How invisible headphones can change the listening experience

Christophe Ramstein from Noveto speaks to Reece Webb to explain how directional audio can offer intelligible flexibility.

When it comes to the way that we interact with audio, the field has been limited to two kinds of technologies and listening experiences. For the more personal and private experience there are headphones, providing a listening experience that is typically high quality but isolates the user from other sounds around them.

The alternative is a more public experience, achieved through loudspeakers that allows users to share in an audio experience while interacting with each other at the cost of a lack of privacy.

For the most part, this technological double-edged sword has been one that consumers and professionals alike have been happy to bear the brunt of, but new innovations from an AI-based audio technology startup could well disrupt this traditional trade-off through a third method: ‘invisible’ headphones.

This technology has been pioneered by Noveto, an Israeli start-up co-founded by Tomer Shani and Noam Babayoff, now led by Dr. Christophe Ramstein.

Ramstein joined Noveto in 2020 after working as vice president of Logitech’s global engineering department, gaining experience on the manufacture of products as well as another role as CTO of haptic technology company Immersion Corporation.

Ramstein started his first company after completing a PHD in applied mathematics. “The first company was centred around creating a product for visually impaired people, for astronauts and designers where you can ‘feel’ things. I worked on a few start-ups from touch feedback technology up to motion sensing for sports, which is available in Samsung technology. I have also worked on polymers to create reactive materials and more.

I’m an experience guy. My life has always been about making technology better in an emotional way. My mantra for the past 30 years has been: ‘How can I interact with computers better?’ It’s not just about creating technology that uses ultrasound. Step number one is to create balance for home office workers and office workers with a fantastic audio experience.”

Ramstein joined Noveto with the goal of growing the business and bringing the company’s technology to market. Ramstein says: “Noveto was founded with a dream of making ‘invisible’ headphones. Noveto hired me to combine the technology with a business mindset and that is what I am doing.”

Enter Noveto’s N1, a device that breaks the mold by combining AI-facial identification features with ‘smart beaming’ technology to project sound directly to a user’s ears.

Showcased at CES 2022, the N1 uses facial ID recognition software to identify the location of the user’s ears, beaming sound to the user’s ears to create an experience that is private to the user but does not isolate N1 users from other sounds in the room.

The N1 creates an SPL of 85dB with a frequency response of 350Hz as well as -20dB one metre to the side of the user and -20dB up to one metre behind the user to create a private but unobtrusive experience.

Ramstein explains: “The N1 creates pockets of sound that follow you, there is a very unique feeling of being in the sound. When the device is on the sound is projected right by your ears, it’s not like using a loudspeaker, people next to you can barely hear it. To make it a personal experience we use ultrasounds which have a very narrow wavelength. When these ultrasounds travel they are like spotlights. We use this narrow wavelength to limit the sound, to create two pockets of sound.

“The N1 is designed for people working from home or the office, reducing the overall sound level but providing an excellent audio experience. It is compatible with Alexa, using the N1’s face ID to engage and interact with the device. Volume control can be achieved via voice commands, so it’s like having a conversation with the device by gazing at the device to initiate commands [rather than an audio prompt]. We’re bringing the level of interaction to the next level not just with smart beaming but also with multi-modal user interaction that uses face ID, gesture recognition and a great set of microphones to achieve 3D sound.”

Other use cases exist in the world of translation at the highs of intergovernmental meetings, doing away with headsets, or for personal and direct translations of content or films. The device can be used as a soundbar to transmit a translated version of the spoken word unobtrusively to the recipient’s ears whilst other users watch and listen in the original language.

“In museums, with the N1, you won’t need to rent or wear headphones. You can approach a painting, the system will recognise you and talk to you, it’s more of a personal experience and the next generation of personal sound that provides an easier interaction. Headphones and speakers can’t do that. “The corporate market also offers a big opportunity for us. If you go to the cafeteria to get a coffee, the system can recognise you through facial ID and provide reminders for meetings and other information just by identifying your face, other people can’t hear it. It’s not as silent as headphones but enough that noise pollution is dramatically reduced around you and confidential information remains confidential.”

The N1 was launched at CES and will begin shipping in April/ May 2022 through distribution partners. Ramstein: “We’ve got distributors coming to us and we will soon reach the volume that we are targeting for this year. Our first step is to go through distributor partners in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the UK, Canada and more, eventually offering our products online.”

Looking to the future, Ramstein predicts that Noveto will expand into other areas, experimenting with different ways of producing and indeed cancelling sound.

Ramstein explains: “We’re looking at going into different directions in the future, with different products and form factors as well as tapping into other features that create a dome of silence, the opposite of what we have created with the N1. Eventually, we will have a few business models that we are going to tap into, and we will be discussing that very soon.”

Article Categories

Most Viewed