IFA Consumer Electronics Unlimited Ifa is a big consumer electronics show in Berlin. It gave me the chance to check the completeness of my Hearable Universe of 2016 and to try some that I did not have the chance to test yet.

So, at IFA, I saw and tested Samsung’s GearX, the Sony Xperia Ear, products from Jabra, Jaybird, Aftershokz, Croise, BoPlay, Avanca, littlebit and boompods, To my great surprise, there was no Bose and no Bragi.

Most of these exhibitors did not offer any smart earbuds, e.g. devices with at least one smart component like active noise cancelling, biometrics monitoring(e.g. heart rate), IPA-integration (individual personal assistant – Siri, etc.), sound augmentation, etc. – anything that is more than just wirelessly hear your music and take calls. Hearing music and take calls is already a commodity – there are numerous wireless earbuds on the market, differentiating themselves by sound quality.  You can buy them at electronics retailers from $50-150.  Most smart earbuds – hearables – will sell for around $300. There will only be one model featured in my list – the best one, according to critics: the Bose Pulse earbuds. But only to show a complete universe of options.

Update: And Apple’s AirPods? Well read more about that…

A happy consequence of my visit is, that I did not have to overhaul my Complete List of Hearables and the Hearable Universe. I obviously have alI smart hearing devices listed (if you find one that is missing, please comment). I found many earbuds that promise to stream the best sound via bluetooth, but very few smart earbuds. To offer a complete overview, my list will show one sound focussing model – the best  one according to critics: the Bose Pulse earbuds. But only to show a complete universe of options. All other hearables in the Universe do have smart features.

 

So, first I tested the new Sony Xperia Ear and Sony’s remarkable new noise cancelling headphones MDR1000X.

(The MDR1000X is not a hearable but it was the most fascinating hearing device I saw at IFA. They were able to block the noise from 1000 People and numerous sound sources to almost zero. CNET called them “…what Bose is fearing…”)

The Xperia Ear however is an IPA (individual personal assistant) – a Siri from Sony right in your ear. Unfortunately, I found the operation of a cell phone with this device too complicated and the hard head nodding or shaking necessary to signal “yes” or “no” was making me dizzy. I think it is easier to use earbuds that have access to your smartphone’s IPA directly (e.g. Bragi, Samsung, Motorola, etc.)

I found a few cool looking hearables, but their main feature was always to listen to music while doing sports – so, no smart earbuds.

I had a chance to receive a call with the Samsung Gear IconX (which are very similar to the Bragi Dash) and the performance of the microphone was much better than with the Bragi Dash.

Interesting  were the trade companies from China. Almost every device I saw on a branded exhibition stand, was exhibited by the  Chinese platform companies in a little less good design, offering to manufacture or find a manufacturer who can provide a hearable (among a ton of other stuff) looking just as the brand products.

All in all, it looks as if we have a fascinating future ahead with great smart hearing devices that will allow us to listen to music, track biometrics like the heart rate und monitor our workout performance, to answer calls and to communicate with our smartphone IPAs. But the developments are still in their infancy.

For example: one thing I do not understand is, why did Bragi, Samsung, Jabra Sports Elite and the smaller development companies do not just offer a detachable wire, so that you can choose between the wire and bluetooth. This would be a practical solution for many of the features that still have connectivity or battery issues.

 

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