Published: January 25, 2013 2:52 PM
By Romain Thuret
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
Can you imagine a Bluetooth headset with no earpiece? Well, it exists. The company Max Virtual has developed a hat that uses bone conduction to transmit sound that only the wearer can hear, without any parts showing or sticking in the ear.

Max Virtual Cynaps

Bone conduction audio transmission has moved from the military, where it was originally developed, to hearing aids, where it's been present for years, now finally to Joe Public. With bone conduction technology, instead of travelling through the ear canal, sound is transmitted via a frequency that vibrates your skull. No need to panic, though, it's imperceptible and it doesn't turn your noggin into a maraca.

We ran into Max Virtual at their stand at CES' Eureka Park; they were displaying headwear in a range of styles, all equipped with the technology. Dubbed Cynaps, it allows you—and only you—to hear audio without the use of earphones or speakers, and has already been seen in prototypes for mobile phones.

Max Virtual Cynaps lining

Max Virtual was demonstrating a running cap with two vibration transducers hidden in the lining, toward the back. A Bluetooth receiver is hidden in the visor to receive transmissions from a smartphone or MP3 player and relay them to the transducers. You can take phone calls and control the volume. The firm says the battery lasts for 6 to 8 hours of talk time, or 30 days on standby.

We tried it out. It's fascinating, but, frankly, bone conduction and hi fi do not walk hand in hand. Bluetooth considerably degrades the sound of music, making a noticeable drop in quality. But for phone conversations, the sound was reasonably clear.


The Cynaps looks like a great idea in need of refining, if only for sports. For instance, it would be nice to see something other than just baseball hats and bicycle helmets. They could expand the concept to winter sportswear, horse riding, etc. One great thing about this technology is that it makes you less prone to the headaches people sometimes get due to the pressure on the inner ear caused by earphones.

The Cynaps project is currently holding a pledge for donations at Indiegogo, and will be for another 9 days. There are different models you can order (Nike Dri-Fits, running caps, bicycle helmets) starting at $79, as well as a DIY kit sold without a hat for $50, which you can use to Bluetooth-ify your favourite cap.

 

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