Bass-leaning, powerful audio performance. Active noise cancellation with controllable filters for various environments, via app. Includes speech enhancement filter.
Poor battery life. Sound signature not for purists seeking flat response. No controls for track navigation or volume adjustment.
- Bottom Line
The Doppler Labs Here One are cable-free wireless earphones with an interesting app that specializes in noise-canceling filters, but sound quality is just average.
Cable-free in-canal Bluetooth earphones are a category still in search of a real winner. Doppler Labs brings its own unique take on this nascent technology with the Here One. At $299.99, the Here One earphones aren't cheap, but they have a secret weapon—the Here One app, which works with mics in the earphones to eliminate or allow in ambient room noise, and even to blend the mix of your surroundings with your music, controlling both volume and filters for certain frequency ranges. It's a more in-depth approach to ambient awareness technology that we've seen from manufacturers like Bose. But when it comes to audio performance and battery life, the earphones are less exciting.
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Available in white or black models, the earphones ship with a battery charging case that measures 3.8 by 1.4 by 1.2 inches (HWD). Each earpiece sits in its own charging cradle. The in-ear fit is quite secure, and six total pairs of eartips—three foam, three oval-shaped silicone pairs—are included. The earpieces are resistant to sweat and water, but they aren't waterproof, so don't wear them in the shower.
The Here One app (for Android and iOS) is necessary basically from the get-go, as it's how you pair the earphones. We had problems at first, but some fiddling around showed us that one earpiece was fully charged while the other was nearly depleted…but they had both been sitting in the charging case. It's exceedingly easy to think you have both earpieces fully docked in the charging case when really, you only have one—the flashing status LEDs on each earpiece need to sync up, and that's your indication that both are charging. The good news is, once they're charged, the pairing process is straightforward.
Once paired, the app walks you through all of the available features and helps you create your "listening profile." This involves a series of white noise tests—one ear gets low volume white noise, while the other ear gets a series of tones in varying frequency ranges. The goal is to adjust the on-screen slider to the lowest setting at which you can hear each tone. This essentially gives the app a sense of which frequencies are harder for you to hear than others—most adults have some degree of hearing loss, however minor, and Doppler Labs tries to figure out which frequency ranges need to be slightly boosted or cut, by how much, and in which ear. These settings will also be applied to all the real-world sound you hear—what comes in through the mics, not your music—and you can always retake (or skip) the test.
The main feature of the app is what the Here One web page refers to as "smart noise cancellation." You can apply noise filters in the app that are sometimes general (Crowd) and other times quite specific (BART SF Bay Area). These filters are great, but you can also do cool things like add white noise to your surroundings to mask them somewhat (or completely). There are also filters for speech enhancement.
After you've selected your filter, the main screen is a meter that allows you to raise or lower the level of the white noise, or whatever sound the ambient mics are picking up. Setting levels is easy—just swipe up or down and watch the corresponding number values—negative numbers for cutting the signal, positive for boosting. The Bypass button temporarily disables the filter and gives you the full volume of your surroundings—helpful for when you're in Office mode to cut down on surrounding chatter, but your boss suddenly needs a to speak with you.
You can also switch to Live Mix mode and avoid the filters altogether, creating your own preferences using a slider on-screen to boost or cut certain frequencies, or even use presets like Bass Boost (interesting when applied to your surroundings) or Flanger and Echo—both recognizable effects that will immediately feel weird, like your surroundings are suddenly the backdrop to a sci-fi film. All of the filters and live mix settings can be applied while you listen to music, or without music playing. If you turn on location services in the app, you can use filters specifically designed for where you are—this seems more helpful in large cities, and will probably work better as more Here One users participate.
As for playing music directly within the app, your choices are limited to your Spotify Connect app, Apple Music account, or podcasts. However, leaving the app to go to your own music apps doesn't disable the filters.
When it comes to controlling the earpieces, it's all about tapping—tap once to play or pause music, or accept a call. Tap twice to activate Siri or hang up a call. There are other nuanced controls operated by tapping, but many standard controls are notably absent—you can't navigate tracks, nor can you adjust the volume.
The mic for phone calls offers average intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded, but there was the typical wireless, low-fi mic sound quality.
Battery life is estimated to be a paltry two hours per charge, putting it in the lower tier of a product category that doesn't offer exceptional running time in general. The charging case holds up to three charges, but a full charge takes 2.5 hours, so you can give them extra juice on the go, but you need to carve out a little time.
Let's start with the noise cancellation. At low levels, the filters sound like, well, almost nothing. The airplane filter does an excellent job of eliminating rumble and low frequency sounds, but you'll still hear, say, the clicking of your fingers on a laptop keyboard. But that's at the lowest setting (-22). Raise the levels to maximum (+6), and you hear your surroundings quite well—not just the typing, but all of the ambient sounds around you.
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Basically, when you have any filter at its lowest setting, it sounds like highly effective noise cancellation—you'll hear very little of your surroundings, like you have earplugs in. When you raise the levels, it slowly allows your surroundings into the mix, and the higher you get, it sounds somewhat like you're listening to a strongly equalized live feed of the space you're in. Some of the filters work to cut certain frequencies and boost others—Restaurant, for instance, focuses on voices in front of you and amplifies them while cutting surrounding noise so you can better hear your conversation. And, of course, some filters are meant to block sound rather than alter it—Noise Mask sounds like comforting white noise. At -22, you can't really hear it, and starting at -21, all the way to the top level of +6, you're simply adding in more fuzzy white noise.
One surprise from the app is its lack of a simple EQ to apply to music—an app that specializes in filters should have no problem applying some simple effects to the main audio feed. Normally, this wouldn't be a huge deal, but the sound signature is a little sculpted in odd areas and cut in others—EQ would be a welcome addition to future app updates.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the earphones offer powerful low frequency response. At moderate levels, the bass is still powerful, while at top, unwise levels, it doesn't distort. The balance of deep lows and highs is pretty solid here, but things seem to lean a little in the direction of the lows.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Here One's overall sound. The drums on this track can sound overly boosted on bass-forward earphones, but are fairly neutral here—neither bereft of low frequency presence nor pushing it out ridiculously. Callahan's rich baritone vocals get plenty of low-mid presence, but as noted on the previous track, the earphones offer a little less high-mid and high frequency presence than most. Things never sound muddy, but they do sound a little dulled in moments when they could sound crisp.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop, for instance, receives less high-mid presence than we're used to hearing, giving its attack a less striking presence—we hear more of the loop's thumping sustain than its attack slicing forward through the song's layers. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with solid presence—again, nothing over the top in the bass realm, but strong enough. The most obvious aspect of the sound signature is what's missing—a little high-mid presence here and there.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some added bass depth, bringing the lower register instrumentation forward in the mix in a pleasant way. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals are less bright than they typically are, but still retain far more crispness and definition than, say, the guitar strumming on the Callahan track. It still sounds bright and crisp enough, since high-mid and high frequenices are typically a little more prominent in classical mixes to begin with.
When it comes to audio performance, the Here One earphones are good, but not great. Battery life, on the other hand, is just poor. The charging case alleviates that issue somewhat, but these earphones are not going to get you through your next transatlantic flight without some downtime.
For pure ambient noise cancellation, the identically priced Bose QuietControl 30 are still the best sounding (wireless, but not cable-free) earphones we've tested. But for sheer innovation, Doppler Labs takes the Bose approach to another level, applying useful filters and allowing you to mix the level of your surroundings with your music playback levels. If that's your top priority, the Here One earphones won't disappoint, and we can optimistically assume the app will only get better over time.
If what you're after is a more straightforward music experience, but you're still into the cable-free in-ear design, consider the Apple AirPods, Bragi Dash, or Samsung Gear IconX. None of these options are outright winners—this is a young category with a lot of evolving to do—but they each bring something interesting to the table.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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