hear through earbuds in use on street

A growing trend in today’s wireless audio market is the emergence of hear through earbuds. Known by a litany of different names (more on that in a moment), the premise behind this technology is consistent.

Hear through earbuds offer the ability to control volume and noise from the outside world. They also enable users to selectively blend sounds from the outside world with streaming digital audio.

Hear through technology is not exactly new, especially to users of IQbuds BOOST or the original IQbuds. The Indiegogo crowdfunding page for IQbuds from 2016 mentions this very technology: “By combining our intelligent hearing technology and Bluetooth you will have the control to mix the background noise with your audio streams for situations where you require a balance of situational awareness.”

hear through earbuds diagram from early IQbuds

Diagram of hear through technology for the original IQbuds in 2016

Hearing Augmentation & Audio Transparency

Nuheara referred to this feature as intelligent or augmented hearing. This tech enabled users to enhance speech and reduce ambient noise, or to retain situational awareness while enjoying digital audio. A 2017 blog post on the subject discusses some of the many applications of hear through earbuds that other manufacturers boast of today:

“You’ve likely worn earbuds or headphones while working out, commuting, or even while at your workplace perhaps. Listening to music or a podcast enhances such activities for many.

However, the drawback of multi-tasking with digital entertainment is a lack of situational awareness of the surrounding physical world. By tuning in to the digital world, one effectively must tune out the physical world. With IQbudsTM augmented hearing functionality, the wearer can enjoy the best of both worlds.”

augmented hearing visualization on busy street

During the same time period, Bragi offered similar functions in their Dash earbuds known as audio transparency. Distributed now through a Hong Kong-based enterprise by the name of E-USE, the support page for The Dash describes audio transparency as follows:

“Audio Transparency lets you amplify the sounds of your ambient environment. It enables you to hear what is going on around you as well as engaging in a conversation without having to remove The Dash from your ears.”

YEVO Labs of Stockholm, also prefers this term when describing the hear through functions of their earbuds. They appear to have 1st used the term in December of 2016 with the launch of their YEVO 1 earbuds.

Transparency & Social Mode

The introduction to hear through earbuds occurred for many consumers with the October 2019 launch of AirPods Pro.  They refer to this feature as transparency mode. Despite being a later entrant into the augmented hearing space, Apple commands such a massive market share that their participation has a profound affect on mass market awareness. A snippet from Apple’s support pages explains the basic hear through technology concept as follows:

“Transparency mode lets outside sound in, so you can hear what’s going on around you. Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode work best when your AirPods Pro fit well.”

The last part of the above quote regarding “fit” is important to take note of it. Due to its somewhat open design, the AirPods Pro allow ambient noise in. As a result, they do not offer the noise isolation that many other wireless earbuds can. Despite  the weight and look of bulky headphones, the upside is an effective seal from outside noise.

The Nuraphones by Melbourne-based Nura are one such example of over-the-ear headphones offering hear through capabilities. In 2018, their G2 software update introduced added noise cancellation features to their product, including what they call social mode.

Nura’s support pages describe social mode as the ability to pass outside noises into the headphones “so you can hear conversations and the world around you.”

Their social mode offers more nuance than many manufacturers, offering 7 different levels of blended world volume, rather than a simple on/off setting. It’s not quite the level of customization available through the world volume controls on the IQbuds app (pictured) however.

Specialized Headsets with Hear Through Capabilities

Somewhere between over-the-ear headphones and true wireless earbuds lie specialized headsets like the BOSE Hearphones. BOSE uses the phrase world volume to describe their hear through functions on Hearphones. Similar language to the examples already listed above describes the concept on the their website

“Just like the volume setting on your phone controls the loudness of your music, podcast and phone calls, the World Volume setting controls the loudness of live voices, TV and other environmental sounds. You can adjust the World Volume so that it’s just right for you.”

Alango Technologies, based in Israel, manufacturers the BeHear NOW headset. This product has similar capabilities to those found in the Hearphones by BOSE. However Alango offers another variation of the feature name, referring to it as ListenThrough technology on their support and product pages. Despite the original name, the concept remains similar as the tech is described as a way to “to complement audio playback with environmental alertness—preserving important ambient sounds (e.g., car sirens, alarms, etc.) while eliminating the background noise.”

The BeHear NOW and BOSE Hearphones – 2 headsets offering hear through functionality

Low Tech Approaches to the Hear Through Concept

In 2018, Sony made waves with their Experia Ear Duo release. These odd-looking buds were were a continuation of a years long effort to enable music listening without blocking sound from the outside world. The approach was decidedly low tech. Build a set of earbuds with a massive whole in them to let sound through.

While useful for some applications, in noisy environments like buses or airplanes, the buds did not impress. A writer for The Verge expressed his frustration with the hear through concept, writing:

“They’re absolutely useless on the New York City subway, and they’d do you no good on an airplane.”


Sony experia ear duo

Newly Updated for 2020

Added as firmware update in May of 2020, Jabra’s Elite 75t earbuds now offer basic “hear-through” functionality. Additionally, this function is available now on the 65t series earbuds and others. Branded as HearThrough technology by the Danish manufacturer, their support pages describe the concept as follows:

“HearThrough lets you hear surrounding sounds through the earcups/earbuds while you are wearing them. Ambient sounds are picked up by the microphones and transmitted to the speakers.”

IQbuds2 MAX are the Elite Hear Through Earbuds

Hear through earbuds…  audio transparency… social mode… it’s hard to keep up with all of the jargon. However, the goal of controlling volume and blending noise from the outside world is consistent. Whatever name you prefer, IQbuds² MAX are the best solution. Consider all of the available features:

  • World on/off control at the tap of an earbud
  • Scale world volume and fine-tuning through the IQbuds app
  • Balance world audio between speech vs ambient noise
  • Use seven preset audio environment modes for use in planes, at home, in the office, etc.
  • Use Ear ID to auto-calibrate earbuds based on your personal hearing profile

Ready to try the world’s best true wireless earbuds with hear through functionality? Purchase IQbuds² MAX and enjoy a 30-day risk free trial.

August 29th, 2020
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