Pursuit of Performance

Sound Check: New Music Tech Improves the Listening Experience

Kristin Houser Writer & Editor, LA Music Blog

Music lovers can count on the latest generation of headphones and speakers to take listening to the next level.

From the tiny earbuds that keep listeners humming on morning commutes to the towering boxes that blast walls of sound during summer festivals, speakers are a ubiquitous part of modern life.

The next generation of speakers has a whole new bag of tricks.

Some innovative companies are reinventing what a speaker can be and do, while others are focused on improving the device’s most basic function: producing quality sound. “

Thanks to the introduction of compressed song files, we can now carry around 15,000 songs in our pockets, but we’re still often listening to those songs with muddied bass and lifeless vocals,” said Stephen Davis, co-founder of Ear.IQ, an app that can customize music based on the way a user’s ears react to varying sounds. “

The next generation of music listening tech will do for music what high-definition did for TV.”

Here’s what the next wave of new music tech will sound like.


Ear.IQ (free-$19.99)

The app’s tagline is “hear smarter,” and that sums up the concept behind Ear.IQ.

Users take a simple hearing test, and the app then uses a “correction algorithm” to adjust music based on those results. The final outcome is a song that is better suited to how the individual user hears.

“Like a tailored suit or custom shoes or jewelry, this allows the consumer to be certain that their music ‘fits them,'” explained Ear.IQ investor Dana Holmes of 2nd Generation Capital in an interview with TechRepublic.

Ear.IQ isn’t yet on the market as the company is wrapping up funding and development, but those who just can’t wait to get their hands on the tech can apply to be a beta tester.

The app will be offered in both a free and $19.99 pro version, which includes premium calibration tools, unlimited device coupling and all in-app purchases.

Doppler Here

Doppler HERE ($179-$249)

Doppler’s HERE Active Listening System also takes sound innovation straight to the source.

The system pairs two wireless in-ear buds with an app listeners can use to control a live audio environment — whether it’s a sporting event, music festival or city bus. The system, which is expected to begin shipping in December, does not stream or play music directly, instead acting as a “studio in your ears” for whatever sounds are around.

Think the opening DJ’s set could use more bottom end? Boost the bass using the HERE system’s five EQ bands. Not digging that wailing infant two rows back on your cross-country flight? Reduce that sound using the system’s “baby crying” preset mode.

Just want some peace and quiet on the subway before work? Turn the volume down and be grateful for the sound of silence.


Drifter ($199-$299)

For music lovers who are looking to crank the noise wherever the road takes them, Drifter wireless speakers are sure to be a hit — especially if the adventure involves getting wet. “

The major trends in music listening tech have been portability and waterproofing, but sound quality and innovation have suffered,” said Adam Schwartz, founder of Freedom Audio, the company behind Drifter. “We look to change the way people listen to music by introducing the first smart-connected speaker.”

So what sets Drifter apart from other completely waterproof floating Bluetooth speakers? “

Drifter is the only smart speaker with a built-in operating system, as well as the only speaker with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a built-in speaker,” Schwartz explained. “It’s designed specifically for the water sports enthusiast who doesn’t want to bring their phone near water.”

The company went to extremes to ensure Drifter could hold up against the toughest conditions. “

We have put Drifter in the hands of dozens of kayakers, fisherman, paddle boarders and surfers to figure out the best way to design the product,” said Schwartz.

These speakers start shipping in November 2015.

The Amazon Echo

The Echo ($179)

Imagine if Siri lived in a canister-style speaker and went by the name Alexa. That’s the basic idea of Amazon’s Echo.

The voice-command speaker for the online mega-retailer was released this summer after four years of development and can be easily linked to Pandora, Amazon Music, Prime Music, TuneIn and iHeartRadio through a free companion app.

In addition to delivering sound through its 360-degree omni-directional audio speaker, it can also check the weather, recite books from Audible or connect with select smart-home tech to dim lights, adjust the thermostat or lock the front door.


Twist ($129-$199)

A good idea has long been figuratively compared to a light bulb, but NY-based start-up Astro’s “light bulb moment” literally is a light bulb.

This LED bulb doubles as a speaker. Screw it into any standard light socket to bring wireless sound into any room in the house, and control the music from any Airplay-enabled Apple device using Wi-Fi. “

Many consumers are frustrated with all the caveats of existing smart home solutions — a lot of these devices are too pricy, complicated to install and only work a fraction of the time,” said Astro CEO and Founder Shaun Springer in a press release. “With Twist, we simplified smart-home solutions to fit the urban renter’s lifestyle.”

The first Twists are expected to ship in late 2016. Discounted presale rates of up to 60 percent retail pricing are available now.

The Sound Torch

The Sound Torch ($119-$167)

For an aesthetically daring option, there’s The Sound Torch.

Touted as “the world’s first affordable pyroboard,” it translates soundwaves into flames that emanate from atop the speaker in real time. The “activity” level of the music that’s run through the speaker via Bluetooth controls the amount of gas that flows through the holes in the pyroboard.

The Denmark-based company behind the device has made safety a top priority. “

We have a series of safety features, overheat protection and glass protection. No signal equals turn off, and tilting equals turn off,” says Markus Buch, founder of The Sound Torch. “Every product will be thoroughly tested before shipment.”

No doubt this speaker will bring an edgy vibe to any party once the first wave of 100 devices ship, in late 2016. In the meantime, the company is developing an app that can be used to adjust the flames or access a fire template, essentially turning the device into a portable fireplace for those nights when chilling out is more important than getting down.

From in-ear speakers systems to portable devices designed for the great outdoors, modern speaker technology means the only hard part is deciding what music to play.

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