Here Active Listening aren't true earbuds, even though they look like them. They're something entirely different. Instead of taking sound from a music source and streaming it into your ear canal, Here Active Listening take in sound from the outside world. You can then, similarly to a hearing aid, adjust the volume of that sound, if it's too soft or too loud. But you can also do a whole lot more. Where virtual and augmented reality visually paint the world around you, Here does that with audio. Here works with an accompanying app, which you can use to either enhance the audio around you, or tune things out. The app currently contains 14 filters, such as "Carnegie Hall," "Hallway," and "Psychedelic," which you can apply to whatever you're listening to. These sometimes trippy filters make the most sense when you're listening to music (hence, Coachella-goers will be able to purchase a pair of the buds in time to wear at the festival). But that's more of a novelty.
Here's real utility comes with blocking ambient sounds you don't want to hear, and amplifying what you do. There are eight filters for "tuning out" background audio, including noise from the airplane, bus, car, or subway, as well as the office, a crowd, and general city noise. In the car, the car setting did cancel out some of the drone from the motor. I unfortunately wasn't able to test the airplane setting in an airplane — it, and some of the other stronger filters for canceling out noise, have their own hum if they aren't actually used in a high-volume environment. But, while working, the office setting (ambient) really did the trick. It blocked out all the little hums, beeps, and noises in my space, so I could work in near-silence. You don't realize how much noise — even small noise — you deal with constantly until those sounds are finally erased. It was a little weird. I had hoped that Here would assist with a personal issue: helping me hear my soft-talking, sometimes mumbly boyfriend better (love you babe!). Alas, if someone is mumbling, amplifying their voice doesn't necessarily clarify it, although being able to tune out other noises that sometimes drown out his voice did help me at least realize he was talking. The device itself is fairly unobtrusive: a black earbud base which you plug into your ears (it comes with three sizes of silicon tips, for a comfortable fit) with a white circular speaker grille visible once they're in. Their battery lasts up to six hours, but you probably would only wear them for an hour or two at a time, max — I generally wore them for periods of 30 minutes or less. It's easy and convenient to charge the buds: You place them inside their small black case (storage and charging, FTW) and shut the lid. The case charges via micro USB, and has enough juice to fully power up the pair of buds once or twice. The only caveat to the Here experience is that for music listening, they are not earbuds — if you want to block out sound on the subway and listen to music, get yourself some noise-canceling headphones. Here makes your world sound…however you want it to sound. And being able to do that is completely novel.