Thanks to Kickstarter-funded firm Noveto, and the hugely influential trade show CES 2022, it seems Carl Pei's Nothing brand may have been pipped to the post in the race to release a headphone that isn't actually, er, physically there.
Meet the Noveto N1, which is making its debut at CES 2022 in Las Vegas this week. The N1 is billed as a state-of-the-art smart audio device with built-in Alexa intelligence and Noveto’s proprietary smart audio beaming technology, combining to create an immersive binaural audio sound without using headphones.
Noveto says it has created an experience akin to wearing invisible headphones. And helpfully, the company has created a video to explain how it works...
Throughout CES, attendees will have the opportunity to try out Noveto’s proprietary smart audio beaming technology, which is built on more than 45 patents. It promises to transmit ultrasound silently through the air, converging into audible 'pockets' just outside the listener's ears, thus creating a headphones-like experience.
Will it disturb your neighbouring desk, though? Apparently, others in the room should only hear a whisper of sound while you're immersed in 3D spatial audio; Noveto promises up to 90 per cent (20dB) audio reduction from 1m (3ft) away from the listener. And with a claimed audio volume of up to 85dB SPL, it certainly sounds worthy of further investigation.
Facial recognition using motion sensors and AI-incorporated tech should help the N1 track the ears and ensure 3D immersive sound travels with you as you move your head. Furthermore, because of this AI-based face tracking and Alexa voice recognition, Noveto claims you'll be able to communicate effortlessly and naturally with Alexa – ie. without saying “Hey Alexa” all the time. When the user looks at N1, the device should recognise and engage, also spontaneously offering suggestions based on personal profiles and prompts such as telling you how many unread emails are in your inbox (if you like that kind of thing).
Noveto CEO, Christophe Ramstein (formerly vice president at Logitech), said the N1 is “like nothing we’ve seen before and has the potential to change how we work and live. Imagine the efficiency and comfort of private conversations with no devices on the body – we’re returning to a form of delightful, intuitive communication that currently doesn’t exist in our everyday lives with our devices". He adds: "...and this is only the beginning."
Add the N1's connectivity options (Bluetooth, wi-fi, AirPlay, USB-C, 3.5mm jack) and the HAL-embedded circle for live feedback – 'Heuristic Activity LED', but of course we're thinking about that HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey – plus Noveto app support for iOS and Android, and we think it'd be a crying shame not to go and experience it for yourselves if you happen to be in Vegas...
No sign on pricing yet, but Noveto says that the N1 is in the final stages of mass production readiness and will begin shipping to customers by the end of March.
Also at CES Mark Levinson goes all out with its first-ever headphones, the wireless ANC No.5909
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There are multiple products using ultrasonic beamforming arrays for targeted audio, its an idea from the 1960's. Audio spotlight and sound shower spring to mind.
Here's an open source project from a few years ago.