How transparency mode in headphones is important, and should not be discarded as a silly or useless feature.

Posted on July 14, 2021

I’ve heard people walking, running, or even on bikes blasting their music and in many cases totally unable or willing to hear anything around them. As a blind person, I would be putting my life in danger doing that. When headphones began to come out with transparency mode, or sound pass through, and sighted reviewers wrote phrases like. That transparency mode was silly, that they’d never use it. I thought, that’s because they could only imagine their situation, with sight.

Some models have awesome transparency mode, but most of them don’t amplify sounds around the wearer enough to approximate natural hearing.

So far, in my experience, only Apple’s AirPods Pro , along with the Sennheiser Ambeo smart headset have transparency modes good enough for me to feel safe navigating while crossing streets. The AirPods Max reduce transparency mode when wind hits the microphones, so that disqualifies them for outdoor travel. Wish that setting could be turned off by the user. What is so aggravating about that though, is the AirPods Max didn’t reduce transparency mode because of wind until February 2021, two months after they had been released.

I haven’t gotten to play with the Anker Soundcore headphones, like their new Life q35 model, but at their price point of around $130 they might be interesting.

When the Beats Studio Buds were released last month, I  hoped that they also would have a loud enough transparency mode for blind outdoor navigation, but I was disappointed. I did buy a pair and gave them a serious try, but just didn’t feel comfortable navigating with them.

Maybe if I’d known about third party foam tips for the AirPods Pro back when I owned a pair, I would have eventually been happy with them. Maybe some time I should try them again.

The thing is, transparency mode, or ambient, or whatever brands call this feature is not just a silly feature to ignore; it is, in fact, a form of augmented reality. Maybe one day you can apply equalizer effects to your headphone’s transparency mode to make people talking to you clearer, or have a combination with noise canceling and transparency mode, , so that if a siren or some other important sound is heard, transparency mode only turns on for the duration of that sound.

In a way transparency mode is kind of giving you miner hearing aid features, without being an actual medical device with hearing aid prices. It should be said here that for legal reasons, no headphone brand is saying the transparency mode can be used instead of a hearing aid, but for people with mild hearing loss, transparency mode in some cases may help them.

Since high school, i have always preferred open back headphones, but as time has progressed, market demands have for the most part only called for closed back headphones for use in public. Transparency mode has in a way, given the option to the wearer. Do I want an open back, or closed back pair of headphones, and lets me change them on the fly. When the lawn tractor is right outside my window when I’m trying to do work, closed back, or even better, active noise canceling is definitely my choice.

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