There’s a couple of hours in my day that are tricky, and I was hoping Here One could solve the problem.
Anyone who has cycled at anything above walking pace knows the omnipresent flutter of wind in their ears. It’s invigorating most of the time – the faster you go the more whoosh in your ears. When wearing regular earphones like Apple’s Earpods, the wind noise is present but not intolerable. The frequency of the noise is low and constant, so it’s possible to listen to speech or music at a reasonable volume while your brain tunes out the wind noise, but it’s far from ideal.
The more critical issue is safety. When cycling you need to be listening for sounds within the general drone of the streetscape that signal impending death. I’m lucky that 90% of my commute is on a separated cycleway, so listening for cars and sirens is not much of an issue. For the on-road parts of my commute, I always drop out my road-side earphone (and sometimes both sides) so I can stay alert. But again, adding music to my commute comes at the cost of some safety.
I’ve been a Here One backer since the beginning, and have the privilege of being one of the earliest owners of these new buds. They’ve been getting rave reviews with quotes like “the coolest gadget I’ve tried in a while” and they “let you manipulate the world around you“.
Having used Bose headphones while flying, I had huge hopes for Here One. Could these be the perfect answer to my safe cycling needs? Having processing power in my ears would mean they could de-tune the wind noise just like my Bose headphones that I use on planes, while also passing through the most important sounds so I could stay safe.
I was even more excited when I connected the buds and opened the app. There’s a specific mode to deal with wind noise while cycling:
The result, unfortunately, is worse than nothing. I’d go as far as saying that using Here One’s “City” mode is downright dangerous when cycling. There’s no disclaimer, and no safety warnings. As far as products go, you’d think that not increasing the likelihood of death would be priority number one.
Using Here One While Cycling
To start with, Here One earbuds are sound-isolating. They form a seal in your ear canal that blocks most external noise. So if you wear them even completely powered down, you’re not going to hear the noises you need to to stay safe. Compare this to Earpods (or Airpods, which I’m probably going to replace the Here Ones with): they don’t block all external sound, so it’s possible to cycle with a pair of Earpods in, on silent, and still stay safe.
We need some amount of pass-through, so let’s turn on Here One’s “City” mode and start a ride. At anything other than max attenuation, you’re immediately hit by a horrendous approximation of wind noise. You can definitely make out the flutter of the wind, but the processor in the earbuds has taken what is a broad-spectrum brownish noise, and turned it into some disgusting electronic rendition.
Imagine someone playing a recording of wind noise at maximum volume from a transistor radio held right beside your ear. That’s Here One’s “City” mode. You simply cannot hear anything externally over this acoustic assault. I tried several times at different volumes, but had to stop each time after about 30 seconds. It was intolerable.
At maximum attenuation, the wind noise disappears. Here One has a “volume” control that goes from +6 to -22. At -21 the wind noise is still offensive. At -22 it instantly disappears, along with every other external noise. Sure the music is lovely and you can ride in glorious silence while listening to Hotel California, until you get demolished by a semi-truck that you had no idea was behind you.
It’s Not All Bad
Don’t get me wrong: Here One’s tech is absolutely jaw-dropping. In most environments it’s stunning to be able to “turn down the world” and listen to great quality music. In the mall, the office, or the food court, the results are fantastic.
It’s just that on my bike the results are deadly.