Hear audio without speakers? It’s all in your head. No, it really is!
Remember that awesome “bone conductive sound” I told you about last month? Well, I managed to get in touch with the kind folks at MaxVirtual a couple weeks ago and they sent me a Cynaps Bluetooth Bone Conduction Headset to review.
This kit is a Cynaps rebranded Nike Dri-Fit cap in one of three colours (black, gray, or white) which has been specially fitted for the Cynaps Bluetooth Module. When I reached out to them, I noticed they had a special deal going on: buy the Bluetooth headset, get all three colors for the price of just one! The kit is $79 for both the hat and module, while the module by itself is $69.
In case you did happen to miss my spiel about bone conductive sound in the previous article, here’s how it works [via WiseGeek]:
Inertial bone conduction is the conveyance of low-pitched sound through bones in the skull to the inner ear…Inertial bone conduction involves the vibration of the entire skull as it reacts to low-pitched sound waves. In this case, the skull actually moves as it responds to the sound…The inner ear remains still during the inertial conduction.
In other words: Inertial bone conduction vibrates your skull and transfers the vibrations directly to your inner ear as soundwaves. Pretty cool, huh? Yeah, SCIENCE!
I’ve been very interested in conductive sound such as this since gadgets like the Olympia SoundBug came out back in 2002. The concept of turning any flat surface into a speaker was pretty awesome, but I never thought about how the technology could be used for something as personal as the Cynaps until I read about it on IndieGogo earlier this year. I knew this was a gadget I couldn’t pass up!
Now, here’s how the Cynaps Bluetooth works: In the brim of the cap, they’ve inserted a Bluetooth module and control panel, and stemming from that is a microphone – also in the brim – and two conductive transducers, one on either side of the cap. The kit works as both a headset for phone/VoIP and as stereo headphones. So, you can use it for calls, music, Skype, or even yelling at your guildmates over Xfire for not buffing you in time for the final phase of the boss battle.
On the module are three buttons, which each have several functions, depending on what sort of audio is playing [regular audio vs phone/VoIP]. It even supports next/last track commands, which is pretty handy if you can’t manage to reach your phone. Pairing the module with your Bluetooth device is super easy: hold down the middle button until the module starts alternately blinking blue and red, go into your device’s bluetooth settings, locate the Cynaps, hit “pair,” and you’re done. The only issue with pairing I had was likely my own fault: I paired it with both my phone and my tablet, so when I’d turn on the headset there was always a battle between the devices for the connection and I never knew which one would win. So, as long as you don’t have it paired to two devices, your Cynaps will connect with ease.
Before I get into my own experience, let me drop the official tech specs on you:
- Bluetooth Version/Profile: 2.0 A2DP
- Battery: 1000mAh
- Talk Time: 6-10 hours
- Standby Time: 30+ days
- Charging time: 3-4 hours
- Microphone: Sensitivity: -36 to -46dB, Impedance: 2.2K ohm Max Current consumption: 0.5mA, Frequency response: 100 to 10,000Hz
- Transducers (each): 0.8W normal, 1.5W max Resonant Frequency: 16 +/- 0.5 kHz, Frequency: 300-19000 Hz
After getting the headset paired, the next step was finding the proper “sweet spot” for the transducers. The cap has a pair of pockets along inside the brim where you can place them, depending on both your personal preference and experience. For me, the default location – which was just above the back of my ears – was better than the alternate location near the temples.
The first time I put the headset on, it caused mild discomfort due to the pressure required to get a decent connection with the transducers. I made sure to strap the cap on as tightly as I could handle it to ensure I got the best sound possible, but even then I found the best connection was often obtained by physically pressing the transducers to the sides of my head. Adding a more rigid material behind them would probably resolve this particular issue.
My main testbed for the Cynaps was my HTC Radar 4G Windows Phone, and the secondary platform was my Microsoft Surface RT. As I said above, both of them connected easily, but each acted like the seagulls from Finding Nemo when it came to connecting after they were both paired to the headset. (That Bluetooth connection? MINE!) Individually, though, they’ve been working flawlessly. When I first tested the Cynaps on my phone, I tried a handful of various music genres to see how conductive audio handles highs, lows, and middles.
During the initial test, the vibrations gave me a slight headache which diminished with continued use. As for the sound, it has a quality similar to an old radio: it’s slightly tinny, but has a fairly decent range. The highs and mids were clear, especially with vocals. The lows often are shifted down into a rhythmic rumbling, if you can even hear them at all. I tested the range with the theme to Defiance, and it’s never sounded more different. The orchestral parts came through, but the deep bass electronic sounds were hard to hear, except in a totally quiet environment. Interestingly, even though it was hard to hear the bass, I could most certainly feel it.
Let me take a moment to note that how you “hear” with the Cynaps is far different than you would with a typical headset. It’s an odd sensation when you first start using it, because you’re used to hearing in the traditional sense: soundwaves travelling into your ears and hitting your eardrums, thus creating the sound. Since the Cynaps uses bone conductive sound, the audio is “in” you instead of “around” you. This also means that unless you have the volume particularly high, nobody else will be able to hear the sound but you. Taking a call with this headset means you are literally talking to a voice in your head. Have fun explaining that one! (No, really! I love telling people about the tech behind this device.)
Speaking of calls, I used my own mother as a guinea pig, because if you can’t use your own mom to experiment on, who can you use? The microphone is apparently crystal clear, because she said I sounded more crisp than when I was speaking through the actual phone itself. As for how it sounded on my end, I can’t say the audio was crisp (due to the fidelity), but it was certainly clear. From my overall experience with both making and receiving phone calls, I found that in loud situations, it became very hard to hear. The best two solutions I found were to either press my finger to one of the transducers, or plug my ear(s). Plugging both ears puts the sound completely in your head, and that is trippy as heck. Of course, if you’re using this while on the move, this isn’t really an option.
The battery promises 6-10 hours of talk or audio and 30+ days of standby. The life of the battery varies greatly depending on the volume, because higher volumes mean the transducers vibrate harder, and thus suck up more juice. In my experience, I had moderate to high volume levels and usually got about 6-7 hours of talk time per charge. I wasn’t able to test if it could last a month on standby, since I haven’t had it that long, though I can confirm that it can last over a week if you’re only using it for phone calls and phone notifications. If you’re a chatterbox, expect to be plugging it in at least every other day.
On a side note: I’ve had a ton of fun using the transducers in ways they weren’t intended to be used. During my testing, I’d often find myself pressing them against surfaces to see how they’d sound. I learned that every type of surface – wood, metal, plastic, glass, etc. – each have a different quality of sound to them. When pressed to a surface with an enclosure, like a hollow-core door, the entire door becomes a massive speaker…and, it sounds fantastic. Sharing your sound with the Cynaps is just as easy as finding a good surface to transmit against. Playing The Beatles’ “Come Together” through a cap pressed against a glass table definitely has a “wow” factor to it.
Overall, the Cynaps Bluetooth Headset is a great piece of technology, especially if you have conductive hearing loss. I have a touch of hearing loss in my left ear, so I probably had a different experience than your typical person would. At the same time, that technically makes me fall into their target audience for the product.
It’s a great kit for people who need to keep their ears uncovered but still want to be able to take calls or listen to audio, be it music or otherwise. The main drawback is the amount of pressure necessary to create a good connection between you and the transducers. It can be a little headache inducing until you get used to it, and even then, the maximum pressure you can add using the hat alone doesn’t seem to be enough to get the best connection possible. Since you can add the kit into any piece of headgear you want, this issue is one that can be fixed by your own ingenuity.
If you’re looking for a new headset and you need to keep your ears free, or you’re the active sort who thinks a standard earpiece would get in the way, this is the perfect headset for you! It’s also a real conversation starter due to the nature of the bone conductive audio. Even with the minor issues it has, I’d consider this a must have if any of the above applies to you.
- Wireless streaming of phone/VoIP/audio
- Keeps your ears free, keeping you safer
- Allows you to hear audio better if you have conductive hearing loss
- Great call quality
- Easy to set-up and use
- Bone conductive sound is awesome
- Low fidelity audio outside of phone/VoIP
- Vibrations from transducers can cause mild headaches
- Hard to hear in loud environments
- Can be difficult to find the “sweet spot” for best sound conduction
For more info on the Cynaps Bluetooth Bone Conduction Headset, check out MaxVirtual’s website.
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