If you're talking to me in a crowded room or at a party, I tend to turn my head so one ear is pointing at your face. It's not because I'm rude; it's so I can hear you better. As a late middle-aged man, I'm one of the 1.5 billion people suffering from some level of hearing loss, which is probably why EssilorLuxottica's latest eyeglass innovation, the Nuance Audio frames, are so exciting – and why I can't wait to try them out at CES 2024.
CES will be full of smart eyeglasses that can deliver the weather, news, and alerts to your ears and even augmented visuals to your eyes, but few will be as purpose-built as EssilorLuxottica's Nuance Audio frames.
EssilorLuxottica, which also owns Meta Smart Glasses partner Ray-Ban, built the Nuance Audio frames around the idea of "directivity". The frames, which look more or less like traditional eyeglasses, are festooned with microphones. However, they're not designed to amplify ambient sounds for a broadly more pleasing aural experience. Directivity means that the Nuance Frames amplify the sound coming from whatever you're looking at, or at least the direction the frames are pointing.
This means that if I were wearing a pair, I wouldn't need to turn my head 90 degrees and lean in to hear you say, "This lobster is too salty." The Nuance Audio frames microphones would pick up your words, amplify them, and then send them to speakers hidden in the frame stems, which would deliver the audio to my ears.
While I saw an EssilorLuxottica exec wearing a prototype late last year, I didn't get to try them out. EssilorLuxottica executives claim that the Nuance Audio frames go beyond simple audio amplification. Each frame is custom fit and configured to the wearer in a process that should take no more than 60 seconds.
The battery-powered frames recharge on a custom, wireless charging pad (a light on the pad lets you know when they're fully charged). No word on how long they last per charge. However, considering that the lenses do just one thing (amplify audio) they probably last longer than your typical smart glasses.
Volume control is on the frames, in a companion app, and on a pocket-sized remote control that I haven't seen yet.
Still, my days of head-turn-to-listen are not exactly numbered. EssilorLuxottica has yet to set a price and won't be shipping the frames until sometime late this year. Europeans won't be wearing them until 2025. Pricing information was also not released.
There's also no claim, by the way, that Nuance Audio frames could fully replace hearing aids or that they could work for most levels of hearing loss.
Despite all this, I like the idea of transferring hearing aid technology from something more obvious (and probably more expensive) like an in-ear-aid to what I wear every day of my life: eyeglasses. I get that they'll be a lot more expensive than my typical prescription lenses, but those frames will solve two problems at once: my poor eyesight and sub-par hearing, all while looking pretty, pretty spiffy.
This is the kind of CES innovation I came for.
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A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.