Interview w. SoundBrake 2.0 headphones awareness device inventor
The SoundBrake 2.0 headphone awareness device has created quite a buzz on Kickstarter, with the project target being smashed four times over. The original goal of $3000 has been met with $14,468 worth of pledges, and there’s still 24 days to go. The device works with all headphones, including wireless designs (although the latter requires an additional module). We spoke to Sundae Electronics founder Shari Eskenas, who explained the demand for the device.
On Kickstarter Eskenas explained that the SoundBrake 2.0 allows you to be:
“be totally immersed in your music without missing out on important outside sounds!”
During our talk we learned that the design was inspired by Eskenas’s experience as an engineer, where she was banned from using headphones due to the safety concerns. The SoundBrake 2.0 monitors ambient noise and instantly streams in outside sound when they are above an adaptive alert level. No longer will you miss out on phone calls, knocks on your door or emergency situations while listening to your headphones. Best of all, you won’t know that the SoundBrake 2.0 is there when it’s alert is not active.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
“I’m an electrical engineer and I love inventing products no one has seen before. I wanted to create a device that would prevent headphone users from being oblivious to their surroundings and be compatible with any headphones and audio player. I thought of the idea for SoundBrake and spent the past two years designing and building the software and hardware.”
Who might buy this headphone attachment?
“Anyone who uses headphones! Being oblivious to your surroundings is such a common problem. At work, at home, in the outdoors…you never know what you might miss out on. It’s particularly useful for people using noise cancelling headphones and gamer/VR users because they’re especially isolated from the world.”
What does a ‘headphones awareness’ device do?
“The SoundBrake awareness device allows you to be totally isolated in your headphone audio, and still be alerted to important outside sounds, such as a door knock, announcement, phone call, car honk, someone trying to get your attention, or anything else unexpected. It will only stream in outside sounds that are louder than an alert level, which adapts to your surroundings after a button press.
“SoundBrake is very different than headphones that have an ‘ambient’ mode feature that lets all outside sound pass through or gives you control over the volume of outside sounds. The downside of headphones with the ambient mode feature is that your audio quality is degraded and it prevents you from being totally immersed in your music. However, SoundBrake doesn’t have this problem because it does not impact your audio quality and it lets you hear unexpected sounds while keeping you isolated in your music.”
What inspired you to come up with this idea?
“I was working at an aerospace company that had a no-headphones policy. They said it was because people listening to headphones could potentially be unaware of an emergency or someone calling out for help in the machine areas. I found out there was no product in the market that could alert headphone users to unexpected outside sounds, so I saw a market need for it. It’s something I wanted to have in the workplace, and I realized it could be used in many other situations as well.”
Where can it be used, can you use it in public for example?
“It can be used everywhere, indoors and outdoors. It’s a lightweight, thin, wearable device, so you can easily clip it to your pocket while you’re active outside.”
Can it cope with say, loud music booming in the room; surely there are some noises that you might not want to hear?
“After you press a button, SoundBrake samples your surroundings for a few seconds, determines the loudest volume level of outside sound, and sets the alert level higher than that…so it would only stream in sounds louder than the music playing in the room.”
What steps did you take to develop the SoundBrake 2.0?
“I started off by focusing on the electronics. First it was a breadboard circuit I put together myself. Later on, I had printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication done with smaller components, and it was assembled by machine. Then I had a company design an enclosure around the PCB I made. This led to SoundBrake 1.0, which I launched on Kickstarter last year. For SoundBrake 2.0, I added new features based on feedback I received about Version 1.0. Also, I was able to work with an industrial design company, so it’s physically a much sleeker device.”
Let’s get technical, how does it actually work?
“SoundBrake constantly samples your outside sound level using its internal microphone to determine if your outside sound volume exceeds the alert level. The alert level is set after you simply press a button. SoundBrake determines the peak level of sound in your surroundings, and computes a default alert level based on this. You can also select among five different alert sensitivity levels. During normal operation, SoundBrake provides a path for audio signals to transmit from your audio player to your headphones. During an alert, SoundBrake instantly stops transmitting your audio and transmits clearly amplified outside sounds. When outside sound ceases, your audio instantly resumes.”
So you absolutely smashed the Kickstarter $3k target, what now?
“Now it’s time to spread the word more!”
What’s your best Kickstarter package for those who want to preorder?
“SoundBrake by itself is $59, and $72 with a Bluetooth module included. The Bluetooth module is a transmitter that attaches to SoundBrake and allows you to use it with Bluetooth headphones.”