Debussy has now launched a Kickstarter campaign for its rather unusual Prelude headphones. At the superficial level, these headphones do not look that unusual as they are simply a pair of traditional on-ear headphones and sport a fairly neutral color scheme - they are available in either brown, black or white. Where their first unusual aspect comes into play, however, is in the fact they come with their own internal storage (either 32 or 64GB depending on which model chosen) so users can store songs directly on the headphones and skip using a smartphone in general. Granted, this is not a totally unusual feature as there are a few options -- like Samsung’s Gear IconX earbuds -- that also offer on board storage, but what does make them almost uniquely unusual is the display planted on one of the sides of the headphones. Yes, these are headphones with their own display. But that’s not all. They also come with their own 4G and Wi-Fi support as well. So, in reality, these are headphones with what is arguably a basic smartphone built-in, completely negating the need for a smartphone altogether.
Prelude represents the third product to come through from Debussy and technically these are not new headphones in terms of awareness as they have been in development -- as you might expect with something as unique as these -- for quite some time, and were even on show during this year’s CES event in Las Vegas. Albeit in prototype form. However, it now seems as though the development process has pretty much come to an end as the launching of the Kickstarter campaign not only offers interested parties the option to place an order and secure one now, but at a highly discounted rate. For example, Debussy has confirmed when the Prelude headphones go on general sale (expected to ship before the end of this year) they will be priced at $850, and as part of the crowdfunding campaign, early backers now have the option to order a pair from as low as $349. For those not so keen on the overall size of the headphones, Debussy is also making available a “mini” version as well which sees the 50mm drivers in the standard version decreased down to 40mm. Compared to the normal version, the Prelude Mini is expected to arrive to market priced at $590 with the option for early backers to secure one at just $249. So regardless of which model is opted for, the company is offering some fairly serious discounts for those who place an order early enough.
Background: While the Prelude headphones do come with a display, their ability to act as a totally standalone device is still a little limited in some respects. As the headphones are not connected to a wireless number and so cannot initiate or receive phone calls in a standalone fashion - although the headphones can make and take calls when connected to a phone. Instead, the advanced connectivity is included as a means to add to the ways in which a user can stream audio. Likewise, the interface is fairly rudimentary as it does not seem to support apps directly, and is primarily designed as an alternate means to control the headphones by utilizing touch-based controls. This not only includes navigating the interface and adjusting the settings, but also swiping through tracks, as well as adjusting the volume as and when needed through gestures. Where they become more interesting though is the interface will work much like a music streaming app interface does, where the wearer is able to decide on what is displayed, including showcasing album artwork or other pattern-based visualizations. Considering the display is on the outer portion of the cup, whatever is displayed here will effectively be on show to everyone else and not the wearer, and so users also have the option of displaying their own personal message for the outside world to see.
Impact: Needless to say, these headphones are not going to be for a lot of people. On one hand, they are quite expensive and that's likely to price a number of people out of consideration immediately. However, even for those who are happy to hand over the asking price, there is still the issue of wearing a pair of headphones that contain a display on the side (the outside no less) of one of the cups. Therefore, this is a unique proposition and one more designed for those who are looking for this sort of individual listening experience. One thing that is for sure, is these headphones do offer a lot in return for that higher asking price. As well as the premium build quality and the ability to store music locally on the headphones, the included 4G and Wi-Fi support means wearers can literally stream music from their favorite services - so far Debussy has confirmed support for Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, and Spotify. As a means to further improve the listening experience, and again just like with a smartphone, the Prelude headphones feature a dedicated digital signal processor (DSP) which will help to further fine-tune the audio resulting in a high fidelity sound quality.
Adding to their feature list, Debussy claims the Prelude headphones are capable of running for up to twenty hours off a single charge. In fairness, that level of battery life is likely to be heavily dependent on the headphones being used in a certain way. Which means it should be expected that aspects such as the display, the 4G and Wi-Fi connections, and additional computing through the DSP, will impact on battery life to some degree. But as a baseline measurement buyers should be able to expect up to twenty hours of usage. It might also be worth noting these headphones also support basic voice commands including playing and pausing, adjusting the volume, or changing tracks. And not that they need it, but if a wearer really feels the need to connect the headphones to another device they can be connected to a compatible smartphone or a smartwatch by downloading the companion app. But let’s face it, if you’re buying these headphones, you're probably not buying them for their smartphone (or watch) compatibility.