Competitors for the best headphones are increasingly not just focused on delivering top-quality audio. Every year it seems like new strings are being added to their bow, and one big thing we’ll see in earbuds and headphones at CES 2024 are ‘neural’ technologies.
We also saw a few more interesting earbuds that pushed the boundaries of headphone technology, including TimeKettle’s new X1 two-way translator earbuds for multiple devices and BREGGZ’s wireless in-ear computer earbuds, which also have a translation app. With Samsung also looking to add real-time translation to its next Galaxy Buds, it’s safe to say this is a technology we’ll be hearing a lot more about.
But the idea that headphones can read minds is – in our opinion – even more bizarre and therefore more interesting. I’ve rounded up four neural headphones I saw at CES 2024, all with very different designs.
1. Naqi neural earbuds
Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Naqi Logix, Dave Segal, holds a Neural Earbud during CES Unveiled 2024. (Image credit: Future)
Brain implants sound like science fiction, but there are plenty of companies working on developing this technology for the consumer market. In this case, it’s a company called Naqi Logix, which was co-founded by Dave Segal in Canada four years ago.
Segal tells me that the reason he invented wearable technology that could use electrical signals from the brain to control various devices, from smart home electronics to even flight simulators, was motivated by a desire to help a friend who had become paralyzed .
“We are building the only neural earbuds on planet Earth that can serve as a safe, non-invasive alternative to brain implants. (They provide) the ability to have complete control over Windows and Mac computers, including typing, browsing, shopping and playing contemporary video games,” Segal explains.
The idea behind the earbuds, which use gyroscopic, muscle and brainwave sensors, is that the computer interface technology within them can be used in any of the best wireless earbuds to give them this extra control. Given its ability to completely transform lives, it’s no wonder the Naqi Neural Earbuds received a CES Innovation Award for Accessibility and Aging Technology.
2. NeurGear ZenBud
NeurGear founder John Hacker shows off the ZenBud at CES Unveiled 2024. (Image credit: Future)
Instead of sensing nerves and translating those signals to control a device like the neural earbuds above, NeurGear’s ZenBud headset uses ultrasound waves to relax you. The technology works by stimulating the so-called vagus nerve, which is responsible for various bodily functions such as digestion, heart rate and breathing.
John Hacker, the founder and CEO of NearGear, explained to me that by stimulating a person’s vagus nerve, it triggers a rest response, which sends calming signals to the brain. This helps to “strengthen your stress resistance and your ability to relax. By using it for just five minutes a week, you will see a clear increase in stress resistance and relaxation.”
While the ZenBud is still in its infancy – NeurGear was only founded in 2021 – this kind of ultrasonic technology could be rolled out to the best earbuds in the future. But if you want to try it out sooner, as part of NeurGear’s Kickstarter campaign, you can pre-order it now for $1 and get a $100 discount on the purchase price, which is not yet known.
3. MyWaves Technologies Pebble
The myWaves Pebble device records your unique brain waves and converts them into customized sleep sounds that help you sleep. (Image credit: Future)
The myWaves Pebble device, which you can see in the image above, is intended more as a headphone accessory and attaches to your forehead to analyze your brain waves while you sleep to create custom music tracks that it claims will help you sleep.
“We have a science-backed technology that actually uses delta waves, which are connected to sleep in your brain, to tell you all the activities of your sleep, from deep sleep to rapid eye movement (REM). Through a very specific If we convert some of your (delta waves during) sleep into music, we can produce music that encourages your brain to fall asleep faster, longer and better,” says Jean Francois Destexhe, the CEO of myWaves Technologies.
However, Destexhe assures me that this device is not intended to be worn every night. Instead, you’re supposed to wear it for one night to get the shot. You then upload it to the myWaves platform, which then “turns your brainwaves into lullabies to help you fall asleep faster.”
You can currently sign up for early access to the technology, which was originally invented by Alain Destexhe and Luc Foubert, researchers at the Paris-Saclay Institute of Neuroscience (NeuroPSI), and receive a 40% discount on the price if so has become available.
4. Ear Bare Neuroscience Frenz Brain Band
Earable Neuroscience’s patented sensors have rubber hooks that sit on the side of your head. (Image credit: Future)
Another company focused on finding a solution for falling asleep and staying asleep is Earable Neuroscience, which has been running since 2018 with help from the University of Colorado and the University of Oxford. Like myWaves, it also follows your brain’s signals to create a custom music track that promises to help you sleep, but instead it has developed a physical headset that you can wear above your ears.
The headset itself uses the same technology as the best bone conduction headphones to play the music, which according to Kimi Doan, Chief Growth Officer at the company, is much less intrusive and more comfortable than placing an earbud directly in the ear while you try to sleep. She tells me that “it monitors the signals of your brain activity and neurofeedback in real time. Based on that, the AI will automatically personalize and select the digital therapies intended for your brain.”
Earable Neuroscience currently has 18 patents in various stages of completion and is the winner of the CES Innovation Awards for 2024. Last year it had also won the CES Awards for Wearables technology. If you want to be one of the first to try out the Frenz Brainband, you can pre-order it for $490, with shipping expected in February 2024.
We cover all the latest CES news of the show as it happens. Stay tuned for the big stories on everything from 8K TVs and foldable displays to new phones, laptops, smart home gadgets and the latest in AI.