Sound from all directions

The latest innovations provide listening experiences that are more immersive than ever. Some technologies even use bones to transmit sound.

The Batband heralds the arrival of the newest generation of headphones. What makes this device remarkable is that it directly transfers sound waves to the inner ear through the skull bone, bypassing the eardrums and thereby avoiding earbuds. The Batband was created by designers from Lausanne-based Studio Banana.

“It’s the same technique Beethoven used to compose music when he became deaf”, says Key Kawamura, co-founder of Studio Banana. “He bit down on a piece of wooden rod attached to his piano.” With Batband, listeners have their ears free and can therefore be aware of surrounding noises. The sound is full and enveloping, providing a 360° listening experience. The device, which will be available in mid 2017, foreshadows the immersive sound of the future.

Will this new technology convince us to abandon traditional headphones? “It’s just a new way of listening. The sound quality is not better – just genuinely different”, says Kawamura. AfterShokz, an American brand, also uses bone conduction to conduct sound. Its lightweight streamlined design was developed for athletes. Several “listening” glasses (Zungle, Soundglasses Buhel) use the same technique, with sensors on both stems of the glasses, close to the ears. Now you can bike, run, cross the street or work while listening to music, without cutting yourself off from the world.

sound BatBand headphones 360 listening fullwidth - Sound from all directions

Batband

This device from Switzerland directly transfers sound waves to the inner ear through the skull bone.

Sound on the move

The other up-and-coming revolution is 3D sound, which reproduces what we hear in real life – from up close, far away, behind and above. This is a departure from stereo, where audio comes only from the left or right. Voices, music and sound can move around, resulting in unparalleled depth. “Germany, Belgium, France and Denmark are a step ahead of other countries”, said Eske Bo Knudsen, head of Projects and Internationalization at the Technical University of Denmark. “But the big Asian and American brands (Samsung, HTC, Apple, Sony and Oculus) aren’t far behind.”

Three-dimensional sound is already being used in cinemas: the Dolby Atmos requires up to 64 speakers. It also paves the way for smart headphones, which are packed with sensors and monitor head movement to provide immersive, realistic audio. The Sound One, sold by French start-up 3D Sound Labs, is one of the first customisable headphones. Users take three selfies with their smartphone, which then calculates their head measurements (distance between ears, for example). As a result, listeners enjoy bespoke sound that is far more immersive than with regular headphones. The latest headphones from Danish company Jabra and US-based Ossic also use 3D audio.

“We are now experiencing a true renaissance of immersive sound. In a few years, this augmented reality listening experience will be absolutely everywhere”, says Knudsen. “In the future, this technology will be used in other fields, such as in hospitals to improve patient well-being and in courts to analyse where a gunshot came from. It can also reduce the irritating noises of everyday city life.”

Key Kawamura (co-founder of Studio Banana), Eske Bo Knudsen (head of Projects and Internationalization at DTU)