The idea behind Audeara is unique and something that brings a very custom experience to the user that cannot be duplicated anywhere else, that I know of anyway...
Out of the box they look like a nice high-end pair of travel headphones much like the Sennheiser PXC 550s or Bose Quiet Comfort series, they are clean looking but nothing spectacular on the design front, just clean and basic design.
The secret to the Audeara's magic is on the inside of the unit and in the app that performs a series of hearing tests to customize your listening experience perfectly. Once your test is done, you can store the results in a personalized profile that is then uploaded to the headphones wirelessly via the app and the effect applied at various strengths 0 - 100%.
The hearing test can be performed at three different levels, basic, detailed and super detailed, I tried detailed and super detailed to set up my profiles - because I'm not down with basic anything. The test takes about 10 minutes to 15 minutes to complete and is a series of frequency beeps that you would experience at your standard hearing exam.
Each ear is tested individually showing graphs for each ear in color-coded lines that won't make a lot of sense to most. I don't love that there is no immediate layman's explanation of what you are seeing, it's just a bunch of graph gibberish to most people and something they should improve on for the average consumer.
You need to set up a profile for each test you do to differentiate it, and then off you go to sound paradise. The manual says to apply 50% customization and ease your way into it, I just went for it and dove into the deep end at 100%, then peeled it back.
Let's start with the sound because that's the most significant bit here.
This one is a real anomaly because I can only tell you about my personal experience that was customized for my ears and how they hear the world. That being said, I will do my best to give you an objective review of how my ears interpreted the customization. Just for comparison, I switched between another pair of top quality headphones; the V-Moda Crossfade Wireless 2's to get a better understanding of the difference to a pre-tuned headphone.
Out of the box, the sound is flat, boring and not all that sensational but that was done with intent - the headphones were not meant to be experienced this way. Once I applied my first in-depth hearing test and flipped it over to the Audeara cans, it was love at first soundwave.
For testing I listened to:
Kings of Convenience - Riot On An Empty Street
Olafur Arnalds - Re:member
Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream
deadmau5 - while(1<2)
John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
Songs that I've listened to for years sounded brand new; it was almost infuriating to know that I've been missing so many details in these works for so long. The best way to describe the experience is to liken it to someone that wears glasses with a weak prescription; they can still see without them but once on the world is crystal clear.
With the Audeara tech music has more detail when the customization is applied, but more importantly, can be listened to at lower volumes and remain clear and vibrant.
The music that shined the most tended to be ambient, orchestral, classical, jazz and other genres with intricate details. While deadmau5 sounded nice on these cans, it sounded much brighter, bassier, and more lively on the V-Moda's overall.
As far as the intensity level of the customization, for me, the best results were achieved between 50% and 75%, with the 100% just being a little too much tweakage. The devil is in the details here, and these are my new favorite headphones for more intimate listening experiences like jazz, classical and ambient works.
Noise Cancelling - The active noise canceling works well to block out the basics, it's not the best I've ever heard, but it does the job quite well. The passive noise canceling from the big comfy headphones is quite useful as well, and in conjunction with ANC, seals off most offending noise.
Bluetooth - connectivity was good, not excellent. Don't plan on walking too far away from your phone or iPad, or you will get that disconnecting chop chop chop. Not a big deal, but other headphones have fared far better in distance.
Design / Quality / Comfort:
The looks: The A-O1's are clean looking black headphones with a nice molded carrying case that easily stows into your bag with the headphones folding flat to keep it slim. They are kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio driving around in a Toyota 2x4 pickup truck; it's all about what's on the inside that matters (for the ladies at least).
In the box: The headphones, molded case, and a pouch with a charging cable, airplane adapter (double prong), carabiner, and wired cable w/mic in case you run out of juice or prefer a wired connection (3.5 mm).
Quality: No complaints here, these are well-made headphones with metal and plastic in all the right places. The headband is padded well, they are easy to adjust, and the earcups are soft, but might be a bit too small for some people.
Comfort: For most people, these will be satisfactory for long sessions lasting over 2 hours, but they do get a little hot, and I had to take them off periodically to cool off my ears. The clamping was perfect, not too much pressure but just enough to keep the passive noise canceling working well.
The App: It's pretty straightforward, although I did have some issues getting them connected to my iPhone X at first, and then it just worked. The only gripe I have about the app is that it gives you a chart but not a diagnosis? How is my hearing - good, ok, almost deaf? You just get a graph that most people won't be able to make any sense out of.
This feature is a missed opportunity, in my opinion, you should have a profile on the Audeara site that manages your hearing tests and keeps you updated of your auditory health as this is a big selling point for the product aside from the customization.
Controls: I love the simplicity, everything is easy to find and getting started with these headphones takes approximately 3 minutes. Nice tactile buttons, simple light configurations, and big enough to get to while wearing.
Battery Life - Excellent. You can get up to 35 hours with all the features enabled. Wired use gets you up to 65 hours with ANC (I did not have time to test that limit, but it probably shakes out somewhere in that ballpark).
Making Calls: I don't love to do this with headphones because of the "submerged" feeling you get with no external noise, but the A0-1s performed very well, clear and not as murky as I anticipated.
If you are a headphone geek, audiophile, sound nerd, etc. these headphones are truly incredible and worth every penny. It's like getting your own EQ personalized for your ears; there is nothing like this out there. The details given back to you are worth the $500, but for some, this might not be enough to justify such a hefty spend. If you are looking for bass heavy or more colorful headphones, you should just buy a pair of V-Modas or something in that category that is tuned well.
These headphones are for music lovers that are passionate about music and sound quality, not casual mp3 streamers. If you are going to drop $500 on a pair of headphones, the Audeara is very well worth the cost and will give you a listening experience you never thought possible.