A pair of headphones that tests your hearing? Yep, it’s been done, and an Australian is at the heart. What makes Audeara’s headphones so special, and are they a good choice?
In today’s tech-focused world, you have to have something special to stand out, to get people to part ways with hard-earned cash and take on something new and interesting.
Familiar is easy, but it can also be a touch limiting, and when there’s always another way of making something work, familiar can mean new techniques are missed, a shame in the grand scheme of things.
In the world of personal audio, it can be all too easy to stick with the familiar, to side with what you know rather than what you’re not used to. We can pick the pair of Bose or Beats or Bang or Sony, and they’ll all work just as well as each other, but we might be missing something different. Something very different.
Trust an Australian to think of technology differently.
Locally, Australians are building headphones in a way their international peers are not, and are focusing on the personal audio experience that is subjective listening. Companies like Nura and Nuheara have devices that measure the personal apprehension of sound, recreating it for that individual user, and they’re not the only ones.
Audeara is another take on the idea, and was founded by an Australian hearing doctor to make a pair of headphones that matched your hearing, courtesy of one of the most familiar tools in the medical library: a hearing test.
Can a hearing test deliver a better audio experience, and will a hearing test make music sound better?
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Design and features
A little bit different from other headphones out there, Audeara is one of Australia’s own personal audio brands, which means it handles things a little differently.
Aussies tend to like to stand out, and Audeara is no different, building a pair of around-ear headphones that feature a hearing test built into the headphones.
Similar to the idea Nura has built in its Nuraphones with a pair of headphones that will adapt to your individual brand of hearing, Audeara will shift the sound of whatever runs through the headphones based on the results of a personal hearing test.
While Nura relies on otoacoustic emissions to test your hearing, Audeara’s focus is more from something a doctor might administer to test your ears. If you ever see an audiologist or an otolaryngologist, you might get a hearing test where you’re asked to listen out for beeps and tones, with this measuring the spectrum of sounds you can hear, a range that changes over time not just from damage, but from age.
Audeara’s approach works from this logic, giving you three lengths of sound tests to customise the headphones with, and then varying levels of headphone filtration to let Audeara work its magic, so to speak. In the end, you should have a graph that gets the algorithm building a sound profile better suited for what you can hear, shifting the audio in the headphones to match what you hear best.
That’s the idea, and it’s one that sits in an around-the-ear circumaural headphone that runs on a rechargeable battery powering both the wireless Bluetooth connection and an active noise cancellation system.
Design-wise, Audeara’s approach comes off looking a little like what Bose has built in the QC35, but with a slightly more plastic execution. Despite this, they are better built than you’d expect, and offer one of the tightest fits we’ve seen from a pair of headphones.
Sufficed to say, if you’re not used to a tight fit — or you don’t like it when a pair of headphones clamp your skull — you may not like what Audeara offers. If you don’t mind existing in your own bubble, however, you’ll definitely find it in the Audeara A-01, with a surprisingly comfortable albeit totally cut-off seal that reinforces the idea that this is your music and your world.
Using the Audeara A-01 is a two-part operation, with controls on both the headphones themselves and the app.
With the former, you can definitely see the first-generation work in the A-01 headphones, as Audeara provides tiny buttons that are very stiff to press and come off feeling either amateur or cheap. Folks who appreciate a good user interface probably won’t come away satisfied here, with three buttons on the left side for volume up, pause/play, and volume down, with a power switch on the left and a noise cancellation switch on the right.
While a small amount of buttons makes things easy in theory, the size and location of these buttons just means you’ll likely become more reliant on a phone or wearable, as they will offer more tactile controls than what Audeara has provided.
Things are a little better on the app, but not by much.
You’ll need to log in to Audeara to set up your profile and administer a hearing test, using Google or Facebook to do so, and once you’re in, it’s just a matter of choosing the profile, the test length, and how much filtration you’re after.
You can’t, for instance, change the tuning of the headphone to adopt a warmer or brighter sound, nor can you decide what type of noise cancellation level the Audeara A-01 headphones are using.
Basically, the app is made to issue a test and apply those settings to a pair of Audeara A-01 headphones, or download a patch to the headphones. That’s it.
With the app leaving us wanting, we had high hopes for the performance, especially given what Audeara has set out to do.
This is a pair of headphones designed to accomodate your individual hearing. It should mean that while there will be a generic sound, the headphones will be able to adapt to what everyone experiences, shifting the sound so that it sound better to all.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Testing the Audeara A-01 with the Pickr Sound Test for 2019, we found the performance varied wildly, with the headphones providing decent detail, but differences in soundscape, and often with lower bass than expected.
In the electronic sounds of Tycho’s “Glider” and Daft Punk’s “Contact”, the A-01 often felt compressed and flattened, with the bass barely noticeable.
Moving to the more pumped “Into You” from Ariana Grande, the depth improved as did the clarity, though the bass didn’t feel like it was following through, and lacked the same emphasis and punch in both that and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” and FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks”.
Listening to the headphones more, it starts to become clear that Audeara’s understanding of our ears appears to cut back on the bass for some reason, with Charlie Puth’s “Done For Me” coming out flat and producing only a bright sound, something we experienced in hard rock, too, as both the Deftones and Rage Against The Machine focused on the highs and mids, lacking the driving force behind the bottom end those bands rely so heavily on.
Older rock fared better, with the 2018 remaster of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” coming off clear and spacious, even if the bottom end feels more minimal than it should. Granted, we picked up on the extra detail of instruments we hadn’t always looked for — the percussion, namely — but the bass was practically absent.
In classical and jazz where the bottom end is rarely driven hard, it was even harder to find, which made the delivery on the Audeara A-01 just that much less impactful and brighter than we’d like.
While tracks like Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” and Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” are easy to listen to in the mids and highs being offered by the A-01, we found it lacking as the lows were conspicuously absent.
It’s worth pointing out that Audeara offers varied degrees of filtration for its audio profile, and this can change the experience of how the headphones deliver the sound for your ears. Except regardless of how we tested the Audeara A-01, we found a regular lack of lows that made them more for two types of listening profiles:
- People who listen to acoustic music and don’t care for the bass, or
- People who listen to music that is so amped up on bass that it has been artificially driven in the first place
With all of this, it’s hard to see the Audeara A-01 as balanced overall. The headphones produce a relatively detailed sound, but it’s not one that will work across every piece of music, which given the focus of the product, seems like a missed opportunity altogether.
At least the battery is a win, because there’s a decently sized maximum of 39-odd hours on offer in the A-01 headphones.
That is dependent on how you end up using the Audeara A-01 headphones, and with the ability to switch on active noise cancellation with a switch on the right ear pad, as well as wireless or wired capability, you’ll probably charge the headphones at least once weekly, even though you may be able to push that to even more.
And while we’re on wins, value is one we’d give to Audeara for the A-01 headphones as well, fetching a local price of $349 in Australia.
Active noise cancellation headphones normally sit between $250 and $500, so the $349 price makes the Audeara A-01 a decent little average, especially given the idea of an audio test is featured pretty prominently in the design.
Granted, there are things about the audio performance we’d like to see improved, but the price isn’t bad given what’s on offer, all things considered.
What needs work?
But wait, there’s more.
While the audio could do with some improvements in the bass, sometimes the depth can fell amiss, too. Some of the tracks we used in the Pickr Sound Test came off feeling flat and lacking in spatial sensation, with the Audeara flattening the soundscape. They sounded fine, but it wasn’t always the enveloping experience, which surprised us greatly.
Given the approach that Audeara has taken with a custom tuning based on what your ears hear, we actually expected the soundscape to be more exaggerated based on our ageing ears, and yet it didn’t do that. If anything, it felt flatter, which seems to run counter to what the technology should be doing.
If the algorithm and design can configure a better sound based on what your hearing can and can’t do, it should, in essence, be able to improve the output based on your hearing.
And yet it doesn’t always do that, which is confusing, to say the least.
There are other things, too, such as some stiff buttons and a very tight and heavy fit, which means the Audeara A-01 won’t necessarily work for everyone, particularly folks who prefer a lighter style of headphone.
Oh, and the app has its issues, too. Often, it struggles to make see the Audeara headphones you’re using, which means if you need to retest or reconfigure, it won’t always work out like that, sadly.
What’s the best thing?
The best thing about the Audeara A-01 headphones isn’t the audio test or the idea behind it. Rather, it’s what Audeara has managed to do for Australians, finding a way to place these headphones on the NDIS.
Internationally and inside Australia, you can buy them with money, as Audeara charges either $249USD or $349AUD for the A-01 headphones, which isn’t a bad value, as we’ve noted.
But if your hearing isn’t what it used to be, and your doctor agrees, you can claim a pair of the Audeara A-01 headphones in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
That is easily one of the most intriguing features we’ve seen of any pair of headphones ever, and makes it worth checking out if you’re a little more hard of hearing than you’re regularly willing to admit to.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
Trust an Australian company to show how to make things different, and to stand out against what else is out there.
Easily one of the more intriguing pairs of headphones you’re likely to experience, the Audeara A-01 deliver a curious take on where headphones go when your health is considered, not just your audio experience.
Essentially, the Audeara A-01 are a pair of headphones focused on your health and hearing. What other headphones can you say that about?
They’re not perfect, that said, and still feel like they could do with some tweaks, something we imagine would see release in version 2, if it ever did some out. We’d like to see performance improvements, and wonder if that can be dolled out to the current generation simply by firmware.
Fix that and we’d probably love the Audeara A-01 for more than a great idea they represent, but a solid achievement as well.