Even without Google Maps, the route sound takes to the listener is easy to track. It passes through the outer ear and into the ear canal. Not with Cynaps, a Bluetooth headset in a baseball cap that uses bone-conduction technology to send sound directly to the inner ear through skull bones. The concept might sound terribly Halloweenish, but it's an effective way to listen to music while remaining aware of your surroundings. It's also an option for people with impaired hearing.
Bone-conduction headphones, like Panasonic's upcoming RP-BTGS10, look more like standard 'phones except each earpiece is placed on the temple, directing sound through the cranial bones and into the auditory nerve. The Cynaps headset positions the tiny transducers, lodged into a sleeve, so that they press against skull, above each ear, when the user wears the cap.
A sleeve in the cap's bill holds a module with volume controls, Bluetooth activation, a tiny microphone for hands-free (and outer-ears-free) phone calls and a 1000mAh battery.
The ensemble is available in generic dark gray, light gray and white for $79 each or as a $69 self-install module adaptable to your favorite cap. The wearer, without question, will have greater awareness of ambient noise. In traffic or on a morning jog through suburban streets, it could provide valuable peace of mind.
It will not, however, produce sound comparable to even the cheapest earbuds. During my evaluation, the Cynaps (as in "synapse") indeed transmitted sound through my skull, but the signals that reached the auditory nerve resembled an old-time AM transistor radio. Or, alternately, a pair of headphones playing music while placed on a table a few feet from the ears.
Wearing the cap more snugly improved the sound quality, as did pressing (and holding) each transducer more tightly against the head. Suggestion: Do not try the latter in public.
Some ears might prefer basic, Bluetooth-equipped bone-conduction headphones like the AfterShokz Bluez ($119.95, aftershokz.com) to wear under your favorite cap. The technology might sound ghoulish, but through-the-skull bone conduction works.
It only looks like soap on a rope. The BlueFlame Slingshot, in the reality of a hot shower, is a Bluetooth speaker stuffed in a silicone sling that wraps around a shower arm or bathtub spout.
Besides being a threat to a cappella singing in the shower, the $99.99 Slingshot can be slung almost anywhere, whether on a coat hook or the back of a baby stroller. The actual speaker — the face, round like a clock, with push-button controls on the bottom rim — is extractable, revealing a stand-on-its-own, pale-white gnomish speaker.
A battery-powered Slingshot, powered by 4 AAs, includes a To-Go Sling that's actually a form-fitting silicone sleeve without a sling for more basic uses like a beach, boat, pool, picnic or skating rink. A Slingshot powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery ($119.99) includes only the single soap-on-a-rope sling.
Both speakers are IPX4 water-resistant, which means they'll withstand splashes in the shower, raindrops or melted snow but not full immersion in the bathtub or Atlantic Ocean.
Naturally, you're wondering if this audition included a shower session. Well, yes. (But no singalongs.) The Slingshot paired easily with an iPhone or iPod Touch — each safely dry-docked — and performed standard pause-play, next-previous track commands. Using the Slingshot as a speakerphone is something different, not only because phone calls and showers do not mix, but also because the microphone isn't always adept at picking up your voice.
The Slingshot can't match the full-bloom sound of the Cambridge Audio's Minx Go and the wall-to-wall sound field of the UE Boom. But neither of those Bluetooth portables would willingly shower with its owner. For in-the-shower use, the Slingshot will sound like a pro no matter who's singing along.
in a hat
Good: Music and phone calls on the go without blocking external sound.
Not so good: Sound quality substantially worse than standard earbuds.
BlueFlame Slingshot Bluetooth portable speaker
Cost: $99.99 (powered by 4 AA batteries), $119.99 (lithium-ion rechargeable battery)
Good: Water resistant, suitable for shower or beach. Choice of slings with 4 AA-battery powered version.
Not so good: So-so sonically, sometimes ineffective as a speakerphone.