High-quality speakers are more plentiful than ever and have never sounded so good. But most of the time, unless we’re listening through hi-def set-ups in our home or office, we’re listening on phone and laptop speakers or fairly lo-fi earbuds. Now, rather than turning the volume up, there’s a solution that offers a listening experience without the potential for hearing damage. And, for those who are hearing impaired, an opportunity to “hear” for the first time. This solution is DropLabs‘ EP 01, sneakers that provide depth and richness to streamed audio through vibrations that stimulate nerve receptors in your feet.
DropLabs is Susan Paley’s latest venture. Formerly CEO at Beats by Dre, Paley caught wind of this emerging technology several years ago, and in November, the $550 sneaker was made available for pre-order. The EP 01 doesn’t project music from its outer sole; it vibrates the insole, heel, and upper stem to the tune of whatever you’re listening to in your Bluetooth headphones or earbuds. Using an accompanying app, vibration intensity can be adjusted to varying levels or be turned off altogether.
“The EP 01 provides a music-listening experience similar to that of a live setting like a concert, an intimate venue, or a club,” Paley tells CH. “The sound feels richer and more alive. Many people say they can hear additional nuance and instrumentation than they’ve previously experienced. This brings an element of discovery, or rediscovery into music which is always exciting.”
Though they wouldn’t be the best choice for performance activities (long runs, strenuous sports, or intense lifting), the sneakers are great for situations in which you’re concentrated on sound: producing music, editing videos, watching movies on an airplane, listening to music on a commute, or when playing video games. Paley proudly reinforces their potential for growth within the latter industry, courtesy of technology that would allow players to control on-screen movements with their feet.
“When you listen to digital music in many of the popular formats you will have some audio loss based on the compression of the file. Often you don’t experience the full punch of the bass line, or the energy and dynamic range that the artist intended,” Paley tells CH.
“When the original earbuds came out there was a lot of discussion about potential hearing damage, as people were cranking their music up so they could ‘feel it’ and connect to it in a visceral way,” she continues. “When you add DropLabs into your listening experience your brain is literally getting more information because you’re not just listening with your ears, but you’re hearing throughout your entire body, beginning with your feet. Engaging your sensory system from the ground up sends additional information to your brain for processing.”
This first version boasts six hours of battery life and a magnetic charging port (signaled by a glowing blue dot) on the heel. The EP 01, though nice looking and certainly comfortable, represents (as the name suggests) the first in a series. Since the technology exists in the outsole, future iterations may drastically differ in shape, color and design.
Images courtesy of DropLabs