from the "wirefree" dept
For this week's awesome stuff, we're looking at a project that aims to beat Bluetooth at its own game: the HearNotes WireFree earbuds. These headphones use their own wireless technology to, supposedly, deliver higher-quality audio than Bluetooth with no danger of interference or interruption.
It's a wireless world, but Bluetooth audio simply isn't up to par. If the HearNotes technology — dubbed "Kleer" — really can deliver better, more reliable sound, then that's an obvious plus. I suspect that the "reliable" part of that equation is actually the more important and could make these a popular product, since pairing and range issues with Bluetooth devices are especially infuriating when you just want to listen to music, whereas the sound quality issue is something of a wildcard: it's questionable just how much people actually notice better sound in blind tests, and devices sold on sound quality have both sunk and swam in the past. In the world of wireless headphones, however, almost everyone agrees they are still noticeably worse than wired options, so it seems like there is some genuine room for improvement. Beyond that core question of sound, the little details of the HearNotes are top notch, like the inductive charging case and the design of the earbuds themselves.
The big showstopper is the price. The estimated MSRP is $349, and though there are some decent savings for Kickstarter backers and early birds, it still puts the HearNotes in the same range as the highest-end Bluetooth headphones. That just further enforces the need for these to deliver on the core promises of convenience and quality if they are to stand a chance on the market.
The other obvious issue is the need to have a special transmitter plugged into your headphone jack. They describe it as "versatile" but I'm not really sure what that means as it actually looks quite cumbersome. That said, it seems like there are many popular uses for wireless audio that involve leaving your phone on a desk while you move about (which, with the boasted 50-foot range, would be very possible) so a bulky transmitter might not be a big deal. Still, it would be nice to see options such as building the transmitter into a phone case, or perhaps making it a module for last week's Awesome Stuff project.
I fully understand that entrepreneurs and innovative people in general have to get very passionate when talking about their work. At Techdirt, we do it ourselves all the time. But there's something extremely offputting about HearNotes' self-serious Kickstarter video (can we retire the phrase "allow me to enlighten you"?) and strained marketing jargon. The greatest irritation is the insistent branding of these earbuds as WireFree, and the claims that this is distinct from wireless because it offers a greater and more reliable degree of freedom. The thinking behind this is actually understandable because, as noted, convenience is the real selling point for a Bluetooth replacement. Despite all our wireless technology, it's actually rare to get that seamless sci-fi feeling of just grabbing-and-going with a wireless device; instead, we generally have to tap out a password or open an app or at least press a button somewhere. If HearNotes can offer a new level of "just works" satisfaction, then it's got a major hook. But somehow the clarity of that point gets lost in the WireFree branding and the photos of people dancing in a meadow. (Though they do, quite fairly, point out that a lot of wireless Bluetooth earbuds are connected to each other by... a wire.)