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The Even headphones make you feel better about your poor hearing

Engadget Engadget 28/06/2016 Kris Naudus

© Provided by Engadget

The best headphones in the world don't mean much if the listener's hearing isn't up to the task. A great pair of cans could offer clear, balanced sound that highlights every little nuance in a song, but that means very little when pitted against decades of hearing loss. This frustrating situation for headphone manufacturers and music makers alike has led to the creation of headsets that customize themselves to suit your unique audio needs. The Even earbuds, available today, are the latest entry in this market, with an advantage of costing just under $100 -- comparable to many high-quality, non-personalized headsets.

While the Nura headphones I looked at last month used small microphones hidden inside their earbuds to "listen" to the shape of your ear, the team behind Even opted for a slightly old-fashioned approach: a hearing test, built right into the controls of the headset. Of course, the company doesn't call it a hearing test; the EarPrint technology is merely building you a sound profile that will make audio from the headphones sound better to you. You'll still need to go to a doctor to find out if your hearing is actually bad and whether you'll need a hearing aid.

Even co-founder and CEO Danny Aronson admits there's a stigma around the inability to hear well, though hearing loss is as common as bad eyesight. But we don't feel embarrassed to wear glasses, at least not in the way many do when forced to wear a hearing aid. The Even isn't going to solve that larger societal problem, but it does at least try to make things a little better for music listeners who might struggle to hear the details of their favorite tunes. And it does it in an extremely positive way, via an audio guide named 'Sarah.'

Standard hearing exams are cold and clinical, leaving you isolated in a cone of silence until you can hear and react to the perfunctory tones. There's no immediate feedback and I've always found waiting for each sound kind of stressful: When is the next tone coming? Is that it? Am I imagining I heard something? Maybe it's already there and I can't hear it at all? In contrast, once you start the EarPrint process by double-clicking the "get Even" button, Sarah is there every step of the way. "Hi," she says. "This is really easy." And it is: Five different pieces of music are played for each ear, and you click the button the moment you can hear anything. "Great," Sarah will say, "you've really got the hang of this." Even though I know it's a pre-programmed response, I still feel really, really good.

All of this is built right into the Even, no app needed. The team at Even hasn't dismissed the possibility of an application in the future, but with their first product they're keeping things simple. Unfortunately, that means the headphones can only work for one user at a time, so if your friends borrow your set and go through the EarPrint process, you'll have to go through it again once the headphones are returned to you. This isn't that big of a deal, as it only takes two minutes and Even recommends you redo the EarPrint anyway every two months to ensure the best sound.

So what are the Even earbuds actually like? I've been wearing them at work the past two days and they've been rather crisp and well-balanced, about what you would expect from any pair of $99 headphones -- and that's without turning on the EarPrint technology. Even without the added bells and whistles the Even is a solid pair of earbuds with some nice practical touches built into their design. The left bud is white and the right one is black, so you always know which is which at a glance. And it uses a thick, braided cord that not only looks great but also makes it harder for them to tangle inside your pocket. The one downside to the braided cord is that it's a bit scratchier than standard vinyl or rubber cords, with the noise traveling up to the earbuds when you move around a lot.

The controls on the cord are pretty standard: two volume buttons and a play/pause button, as well as a built-in mic so you can take calls. A little LED on the controls lets you know the Even's status: A steady green light means EarPrint is active, blue indicates the setup process is underway and red means the battery is low. I'm discovering that right now as I try to listen to the Game of Thrones season six score. The Even just interrupted the music with a cheerful "bum bum" sound, but didn't make it immediately clear that this meant the battery was dying. This is probably the biggest downside of the Even not having an app: It needs to be charged regularly. It also seems that you need to turn them on even if you're not using EarPrint, so don't bother trying to save battery by using them like a normal headset.

As standard headphones they're great, but with the EarPrint technology... well, they're not really much better. At least, it's not as striking a difference as I experienced with the Nura. The music definitely seems louder, with certain parts more prominent as the Even lifts the frequencies I normally could not hear. How well that approach works varies by song: "Teardrop" by Massive Attack was almost completely changed, and the excellent instrumentation on "My Shot" from the Hamilton cast recording really shone. However, "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede just seemed louder without any additional depth, while Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" was almost identical to me. I also can't say that I necessarily liked the EarPrint-enhanced version of "Teardrop" that much; I like how soft and subtle some of the tones normally sound, even if that's a byproduct of my crappy hearing and not how the song is supposed to be.

This isn't to say that EarPrint is a wash; Aronson told me that most people often find themselves adjusting the volume in response to the enhanced audio because it no longer needs to be loud to be heard. Which in turn, is good for your ears in that it can prevent even further hearing loss. So it's not just that the Even tries to make the most of what you have hearing-wise, it helps you hold onto it for a lot longer.

If you'd like to try out the EarPrint technology for yourself there's a demo available on the Even site that approximates the testing process and results. If you like what you hear, or you just like the idea of a solid, good-looking pair of earbuds, you can snag a pair for yourself today for $99.

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