Headphones need smart transparency mode with voice recognition

11.41, Friday 8 Jan 2021

Headphones should have smart transparency mode, letting in only specified sounds and catching all other noise at an audio firewall.

I have a vague memory that I first ran across this concept in ear defenders for hunters. These were “transparent” in that the hunter needs to hear the distant sound of a stag stepping through the undergrowth – and then active noise cancelling would kick in instantly for a rifle shot.

And that’s clever. I would like the same functionality but in reverse.

I’ve got my headphones on right now because I need to focus. But I’m concerned I might miss the postman if he bangs at the door.

If I had fancy modern headphones, the answer would be to turn on transparency mode, so that my music is layered with the ambient noise of my environment. But that’s exactly what I don’t want! I don’t want to hear people talking downstairs, or a truck idling outside my window.

What I want is active noise cancelling, with smart transparency mode that kicks in automatically if

  • there is a knock at the front door
  • the cats meows, or there’s any kind of crying
  • or, somebody says my name.

(The final one like getting an @mention notification but in real life.)

I want to hear those things, and nothing else.

I note that Apple recently and quietly launched, as an accessibility feature on iPhone, Sound Recognition: Your iPhone can continuously listen for certain sounds - such as a crying baby, doorbell, or siren - and notify you when it recognizes these sounds.

So my guess is that this is on the roadmap, and AirPods will end up being quite the app platform.

(Or rather, given they have spatial audio, and AirPods share a high-precision ultra-wideband, spatial positioning chip with the watch and also phones, quite the component in Apple’s inevitable not-too-distant-future wearable augmented reality app platform.)

Okay back to work.

P.S. I have just been reminded that, back in February 2019, on the bus a small child thought my Apple AirPods were a new kind of cigarette and that I was smoking with my ears.

Update: On Twitter, Hans Gerwitz suggests I want to allow my partner’s voice to punch through. Should be pretty “easy” if we’re both wearing them, eh?

Which is smart! And weirdly ageographic. It would work the same if you were in the same room or 1,000 miles apart.

That’s the second time ageography has come up recently. Perhaps it’s a thing.

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