The ultimate guide to hearable technology and devices

In the rapidly evolving world of hearable technology there are a range of different hearable categories which devices can be found in. In this article we will start by providing you with a detailed history of hearable technology, then an outline of the pros and cons of the shift towards a smart audio future. Then we will breakdown and list what are currently the most prominent types of hearable technologies. We will also list the most popular hearable and smart audio devices in each category. Finally we’ll discuss what we believe the future of hearable technology looks like and what you can expect as a hearable consumer.


Before diving into the history and future of hearable devices and technology, the first question to answer is what exactly makes something a hearable? The term hearables and smart headphones gets thrown around a lot these days. The term “hearable” is a hybrid of the words wearable and headphone, as hearables combine major assets of wearable technology with the basic principle of audio-based information services, conventional rendition of music and wireless telecommunication. Therefore we see the definition of a hearable to be a technically advanced audio based device.


The first person to publicly don the term “hearable” was Nick Hunn in an article named: Hearables – the new Wearables back in April 2014. In that same year two unknown European tech companies, Bragi and Earin, came to market with products that brought more than just audio to wireless headphones. Bragi, a small German tech company based in the capital Munich became widely known after running Europe’s most successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014. With the launch of the world’s first true wireless smart headphone “The Dash” and pioneered the transformation of audio consumer electronics. Both companies massively surpassed their funding goals and really paved the way for major consumer brands to enter the market with confidence.

Both companies massively surpassed their funding goals and really paved the way for major consumer brands to enter the market with confidence.

Bragi and Earin delivered on the promise and shipped their hearables. The M-1 was Earin’s first throw at smart in-ear headphones, while Bragi brought The Dash to life. Where the M-1s mainly focused on making wireless audio as crisp as possible, The Dash really integrated the notion of ‘smart’ headphones by tracking vital functions in order to enhance a solid audio experience.

Ever since these two tech startups pioneered the hearable space, many have followed their example. This was mainly thanks to the major consumer adoption of crowdfunding in 2014. Somewhat surprisingly, it was mainly smaller companies that were the ones innovating at the time, paving the way for mass consumer brands to have the confidence to take their stabs into the smart audio technology market. Samsung came first with its original IconX earbuds, to be followed by the Sony Xperia Ear, the Apple AirPods and the Google Pixel Buds.

Pros and cons

The companies and brands behind wearable technology innovation insist on the integration of the technology with daily life, primarily showcasing the benefits of a synced lifestyle with the ease of grabbing important information at a glance. Hearable technology was an obvious extension to this deep integration. However its always important to keep in mind the pros and cons of hearable devices.


Hearable devices offer unprecedented convenience at an exceptionally low cost. All of the large consumer technology giants, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google market their products as ways to make their users more efficient by outsourcing their chores and learning their habits. This isn’t a novel concept. The rich have always relied on the labor of others to manage their homes and companies. Hearable technology and smart audio devices enable similar benefits. They can allow for live-translation, directions without even looking at a screen, provide sound amplification, monitor your health and even be personal voice-based assistants.

Artificial intelligence, algorithms, and automation now execute tasks for those who can afford these new hearable devices. As a result, more and different people may take advantage of a digital assistant than would use, or could afford, a human assistant.


Privacy. In a time where the average consumer already hyper-aware of the importance of privacy, having smart audio based devices listening to your every word is an obvious concern. Hearable devices require data – yours and everyone’s – in order to work to their full potential. To get the full benefits of AI and hearable technology, the devices must be able to learn the habits of their users, the only way to do this is by sharing their locations, routines, tastes in music, shopping history and so forth. However once a company has all of this data about a user, they can begin to monetize it in the form of targeted advertisements.

The next big concern that hasn’t really been addressed yet is around security. Hackers getting access to a hearable device, being able to listen to everything a user is saying and eavesdropping on private conversations is a very real threat.

Its up to users to decide whether the pros of hearable devices outweigh the cons. Whether the convenience and increased automation is worth the potential data and security concerns at large.

Augmented audio

Today when people refer to augmented audio they’re really referring to audio content that is customized for the their location. A simple example of this that most people have probably experienced are those headsets you’re given in a museum to accompany the tour. They are augmenting your reality of walking through the exhibition with audio commentary.

Fast forward to now and your smartphone can tell you details about your location based on your phone’s GPS. Or having an always-live assistant in your ear is perhaps the ultimate experience of augmented audio. In the near future, its quite probably that people will wear earbuds 24 hours a day, and that will give you seamless access to your voice assistant to do tasks like “Call my mom,” “Play my podcast” — or when you’re in the middle of a work meeting “Pull up xyz statistic.” And it will also tell you important notifications like, “You sound like you’re getting a cold” or “You should leave now for your next meeting — otherwise you’ll be late.”

Voice assistants

The key here is voice. A voice assistant is a digital assistant that uses voice recognition, speech synthesis, and natural language processing (NLP) to provide a service through a particular application.

IBM was the first company to bring voice AI to market with their IBM Shoebox which at the time in 1961 could recognize 16 words and 9 digits. Fast forward to 2011 when Apple brought us Siri, the first full featured voice assistant built into a smart phone. Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana soon followed and more recently, Amazon’s Echo in 2014.

There are a wide variety of applications that make use of voice technology which presents a massive opportunity for businesses and content creators to be voice ready.

Voice search, voice e-commerce and voice AI are the three fastest growing uses for voice assistants. Voice assistants have come a long way and they allow for an endless realm of opportunities through helping those with disabilities all the way to assisting people with mundane tasks.

Sound amplification

For the majority of the population our hearing will degrade over time to the point where we may need a personal sound amplification product (PSAP), these can be useful for anyone that has mild to moderate hearing loss and they are significantly cheaper than a full-blown hearing aid.

There are both hearing aids and sound amplifiers which are two very different things. A hearing aid is a device fitted by a medical practitioner that is adjusted to suit a very specific range of hearing loss for an individual. Whereas a sound amplifier works much like a very sensitive microphone that will just amplify and make all sounds much louder.

Health monitoring

The following health metrics can be monitored via your ear: brain electrical activity, blood oxygen levels and stress hormone levels. Combined with the advanced voice AI technology that is being developed we are quickly moving into a world where we will be able to have real-time assessment of health metrics via your earbuds which could provide recommendations, feed into analytics apps or let your doctor/practitioner know about any critical issues.

Sport audio

Athletes understand that achieving a great audio experience in all conditions requires a level of fit, function, and durability that far exceeds the norm. Our world is not average and we are not the average users, and that means any set of headphones will not do. Athletes need equipment designed for their world. This is especially so for sports where audio feeds are accessible from coaches in real-time. A great example of this is in cycling, where all cyclists will be wearing team radio devices with the tournament director providing instructions, strategies and tactics throughout a race. Advances in this technology combined with some real-time AI analysis will provide advantages to teams that invest in sport audio technology.

Sleep technology

Whether it’s a snoring partner, loud neighbors the night before a final or a long red-eye flight, earplugs are often an effective and affordable way to mask or block out unwanted noise during the day or night in order to achieve a healthier night’s sleep. Earplugs can simply be placed at the entrance to a person’s ear and come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, materials and primary functions.

Technology has advanced now to the point where we aren’t just using earplugs to block sound physically but we are actually using devices to help aid sleep by either blocking sound or playing sounds to help sleep easier.


Hearable technology and devices are heading towards a bright future but there are some concerns.

Recent reports emerged that all voice recordings by Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant were being reviewed for educational and improvement purposes. And although the recordings may be completely anonymous there are still privacy concerns in how they are used and stored.

Customers have theoretically had the power to block out recording or opt-out of the use of voice/sound related features. However it often limits the functionality of devices.

As the world heads towards a more voice and audio controlled world, these concerns will start to appear frequently around hearable technologies.

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