I love technology when it's new, arcane, exotic, or quixotic, but I hate it when it's pointless and misleading. Today, I must rage at the latter category of tech, which is personified by a new Kickstarter called Volant, a set of so-called hybrid headphones that promises groundbreaking innovation.
So what are hybrid headphones? Well, Volant Sound, the company, does its utmost to obscure the facts of its technology — which I count as red flag number one.
Volant are amazingly awesome earphones. But wait. These earphones plug into over-the-ear headphones, also amazingly awesome. But there's more. You can go wireless too. It's three headphones in one. Or, in more relatable language, it's two sets of headphones: a pair of Bluetooth over-ears and a wired pair of earbuds that can also be plugged into the bigger cans for a proprietary wired solution. Only saying things that way around would be far less grandiose.
Red flag number two: this entire introductory video. "Headphones haven't changed much in the last 60 years," proclaims a person apparently unfamiliar with the actual history of headphones. "The industry has always focused on mass production and reducing costs," he continues, blithely ignorant of the Sennheiser Orpheus, the Audeze LCD-4, the Focal Utopia, the Abyss AB-1266, and the Stax earspeakers. Having set up a false premise of a commodity market with no care for "well crafted design" — please take a look at the products of Bang & Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, Master & Dynamic, or Oppo to dispel that notion — Volant's creator goes on to tell us how his product will shake everything up.
Red flags number three, four, and counting — these quotes:
"This hybrid concept provides the solution which the audio industry has been waiting for..."
"Unrivalled surround sound quality..."
"One solution for every listening occasion..."
I could go on, but the bombast is frankly upsetting. I have a very real problem with companies adding complication for its own sake and exploiting people's lack of tech savvy to sell crap. Volant opts for obfuscation over innovation. There's no advantage to having earphones that double as a headphone wire versus just having a regular cable for your over-ears. In fact, it's worse, because if your Volant earphones or cable go bust, the only option to replace them will be to go back to Volant. Give me a standard, interchangeable 3.5mm connector where I can use wires from other manufacturers, or give me a real reason to accept its absence.
What bothers me most, though, is that people are actually falling for this inflated nonsense, and doing it in inexplicable ways. The Volant headphones are slated for a £240 (roughly $322) retail price, but are subject to early-bird Kickstarter pricing of £150 (34 still left), £165 (all 250 still available), and £180. Three people have chosen the £180 option. Why? And why has Kickstarter slapped its "Project We Love" sticker on what is self-evidently a solution to a problem literally no one has? No person has ever said or thought, "I want my headphones cable to be more convoluted, proprietary, and expensive to replace."
It wouldn't be fair to bash some effort at new technology without offering better alternatives, and so here's what I would propose. Buy a pair of Sennheiser CX300 II in-ears from Amazon for £28, spend another £110 on the Plantronics BackBeat Pro (which are well liked by Marco Arment), and rest comfortably assured that you have a wireless-plus-earphones combo that is both cheaper and better than the Volant.