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This article was published on October 9, 2018

These analog noise-reducing ear buds helped me with my anxiety

These analog noise-reducing ear buds helped me with my anxiety
Tristan Greene
Story by

Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Knops are, basically, ear plugs with volume buttons. They’re a weird little analog gadget that’s perfect for people who get anxious in noisy places.

They’re one of the strangest products I’ve reviewed. And I’m the guy who took a light saber seriously. To me, they look ridiculous. But in a good way. And that’s kind of fun considering the fact that, per a press release, they’re being marketed as fashion accessories. But, I’m going to be honest: I know nothing about fashion.

As far as gadgets go, however, I actually dig their aesthetic. They come in a few styles, the differences being the color of the volume knob and whether it’s smooth or knurled. I was sent a gold-plated set, which look gaudy enough to make me smile every time I see them.

Credit: Nicole Gray

I’ve said it in a dozen reviews: I hate boring black tech that tries to fade away and suck the light out of a room. These are the opposite of that. The only way I’d like the way these things looked more, is if they had giant chartreuse-colored arrows pointing at them.

I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not but, if it helps, most people are probably just going to think anyone wearing these has some weird earphones in. From a distance it might look like you’ve got gauged ears, but only to people who haven’t really seen anyone who does.

Credit: Knops

Technology-wise, these things are actually pretty simple. They’re based on audio-reproduction techniques that were developed over a century ago. It’s the design and engineering that make Knops interesting. And, for people like me, the fact that they’ll never need charging or updates, or accidentally expose my data, means a lot.

Researchers believe noise-annoyance contributes to anxiety and depression in the general population. The sounds around us – constant aircraft flyovers, honking horns, people yelling, dogs barking – are literally driving us crazy.

For some people the answer is simple: Headphones. You can get cheap earbuds and crank them up to drown out the planes, trains, and automobiles on your commute. There’s even noise-reducing headphones that use active noise-canceling technology to create virtual silence around ears.

But I’m far too anxious to listen to music outside. It makes me nervous when I can’t hear everything that’s going on around me, and it makes me anxious when there’s too much noise. Music is out of the question, in public, for a person like me.

And electronic noise-canceling headphones require regular charging. If the battery dies in the middle of my flight, during a technology conference (read: Too-loud techno concert that gets briefly interrupted for product announcements), or while someone is mowing grass directly outside my office window while I’m trying to work, my anxiety doesn’t wait until I get the chance to plug in.

Knops are comfortable and feature four settings to help people like me through the day. The first setting is wide open – there’s no sound reduction. This is the worst setting to have them on by far. The volume level of everything around you is uninterrupted but the material of the device slightly distorts everything you hear.

It’s a slightly jarring experience and it’s apparent that the only reason they have this setting is so you don’t have to pull them out to have a conversation, like you would if you were wearing foam ear plugs.

Credit: Nicole Gray

Once you turn the knobs on both Knops to the second setting you’ll start getting the sound reduction. The company says this setting is supposed to drown out traffic sounds and that seems about right. It’s a 10 dB noise reduction, so at this level there’s just a bit of softening on loud noises like car horns. It’s probably safe to ride a bicycle or maybe drive a car, but the company stresses these are not safety devices.

The third setting drops the volume down 20 dBs, and here’s where you’ll stop hearing distant ambient music and some far-off white noises. I found this setting really let me cut out annoying sounds like the hum of an air conditioner while still being able to hear voices and feel present in my environment.

Credit: Nicole Gray

The final setting boasts a 30 dB noise-reduction. It’s a good setting to use when you’re somewhere with dangerously loud volume; prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 dB can damage hearing. For context, a symphony orchestra or rock concert can reach well beyond 110 dB, so the Knops could protect your hearing — but, it’s important to remember these aren’t designed as hearing protection devices.

Even on the highest setting, it’s not enough to give you a personal bubble of silence unless you’re already somewhere very quiet. But it is enough to take some of the violent peaks and terrifying chaos out of the world around you, if you’re the anxious type.

Knops probably aren’t going to be life-changing if you’re not regularly bothered by high-decibel noises. But if you’re too anxious for music and you have a habit of letting your noise-canceling cans drain between charges, these might be the solution you’ve been looking for.

The product is currently in preorder, starting at 85 Euros ($98 on IndieGoGo), with shipping to commence next month. Check the Knops website for ordering information.

This post is not sponsored, but it includes affiliate links to products that you can buy online. If you purchase them through our links, we get a small cut of the revenue.

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