Joaquin Phoenix’s character in the movie Her uses a tiny wireless earbud to communicate with his phone. Instead of completely focusing on the film, I couldn’t stop thinking, “That’s exactly the kind of earbuds I want, but two of them for stereo sound.”
Then I found the Earin, two Bluetooth earbuds which work in tandem but aren’t physically connected. They ship in January 2015, which is a lot sooner than I expected from the milieu of the film. Launched as a Kickstarter campaign, the project skyrocketed past its $300,000 USD goal in about three days.
There appears to be some pent-up demand for wireless headphones, and Earin is not the only competitor. The Dash is an ultra-compact music player built right into a pair of wireless earbuds, but they're meant for exercising; Earin is unapologetically focused on streaming music in the most minimalistic way possible. There's not even a mic for phone calls.
The driving factor in the shrinking the size of earphones is the battery technology. For its power Earin is using a Li-ion coin cell battery which will provide it about three hours of battery life per charge. To help make that number practical, the earbuds also come with a small capsule which will charge them in between uses.
Recently, I spoke to cofounder of Outdoor Technology Caro Krissman, who’s also making a play for smaller and sleeker wireless audio products. Part of the company’s ability to create modern audio devices has come from its expertise in sourcing parts from China. Earin acknowledges that parts and suppliers are the make-or-break factor to its success in the "risks and challenges" section of its Kickstarter page. The changing nature of the battery market, and the huge variance in quality, means that the Earin earbuds could end up even better than they are currently spec'd, should new parts hit the market before Earin does.
Here's how the headphones work. The Bluetooth signal is split into a left and right channel and sent to the first speaker. The right channel continues on from the left to the second speaker with a slight delay, but Earin says the lag is indistinguishable to the human hear.
Bluetooth has advanced quite a bit in the context of audio streaming says Errett Kroeter, director of global industry & brand marketing at Bluetooth SIG. “Since the adoption of v4.0 the SIG has rolled out updates to the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, A/V Remote Control Profile, Generic A/V Distribution Profile, and the Audio Video Remote Control Profile, among others,” he says.
Kroeter also adds, “In 2014, the SIG entered into a partnership with the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association to develop a standard for new hearing aids, improving existing features, and creating new ones such as stereo audio from a mobile device or media gateway via Bluetooth.” Obviously, Earin is taking advantage. Who else will step up and compete? Here's looking at you, Apple (and Beats).