Imagining the best possible bluetooth earbud

I recently got gifted the latest Zolo Liberty+ and I gifted them onto someone else. Why? Because I knew they didn’t match my use case needs and I didn’t want the Anker generosity to be wasted on a shelf so I passed them to someone who jogs, a pasttime which probably benefits from fully wireless.

That got me thinking, of what would it take for a totally wireless bud to meet my use case? I doubt Anker under the Zolo brand can do this quickly but here’s my wishlist:

  • a totally hidden device which you have to look closely to spot. Such devices exist now and they’re called hearing aids. People with impaired hearing use these all day.

  • all-day battery life so a minimum 16 hours active use, ideally 24h, such as we get now with the Soundbuds Life. Given I want them to be very small (above) and 8x current Liberty+ battery life, that will take many technology advances. However I think this is viable in the not too distant future given hearing aids are for hearing impaired and they produce louder noise to compensate so someone without hearing impairment can be presented with less loud noise so the battery life should improve relative to a hearing impaired hearing aid.

  • augmented reality. You’d use these not just to hear music, but because they are in all the time you’d use them to hear better, similar to hearing aid, but where you can pick a mode (configured via mobile app or voice recognition) where it modifies the real ambient noise and removes or enhances natural sound for a particular purpose.

  • example: in a harsh noisy environment they remove unwanted noise. This is today’s noise isolation but selective, e.g. remove all noises which are not in the range of normal human speech so you can hear people better in a noisy environment

  • boost important quiet sounds - this is what a hearing aid does but you could make it pick up a distant quieter voice and make those louder, so in effect making every voice the same volume regardless of how much effort they put in or distance.

  • directional filtering. Given the buds are in both ears they know left/right and so via removing unwanted noises in all but one direction. So you could filter out everything but one person speaking

  • intelligent audio playing - we have this to a degree now you’re listening to music and someone phones you, it cuts over to answering the call then resumes the music. But I’m thinking we could make this a safety feature where you’re listening to music but a certain sound is fast moving and coming at you, the buds should stop playing the music, present the external threat to you but augmented, making it obvious - the equivalent of a siren warning. Possibly combined with intelligent motion sensing clothing / technology it turns a silent threat behind you into an audible threat. For example a silent electrical vehicle coming at you becomes a noise like a car coming at you.

  • babel fish mode - it translates the language it hears into your preferred language. These are emerging now, technology needs to improve.

  • in addition to the safety aspects, they help attenuate reality to use your hearing for detecting threats, they also will act to protect hearing because loud noises which damage hearing are removed via the noise cancellation and noise isolation, so we’d expect after this device was invented and became popular, hearing loss in the population would progressively reduce.

The app on your phone picks the modes. Given these buds have microphones and understand what is a voice, it can follow your instructions. You could also imagine tapping on the bone behind the ear for special commands.

I also speculate as to energy sources, well given these absorb sound and filter, they are presenting internally less sound energy than presented to it externally, so theoretically it take that difference and make it a power source? Not much power admittedly but then it doesn’t need to produce much power output itself given its right in the ear so relatively speaking it could be a useful battery life extender to use absorbed sound energy.

What do you think? Any other wishlists?

Would you buy one if they ever existed?

Would they be legal?


All good stuff in there. They would be perfect.

I think you would be a hero for travel agents as people would be less afraid to travel to a foreign language country. Travel agents could buy them and rent them as part of the package.

I love your ideas, Many, many good points here! kinda James Bond like. I would buy this in a heartbeat if I could afford to. I am sure unless a lot of manufacturers get on board they would be pricey for awhile and this is too big for a kickstarter.

In my country it is illegal to drive while wearing earbuds in both ears so the cost to go through the hurdles to sell them in some countries may be the biggest challenge. .

I love all the ideas and one day (hopefully before I am gone) this will be a reality

Well I can envisage an opposite scenario, these become compulsory. We’re not far off now getting to the point that the least safe part of the driving experience is the driver and semi-robotic now and eventually fully robotic vehicles will initially be illegal then legal but expensive, then legal and cheap, then eventually compulsory. I see the same thing with these ideas of buds because they’d alert you and make you safer eventually.

Driverless electric vehicles also move from expensive to the point you no longer own a car, one comes from a charging place when you summon one and you’re charged by the mile or minute.

I own a smartwatch, it has LTE, GPS and a small screen and supports the Uber app, I pair the watch with my buds and for a maximum of 4 hours at present I can get by just with my buds. The ride fee is settled automatically. If you internalised that smartwatch electronics into the buds then gave instructions and heard confirmation, you’re going to get close to basically walking around without looking at screen so much.

I almost hit a curb covered with bright white blinding snow today as it blended in with everything around it and I often wonder and hope that auto steer cars will be able to decipher this situation.

great, more people walking around talking to themselves, or so it seems. I have had many conversations with people that were not talking to me, lol

Infrared can see through snow so a vehicle which can use use non-visible light to inform itself to avoid danger will be able to see and defend you better than you.

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All great points Nigel, some good stuff. The babel one intrigues me the mist, I know there are two in ear monitors that do this automatically and one of them is the golden child for making it possible to translate both ways, but it’s wired expensive and you have to share in order for two wat translation to work

Two way translation is easy, both parties have the same tech, each translates the voice it hears from the other person.

These are all excellent points! I especially like the part about augmented reality that would enhance everyday sounds. The Sony WF-1000X took a stab at this with “Adaptive Sound Control,” but it’s far from perfect and requires manual switching between modes.

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It is like the feature from the Pixel Buds which support translation. A problem is the quality of google translator which has not the best. I think this feature would be really interesting but I don’t see this by the next generation of the ear buds. Because it is a Pixel Buds only feature.

Pixel buds are not the first to do this, Google search will show you others…

I know but I had the experience that the quality was not good enough.

So as a very loosely related hint to what a totally wireless bud standalone would be like I have Android Wear (imagine the size of today’s watch shrunk to fit inside ear) and it is awful. The tech does need to improve significantly, but I think it is inevitable with Moore’s Law and even bad developers make good code eventually even via random infinite monkeys, and you’d think Google would be a bit faster than random infinite monkeys