Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones are nothing new. They include microphones that test the ambient noise around you and then reproduce the sound after shifting its phase by 180 degrees and mixing it with the original. The two phases interrupt each other, reducing the level that reaches your ears. This works best on stable low-frequency sounds, such as the constant engine of an aircraft.
The Audeara A-01 is just such a headset, and it provides a very interesting added benefit – customized leveling tailored to your specific hearing profile. It's a brilliant idea, and it works pretty well, at least with the ANC turned on.
The Audeara A-01 is an over-ear headphone that has active noise cancellation. In addition, the built-in microphone used for the ANC lets you talk on a connected phone through the headphones.
Each closed earplug includes a 40mm Mylar driver, and the specified frequency response ranges from 20Hz to 20kHz (no tolerance given). The 3.5 mm audio input provides an impedance of 32 ohms.
However, the main input is Bluetooth – in this case version 4.2. It supports the SBC, aptX and cVc codecs and the A2DP, AVRCP, HFP and HSP profiles. Audeara is working on adding the aptX LL and HD codecs (low latency and high definition, respectively), which will be rolled out in a firmware update.
All this is pretty standard for ANC Bluetooth headphones. But the A-01 also offers a unique feature. The companion Audeara app, which is freely available for Android and iOS devices, measures your individual hearing profile and uses it to program the headphones with a smoothing curve tailored to that profile. Theoretically, this lets you hear more of the music without having to look it up. You can even save multiple profiles for family and friends. How cool isn't it?
A-01 is powered by a rechargeable 1000 mAh battery. Fortunately, the main power and ANC can be turned on and off independently, maximizing battery life. Only with ANC – and with 3.5 mm input – the battery is specified to last up to 65 hours. If you also enable Bluetooth and Audeara EQ by turning on the power, the battery should last for up to 35 hours. When you turn off the ANC while keeping the power on, the battery life increases up to 45 hours.
The included charging cables are plugged into a microUSB port at the bottom of the right earpiece. It takes about six hours to fully charge the battery from a completely discharged state.
Another cool feature is Audeara's BT-01 Bluetooth Transmitter / Receiver ($ 99 or $ 40 if you buy it with A-01). This small gizmo receives audio from an optical TosLink cable or an analog 3.5mm cable and transmits the signal to the A-01 via Bluetooth. It also comes with an adapter with two RCA plugs on one end and a 3.5mm connector on the other end for devices with RCA outputs. It is great for people who want to listen to the TV or older stereo wirelessly on the headphones.
In addition, the BT-01 can work in the opposite direction – it can accept audio via Bluetooth and send it to non-Bluetooth equipment via digital optical or analog cables from the outputs. Very cool!
The headset feels very solid and substantial, although extenders that extend out of the headband feel somewhat rough in the movement. Plus, it's a little small for my admittedly big head. I had to use the maximum elongation of the headband, and the earplugs felt pretty tight against my head. On the plus side, this ensures a good seal, which is important for sound quality, noise isolation and to achieve a good result from the app's hearing test.
User Interface and Hearing Test
The on-board controls include a main power switch on the bottom of the left earbud and an ANC on / off switch on the bottom of the right earbud, each with a small LED to indicate the status. The only other controls are three small buttons on the back of the left earbud. The central button is multifunction: play / pause music and answer / hang up a single-touch phone call, skip ahead with a double-tap, jump back with a triple-touch, enter Bluetooth long-distance pairing mode. The flanking buttons increase and decrease the volume.
After pairing the A-01 with my iPhone XS, I downloaded the Audeara app and ran the hearing test. There are three tests to choose from: Standard (eight frequencies), High detail (16 frequencies) and Ultimate Precision (32 frequencies). Standard frequencies and high detail test frequencies range from 100Hz to 16kHz, while Ultimate Precision ranges from 100Hz to 20kHz. The process begins with a short tutorial on how to perform the test, which is simple but informative.
As the test begins, the app plays repetitive beeps in each ear at different frequencies, and you adjust the beeps for each beep frequency until you can barely hear them. This requires a quiet environment so that external noise does not interfere with the test.
The test display looks like a graphic EQ. You can drag the slider for each frequency up and down, but the volume does not change until you take your finger off the slider. You can also press a button labeled “Can Hear” if you hear the beeps, which lowers the volume of the selected frequency. If you cannot hear the beep sound, press the button "Cannot hear", which raises the volume. When you can barely hear the beeps at a particular frequency, press the button labeled "Hardly audible", which goes on to the next frequency. You can also select the frequency you want to adjust by pressing the slider.
I was worried that the phone's volume setting would affect the test, but it doesn't. The volume control is disabled during the test, so the levels you hear are completely consistent.
I found a few detections in this process. For one thing, the change in volume when you press Can Hear and Can't Hear buttons is not instant. It takes a moment to catch up, which was confusing at first. Holding these buttons will not cause the slider to scroll as I expected.
While playing with the test, I brought some sliders all the way to the bottom and top of the range. When I tried to slide a slider below the minimum value, it just stayed there. But when I tried to push a slider over its maximum value, the slider disappeared and the app jumped to the next frequency. An "X" appeared over the missing frequency and tapping that returned the slider to its maximum value. It seems like very strange behavior; I wish it would just stop at the top and not respond to attempts to increase it further, just as it does at the low end of the slider.
When I asked Audeara about this, they replied: "X represents & # 39; cannot hear & # 39; at the specific frequency within the headphone test range. This changes the way the specific frequency response is integrated into the algorithm and the ultimate sound profile . "
When the test is completed for both ears, the app offers the ability to go back and adjust the results, which worked fine, except that the app unexpectedly played a tone very once in a while, which was startling. was happy, it allowed me to name and save the profile, I could run and save the test with different names as many times as I wanted and they are all linked to me as a user, others can do the same and link the results to them individually.
Once a test is completed and saved, it cannot be changed further. To adjust the results, you must perform the entire test again. According to Audeara, this allows you to track your hearing over time.
When the test is complete, the app shows you the hearing profile of the left and right ears; this graph is called an audiogram. You can click on "More info", which first reminds you that this is not a medical diagnosis, and then takes you to the World Health Organization's website on hearing impairment.
I performed the Standard test twice and the High Detail test once, with similar results each time. These results follow a roughly the same outline as the professional audio program for my hearing that was performed just a few months ago, but there were a few discrepancies. For example, the Audeara results indicate that the right ear is slightly inferior to the left below 1 kHz, but the pro-audiogram shows the opposite.
Back to the hearing profile page, the next step is to press the button labeled “Experience Audeara. “This uploads the EQ taken from the selected profile to the headphones. Then specify the strength of the program to use, from 0 to 100 percent in 25 percent increments; 0 percent is described as having no effect. When the music starts playing, you can go back to the Audeara app and change the strength of the program, which allows me to compare different strengths on the go.
Using the High Detail Profile Established by the Hearing Test I performed, I began listening with "Night by Night" from Steely Dan's classic Pretzel Logic . As I listened, I tried different strengths of the effect. At 0 percent the sound was very dull with virtually no highlights at all. Moving up to 25 percent improved the sound slightly, while 50 percent sounded much better with reasonably balanced highlights. At 75 and 100 percent, the sound was too light and crisp, with exaggerated highlights that screamed uncomfortably in my ears.
When I got back to 50 percent, the frequency ranges were pretty well balanced. The vocals sounded good, but the bass was a bit goofy and loose.
Next up was "Good Lava" from Esperanza Spaulding's brilliant album Emily & # 39; s D + Evolution . The vocals, guitar and cymbals sounded good, but again the bass was a bit loose and muddy. The same was true of "Ladies' Choice" by Joanna Cazden from the album Living Through History which I drew. As before, the bass was slightly inflated, but in this case the vocals were somewhat obscured with overweight sibilants.
For some major ensemble tracks, I played "Thunder and Blazes" as performed by Eastman Wind Ensemble under Frederick Fennell on the album Screamers as well as an arrangement of Frank Zappa's "The Dog Breath Variations" performed by the Cincinnati Wind Symphony during Eugene Migliaro Corporon on their album Songs and Dances . In both cases, the tubes were tough (not in a sweet way!) And slightly overbearing, while the upper parts sounded a bit blurry.
For a proper torture trial, I listened to "The Happy Soul" arranged for the tuba quartet by my father, Robert Wilkinson, and played by the Dutch tuba quartet on their album Escape From Oom-Pah Land . As expected now, the tubes sounded a little loose and tough.
Moving to small ensembles, I played "Lester Leaps In" from an unreleased recording by trombonist Steve Wilson and with guitar legend Mundell Lowe. The guitar, piano and cymbals were good, although the acoustic bass was muddy, and the trombone was a bit veiled. I also listened to "The Fairie Round" from A Festival of Renaissance Dances by the Southern California Early Music Consort. I played bass sack shop (renaissance trombone) on that album, and it sounded a little swollen and loose, although cornett, shawms and tamborine sounded much better.
Just for smiles, I created a completely flat EQ – I left all the sliders in their default position, resulting in a completely flat audio program. Interestingly, different strength settings changed the sound; 0 percent were still dull and lifeless, while 100 percent were very overweight in the highlights. A setting of 50 percent sounded best, but still a bit tough in the bass. It seems to me that a flat EQ should sound at all strength settings, but it certainly does not, and I have no idea why.
I listened to each of the tracks with active noise canceling on and off. As I have experienced with several other ANC headphones, the A-01 actually sounded better with the ANC on. The bass was tighter and the overall sound was cleaner with less blur. Without playing any music, however, I could hear some noise that disappeared when I turned off the ANC. There should be no problem in a noisy environment.
Speaking of noisy environments, I took the A-01 to a freeway underpass as well as a location right by the freeway to test the noise cancellation. The ANC worked very well, reducing the level of low frequencies quite effectively.
Comparison with PSB M4U 8
After hearing how dull the sound was at 0 percent, I wondered if my hearing was really that bad. So I brought out the PSB M4U 8 Bluetooth ANC headphones, which became my reference product in this category after I reviewed it for TechHive. I breathed lightly when I compared the M4U 8 to A-01 set to 0 percent – PSB sounded far better!
In particular, the PSB base was much tighter on all tracks, and the overall sound was more natural, even when Audeara was set at 50 percent. In comparison, the sound of the A-01 had a slightly artificial quality.
As I noted in my review of M4U 8, I prefer the sound with ANC is off, while I prefer the sound from A-01 with its ANC on . Still, I give the pointer to PSB under this condition, even though the difference is much smaller than with ANC off in both headphones. When it comes to noise cancellation, I thought the two models were about the same as lowering the level of low frequency noise.
I thought the M4U 8 was more comfortable to wear, especially for long periods. As I mentioned earlier, the A-01 is pretty tight on the head, which is no problem with PSB.
The idea behind the Audeara A-01 is excellent – measure the user's hearing profile and adjust the headset's EQ to compensate for any deficits. However, in its current iteration, it falls a little short. In particular, the audio program I received with my professionally managed audiogram did not match in some areas, although it followed a roughly similar curve.
Still, the sound quality was definitely better with the results used on the headset, but that's partly because of how dull it sounds without EQ. I found myself wondering if Audeara said the headphone's original answer was so lacking in height. I don't know, but at least I much prefer having a more neutral response if no EQ is used.
Setting the force to 100 percent resulted in a blast with screaming highlights, while 50 percent with ANC on made the best sound. Of course, it will drain the battery the fastest, but Audeara ranks the battery life of up to 35 hours with all electronics on, which is much more than necessary to last an intercontinental aircraft.
In comparison, the PSB M4U 8 sounded better, with tighter bass and a more natural balance. In addition, it is more comfortable to use for long listening sessions. On the other hand, the M4U 8 carries a list price of $ 399, which is $ 100 more than the A-01. And Audeara sounds pretty good with 50 percent strength with the ANC on.
I applaud Audeara for coming up with a brilliant product, which I hope will get more people interested in learning about their hearing profile. The A-01 has great potential to help those with hearing impaired to enjoy fuller music, and it goes a long way toward fulfilling that potential. If the company can refine the app to produce a more accurate audio program and reduce the bass in weakness, it will be a slam dunk.