Hands-on gadget review: Audeara A-01 wireless headphones
Noise-cancelling audio that measures your hearing to tailor sound perfectly for you.
Audeara’s A-01 active noise-cancelling, wireless headphones pack an unusual feature: the first time you use them, they conduct a hearing test and store the results internally. They then tailor their sonic profile to suit your ears, even when you switch between devices.
Unboxing the A-01s, they look like any other pair of over-ear headphones designed for travel. So they come in a travel case and have ear cups that turn by 90 degrees to fold flat for storage. They’re black and plush, but the aroma is more plastic than leather.
A little pouch in the middle gives you a USB charging cable, a headphone cable with in-line control and external microphone, adapters for the double 3.5mm headphone sockets popular in airline seats and an adapter for the larger 6.35mm headphone socket you’ll find on home hi-fi separates systems.
We downloaded the companion app and paired it with the headphones quickly and straightforwardly via Bluetooth. The only way that the experience could have been improved upon would be to have a picture in the app to indicate which button to press on the headphones.
The next step, led by the app, is a “medical-style hearing threshold test inside your headphones” which measures the quietest sounds you can hear at all frequencies. It’s therefore best done in a quiet environment.
You can select whether to do a standard (eight beeps, three minutes), high-detail (16 beeps, five minutes) or ultimate precision (32 beeps, ten minutes) hearing test. As geeks and hypochondriacs, we went large…
It took at least ten minutes. The app tested us by playing repetitive beeps at each frequency. This sounds a bit like a lorry reversing, except at the highest frequencies when it sounds more like clicking. Within the app, you drag each point on a graph up and down to indicate at what point the beep becomes so quiet that you can barely hear it.
Each ear is tested individually and our two graphs were interesting and pretty consistent with each other. The graphs were intriguingly uppy-downy. At 5,000Hz we’re all ears but 7,000Hz was a bit of a fail, most likely taken out by a brief flirtation with loud drum’n’bass clubs in the mid-nineties.
But the test isn’t just for the audiologically curious: its purpose is to tailor the A-01s’ performance to your ears. You do this within the app, deciding how much to apply the ‘Audeara effect’ for a bespoke sound profile: 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100%.
We found 0% (i.e. not applied) to sound like a standard pair of Bluetooth headphones and 100% to be rather quiet and flat. But 50% was brilliant, with mids punched up to deliver a rich and full sound. Vocals were clearer and less muddied, music detail was more audible. If you have a greater degree of hearing loss, the benefits would be even more pronounced.
It would of course be possible to get a similar effect by using a graphic equaliser app to tailor the volume at each frequency, with any headphones, but the beauty of Audeara’s technology is that the test measures your hearing and then decides everything for you.
Controls on the headphones themselves are simple. On the back of the left cup are a power switch and three tiny buttons: top and bottom buttons control volume, middle is to pair via Bluetooth. On the right is just a switch for turning on active noise cancellation.
Passive noise cancellation is provided by the big, comfy earpads blocking out a lot of background noise, Active noise cancellation adds to this by listening to the external noise and playing you frequencies designed to cancel it out. The technology works best with repetitive noise, so it’s ideal for plane and train journeys. The headphones are large, though, so you might feel fine wearing them on an overnight flight but self-conscious walking down the street in them.
The stated battery life of “up to 65 hours” is disingenuous. That’s the battery life if you use them wired with active noise cancellation but no Bluetooth wireless connection or Audeara effects. Make it 35 hours with all the features enabled. That’s still very respectable, so perhaps it would have been better to quote a range.
Finally, we tried using the headphones as a wireless headset to make phone calls, using the built-in microphone. The call quality was very good and didn’t elicit any ‘head in bucket’ complaints from the other end. It was possible to walk around the room, away from the phone, with no loss of quality.
All told, these headphones give others in the same price bracket a good run for their money. They’re big, comfy and good for travel. But they come into their own if you need the tailored sound profile. The 30-day, money-back guarantee is therefore a good plan because you can see how much of a difference it makes for you.
Bowers & Wilkins PX
These over-ear, noise-cancelling, wireless headphones are award-winners for good reason, thanks to their best-in-class performance. 22-hour battery life and intuitive controls: for example, the music pauses when you lift an ear cup.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Wireless, over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones with Google Assistant built in, so you can tap a button and command your phone by voice. Amazon Alexa support coming soon. 20-hour battery life.
There are many graphic equaliser apps but this Android one works more like Audeara: fine-tune the sound based on how well you hear each frequency. Listen via anything: headphones, hi-fi, car and more. If you like it, an affordable in-app purchase removes ads.Free play.google.com
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