A new audio brand spun out of Japan’s NTT is showing off some personal audio tech at CES 2024 that is remarkable not for what it has, but what it doesn’t have — in both cases, literally anything between you and the rest of the world. There’s nothing there!
Nwm (short for New Wave Maker and pronounced “noom,” a representative told me) makes headphones that use a similar technique to noise canceling, but kind of turned inside-out. Instead of canceling out noise coming into your ear, the headphones cancel any noise they make that isn’t going toward you.
The principles are similar: Sound waves can cancel each other out if you tune them carefully in what’s called destructive interference. That’s usually not a problem with earbuds or closed-back headphones, which physically contain the sound they produce. But nwm’s whole thing is that their headphones are more like a pair of small speakers right by your ears.
The idea is that you can hear your music or call, but also the real world, so you don’t have to pop your AirPods out every time someone says something and make them repeat it. Great for walking around the city, too. Of course, the flip side to this is that the music or call is being broadcast to the world — unless, as nwm’s headphones do, they also transmit a destructive sound wave to cancel out any escaping noise. They call it a “personal sound zone.”
The company has put out a few small earbud-type headphones, but at CES they showed off two pretty remarkable new audio options. One is a chair with speakers built into the wings by your head, where the sound of music is perfectly clear when you lean back, but muffled and quiet even a few inches away. The chair is pretty normal looking for a gamer-type one, and you wouldn’t know it had speakers hidden in it.
In that case, you’ll have to both like the chair enough to make it your main seating option, and also have a leaned-back stance whenever you want to hear audio, which is definitely not me (hunched over and leaning forwards, occasionally remembering to straighten up, like right now). That’s why I was attracted to their other new product, the MBH001.
The striking design looks like a normal on-ear or over-ear headphone set that had everything but the very middle and edge taken out. There’s just nothing there!
I was skeptical, but I got to try out these early versions, and while it was difficult to evaluate the sound quality on the noisy show floor (especially since there was nothing stopping it from getting in), I could certainly hear the sound clearly while wearing them, and not at all when they were off my head.
The silicone gasket that served as padding wasn’t much for comfort, but otherwise the headphones were quite light and manageable — nothing fancy, just a straightforward design except for missing about 75% of their mass.
The company said that the MBH001 is for sure their next shipping product, but it won’t be for a few months at least. I’ll keep in touch with them and try out the final product when they make it available.