Review – Hooke Verse 3d Bluetooth Headphones with Built in Binaural 3D Audio Microphones for Spatial VR Audio Recording and Playback

For fans of Binaural Audio, there are a few possibilities. The famed Brüel & Kjær Type 4100-B Binaural in-Ear Microphone set, used by Chesky Records, which sell for roughly $15,000 dollars on eBay for a used set, if you can find them. There are also inexpensive binaural microphones built into earphones for around $100, but they tend to be passive systems, relying on an external pre-amp and recorder. Hooke Verse 3d Bluetooth Headphones with Built in Binaural 3D Audio Microphones for Spatial VR Audio Recording and Playback  promise to bring an easy to use solution for recording audio.

As a primer that you probably don’t need, is that you were already equipped at birth with the world’s finest binaural microphones and earphones, your ears. So, our sense of location, placement, and audio soundstage are already our native way of hearing. The move toward the use of individual microphones for stereo recording is actually quite complicated, not only by their placement, but by the way we used to hear audio in the past, which was mostly through speakers, but which might not be the prevalent way we listen nowadays. But, if you want to record audio that sounds precisely like how we hear audio, the best approach is to put microphones where our ear canals would be. Simply record with them, then play back through earphones or headphones, and you should get a wonderful bit of audio realism.

The reality is that like all things audio, this can quickly become more complicated. The first is that walking around with a fake head, with microphones where the eardrums would be, is well, a bit creepy. Not so much if you are a fan of The Walking Dead, but to wander around, or take to a concert, a bit too visible. When I attended the New York Audio Show in October, after registration, the first table I saw had a set of headphones on it, and a smiling Anthony Mattana, who created the Hooke Verse 3d Bluetooth Headphones with Built in Binaural 3D Audio Microphones for Spatial VR Audio Recording and Playback. I looked at them, picked them up, and started to ask questions, and Anthony cut me off, said “here, just put them on” and so I did,

And he played a video he recorded, and it was uncanny, it was if I was there.

So, now I had a sense of what they were. He explained that he created them, how they worked, and how much they cost, which was a very reasonable $230. Now, understand that the NY Audio show is an audiophile show, where vendors demo mostly very expensive audio gear for playback. You know, where a quick $230 grand will garner a couple of One-Ton Speakers, with some electronics tossed in. At the show the two coolest things I saw, were a complete compact turntable and audio system, which makes sense. And… the Hooke Verse!

On one hand, it makes sense to show the Hooke Verse at an audiophile show, since one goal of the unit is audiophile quality reproduction. As Anthony described it, it became more and more of one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” creations. A week later a review unit arrived, and I unpacked it to see how it worked. It came equipped with a nice little carrying case, a full complement of accessories, and a box that could be folded into a sort of origami head, so you could use the Verse without using a human head to record, perfect for a music event or video shoot.

It has an Android standard USB cable to charge it up, and the size of the behind the ear pods were in part to hold the largest battery they could pack into it, and not make it heavy, but supply plenty of current for a long day of recording. The pods go behind your ears, and the earphones with the built-in microphones go in your ears. There is a short cable to go behind your neck that connects the two headsets, short enough to be a bit snug, but not too long to create microphonics (or cable noise) that result from too long a cable. The right side pod (my word) has a button with the logo in the middle, it’s both a switch and LED indicator to let you know if the unit it charged, recording, or paired.

While they will work with other devices, they really shine using your phone to capture audio or video with audio. Designed to use Bluetooth, so that a lossless high-quality audio signal is transferred, they are incredibly portable. They have two high-quality powered microphones feeding a specialized pre-amp that is optimized for the characteristics of the microphones, so an audiophile sound quality, that weighs a few ounces, fits in your pocket, and you can also listen to music with them.

To use them, you download the free Hooke Audio App on either Android or iOS. The app is simple to use, there is a button that lights up with “3D” to indicate that the phone is paired properly, and there are two sliders, that you adjust so that the recording isn’t too low, or too hot. It’s easy to use, but I screwed up and did it backwards, thinking sliding the levels up would make things louder, but it's the opposite. The GUI is minimalism in action, just what you need, nothing more. There were a few things I’d like to see, such as an option to adjust output volume for monitoring in addition to using the phones physical buttons. I had a bit of a hiccup with pairing, but using a Samsung S7, I’m a bit used to that, but Anthony walked me through a reset sequence, and after that all was well. I had a review unit, and sometimes they get messed with, so it’s possible my problems were the result of that, so the rest cleaned the clock.

I tested them in a blizzard (very cool, hearing the sound of the snow drifting down), a supermarket, wandering around the street, and capturing voices. Playback was uncanny, a sort of hyperrealism at play. I didn’t hear any clipping, and the frequency response was both wide and natural sounding. The next step will be recording music, which the quick turnaround of this review has precluded, but I’ll update the review once I do.

The app has the ability to invoke a new set of filters they call the "3D Audio Filter Pack: Core" - An essential collection of sound filters for anyone joining the 3D Audio revolution

The filters include:

  • Verbamon - Add reverb to acoustic guitar recordings or bedroom vocals with Verbamon.
  • Delaytor - Add echo and make recordings sound out of this world with Delaytor.
  • Stereoscoper - Turn videos captured with the built in mono iPhone mic into rich multichannel stereo sound with Stereoscoper.
  • Concert - Make your concert recordings pop with concert filter.
  • Interview - Eliminate unnecessary noise like light hum or fan noise when conducting an interview with the interview filter.

At press time we hadn’t tested them yet, but they look interesting and we will update this review as soon as we have a chance to spend some time with them. The best part is that once you capture the audio, you don’t need anything special to play the recording back and experience the 3D audio. This system is perfect for anyone recording music, working with gaming, or exploring Virtual Reality. Best of all, you can use it for podcasting, interviews, and family gatherings. The earphones aren’t that much larger than a standard sport style Bluetooth earphone set. If you don’t have Bluetooth, you can record to a DSLR camera, GoPro, Field recorder, or whatever has an appropriate input.

Believable audio that pulls you in is one of the most important ways to separate your videos and recordings from the low quality sound of a phone’s built-in microphone. We think that Santa would be thrilled if he had them on during his gift giving run. After all, Rudolph likes great sound, and the Hooke Verse would provide many hours to replay their round-the-world jaunt with 3D audio! At the reasonable price point, the easy to use app, long battery life coupled with a first rate set of powered microphones with a low-noise optimized pre-amp, we think it’s going to make a lot of folks happy and expand their creative visions. I mean, in the end, this is really cool. It's quitely amazing tech, that doesn't seem like a big deal, until you use it and play it back. It's that cool.

The Hooke Verse 3d Bluetooth Headphones with Built in Binaural 3D Audio Microphones for Spatial VR Audio Recording and Playback comes highly recommended.

Harris Fogel, posted 12/13/2017

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Photos © Harris Fogel 2017