Standard hearing exams are cold and clinical, leaving you isolated in a cone of silence until you can hear and react to the perfunctory tones. There's no immediate feedback, and I've always found waiting for each sound kind of stressful: When is the next tone coming? Is that it? Am I imagining I heard something? Maybe it's already there and I can't hear it at all? In contrast, once you start the EarPrint process by double-clicking the "get Even" button, Sarah is there every step of the way. "Hi," she says. "This is really easy." And it is: Five different pieces of music are played for each ear, and you click the button the moment you can hear anything. "Great," Sarah will say, "you've really got the hang of this." Even though I know it's a preprogrammed response, I still feel really, really good.
All of this is built right into the Even, no app needed. The team at Even hasn't dismissed the possibility of an application in the future, but with its first product, it's keeping things simple. Unfortunately, that means the headphones can only work for one user at a time, so if your friends borrow your set and go through the EarPrint process, you'll have to go through it again once the headphones are returned to you. This isn't that big of a deal, as it only takes two minutes and Even recommends you redo the EarPrint anyway every two months to ensure the best sound.
So what are the Even earbuds actually like? I've been wearing them at work the past two days and they've been rather crisp and well-balanced, about what you would expect from any pair of $99 headphones -- and that's without turning on the EarPrint technology. Even without the added bells and whistles, the Even is a solid pair of earbuds with some nice practical touches built into their design. The left bud is white and the right one is black, so you always know which is which at a glance. And it uses a thick, braided cord that not only looks great but also makes it harder for them to tangle inside your pocket. The one downside to the braided cord is that it's a bit scratchier than standard vinyl or rubber cords, with the noise traveling up to the earbuds when you move around a lot.
The controls on the cord are pretty standard: two volume buttons and a play/pause button, as well as a built-in mic so you can take calls. A little LED on the controls lets you know the Even's status: A steady green light means EarPrint is active, blue indicates the setup process is underway and red means the battery is low. I'm discovering that right now as I try to listen to the Game of Thrones season six score. The Even just interrupted the music with a cheerful "bum bum" sound, but didn't make it immediately clear that this meant the battery was dying. This is probably the biggest downside of the Even not having an app: It needs to be charged regularly. It also seems that you need to turn them on even if you're not using EarPrint, so don't bother trying to save battery by using them like a normal headset.
As standard headphones they're great, but with the EarPrint technology ... well, they're not really much better. At least, it's not as striking a difference as I experienced with the Nura. The music definitely seems louder, with certain parts more prominent as the Even lifts the frequencies I normally could not hear. How well that approach works varies by song: "Teardrop" by Massive Attack was almost completely changed, and the excellent instrumentation on "My Shot" from the Hamilton cast recording really shone. However, "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede just seemed louder without any additional depth, while Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" was almost identical to me. I also can't say that I necessarily liked the EarPrint-enhanced version of "Teardrop" that much; I like how soft and subtle some of the tones normally sound, even if that's a byproduct of my crappy hearing and not how the song is supposed to be.
This isn't to say that EarPrint is a wash; Aronson told me most people find themselves adjusting the volume in response to the enhanced audio because it no longer needs to be loud to be heard. Which in turn is good for your ears in that it can prevent even further hearing loss. So it's not just that the Even tries to make the most of what you have hearing-wise -- it helps you hold onto it for a lot longer.
If you'd like to try out the EarPrint technology for yourself there's a demo available on the Even site that approximates the testing process and results. If you like what you hear, or you just like the idea of a solid, good-looking pair of earbuds, you can snag a pair for yourself today for $99.