Hack This Look: Sound Reasoning

The weakest point in my own personal wearable computer rig as described in my original Hack This Look post is the sound.

There are two reasons for this. One is that I’m not at all an audiophile and while I do use my wearable to watch videos, that’s not the main purpose for it. 

The other is that what I think of as the ideal solution doesn’t work for me, as it’s incompatible with the rest of my gear loadout.

If you were to copy what I was doing from the ground up, I would strongly suggest going with something like a pair of Trekz Air bone conduction headphones — they are very discreet, easy-wearing, leave your ears open, and the sound quality is decent. So you could watch a video while you’re sitting around, chopping veggies, cleaning, etc., without having to pop on headphones or obstruct your ears.

My problem is I already had a pair of them that I keep paired with my phone and I don’t want to change that. I like using my phone for music, I don’t want to have to re-pair to make or (God forbid) answer a phone call, etc. 

So, I have some really good Bluetooth headphones for my phone and then I use some not great earbud phones when I’m watching a video on my computer, but I’m not wearing the earbuds all the time so I have to put them on special, separate from the rest of the rig, when I want to do something with audio.

But I recently attended a convention where I knew I would be showing off my wearable rig socially, and I decided to look into what existed in the world of wearable speakers. I thought since no one could see what I see on my screen, some audible audio output would be a good way to demonstrate that yes, the whole thing is functional.

I tried a few different things, including attaching a cheap but cool glowy Bluetooth speaker to a modular clip mount. I need to work on the attachment, but this worked pretty well in terms of easy of use, as once the device is paired you just switch it on and it will connect automatically. It has some rudimentary media controls on the outside, and it makes a cool glowy science prop if you happen to be cosplaying as Entrapta.

Note that this is a CHEAP speaker. I’ve had a couple nigh-identical ones over the years, including some I received as a result of Amazon review spam-scams, and although the specific one I’ve linked to had decent sound quality for me, I would imagine it’s kind of luck of the draw.

Less easy to use but with louder volume and better sound quality right up until the very deep end of the volume pool is the Boomband.  When I say it’s less easy to use, I don’t mean it’s hard to use. It has the sort of very minimalist interface that is common with Bluetooth gadgets where there’s just one button. This can make getting it paired up with a new device for the first time kind of frustrating, as I discovered when I lent it to a friend for a party.

The Boomband is definitely what I would recommend if you want a wearable speaker to go with your wearable computer, for the usual purposes of a speaker (as opposed to headphones). If you’re keeping it paired up to a single device, its one real weakness isn’t much of a weakness. 

It’s also pretty good if you want to play music for other people off your phone, or conduct teleconferences on speaker. These things are more the intended use for it.

I will note that the one time I actually used either of the above as more than a prop at the convention, it was taking the Boomband off and leaving it sitting on a table at a party to provide music. The fact that it’s wearable only factored into things insofar as that was why I was traveling with it. Even in a long weekend of social situations, I didn’t come up with any real uses for a wearable speaker.

The other solution audio solution I’ve tried is a wearable speaker but not one that is intended to play music for others. There’s a whole niche of torc-style wearable speakers you put over your neck and then they play your audio loud enough for you to hear, but sort of focused right around your head. The theory is that this lets you listen to things without disturbing others around you.

I do have a device of this sort. It’s not very high-end. You have to twist the plastic a bit to fit it around many sized necks, which feels like it could go wrong. The sound quality is just okay. If you’re an audiophile with money to burn you can go all the way up the name brand ladder to Bose wearable speakers, but that’s more than I’m willing or able to pay to watch Killing Eve without headphones.

I haven’t had much of a chance to test my speaker torc, especially the claims of a sort of personal sound environment, and as I have the sharpest hearing in the household so it would be hard to make a fair test, but the reviews on many of the devices in this range talk about using them in office spaces, or beside a sleeping partner, so there seems to be something to it.

I would say, though, that you should look at this as a feature that may preserve others’ comfort, not your privacy. I would not suggest using it for phone calls in any context in which you would not use a speakerphone, and do not watch/listen to anything of a personal or private nature in public while using them.

What I’m really interested in, once I have enough money to justify the purchase, is something like this goober here which combines the torc-style speakers with retractable earbuds. Barring catastrophically bad sound quality, I think that would become my permanent sound solution for my wearable computer rig: speakers, microphone, and and earphones in one device. Sounds perfect, honestly. I especially like the flexible neck, seems a way better solution than solid plastic.

As with everything else I’ve got my eye on that I can’t quite justify the cost of, I’m adding it to my wishlist. Buy it for me to enable my habbit and encourage future tech posts for the mildly tech savvy.

If these wearable tech review posts become popular enough, I might make a separate wishlist specifically for them.