The time before the big companies hold their grand CES events is a chance to check out the products from smaller outfits, and today I got to grips with one such project in the form of the Orosound Tilde. This is a noise-cancelling headset designed primarily for office use, and its distinctive feature is a focus cone of 60 degrees in front of the user where sound is allowed through. That way, goes the premise, you can filter out all the surrounding noise you don’t care for while holding a fruitful conversation with the coworker in front of you.
The Tilde has been in development for two years and was successfully funded on Kickstarter in late 2016. Orosound was initially confident enough to promise backers their Tilde earphones would be in the mail in 2017, however that schedule has slipped and the company now expects to ship to backers in January and preorder customers from its website in February. The price has rather changed since those Kickstarter days when the earliest supporters could get a unit for €145, shooting up to €359 today.
Is noise cancelling in the office worth more than $430 to you? Many people might say yes — if it’s really good — but I wasn’t hugely impressed by what I heard (and didn’t hear) through the Tilde. There’s a slider on the right “pebble” controller that lets you adjust the degree of noise cancelling, but even when it’s maxed out the noise cancelling is merely okay. It isn’t the splendid cocoon of sound isolation that you can get from, for example, Sony’s 1000X headphones. This is the thing about long development cycles: Sony’s 1000X, which are now on their second model, didn’t even exist when Orosound started developing its concept.
Beside having better NC and costing less, Sony’s headphones also sound vastly superior when you listen to music through them. Music on the Orosound Tilde is almost an afterthought. They offer a surprising amount of bass, which lends them a pleasing quality, but their frequency response is all over the place and there are less likeable spikes of treble that forced me to turn the volume down. Controlling playback and adjusting volume is done in a rather clever fashion: the left pebble has three buttons that do double duty depending on the length of your press. Those controls work well and are intuitive enough for me to grasp them immediately.
I liked the focus mode to the noise cancelling of the Tilde — their signature feature, after all — which really does work as advertised. A person standing in front of me was easily understandable in the otherwise noisy CES exhibition hall, but once I turned my back to her, her voice blended into the background hum of suppressed noise.
The Orosound Tilde also has an extra trick hidden inside: it’s compatible with Apple’s Siri voice assistant and Google’s Assistant, so with a long press of a button, you can start talking to your AI-augmented gadget. With a solid battery life rating of 8 hours over Bluetooth (or 20, if you just want the noise cancelling), these are hardly the worst headphones of their kind. As much as I hate neckbuds as a design, I also found the Orosound Tilde to be very comfortable and easy to wear. It’s just that they now cost way too much for the level of quality and refinement they provide.