The Edge

This start-up makes a speaker that lets you listen to music privately — without headphones 

Key Points
  • A start-up called Noveto has created a "focused sound" speaker system that delivers audio directly to a user's ears.
  • When I tried it, the whole experience felt both exciting and a little bizarre.
  • The company aims to start launching products next year.
This start-up makes a speaker that could make headphones obsolete

The first time I tried Noveto’s “focused sound” speaker, the whole experience felt both exciting and a little bit bizarre.

The start-up has created a technology that can deliver audio directly to a single person, who's not wearing headphones, allowing everyone else in the vicinity to go about their business uninterrupted. Meanwhile, the listener can also still clearly catch surrounding noise.

For my demo, I sat down in front of a computer monitor next to CEO Brian Wallace to watch a video clip and, after switching from normal audio to Noveto’s technology, it was like I had my own private screening.

Using a camera to track my head movement, Noveto’s speakers beamed sound right to my ears. I could hear the audio while still holding a conversation with Wallace, who could only hear me and not what was coming from my speakers.

The juxtaposition was surreal, and made it almost feel as if the sound was coming from inside my own head.

The effects of Noveto’s technology are similar to what you get with directional audio systems, except that it’s more private and you can move around rather than staying in a narrow beam of sound. Plus, Wallace said that Noveto’s system is much cheaper.

The company plans to get its technology out next year through both a proprietary stand-alone speaker (priced between $249 and $299) as well as through partnerships with hardware makers, who could embed it in their systems. Wallace said that Dell has signed a letter of intent to integrate it into a line of monitors, but after publication of this story, he told CNBC that Noveto had not signed a letter with Dell. Wallace also said Noveto is in discussions with other hardware partners, including car suppliers.

Avoiding isolation

To Wallace, who has two daughters with very individual music tastes, one of the most rewarding potential scenarios for the technology will be in making long car rides more enjoyable: Everyone could jam out to their own tunes, without the social isolation of headphones.

Wallace just joined Noveto in June. The company was founded in Israel in 2011 and has raised $7 million to date, though additional fundraising is likely on the way.

Wallace primarily has a background in marketing and has worked for companies like Magic Leap, Essential, Google, Samsung, and Blackberry.

“I have been lucky enough to work at companies that taught me to look for the next big thing and I saw this and thought, it really is going to change everything.” Wallace said. “The technology was there, but they wanted someone who understood product development and position.”

This story has been updated to reflect Wallace's new statement on Noveto's relationship with Dell.