Invisible headphones are as weird and awesome as they sound

the noveto n1
(Image credit: Noveto)
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CES is the best place to uncover unusual tech innovations, and this year's show is no different, with one company launching what it calls a pair of "invisible" headphones. 

Looking a little like a mini soundbar, the Noveto N1 is a rather novel audio device that uses beamforming technology to create a binaural audio experience without the need for a pair of headphones – but unlike a soundbar, this audio can only be heard by the user's own ears. 

It works by transmitting ultrasound silently through the air, which converges into audible pockets just outside of your ears - creating an experience similar to wearing a pair of headphones.

According to Noveto, anyone else in the room will only be able to hear "a whisper of sound", while the user is immersed in three-dimensional spatial audio. In other words, Noveto recorded up to 90% (20dB) audio reduction when 1 meter away from the listener.

Should you move or turn your head, motion sensors allow for facial recognition, helping the N1 to track your ears and ensure the sound hits the right spot.


Sci-fi specs for the modern office

the noveto n1

(Image credit: Noveto)

How accurately the device will be able to track your ears while ensuring that you aren't disturbing others around you remains to be seen, as does its audio performance. As we aren't attending CES 2022 in person this year, we haven't been able to test the N1 for ourselves (but you can bet we can't wait to get our hands on it). 

If it does work as well as Noveto claims, the N1 could be a compelling alternative to wearing headphones in the office, without the listening fatigue and pressure headaches that come with wearing tightly-clamped cans for long periods of time. 

Indeed, the Noveto N1 has been targeted at those working in shared spaces, with the company suggesting that it could be a good way to reduce noise pollution in offices without mandating that workers wear headphones all day. 

To up the smart-factor, Noveto has also decked out the N1 with Alexa voice recognition, which works in tandem with the device's face recognition technology.

Noveto says that when you look at the N1, the device will recognize your face and engage with you, offering suggestions based on personal profiles and prompts - for instance, telling you how many unread emails you have in your inbox (eek!). 

The N1 looks pretty sleek, too. A fabric grille sits on a black matte aluminum frame, with buttons along the top of the device for Bluetooth pairing, volume control, and microphone muting. There's also a USB-C port and a 3.5mm AUX port to connect a secondary audio device if you wish. 

That's all brought together by a slick ring light on the front of the N1 that lights up as you interact with Alexa. And just to make things feel even more sci-fi, that light is known as HAL (Heuristic Activity LED). Here's hoping the N1 doesn't go rogue and kill us all, eh?

Right now, there's no word on how much the N1 will cost, but Noveto says it will begin shipping in mid-2022.

Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.