In-ear computer improves noise-canceling technology

In-ear computer improves noise-canceling technology

Ear augmentation company Doppler Labs' upcoming earbuds will let you control live, everyday sound. Settings will include 'screaming baby' mode, among others.

Seventeen million dollars in Series B funding and a recent successful Kickstarter campaign means innovative in-ear computer, adaptive-filtering earbuds are likely on the way.

Hear Active earbuds, still in development, are algorithm-driven Digital Signal Processors wrapped in a tiny earbud-sized package.

The idea is that the wearer will be able to manipulate live, real-world sounds in a more defined way than with regular noise-canceling headphones.

Audio curation

Scenarios where one could use the frequency-adjusting tech could include changing live music EQ levels, suppressing airplane engine noise, hiding office hubbub, and reducing traffic noise.

Suppressing the noise of crying babies is also in the cards. Doppler Labs, the developer, calls the technology Audio Curation.

Noise suppression

In order to fully understand why this tech will probably be better in day-to-day use than existing active noise-canceling headphones, it's worth taking a moment to come to grips with that tech.

Basically, the way existing active noise cancellation works is that microphones on the earpiece monitor external noise and erase those sound waves by relaying that captured noise to the ear out-of-phase.

It's a kind of blotting-out of the unwanted sounds. A 180-degree, out-of-phase sound wave cancels the original sound wave.

Passive canceling

Add passive noise canceling—such as sound-deadening padding—to that traditional, active out-of-phase noise canceling and you've got quite an effective solution for drowning out low-frequency noise, such as airplane motors. You can then hear what the speakers are piping into your ears clearly.

Signal processor

Where the Doppler Labs system improves on traditional noise canceling is that it adds a volume knob, equalizer, and effects via a signal processor to let you adjust "listening experiences," as the company explains on its Kickstarter page.

The volume control lets you remove noise, the equalizer lets you change sounds, and sound effects lets you augment audio with reverb to make a small room sound like a concert hall, for example. Other effects include echo and flange.

Smartphone app

The whole thing is controlled by a smartphone app. And you don't need to be listening to recorded output to use it, as is customary with traditional noise-canceling. The system is, in fact, designed for live sounds.

Current template filters include rock and blues, among others.


Preset "Modes" are where the algorithms come in. They "target specific frequencies," the company's website explains.

Babies crying and noisy ground transportation, such as subways, can be suppressed because the technology knows which frequencies are being generated by the intrusive noise.

Human cancellation?

Now, some of you readers might be thinking ahead, as I did, and could be wondering: Can the device create customized human noise-cancellation algorithms?

In other words, could I surreptitiously monitor an annoying individual, say, and get the tech to block that person—never to be heard again? Even when they're standing next to me?

Alas, I didn't find any references in the website marketing collateral that indicates that the developer has gotten that far yet.

Although there do appear to be ways to create and save customized EQ settings. So maybe one day?

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