At SXSW this week in Austin, Texas, Sony, via their new Future Lab program, unveiled a prototype pair of headphones, codenamed Concept N, that work via Bluetooth and wrap around the listener’s neck, akin to LG’s HBS-760 headset or the Moto Surround. The kicker, however, is that these Concept N headphones do not need to touch the listener’s ears to work. That’s right, no earbuds or over-ear pads required. Instead, the Concept N uses multi-directional speakers to shoot audio directly at the listen’s ears.
Sony’s point of emphasis with the Concept N is safety. They want listeners to hear outside sounds while traveling or commuting, while still being able listen to their favorite tunes or podcasts. The built-in speakers direct sound to the ears, but they also allow listeners to still hear the rumblings of what’s around them. Plus, they promise to not be disruptive to those around you — unlike bike messengers blasting RiRi’s latest via Bluetooth speaker — by carefully aiming the sound just to the intended listener. The headphones also come with a pair of earbuds for those who want a traditional listening experience, but those earbuds come punctured with holes in the middle, so earbud listeners can also hear ambient noises.
The Concept N’s also come with a built-in camera and will respond to voice commands (just say the name “Arc”). Sony has partnered Project N with apps like Strava, AccuWeather and Yelp, so expect “Arc” to be able to track commutes, spit out the forecast, tell you the nearest place to get Chinese grub, and take hands-free snapshots. That said, Project N is still a prototype working out all of its kinks — mainly with voice control, judging by The Verge‘s recent writeup. Look for Sony’s Concept N to hopefully hit shelves later this year, although a release date has still yet to be announced.