"CES 2019 was the most boring CES in recent memory" - so what was all the hype about?
A little over a year ago I found myself surfing Kickstarter not particularly looking for anything but discovering this page talking about a set of headphones designed for me "a prescription for your ears" as they say. Well, my BOSE QC15's were showing their age after 4 years and thousands of miles in the sky and I'd been pondering upgrading them.
I jumped in and backed this unknown team from Brisbane - and then waited. However, unlike most participants in the Kickstarter, my job afforded me the luxury of getting to know this team, meeting them at events and creating content with them.
In September 2017 I had the privilege of sitting with James as he and the team wrestled with hard decisions that would hold back delivery. To peel back the curtains and see what this meant for the team, the pain, the frustrations alongside an undying passion for delivering the BEST for their backers - it's one of those business/life memories I'll cherish.
So imagine my excitement when I received a text message from James saying "Hey, would you like a set of headphones :)". 2 days later as I was about to embark on a full month of travel, my Audeara's arrived!
Wow, from the moment I saw the box with its magnetic cover catch to the soft touch case and the feel of the aluminium armature, I was in awe of what this team had created and taken to market. These folks are not Apple, Bose, Sony or Samsung, they don't have the huge resources nor years of experience - yet the first impression is right up there with any of these top companies. The professionalism of the final package belies this being their very first product.
The first thing I did, was to whip them out, turn them on (yes they came charged) and connect to my phone via Bluetooth (super easy). I had beautiful clear audio playing in my ears in seconds (well maybe a minute or two, but it wasn't long or hard). A smile spread across my face and then I remembered - I need to tune these.
The hearing test
I promptly locked myself in our walk-in wardrobe (super quiet place) and set about undertaking the full 32 step test. This takes a while and is where I found the first glimpses of this being a package under development. You step through various frequencies adjusting the volume until you can bearly hear the tone. This then creates a profile for you. I had a couple of small App issues and noticed a little strange behaviour in one of my ear cups. With over the air updates, the Audeara team have now pushed out both Software and Firmware updates. It's so awesome to live in a world where our products get better over time through these updates.
The listening experience
I thought the sound the first time I put them on was amazing. Once you've created a profile for your ears (I used to be a drummer, and builders labourer - certain frequencies are stuffed in my ears) and you apply it. WOW. Like seriously WOW! You really do start to hear voices, tones, instruments, effects within the music that you've been missing for .. well forever! The profiles are something unique and special to the Audeara headphones and for anyone wanting an amazing audio experience just for them - you can't beat it.
However, remember I mentioned I had a few app hiccups? Well, the profile it made was fine for music, but on planes, I tend to watch video content (Netflix, YouTube and InFlight entertainment). The profile I originally had wasn't working for movies - it was suppressing the voices, to the point where I had to turn captions on. Oh dear. When I shared this with James and the team they were very surprised and worked with me to resolve it. I can report that since the latest software updates, I've redone my profile and it seems Netflix and YouTube are now a delight to watch/listen to again.
Flexibility of options
Unlike my BOSE which were pre-Bluetooth times, the Audearas give me a range of listening options and these include:
- Bluetooth to device: I can connect and listen to audio from any bluetooth device. Phone, laptop, tablet, audio dongle etc
- 3.5mm audio jack: I can plug in the included audio cable and listen to any audio device. Stereo, plane entertainment system, iPad etc
- Profile on/off: with Bluetooth you have to have them ON, so the profile is always there. With the 3.5mm cable, you can have them ON or OFF (yes you can listen to audio with a flat battery).
- Active Noise Cancelling: you can turn the ANC on and off as you see fit
I have found over the past 4 weeks of travel around Australia and New Zealand (3 weeks solid of flights, taxis, and hotel rooms) that I actually use a number of variations of the above options when using my Audearas. This flexibility means I always have the best audio I can for the moment I need it.
What about the ANC?
ANC, active noise cancelling - it's one of the big reason any traveller is going to look seriously at these headphones. Sound quality aside, it's that drone of the plane engine, the crying baby, that annoying guy in a suit talking loudly on the plane that you just want to drown out. Audeara have a switchable ANC, meaning you can turn it on and off independently of the headphone power.
The ANC on the Audearas is great for taking out the low end droning noises - think plane engines, the rumble of a taxi on a motorway. Where I find they struggle (compared with my old BOSE QC15) is the everyday sounds of a baby cry and voices. I get it, most noise cancelling systems are not noise cancelling at all, rather noise suppression and everyday tones like voices are one of the hardest things to suppress. I do feel that the Audearas are not as strong here as others in the market. Having said that, the moment you put music or audio through that, of course, covers the original sound anyway.
Comfort for long time wear?
I have to admit I have not done any long-haul flights yet with the Audearas - the longest constant time was ~5hrs thanks to a delay on a 4hr flight. I do find them super comfortable, light and easy to wear. I find my ears don't get as sweaty or uncomfortable as they did with the BOSE on longer flights.
I do find that the armature curve sticks out from the side of my head more than I might like, and certainly more than my BOSE did, but it's a pretty common curve profile of BEATS, Sony and others these days. So that's probably just a personal thing
It's been such a joy to be on this journey with the Audeara team. From finding them on Kickstarter, to getting to know them and their journey to now having their amazing product in my hands and me using them all the time. They've become a tool in my travelling toolset. I love the feel of the soft touch case in my hands as I walk through the airport, there is a comfort in that touch. I smile each time I open the case to put them on, I remember talks with James and the team. I see their fingerprints and pride in the product and I love the care they give to hearing feedback and in providing over the air improvements.
Would I buy another set? Yes, absolutely, and if this is product #1, version #1 - I can't wait to see what #2 looks like, sounds like.