Attendees at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival will have the ability to experience the festival in a whole new way, thanks to some cutting-edge technology.
Goldenvoice — the people behind Coachella — are partnering Silicon Valley with Silicon Valley startup Doppler Labs to bring the Here Active Listening System to the masses.
Here — which raised more than $600,000 on Kickstarter last year — is an in-ear audio system that uses wireless earbuds and an app on your phone to control and personalize a live-audio environment.
The idea is that the earbuds — which are kind of like high-tech hearing aids — can be used to modify the sounds in your physical environment. This can mean eliminating background sounds, raising the bass, adjusting reverb or creating other sonic experiences.
Coachella attendees will be the first people outside of Kickstarter to have the opportunity to purchase Here and use it at the festival. Attendees will get an email with a purchase offer before Coachella begins and will receive Here in advance to get used to the setup.
At Coachella, there will be optimized stages for Here, with presets attendees can use to listen to music in brand new ways. Here will also have tents and demonstration booths at Coachella to show attendees who didn’t purchase Hear what the experience is all about.
Here is like bionic hearing, and it’s awesome
I had a chance to talk to Doppler Labs’s CEO and co-founder Noah Kraft, as well as its executive chairman Fritz Lanman, about Here and how it will be used at Coachella. Lanman also gave me a demo, and although I was skeptical at first — the technology is pretty incredible.
The small wireless earbuds fit directly in your ear canal. They don’t look ridiculous while in, but you know there’s something in your ears. Here is unique because they aren’t headphones. It’s a purely “listen live” experience. Instead, the sensors on the buds can process the sound happening around you, and you can adjust them with a smartphone app.
The adjustments can be minor or major. You can raise or lower the decibel of a conversation. While turning it up and speaking to Lanman — who was just a few feet away from me — his voice got noticeably louder. Turning it down, it was softer.
The amazing thing about Here is that it has no discernible latency. So talking to people around you, you don’t get any sense that anything is off. The only difference is what and how you hear.
The processing actually takes place inside the earbuds themselves. As sounds enter, algorithms determine what you hear and how you hear it. This allows people to cancel out certain sounds — a baby crying or the noise of a subway — or add amplification, reverb or echo to other sounds.
The experience was surreal. Lanman called Here “bionic hearing” — and I think that’s an apt description. “We’re introducing the world to audio augmented reality,” he said.
The design of the buds is impressive. In the version I saw, the size is quite small — especially considering the tech inside — and there are three sizes of ear tips that Doppler Labs says will fit 95-97% of ears.
Out of the box, Here has about 5 hours of battery life — but its included carrying case will give you another 10 hours. Inserting the buds in the case will give them a charge.
The idea, according to co-founder Noah Kraft, isn’t to wear Here all the time. “It’s really an episodic experience,” he says.
You can charge the case using micro-USB.
Focusing on music lovers first
Here has been in development for quite some time, but as the product gets closer to its final consumer vision, the team thought it was important to get more real-world feedback from users.
That’s what made partnering with Coachella such a compelling opportunity. “These are people that care about music and audio,” Kraft says. Having the opportunity for tens of thousands of attendees to use Here means the company can find out from users what works and what doesn’t.
The early tests and feedback from Kickstarter backers and investors (many of whom are musicians) has been solid, but the team feels like Coachella could be a real turning point for the product.
Because they are working with Goldenvoice, they’ll be able to create presets for different stages so users can get the best kind of experience.
The goal is to have a final consumer product available sometime by the end of the year, in the $200 – $300 price range.
I asked the team about their confidence in their ability to scale the product for availability to end-consumers (the team already has production for Coachella attendees) and was assured that they have a team on-the-ground in China and the experience (with the company’s prior product, the acoustic filters called Dubs) to make this to market without issues.
Although Kraft insists that Here is an episodic product — something you use for moments in your life when you really want to control your aural experience, like at a concert, on an airplane, while working in the office — Lanman has a slightly more open world view.
“We fight about this,” Lanman says, implying he can picture a world where people would wear Here all day long. Acknowledging that there would need to be certain changes to account for battery life and comfort, Lanman still thinks that in the future, the idea of augmenting your audio environment will be something more and more people want to do.
After just using Here for a few minutes — I think a case can be made for something like this to be embraced in the future.