👑 Mashable Score
Anyone who’s ever attempted to write for a living (or for fun) knows there’s essentially no such thing as a distraction-free environment. Coffee shops are busy and bustling, offices are full of noisy co-workers, and personal living spaces are packed with potential procrastination options.
Like many people who are easily distracted, I often find myself struggling to give that task at hand my undivided attention. So when I learned about the advanced listening app Hear, created by RjDj, I was intrigued.
Billed as something that can “harmonize your listening experience” and “help you to be less distracted and stressed,” Hear sounded very promising. I’ve never been one for white noise machines or soothing spa playlists, so the augmented sound aspect of Hear initially had me a bit skeptical. But I hoped the app would help me focus when writing, make noisy public settings more pleasant to be in, and allow me to filter some of the sounds in my office when I felt I needed an extra level of introspection.
Hear is free and simply designed. It offers seven free sound filters (Super Hearing, Auto Volume, Relax, Happy, Talk, Office, and Sleep,) and two additional filters (Trippy and Upbeat) available for $1.99 each. The individual filters each have their pros and cons, so to give you the most complete understanding of the Hear experience I thought it would be best to break the app down by its different listening components.
Getting set up
To start, you can download Hear from the app store. (It’s currently only available on iOS.) Be aware that only wired headphones are supported at the moment “because bluetooth audio does not support high quality microphone realtime audio.” But Hear audio technicians are reportedly looking into expanding the app’s headphone capabilities in the future.
After downloading, you see the app’s main deep red and orange color theme, and you’re guided through a simple setup. You’ll be asked to enable your mic so incoming audio can be processed through the app, plug in your headphones, and then you’re free to swipe between the various filters just like you would on Instagram.
After setup, Hear launches right into its Super Hearing filter, which, I must say I was not entirely prepared for.
Super Hearing lets you hear the world “with superhuman detail and quality,” which means every keystroke you make or breath you take is extremely amplified. At first, the heightened hearing felt incredibly strange — like I’d been transported into a seashell. But once you adjust the bass, presence, brilliance, and volume to your liking, it can be pretty damn soothing.
I first tried the filter while I was working from home, and in my secluded environment I really liked the results. It made me feel like a superhero with otherworldly powers, and transformed the clicks of my MacBook Air into an old fashioned typewriter. But when I tried it back in the office — as was the case with essentially every filter — I found the amplified sounds of co-workers talking and laughing to be far more pronounced, and therefore, more distracting.
While I was at my desk, Super Hearing allowed me to pick up on the faintest background noises, some of which I wouldn’t have otherwise paid much attention to, such as the unzipping of jackets, popping open of soda cans, beeping of car horns outside, and hushed conversations between co-workers around me.
To test the app’s range out I turned up the volume and slacked my co-worker who sits three rows away from me. I bizarrely requested that he cough to himself. After a bit of convincing he lightly cleared his throat, and it weirdly sounded as though he was seated right beside me.
The verdict: Overall, Super Hearing is a great and even somewhat comforting option if you’re using it alone. I imagine it’d be helpful to use when meditating or deep breathing, since it allows you to look deep within yourself and hear each breath and movement so clearly. But in a noisy environment, it made me much more conscious of each individual sound more — essentially, the opposite of what I wanted.
The app’s second filter, described as a way to “turn off the background noise, but still hear when people talk around you,” seemed promising. But honestly, it didn’t wow me.
The Auto Volume filter starts off silent and only picks up select noise, resulting in sudden bursts of sound and occasionally choppy feedback. This particular filter didn’t always pick up the sounds I wanted it to, and would occasionally cut out while someone was speaking to me, which got to be pretty frustrating.
The verdict: While I’m not passionately against this filter, I honestly just didn’t see the point in using it. Turning it on in a room alone doesn’t add much to your work experience, and though you can change the volume, suppress noise, and remove hiss, I couldn’t seem to find a settings adjustment that convinced me otherwise. Overall, I found the harsh distinctions between absolute quiet and sound distracting.
Hear told me its third filter, Relax, would make me “lose myself in harmonic waves of bliss,” and while I was incredibly hopeful at the thought of finally getting a taste of app-induced relaxation, I can assure you I experienced no such thing.
Have you ever seen the episode of SpongeBob SquarePants where Squidward screams “alone” in that white room over and over again? Or in Finding Nemo when Dory tries to speak whale? That’s the vibe the Relax filter gave me.
It’s great if you want to hear sneezes, coughs, and other sounds echo through your mind for far longer than they should. But I didn’t find it to be especially helpful when trying to relax. The filter might not be so bad if you’re in the presence of waves crashing on a shore or another soothing sound you’d like repeated. But in an office? No thanks.
The verdict: This filter was fine and the bright side is that there are ways to adjust the settings to make it more tolerable. I highly suggest turning off the echo to get rid of the creep factor.
The Happy filter is by far the single most trippy experience I have ever had with a piece of technology. The app describes the filter as “turning sounds around you into cascades of happiness,” but to paint you a far more accurate picture, imagine the Relax filter just downed some shrooms.
The filter repeats sounds back to you in different octaves more than 20 times, to the point where you feel like you have voices in your head. It was low key traumatizing and honestly felt like I was in a living nightmare. Pharell Williams is quoted saying the app is “like legal drugs with no side effects,” and this was the first time I really understood how much he wasn’t exaggerating.
You can adjust the settings on density, spread, space, and volume to make the filter less dramatic, but all using this in my office did was allow me to hear everything my coworkers were saying on what felt like a never-ending loop.
The verdict: Absolutely NOT. I can’t imagine one single scenario, aside from prepping to star in a straight up horror movie, in which anyone would willingly want to use this filter. It’s a nightmare. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions while trying the Happy filter out, but let me tell you, happiness was not one of them. I was petrified, uneasy, and honestly think a tear rolled down my cheek at one point. So, um, the hardest of passes here, folks.
The Talk filter is for anyone who’s “fed up with boring voices” around them. Essentially, the app auto-tunes incoming sounds and voices so they sound more musical, which again, is fun as hell, but also super distracting.
With the ability to adjust echo, space, harmony, and volume, you can really manipulate the sounds around you in an impressively cool way, though. Seriously, T-Pain would be proud of this thing.
The verdict: This filter was one of my favorites, partly because it was one of the few I felt produced semi-pleasant sounds, as opposed to cursed ones. I will, however, admit that I got very little done while using it. I spent the majority of my time with Talk singing Daft Punk and Imogen Heap songs, but hey, I had a great time, and it helped me recover from the traumatizing Happy filter.
The Office filter — you know, the one I’d been waiting for — had finally arrived. It’s suggested use is when you can’t concentrate and want to “detach yourself and focus,” but all I could focus on was how artificially extra it was.
The best way I could describe the filter is as a menacing spa soundtrack. It does keep out the harshness of direct voices, which might be helpful for some, but it replaces them with muffled, distant, creepier noises.
The verdict: I unfortunately was not a fan of the Office filter. In “unhumanizing” sounds, it sort of makes other people sound robotic, which is not something I personally felt my life was lacking. While using the filter I felt like a character in the movies who’s just coming to after having passed out, and that was not exceptionally pleasant.
Remember when I said nothing could be worse than the Happy filter? I spoke too soon because the sleep filter is here to literally haunt your dreams.
I don’t know how exactly to describe it, but some words that come to mind are evil haunted clown dementors, if that helps at all.
The settings on this filter make all the difference, and while they could thankfully be adjusted to stop me from having a full-blown anxiety attack, they can also be turned up to make the filter far more frightening.
The verdict: The Sleep filter is said to “induce the most deep and surreal dreams of your life,” and sadly I will never know if that’s true because I can barely tolerate the sounds it produces when I’m awake. It’s a bold statement, but I think this filter wins the Most Cursed award.
What’s with the paid filters?
While most of Hear’s filters are free, there are two in-app purchases you can make at $1.99 each.
The Trippy filter is said to “distort the world around you” with a “fantastically unusual auditory experience.” But after experiencing how trippy the first seven filters were, I can’t even imagine what this one sounds like. Hear warned it “includes hallucinations without side effects,” so honestly, download at your own risk.
The second paid filter, Upbeat, is said to take the sounds around you and “loop them into a one-off audio experience like no other.” I think the echo in several of the other apps gave me more than enough looping, so I wasn’t really compelled to download this extra, either.
To download or not to download?
Hear is marketed as “a listening experience like no other,” and I can confidently say that is accurate. Hear is, quite frankly, like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life. The only thing that’s even come close to the Hear experience for me is the sound-centric John Krasinski film Nobody Walks.
Though my experience with the app wasn’t always positive, I can certainly say it is the most unusual app I’ve ever used. But outside of the fact that it’s impossibly distracting and some of the filters are terrifying, the app does have a few other cons.
For starters, if you have a mic on your headphones it picks up all the sound that gets augmented. So any sounds you yourself make, such as speaking, coughing, etc., can be uncomfortably loud. (If you’re using headphones without a mic, this isn’t an issue.) Another downside is the fact that the settings bars overlap with the pause feature, so if you try to pause the filter when settings are opened you’ll unintentionally raise the volume scale to its max. Ouch.
It’s also worth noting the app does drain your battery if you keep it enabled throughout the day.
But it’s not all bad. I enjoyed the minimalist design — a colorful screen with a circle in the middle that changed size in response to sound waves — and it is nice that each filter can be adjusted for maximum customization.
Several of the filters (like Super Hearing and Talk) were genuinely pleasant and helpful in a solo setting, and while others were more distracting, there’s no denying it was cool as hell to distort sound like that.
Would I recommend downloading the app for a fun and interesting listening experience? Absolutely. Pull the app out at parties, share some laughs with your friends, and use it to take a break from reality every once in a while.
But overall, Hear didn’t help me cut down on distractions or focus on anything other than the app. So if you’re solely wanting to increase your productivity, look elsewhere.