AblePlanet's haptic headset adopts Linx Fusion moniker, we go hands-on

In case you hadn't noticed, "next-gen" is sort of the theme of E3 2013, and the term applies to far more than just video game consoles. Take headphones, for instance -- Able Planet tells us that it's developed what it believes to be the next generation in personal audio: a haptic headset outfitted with ViViTouch technology. Put simply, these things subtly vibrate with an audio source, but in a non-distracting way. The company first showed us this device back at CES 2013, but that prototype was unnamed, rough around the edges and had limited control options. Today, AblePlanet introduced us to the final prototype for what it now calls its Linx Fusion headset. We gave the cans a listen to see what had changed.

The first thing we noticed about the Linx Fusion was its build quality. Some rough work around the edges betrayed it as a prototype, but it seemed to be a more complete revision than the version we saw at CES. The set felt comfortable on our head, hugging our ears firmly, but without making us feel squeezed. Plugging the headphones in to an audio device coaxed out its party trick: haptic feedback.

This is where ViViTouch comes in: Linx Fusion headphones employ ViviTouch's electroactive polymer (EAP for short) technology to make the headset's ear containers react to sound. The effect is immediately noticeable, but difficult to quantify -- less like hearing music and more like feeling it on your skin. Subdued bass notes now pop, demanding attention at the front of the listener's mind. It was the EAP technology at work, AblePlanet told us; we really were feeling the music right on our skin, and our brain was translating that sensation in a new way. It's a multi-sensory experience, with the user hearing through the ear canal, through bone conduction and also on his or her skin. We found that the net result of this was that we could "hear" the bass with striking clarity without turning up the volume at all.

In more subtle audio landscapes, it's a nice touch -- but after plugging the headset into StarFox 64 3DS, we found that exceedingly noisy environments made the effect more random than enhancing. Fortunately, both this prototype and the final hardware have a haptic adjustment dial.

AblePlanet's haptic headset adopts Linx Fusion moniker, we go handson

AblePlanet told us that the headset will launch in October for $399, sporting a thicker, redesigned headband. While the model we saw were simple noise-canceling headphones, we were told that variants were on the way too, including headsets for telecom, DJs and of course, a gaming headset. It isn't a budget product, to be sure, but it certainly offers something unique, clever and innovative. For now, we'll say that's enough of a reason to jump on E3's next-gen bandwagon. Read on for the company's official press release.

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Able Planet fuses its award-winning proprietary technologies with Bayer MaterialScience's ViviTouch® EAP to create LINX® FUSION, a multisensory technology that simultaneously transmits sound through skin, bone and down the ear canal for unsurpassed sound quality, clarity and speech intelligibility.

Los Angeles, CA (6/11/2013) – Able Planet Incorporated announced today the 2013 release of LINX® FUSION, a portfolio of next generation multisensory headphones that will set new standards of performance for active noise cancellation, stereo, wireless, cellular/telecom, gaming, and DJ headphones. With a MSRP of $399.99, these headphones are expected to release in Q4 to eagerly awaiting retailers who have already committed to substantial year-end launches, worldwide.

Able Planet was founded on state-of-the-art hearing technologies that remove barriers to active lifestyles for people with varying levels of hearing abilities. New inventions and the migration of technologies from unrelated industries expanded the company's scope beyond hearing loss devices to include proprietary technologies for consumer audio and communications products that create The Live Sound Experience®. With over 40 of the world's most prestigious industry awards, this award-winning sound quality has become preferred by people with normal hearing and is changing the lives of those with hearing loss. The co-development with Bayer MaterialSciences will fuse ViviTouch EAP with Able Planet intellectual property to create Next Generation devices that enhance the listening experience, enable communications in severe noise environments and help people with hearing loss, even the deaf, to hear. The company was founded to create an Able Planet.

"The fusion of intellectual property between Able Planet and Bayer MaterialScience will create a broad portfolio of consumer audio, communications and hearing loss devices by which all other products will be compared." said Kevin Semcken, CEO Able Planet. "LINX® FUSION technology will only be available from Able Planet that offers a broad portfolio of products distinguished by a history of awards for sound quality, clarity, innovation and design."
The ideal performance for high-end audio is the accurate reproduction of the Live Sound Experience®. Current audio technologies struggle to replicate this experience, because fuller sounds can mask high tones making speech and music sound muddled. LINX AUDIO®, winner of Best in Category at the International Consumer Electronics Show, provides full rich bass sounds, clear high tones and intelligible speech that enable the listener to Hear the Difference®. ViviTouch's Electro Active Polymer technology (EAP) enhances the perception of loudness without increasing volume. This technology enhances the bass response without overwhelming high frequency sounds, like the strings of a guitar or voice. ViviTouch EAP employs a motion technology that enables conduction of sound to the auditory system through controlled contact with skin and bone. The technology consists of an extremely thin polymer film upon which electrodes are printed. This film is form-fitted into an audio device that creates wide area surface contact with the skin, or the inside of the ear canal. A proprietary process allows the film to move nimbly when applied with current, resulting in a highly efficient transmission of the audio signal via simultaneous passage through skin and bone conduction that is coherent with sound generated from the device driver. Simultaneously transmitting sound through three distinct and separate audio delivery methods results in unsurpassed sound quality, clarity and speech intelligibility.

"BMS co-developments with Able Planet pair a leader in Audiology and Speech Language Sciences with Bayer MaterialScience, a world leader in proprietary polymer technologies," said Dirk Schapeler, CEO of Artificial Muscle, Inc. a Bayer MaterialScience Company and maker of the ViviTouch® electroactive polymer technology. "The companies are co-developing a broad portfolio of next generation headphones and in-ear products, including state-of-the-art hearing health devices."

Initial product launches will focus on active noise cancellation, stereo, wireless, cellular/telecom, gaming, and DJ headphones. In addition, the companies are also fusing EAP technology into in-ear devices and Able Planet's Hearing Health products. One such product is the award-winning Personal Sound, which was recognized by Melinda Beck of the Wall Street Journal who stated, "The most impressive new PSAP is the Able Planet Personal Sound AMP 2500". This product received numerous recognitions, including "Best of What's New 2012" as one of the top 100 innovations by Popular Science Magazine. Fusing technologies with BMS will not only enhance the listening experience, it will preserve hearing for people with normal hearing and connect people with hearing loss to the world of sound.