The audio market is full of headphones that strive to put out the most balanced, best sound signature possible, so listeners can hear every sonic detail in their favorite tunes precisely as “the artist intended.” It’s a noble pursuit, but it assumes we’re all hearing the same things. In reality, much like eyesight, we all hear differently—and our ears continue to change as we age.
I enjoyed using the Nuraphones when I reviewed them earlier this year. This space-age set of cans used a NASA-grade microphone to automatically map my hearing and create a custom profile. They looked odd, but made music come alive in a fresh way.
Even is a startup with a similar mission, but its own approach. Its latest, third-generation H3 wireless headphones give you a hearing test the old fashioned way.
Instead of mapping out your ear using high-tech means, Even’s H3 headphones play a tone that starts quiet and gets louder, and you must tap a button on the right earcup as soon as you can hear it. Rinse and repeat for eight different low to high frequencies for each ear, and bam! You’ve created your first EarPrint.
On your phone, your custom EarPrint profile is visualized as a circle, with lines stretching inward at various frequencies, like an abstract map pointing to parts an iris in a textbook, or a robotic Pac-Man hooked up to electrodes. It shows which frequencies you can hear extra well, normally, or not well at all. Once you’ve gone through the process, you can switch your EarPrint on or off either with a button or the companion app.
Naturally, how different it sounds depends on your hearing. I didn’t notice a huge change, though it did sound clearer and more balanced. If my hearing was less average, I would notice more drastic changes. Danny Aronson, Even’s co-founder and CEO, told me that helping people with various types of hearing loss, which include a lot of older listeners, is really the point. Many listeners, including those who don’t hear a monumental shift, may notice that with their EarPrint on, music sounds louder. That’s not because it’s actually louder, it’s because the headphones are bringing up the volume of the frequencies we normally can’t make out as well. This lets you listen at lower, safer volumes, according to the CEO.
They may have started as a technology proof-of-concept, but Even’s headphones are generally nice to wear and well-priced at $150. They don’t have features like active noise cancelling, but the earcups and headband are plush and covered in a soft faux leather. They also fold up nicely, and twistable hangars let you rotate the cans when they’re off your ears, making them less fatiguing to wear around your neck.
The controls are relatively straightforward, but it is easy to confuse the volume up, volume down, and play buttons because they’re the same shape with no distinguishing bumps or divots. I found myself counting them to find the right button, at first.
Unfortunately, it’s not difficult to tell how Even got the price down to $150—the bean counters have left their…ahem…EarPrints all over these headphones. The buttons feel cheap, and loose enough that the volume symbols rotate around. After a few months, I still notice squeaking when I adjust the H3 to put them on, and the EarPrint profile isn’t applied if you use the included 3.5mm headphone cord, which is kind of baffling. To get the most from these headphones, you have to use Bluetooth (and have a charged set of cans) to get any personalized sound from these cans.
For me, the woman’s voice that narrated the hearing test was also a little too enthusiastic for my liking. The feminine voice was excessively encouraging during the EarPrint test and then yelled “Yesss! Connected!” every time I turned the H3s on, to the point where it felt like I was listening to an Herbal Essences commercial from the ’90s several times a day. It got old, fast.
As it stands, the Even H3 are not the absolute best on-ear headphones money can buy, but for $150 from Even or $200 from Best Buy they sound excellent. And if you know your hearing can be wonky, they could make a difference in your enjoyment of music and other content. After using them for a couple months, I really do like the underlying concept. More speakers and audio programs should have some kind of custom sound profile tech built-in. It’s about time audio products start adapting to our ears, instead of expecting us to conform to their ideal.