When earphones just aren’t enough, it’s time to shoulder-mount some speakers. First shown off at this year’s CES show, and now found in their final form at IFA 2017, JBL used this year’s IFA conference to let the press go ears-on with its crazy Soundgear speakers.
So here’s the idea – it’s a Bluetooth speaker that you wear. Yep. The Soundgear sits on your shoulders like a larger version of the kind of running headphones that come with a neckband. Except, instead of having to put any 'buds in your ears, the horseshoe-shaped JBL Soundgear’s wraparound loudspeaker blasts the audio straight at you.
There’s no denying it’s a strange concept – if you want audio played right at you, just use a standard speaker, and if you want it on the move, use some headphones, right? But JBL believes there is a niche for it and has some good ideas about who might get a kick out of them.
For starters, mobile VR players – it’s a claustrophobic enough experience donning a virtual reality headset for some players, before cutting off the outside world completely with headphones. The Soundgear, however, lets people in that situation keep on ear on their real-world surroundings, too, as well as what’s going on in the digital one.
Another scenario is for a personal surround sound effect when watching films. It’s not quite the same as having discrete speakers around the room, but as some of the audio is indeed coming from behind you on the rear part of the Soundgear, it does give the illusion of immersive sound. At lower volume level the directional nature of the audio keeps it a little more personal too – it’s not quite so advanced as to make it inaudible to those around you, but a little less obnoxious than having the TV on at full blast.
It’s worth noting also that the Soundgear features a dual microphone system, with echo and noise cancelling, so you’ll be able to take Bluetooth calls.
Despite its size, the Soundgear is surprisingly lightweight. We don’t see you feeling too fatigued if you’re wearing it for longer stretches, especially while sat down, though its underside (the area that comes into closest contact with you) could do with some extra padding. That said, the one-size-fits all shape will be a comfortably snug fit for all but the most thick of necks.
As ever at press conferences, the noisy ambient environment meant it was tough to get a full account of how the Soundgear will sound in use. There’s a creeping feeling that it may sound a little hollow at lower volume levels, with the bass seeming to only kick in at higher volumes. If those around you can handle that, it may well suit your needs. We’re actually quite looking forward to popping them on, hooking up some tunes over Bluetooth and taking on the washing up in the kitchen with free hands and our very own personal “sound zone.”
The JBL Soundgear will hit shops in November with a price tag of £199.99 (around $250, AU$300). It’s a bit mad, and that’s not necessarily as bad a thing as it at first seemed. We’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve had an extended hands-off, ears out listening session with it.
- IFA 2017 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new phones, watches and other tech as they're announced.