For some of us, mixing up the left and right headphones doesn't really register. For hardcore music lovers, gamers and those with more discerning ears, the idea of mixing up left from right headphones is sacrilege. The problem of an accidental switch while distracted is a soon a thing of the past with headphones that automatically switch channels when placed in the wrong ear.
Since audio tracks are mixed in stereo the output is as well, with separate audio "channels" combined to make the stereo experience. These separate channels are why we have the little "L" and "R" marks to guide us to place the buds — and tracks — to the proper ear.
The new "Universal Headphones" solve the mix-up problem by placing a proximity sensor on one of the headphones that measures distance to your ear.
If the headphone is in your right ear the sensor will point to the back of your head; in the left it points to open air. The sensor interprets the information and relays it to an embedded audio circuit that swaps out the stereo channel to the proper ear if the headphones are mismatched.
The research team at Igarashi Design Interfaces Project in Tokyo, Japan who are responsible for the Universal Headphones have also solved another common problem with headphones — shared listening.
When you and a friend share headphones to listen to a new tune, you aren't necessarily experiencing the true sound of the music. You are only getting one side of the audio mix, and with complicated layered audio tracks that may not sound so great.
The Universal Headphones operate with a weak electrical current between the headphones when used by one person. If you share your headphones with a friend the connection is broken; the headphones then switch to mono listening for each user to listen to both audio channels their single headphone.
These subtle improvements in listening technology will be presented at the Intelligent User Interface conference in Lisbon, Portugal later this month.
The work won't stop there however, as the team plans to work on sensors that would detect when the headphones fall out of your ear and pause your music. Tweaks on the shared usage detection could also lead to each user being able to listen to their individual playlists via a single device.
While this research admittedly may not be the type of science that will put a man on Mars, there is nothing wrong with making improvements on technology that millions of people use and enjoy everyday!