Let’s face it, the Amazon Echo has won 2016. It’s the most sought after gadget this year, and with its compatibility to virtually everything, it’ll be a surprise not to see it in every home soon. As a result, companies are making it a mission to make their gadgets Alexa compatible.
But as of today the first pair of Alexa-enabled headphones have been announced.
A startup company by the name of ONvocal has announced the launch of OV, the first and only intelligent headphone that has Amazon Alexa technology built straight into the headset. Nowadays, most headphones come with the ability to just use Google Assistant and Apple’s voice command assistant, Siri, but the OV is the first that has the opportunity to do so much more than just tell you the weather. Courtesy of Amazon Echo’s open platform, the possibilities are endless for the OV. Not only can you control your music with the press of a button, but you can access and control Amazon Music Unlimited, Prime Music, Audible, Kindle, iHeartRadio and TuneIn Radio1 just by simply making a command. And of course, the OV offer up the abilities you currently get with your Amazon Echo such as being able to call yourself an Uber, ordering more dog food or seeing when the next Patriots game will be.
Not only does the OV have awesome compatibility with Amazon’s Echo, but the headphones even just as a standalone headphone are epic. They are the only headphone that offers ambient voice and chat sound controls so you can tweak your sound until you get exactly what YOU want to hear. There’s a voice control button that allows you to hear your own voice which is perfect if you want to make sure your phone conversations are being heard crystal clear. In terms of music listening, the OV promises features that any audiophile would love. With rich, powerful bass and smooth vocals, none of your tunes will sound muddy, and background noise will be held to a minimum, thanks to the beam-forming microphones included.
Amazon is proud to be included in the fold with the OV by ONVocal, and stated:
“We’re excited to work with ONvocal to bring Alexa to the all-new OV headphones—the first headphones available with the Alexa voice service built in,” said Aaron Brown, Director, Amazon Voice Services. “Now customers can use their OV headphones to access over 5,000 Alexa skills such as Lyft, Domino’s, and 7 Minute Workout. Plus, if they’re on the go, they can use Alexa to quickly check for nearby movie show times, manage their shopping lists, control their smart home and much more—all just by using their voice. We can’t wait for our customers to try this out.”
Dan had the chance to check out the OV by ONvocal, let’s see what he thought about it:
Today was launch day for the OV, and I had a chance to speak to Bob Spaner, President of ONvocal as he was running through Newark Airport after a busy day of interviews and launch events. It is clear that this is a man who is proud of what they have developed and excited to speak about it. After spending some time on the phone with him, I can’t help but share his enthusiasm.
When developing this “intelligent headphone” they sought to make sure it was equipped to provide the best audio experience possible in the widest range of situation possible. The result is that the built OV with three different microphones on the earbuds. The reason for this is that different microphones are used at different times and in certain combinations to provide different experiences depending on audio content and situational needs.
The result is three different sound controls that can be activated. They are:
Voice – Voice control is automatically on for commands and calls. In order to maximize the call quality it actually lets you hear your own voice in real-time. through the earbuds as you speak.
Ambient – Ambient control uses two outward facing microphones to create a binaural array that lets you hear what is happening around you AND the direction from which the sound is coming. This is hugely helpful if you was walking around the city. It is also useful if you are home and want to know where your family is in the home. With the Ambient control off the earbuds are able to blocks sound and let you disappear into your own world.
Chat – Chat control combines the two approaches — dips music, turns on Ambient and Voice, and lets you speak to someone. When done, you hit the chat button again and returns you to the settings you were using.
Ultimately, when designing the OV the goal was to be able to control how you hear the world and have the most robust access to cloud services. (It also accesses Siri and Google’s voice services.As Bob put it, The various controls and intelligent design are all about being Heads Up and Engaged. You never need to lower your head.“
OV is no slouch in the sound department. It has balanced armature speakers and high-performance microphones. The seriousness with which they take the audio quality can be seen in the inclusion of, among other things, an APTX codec. And, while the Alexa services are not available outside the US (Amazon has yet to roll Alexa beyond the boarders, OV has a Line In port so you can used a wired connection and save battery life. That is especially useful if you are on a plane and want to access the onboard information service. All this… and it gets 8 hours of runtime. That was one of the reasons they went with the neckband design.
To create the product they participated in an Alexa hackathon. They went into it with a specific goal. As he explained,
“We not only want the Alexa services but we want the Alexa music services built-in. You can be on the go, press the button and access Alexa’s services. If you know a few words of a song but not the name “Play the song that includes the words…” and it will search the database and tell you the song and start playing.“
It was a huge task but they did it. OV offers a number of entertainment, information, smart home management skills. There are also a number of custom skills. It integrates the Amazon music services and the audio book services and lets you access them. There was a high bar to pass the Alexa Program certification but they passed.
As mentioned, the headset has a patented feature is called voice which gives real-time feedback so you hear yourself and can know if you can that you are speaking clearly. The Voice Sound Control may sound like marketing-speak but, trust me, it isn’t. As Bob and I were talking, he was wearing OV in an Uber and then in the airport, and he sounded crystal clear. Seriously… it sounded as if he was right with me in the room. So, even without trying OV myself, I’m a fan.
There’s much more to discuss about OV, and I look forward to doing that when I get to go “ears-on” with the headset. I will note, however, that I am blown away by a few things. I’m impressed by the integration with Amazon Alexa. More than that, however I’m amazed at OV’s integration with Alexa AND its independence from the Amazon Echo. Alexa is enabled through their app. Once you get OV you simply download to the phone and then grant access to your Alexa account through the phone. If you already have an Amazon Echo it will then download any settings you have set up. Regardless, though, you don’t need an Amazon Echo to use it. OV, once paired with the enabled app on your smartphone can still accesses the Amazon services you have on your Echo without access to your Echo… and without the need to be home. And it you don’t have an Amazon Echo at all you can simply set up the services right through the app.
Perhaps most surprising of all, the company recognizes that there his a difference between an Amazon Echo that is always plugged in and a headset that is used on the go. They did the heavy lifting that needed to be done and were able to design an app that won’t suck battery life as if it were a cold Slurpee on a hot summer day. Now THAT, is quite a feat of engineering.
I loved the idea of OV when I heard about it. After speaking with Bob Spaner … and hearing him so clearly while he was on OV … I’m incredibly excited to check it out!!!
Amazon has taken the world by storm, and ONvocal seems to be capitalizing on being the first to forever change the world of wireless headphones . For more information about the OV by ONvocal, head over to their site today.