Due mainly to the influence of the iPhone and iPod, a good many headphones have a playback/call control unit of some sort bulging out from the audio cable. Though undeniably useful, this can add some unwelcome weight (particularly with earbuds), but more often the housing just gets in the way or adds its own thump to the music as it bangs against your upturned collar. California-based Accidentally Extraordinary is looking to change all that, with a pair of elegant studio headphones featuring a capacitive touch control interface on the surface of the cable itself.
"I was just about to go to sleep while listening to music and I started getting annoyed that my headphone buttons located on the right cable kept getting in the way," founder and CEO of Accidentally Extraordinary (AE) Kunal Dalal told us. "Long story short, I thought about how easy it could be to wrap flexible touch electrodes directly on the cable of the headphone, get rid of this remote/mic housing and create a sleek, asymmetrical look to earbuds and headphones."
Development started in September last year and, with a few prototypes under his belt, Dalal took his idea to the Eureka Park section of CES 2013. Four days later, Dalal walked away from the Vegas Convention Center with an address book full of useful contacts and some very positive feedback from both the press and public.
The AE design centers on nano-carbon graphene touch sensors that are printed directly onto the surface of the cable using graphene-based Vor-ink. In much the same way as existing in-cable controls, this flexible and durable touch strip will allow users to play/pause or skip tracks with a tap/double tap, but will also change volume with a swipe of the finger.
The design features swipe-to-turn-on and lock functionality, though the strip won't be accidentally activated by inanimate objects. While the prototype images show the red touch section flanked by slightly bumpy metal strips, the whole interface will be flush with the rest of the cable in the production models.
Users will also be able to customize touch commands and gestures using a smartphone/tablet app (in a similar way to the Jay One Plus headphones). AE has confirmed that a built-in microphone is planned for inclusion some time in the near future.
"We are looking to address the limits placed on us by the different operating systems," said Dalal when asked about device compatibility. "Our original prototypes controlled volume internally so, regardless of the device, users would be able to control their volume via touch. While we are still exploring that option, the additional power requirements will determine the feasibility of that route. This option may be available in a high-end model geared specifically to the audiophile crowd, powered internally to work across all devices – including your old record player or Walkman."
At this stage in development, the headband and earcups are made from a strong and abrasion-resistant thermoplastic polymer called Delrin, which has been found to lend some crispness to the audio. Foam ear cushions are covered in a soft synthetic fabric and there's a foam cushion on the underside of the headband (not pictured). Dalal says that the design team is currently experimenting with memory foam for the cushions to give users an improved, snug fit.
For the audio side of the development equation, AE is working with an experienced (but as yet unnamed) California-based audio company. At the time of writing, all we can tell you is that the current prototypes use closed acoustics, low impedance (~32 Ohms @ 1 kHz), and high-quality dynamic drivers.
To get this technology into the hands of consumers, AE has launched on Kickstarter. An early bird special of US$160 will get you one of the first 200 off the production line. After that, you'll need to part with at least $200. The campaign closes on March 23 and the product launch has been penciled in for June/July, with delivery to backers scheduled to start in August.
While failure to reach the funding target won't mean the end of the AE project, it will likely result in significant delays in bringing this product to market.
AE is also working on some earphones with a capacitive touch strip built into the cable, but they won't be ready for a public debut at the close of the funding campaign. As an exclusive Kickstarter special $60 pledge level, however, backers can get a taste of things to come with a set of non-capacitive earbuds that sport the same red section along the audio cable, but this is a soft button that can be used to control playback and answer calls on iOS, Windows and Android smartphones (in addition to offering volume control for the latter).