The Here One smart earbuds are the coolest gadget I’ve tried in a while

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I spend most of my days chatting with virtual/augmented reality companies, so the world of Black Mirror always seems a bit more imminent than it perhaps is. That being said, the future felt frighteningly close after my brief demo with Doppler Labs’ Here One smart earbuds.

At face value, the Here Ones are just another pair of expensive wireless earbuds that have been created because of Apple removing the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. But the $299 Here Ones, shipping at the end of the year, have a lot to offer outside the standard headphone features, most of that being a sense of futuristic wonder. I’ll hold my full impressions until I got some more time with the earbuds, but here are some details on the demo that I experienced.

  • Quick Facts:
  • Start shipping in November
  • $299, available in black and white
  • 2.5/3 hours battery life for music streaming
  • 4/5 hours for “active listening” features
  • Battery case gives two full additional charges

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The thing about wireless earbuds is that if they have microphones they’re generally awful. It’s mainly because your mouth isn’t all that close to your ear and the earbud form factor doesn’t leave much space to integrate anything all that sophisticated when manufacturers are more focused on sound quality. I would imagine that’s largely why Apple went with the design they did for the AirPods, directionally orienting the microphone towards the user’s mouth to pick up more accurate audio. The Here Ones may not have the crazy shape of the AirPods but they pick up fantastic audio, largely because there are three microphones in each of the earbuds running the audio pickup and noise-cancelling functionality.

In my demo the noise-cancellation seemed to work almost disturbingly well for headphones their size and Doppler Labs is aiming to provide features through their companion smartphone app that turn traditional noise-cancelling on its head. The craziest thing I got to demo involved isolating directional noise. With multiple people talking around me, the Here Ones focused on who was speaking directly in front of me, presenting them clearly while the others were muffled, this could work in a more stealthy capacity, picking up only a person behind you while every other noise seemed to be drowned out.

Other features are more ambitious, if not a little premature. As I sat in a chair for a particular demo, speakers next to me blasted jet engine level humming to simulate sitting on an airplane, a pretty prime use case for noise-cancelling headphone. This noise was hushed by the Here Ones onboard tech, but then Doppler Labs CEO Noah Kraft started chatting with me and while the engines remained quiet his voice came in at full volume, albeit with a fair bit of digital distortion.

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Ever the showman, Kraft brought me to a different conference room once the demo had supposedly finished to show me “one more thing.”

What Doppler Labs then showed off was an active language translation tool. I sat in a room with a Spanish speaker who started a conversation with me. A half-second after each phrase she uttered, a voice translated the message into English and I was able to respond in and her Here Ones translated what I said. Wow, the future. First things first, this feature is definitely still deep in development and won’t be shipping with the Here Ones, but it definitely highlighted how much is possible with the existing hardware.

Ultimately a good deal of these more futuristic features will probably go unused. The most bizarrely cool features are meant for pretty specific use cases and Doppler doesn’t expect you to always have these things in your ears. The company’s more standard “adaptive listening” features will stay in your use case arsenal a bit more however, allowing you to tune out noises of a certain frequency and here everything else or vice versa.

For someone biking to work, that could mean being able to listen to headphones while ensuring certain sounds like car horns are heard at full volume. For someone sitting in a downtown office that could mean not having to hear excessive sirens every time an emergency vehicle drives by your office. Kraft discussed how the companion app would be able to learn your habits based on your location and suggest appropriate sound filters. The possibilities are all framed by the potentially scary concept of being able to choose what you want to hear in the world.

The Here Ones may be just as much of a proof of concept as the company’s earlier Here Active Listening product, but this time they’re also a pair of powerful noise-cancelling headphones. I’m very intrigued by this product and the future it is geared towards, I’ll be curious to see how this future feels after spending a bit more time with them for a full review.