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If you’d told people 15 years ago that we’d all be walking around with hand sized computers in our pockets, plenty of them would have called you crazy. That seemed like the kind of tech you’d see in a movie set a hundred years in the future. It was other-worldly. Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to imagine that we ever lived our lives without smart phones. It’s something we’ve been reflecting on as we approach the ten year anniversary of the iPhone. Technology has transformed the world at a breakneck pace, and our lives have changed drastically along with it.
It makes you wonder about the next piece of can’t-live-without-it tech. Most of us have no idea, we’re simply along for the crazy ride. But if Doppler Labs has anything to say about it, the next big thing is going to be complex computers located in your headphones. Specifically their complex computers located in your headphones. Their product, Here One, is a set of wireless headphones that allow you to interact with sound in a revolutionary way. They came out in February, and already the world is buzzing about them. (The nice thing about these headphones is that you can turn that buzz down to a reasonable level if you’re so inclined.)
In only two years, Doppler Labs has grown from a company with a Kickstarter campaign for earbuds to an 80 person empire. As their growth goes astronomical (adding new engineers, experts, and seasoned executives), they keep one big goal in mind: They want to take on and defeat Apple in the race for the best ear bud.
“There was a big report that came out two weeks ago that simply said, ‘On September 7th everything changed,'” 29-year-old CEO and co-founder of Doppler Labs, Noah Kraft explains. “When Apple decided to remove the headphone jack and release the AirPods, everything changed. Now the race is on.”
Kraft who founded the company in 2013, has always had a bug for tech, with a background in film and music. He’s worked for the founder of Def Jam records, and most recently worked in film production. His most well known project was the Scorsese produced, “Bleed For This” starring Miles Teller. Still, the future for him was always in music.
“I’m an audiophile, drummer, and a music lover,” Kraft says.
So when the entrepreneur saw the opportunity to develop a smarter ear bud, one that would basically be a computer in your ear, he leapt. The result is the Here One — wireless ear buds that process 100 percent of the sounds in your vicinity. They allow you to fully integrate with the world around you. Then they allow you to manipulate it.
“Once we can mimic your ears, we can do a lot of incredible stuff on top of that,” Kraft says. “So we can amplify the world. We can reduce the world. We can add filters. For example, an airplane filter will cut out the jet engine, but not the human voice. You can be sitting on an airplane and you can talk to the flight attendant without hearing the rumble of the jet engine.”
This is the stuff of the future — tech that allows you to actually cut out distractions, rather than just adding to the noise.
“Let’s say, you’re walking down the street, and you want a soundtrack to your life,” Kraft said. “At 20% you have Lil Wayne pumpin’ in your ears, but not overwhelming you.” The earbuds will also allow Siri to give you updates and for feeds to play your favorite sporting event or podcast without drowning out the voices you need to hear. Then, they have the really cool directional mic feature. You can lower background voices and direct the mic to amplify just the person or persons you want to hear. Thus, making conversations at a crowded restaurant feel as intimate as a conversation on your own couch.
Sounds crazy, right? So did the aforementioned iPhone.
Kraft believes that the ability to amplify and direct voices could have a huge impact on the Hearing Health community. Currently, hearing aids have to be prescribed and are incredibly expensive. His product could provide a lower cost, higher tech alternative which is less stigmatized and more stylish.
Kraft knows that he’s not the typical Silicon Valley start up CEO, but in some ways, believes that gives him the edge over his competition. He’s always looking at the bigger picture culturally and how they can create a product that will seamlessly fit into people’s daily lives and into youth culture.
“What we try and do at Doppler is really look at the cultural implication of what we’re making as well as the technological implications,” Kraft said. “If you just do tech in a vacuum, you end up creating products like Google Glass, but if you do great tech plus add in a cultural perspective, hopefully, you create products that people wear really proudly.”
This explains last year’s partnership with Coachella last year, to test the Here One. Not only were thousands walking around with the product, but Kraft said it was the first time in history that so many people wore in-ear tech at a live event. The fact that people were comfortable with the aesthetics and the listening experience made him incredibly excited about the future.
“It felt natural, organic,” he says. “We wanted it to feel really culturally relevant. And so, it was awesome. I’m a fan of Coachella. Just as a person, I am obsessed with live music, but being able to organically integrate into it and be part of pushing the boundaries of how people experience sound … It was amazing.”
With Here One, Coachella goers were actually able to tailor their music experience. So not only could they hear friends more easily when needed, but they could manipulate the sound around them. Whether they wanted to turn up the base or balance the vocals, it was a unique music experience that they could curate for themselves.
It’s all pretty cool stuff, and Kraft is cautiously optimistic about their future. Even though he knows they have an uphill battle ahead with taking on giants like Apple.
“A start-up every day is life and death,” he admits. “So, you’re always on edge.”
In the future, the company plans on integrating systems like Alexa or Cortana so you’ll have AI with you at all times. And they’re working on things like real-time language translation — hoping Here One will be the next “must have” piece of tech that we can’t live without.
For now, Kraft is just enjoying the first wave of product hitting the market. The other day he was at the airport and saw the Here One in the wild for the first time.
“He probably thought I was crazy,” he says with a laugh. “I tapped him on the shoulder and was like, ‘We made that! It’s ours!!’ We get to see it out in the world now, and that’s amazing.”