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What is Transparency Mode

Transparency mode refers to the use of external microphones located earbuds or headphones that allow the listener to hear (and sometimes augment or blend) surrounding world noise with digital audio from a connected device. This technology enables better situational awareness for individuals. For example, it benefits those wearing earbuds or headphones while commuting, exercising, and other activities.

Transparency mode utilizes similar technology as active noise cancellation or “ANC.” ANC earbuds use microphones to pick up and process noise around the user. The earbuds then work to mask or “cancel” out that noise by frequency and amplitude.

transaprency mode controls

Noise-canceling earbuds usually come in an in-ear form as this creates a better seal within the ear, thus blocking a high percentage of outside noise. When the user turns off ANC, they hear more noise, particularly sounds that travel further such as traffic noise.

Silicon ear tips are quite good at passively canceling out noise. This means that even once ANC is switched off, it’s still be hard to hear the world around you. That’s where transparency mode takes over.

How Does Transparency Mode Work

With transparency mode activated, the outside noise is played inside of the earbuds, along with music or their favorite podcast. Its as if the person wearing the buds is standing in a room listening to audio through a speaker, they can focus on the music or chat with the person next to them.

The user can now interact with their surroundings. Order a coffee, pay for groceries, navigate urban areas more safely, all whilst being able to listen to music.

Transparency mode is most effective with both earbuds placed in the ears. The user could wear only one bud but that would allow for external noise to stream into the ear, thus defeating the purpose of “choosing what you hear.” With both earbuds and transparency mode, the user still gets to experience a rich audio sound whilst being able to hear their surroundings.

transaprency mode in IQbuds

Diagram of transparency mode technology for the original IQbuds in 2016

Many Names for the Same Concept

Despite what many Apple enthusiasts would have you believe, Transparency Mode was around long before AirPods Pro. Perhaps some of the confusion stems from the many different names used for the same technology.

As detailed in a previous blog post on the concept of hear-through earbuds, some of the many other names for Transparency Mode used by manufacturers include:

The original IQbuds, debuted in 2016, were among the very first earbuds to feature this technology. However, the release of AirPods Pro in late October of 2019 certainly brought increased attention to the concept.

Earbuds with Transparency Mode

Nuheara IQbuds2 MAX

As stated above, Nuheara’s original terminology for the transparency mode feature was intelligent or augmented hearing This tech enables users to enhance speech and reduce ambient noise, or to retain situational awareness while enjoying digital audio. The goal; to control volume and blend noise from the outside world. Nuheara’s IQbuds2 MAX have many features that class them as the elite transparency mode earbuds:

  • World on/off control allows the user to switch been active noise cancelation and transparency mode at the tap of an earbud.
  • Scale world volume and fine-tuning through the IQbuds hearing app which unlocks powerful customization features.
  • Balance world audio between speech vs ambient noise with Nuheara’s proprietary Speech in Noise Control (SINC) that adds unique sound controls for each situation.
  • 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. Ear ID has been designed to give complete control of your hearing assessment and auto calibration process.

More Recent Earbuds Offering Hear-Through Functionality

Apple AirPods Pro

Apple have popularized the transparency mode feature in their AirPods Pro earbuds. The AirPods Pro were Apple’s first set of noise-canceling earbuds and represented a step up from the original AirPods, released in December of 2016. Users switch between active noise cancellation and transparency mode on the earbuds by squeezing and holding one of the buds, or by pressing the noise control button.

Despite being a later entrant into the augmented hearing space, Apple commands such a massive market share that their participation has a profound effect on mass market awareness. However, with transparency mode on the AirPods Pro, users need to pause music even at moderate volumes to be able to hear people talk or hear what’s going on.

Dyplay ANC Pods

Another choice of earbud with ANC and transparency mode is the Dyplay ANC Pods. These buds also support Qi wireless charging, meaning they will charge on a compatible charging pad. On the downside, the Dyplay ANC Pods don’t have any waterproof rating, so shouldn’t be worn in wet weather.

Jabra Elite 75t

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, along with IP55 water resistance. In terms of listening to music, a downside to these buds is that both buds must be connected, one earbud cant be used on its own.

To see an example of IQbuds MAX transparency mode, check out how fitness instructor Max uses his earbuds:

October 21st, 2021