Audeara A-01 headphones are not your standard headphones, first off, they're Australian designed which is awesome, but its the user-specific customisation that's the stand out feature. These Bluetooth 4.2 headphones started their life as a Kickstarter campaign and after smashing their A$100,000 goal and reaching a massive A$466,305 from more than 1,500 backers, the product is now in production and available for sale.
The reason these headphones are so successful is that they, in conjunction with a mobile app, are engineered to modify the sound output based on your distinct hearing ability. This fundamentally approaches sound differently than every other headphone on the market that takes a one-size fits all approach. Armed with the smarts of Dr James Fielding, the Audeara A-01's don't just output sound, but rather tailor it to, like a well designed suit.
After pairing the headphones with your smartphone app, you'll start the experience by performing a hearing test. As someone who hasn't had a hearing test since I was a child, while also listening to music and game audio far louder than advised, I was actually a little nervous to take the test, fearing the resulting data would paint a very bad picture of my future. There's a range of 3 tests you can select from, depending on how much time you have available and how serious you are about having the perfect sound for you.
I figured the fastest audio profile test wouldn't provide a thorough enough experience to test properly and didn't really have 10 minutes for a full exam. After selecting the Standard test, the series of tones provided to my left and right ear were registered simply by tapping the screen to confirm at what volume I could no longer hear a sound. Each band was a different tone which was really handy to tell them apart.
When the test was complete, my personal audio profile was built. From that moment on, I could use this to augment the sound emitted from the headphones, to my ears, ensuring the soundscape leveraged perfectly my hearing strengths and weaknesses.
The difference was dramatic and to confirm, I sped through a variety of audio sources to let the magic of what had had just happened, really sink in. YouTube, Podcasts, Spotify it all just sounded clearer, better and a more fuller sound than I'd experienced before. The real confirmation for me was to fire up music I was most familiar with, some Deadmau5 that I must have listened to a hundred times on 35 different headphones or earphones. This was different, more meaty, more substantial and yes, a sound that I enjoyed better than what I've heard before.
Check, the system works.
Black on black
The design of these headphones are are nothing out of the ordinary, murdered out, black on black and only available in black, so hope you like black. Even extending the headphones to fit over my big head, the internal metal structure is black, so they're all about blending in, rather than big bold, attention grabbing colours. The top of the headband features embossed Audera branding, along with the triangled A logo on the external face of each of the cups. With Audeara being a new brand, these may have invite some conversation about what the brand is.
The cups feature big white letters inside each earmuff, to ensure you never mix up L and R. These earmuffs also rotate 90 degrees for transport (carry case included). These over the ear headphones also feature controls on the left earmuff, including the power switch, the volume up, down and play/pause/sync button. These buttons are all the same and relatively close together, which could be changed to have more difference to easily tell them apart.
While the main focus of these is as Bluetooth headphones, they have smartly included a standard 3.5mm jack as well. This is a real strength over straight Bluetooth-only alternatives. On the right earmuff, you'll find the Automatic Noise Cancelling (ANC) toggle switch, along with the microUSB charging port.
Overall the design is understated, but that's what I personally want from headphones. This demonstrates a bigger investment was made in the important areas of comfort, which is great, thanks to well padded cups and constructing it from materials that are light weight, making listening for many hours very pleasant experience.
What's on offer?
The A-01 features Bluetooth 4.2 connection, ensuring they'll support a wide range of devices now and well into the future.
The biggest issue with wireless headphones is usually battery life and Audeara understands that, which is why they packed in a massive 1,000mAh battery. This means the headphones are good for up to 35 hours of continued playback with the Auderea effect and ANC enabled. If you go for the 3.5mm cabled option, you'll get a massive 65 hours, with the battery still required for noise cancelling. In reality, expect a little less than that, but even at 30 hours, that kind of battery life is fantastic. The great news is you don't pay a penalty in the weight department, with the headphones still feeling incredibly light.
Calling and voice assistant
The headphones also house a microphone, which actually does a pretty great job at hearing voice commands, like "Ok Google" to launch Google Assistant on your phone. It's also used if you need to make hands-free calls with actually pretty decent call quality for a hole so small and a decent distance from your mouth. For some buyers, this feature will elevate these headphones over alternatives as being able to verbally control your audio experience is an inviting feature. If you're wearing the out in the world and need to ask for step-by-step directions, or call a friend, reply to a message, it's all possible, just ask for it. This definitely beats pulling out your phone, especially on a cold Winter day.
The business end of the headphones are the speakers which are 40mm Mylar drivers. These offer a frequency response between 20-22Hz and an impedance of 32 Ohms. The operation range is a little low at just 10 meters, so don't expect to leave you phone at one end of the house and be at the other with the headphones.
Does it sound any good ?
The Audeara A-01 are designed to sound good and they really do. As normal Bluetooth headphones they're definitely in the mid to high-end, but it's after you enable the personalised user profile that the sound comes to life. The marketing material suggests you'll find new parts of your favourite songs and I can absolutely attest to that. At least for me the improvement in sound was in the middle ranges of the audio spectrum with the highs and lows remaining similar.
Its important to take a second to remember what good sound is, Often headphones can be engineered to vibrate your brain with the throws of deep base and if you're after those kind of beats, then you know where to get them. When I think about good sound, I think about putting on a pair of headphones and feeling like you're getting an accurate representation of the sound as it was mixed in the studio. This is much like the picture quality of displays versus what was intent of the director. The devices we use to interact with the media in our lives should deliver content as it was made, by the artists and the Audeara A-01's do that in spades.
Through the use of clever technology and a little bit of user input, the headphone profile can then be adjusted from anywhere between 0% and 100% application of that profile. Smartly the developers warn you through the app, that the first time, things will sound different than you've experienced before. Don't make the mistake of thinking its worse because it's different. Listen, listen some more and then listen even more. Try different thresholds as personally I like 75% of my profile the best. I can't explain why that is, but then again it probably doesn't matter, just that these headphones sound good, really good.
Room for improvement
No audio limit
For a device that's founded in science and on a mission to maximise the audio experience, based on your remaining hearing ability, I expected to be stopped when turning these up to max volume, but wasn't. Sure, the phone provided the standard prompt, but the volume of these headphones can be adjusted independently of the smartphone volume.
When you're wearing headphones, inevitably you'll want to take them off to speak to people, or hear things in the real world. Like many people, I slide headphones off my head and around my neck. This may be just me, but I found these to be really uncomfortable to do this with for any extended period of time. Clearly most of the comfort focus goes into when they're on your head, but this is important and something I hope could be addressed in V2.
The headphone earmuffs rotate 1-way, designed for laying them flat for travel. While the headphones were comfortable for me, the position of people's ears on their heads vary considerably and to address this, many headphone makers allow full rotation of the muffs. The A-01s offer a tiny 1-2 degree positive rotation.
While these headphones offer Active Noise Cancellation that does work to block out some of the environment around you, it's important to know this doesn't isolate you from the world. If you're planning on using these to block out that crying baby next to you on the train or plane, forget about it, that'll easily penetrate these. It's much better at disposing with with low-level background noise like traffic, conversations. Total immersion is definitely something I'd love to see offered, even if as an additional option on the switch that used more battery life.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The A-01 Headphones cost AU$499.00 and are available now from audeara.com. If your favourite audio device doesn't output audio, then you can grab a BT-01 which is a device that transmits bluetooth signal from an analogue source, such as the headphone jack of your TV. This dongle makes any device bluetooth and Audeara compatible. On the back of the module, you'll find optical (or digital toslink) along with a standard 3.5mm Aux input. This adapter costs A$50.00.
If you are a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) recipient, you can use your benefits to purchase your set of Audeara headphones.
What's been created here (by Australians) is a great innovation in the headphone space. Personalised audio from the same set of headphones, for multiple people is not something I've ever thought to demand from my headphones, but after experiencing it, it's definitely something I want everywhere. I actually want the same technology for my TV and wonder if there's not a smart way to test the regular customers to the living room and produce a soundscape that works best for that audience, or even best, leverage the phones in the room and know who's there.
Audera need to make more headphones as the A-01's are a great start, but there are a few key places they can be improved. Not everyone will be after over-the-ear headphones, some people just want earbuds. Then there's the design challenge. To keep costs down for their first product, keeping it black and appealing to the largest possible audience makes loads of sense, but to create a passionate loyal fanbase that fall in love with the brand and the technology, you need to offer diversity of options. That means colours and designs and a range of price points.
While many people will never pay A$500 for a pair of headphones, these do things other headphones don't and that battery life is sensational. I used these headphones with my phone and my PC, for more than a week without charging, so forget the daily recharges of other gadgets, these just go and go and go. This gives you confidence should you head away on a short trip, that you don't have to worry about an extra charger (especially if you're living the UBS-C life).
If you're in the market for a new pair of headphones, it's definitely worth your time to check out the Audeara A-01 headphones and if you get to own a pair, having your friends take the audio test and try the technology, is definitely going to impress.