones connect with a special app on your phone and on phones around you. When you play music, folks nearby can connect to your headphones and listen along or you can create a massive, quiet listening party from one phone. While you listen you can chat with other listeners, a feature that could get a little creepy if you’re listening to death metal or Pat Boone.
Created by ex-Berkeley engineering grads Richie Zeng and Nelson Zhang, the company began when Zhang left Berkeley in June 2013 on a Thiel Fellowship. They came up with the idea for the ARC and began working on it at the Highway1 accelerator. I saw it in a very simplified form last year and they are finally now going to market. Interestingly, the team took to the stage at a PennApps 2013 hack competition where they created a smart backpack that can tell when you’ve loaded your bag up with the proper gear. They are, in short, smart guys.
The pair received $20,000 from Highway1 and a few hundred thousand from angels who are helping them prepare the product.
“Originally, headphones were just tools for channeling audio. They’re now becoming more and more about good design and self-expression. With Arc, we wanted to take that creative, personal aspect to the next level by creating an entirely new social experience around the headphones,” said Zhang.
“We’ve always believed that music connects people. In particular, we’ve always believed in the power of listening to music together in person, either at a party, splitting earbuds, sitting around a record player, etc. Nelson put together the first audio syncing proof of concept while visiting China that summer, then we got together at a hackathon and put together a prototype that you could actually use – even though it looks like a bomb strapped to your head,” said Zeng.
They’ve since updated the headphones and added LED lights for a bit of customization and simple controls on the side for playback and volume as well as broadcast and join buttons. The team is offering the ARCs for $149 each and you can pre-order on their site. It has a standard headphone jack if you want to listen to things without running down the battery but the Bluetooth receiver lasts 16 hours on a charge, 10 if you’re sharing. It has a nice 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response and a built-in microphone.
How often will you want to share your music, let alone the disco theme song to Superman? I don’t know. I’m not you. But these headphones make it pretty easy to do so without annoying passers-by and, as we all know, the best music is shared between two people, not with the entire population of St. Mark’s Place.