Sony Shows Off Concept N: Headphone-less Headphones

Sony’s Future Lab made some waves at South By Southwest by debuting an entirely new concept in personal listening. The Concept N device doesn’t go on or over the ears at all - instead, it hangs comfortably around the user’s neck with multi-directional drivers aiming up towards the listener, allowing outside sounds to still be audible. Extremely directional speakers direct the sound to the listener’s ears while preventing other people from hearing the sound very clearly. In a slightly noisy environment, other people around the listener can’t hear what is being played over the device.

The Concept N is great for runners and urban commuters to be able to hear traffic and others around them. They also won’t interfere with hats for winter walks, or helmets for summer bike rides, and sweat is a non-issue. They also won’t get in the way of your favorite VR headset.

The new device is in the early prototype stage, but it seems likely to be available in the near future. The current version features voice controls and a camera. Users at SXSW had complaints about how well the camera and voice controls were performing, but that should be cleared up by the time the real product hits the market.

This is an interesting new product development. There are many situations where an “ear-free’” design would be desireable. People who spend a lot of time wearing headsets will surely appreciate this type of product, along with people with an aversion to things covering their ears, or even people with physical problems with their ears. The N will also come with an earpiece for users who might temporarily want to go back to the more traditional way of listening.

There is a lot to be said for the social implications of this device. Traditional headphones of any variety usually say to the world, “Leave me alone, I don’t want to talk to you.” Sony’s new prototypes might make the world a more socially engaged community, where people can talk to each other and listen to their music.

mikerr's picture

I was curious about these but was a kid with no money.
Maybe some day....

MatthewWeflen's picture

Heaven forbid someone goes more than 30 seconds without some sort of media playing into their eyes and ears.

jhwalker's picture

. . . if it's Bluetooth and includes a microphone for iPhone use :)

I use my iPhone for business and am on the phone 6-8 hours / day - my ear get's really sore using my current Bluetooth headset!

SimonTC's picture

6-8 hours a day from iPhone use for business?
Get an Android or Windows phone and save 4 hours from a lot less dropped calls ;)

jhwalker's picture

My iPhone is provided by my business, where Windows or Android would not be. In any case, I'm very happy with my iPhone, just need better / more comfortable headset ;)

zachary's picture

Great for running? Leslie, are you kidding? These would bounce around like crazy and any ambient noise would interfere unless the volume was very high, defeating the purpose. These might have a market for those using them for phone calls or in an office setting, but not much else.

mikerr's picture

I have gone thru tons and tons of 'buds' for work. Best I have found both for simplicity and durability and comfort is the Plantronics Backbeat fit.
short, no wires, weather/dust proof, and the piece that goes in the ear is a funnel and not a hard rubber ball to shove into your ear. (ouch)
they also have a nice womans voice to tell you 'power on' battery full, etc...
get the refurbished ones for about $70 on the big E.
Yes, you are very welcome.
I do think these new 'bone fones' are cool and would be great for a lot of situations. ...even babysitting !!!

Beerg00d's picture

Looks like someone at Sony saw "Music Wrap" (a Kickstarter project) at CES 2016 and decided to copy a good idea. My Music Wrap should arrive in July. It will be interesting to compare specs and cost between the 2 very similar products.