Audeze Mobius Head-Tracking Virtual Reality Gaming Headphone

My, oh my.

We're about 5 days in on the Audeze Mobius Indigogo campaign, and 2100+ backers have already raised $550k, blowing through the $50K goal by an order of magnitude! Doesn't surprise me a bit, Sankar Thiagasamudram, Audeze's CEO, told me of these forthcoming headphones some time ago and I've been chomping at the bit to have a listen.

While there have been various 3D virtualizing headphones showing up for a while now, none, to my way of thinking, have been a solid step forward into the new category. Usually, they just didn't sound all that great, and often they had quite limited use in terms of compatibility with various hardware and software formats. The Mobius, it seems to me, may be the first serious entry into the category as its features and functions appear to work with a fairly wide variety of source material.

Touted largely as a gaming headset, the Mobius is an over-ear, sealed planar magnetic headphone that can operate wired with an analog cable, or over a USB cable, and will connect wirelessly with Bluetooth. It also comes with a detachable boom microphone with a separate volume control—man I like that idea. Being a fully digital headphone, it will not run passively on the analog cable when batteries run dry.

Mobius includes a 6-axis head tracker (3-axis rotation, 3-axis accelleration) to provide positional input for DSP synthesis of spacial cues needed to produce out-of-head localized external sounds. The DSP also creates a synthetic "room" that can be use customized to help stabilize a sense of space in listening. To increase the accuracy of psychoacoustic cues, there will be a couple of methods to calibrate the headphone's psychoacoustic cues to the size and shape of your head.

Wired and Bluetooth operation will allow decoding and virtualization of 2.0 and 2.1 surround program material; using a USB connection to a computer will allow virtualization of 5.1 and 7.1 surround material.

Rather than parrot information readily available elsewhere, I'll point you toward the Audeze Mobius product page and Indegogo campaign, as well as Jude's quite informative, as usual, video introduction, and Head-Fi member Mad Lust Envy's Mobius prototype review.

You will, of course, be hearing more from me on this tantalizing new headphone. I'll be traveling to Southern California in mid-April for CanJam SoCal, and will be visiting Audeze's headquarters for a bit of one-on-one time with the Mobius.

Now all I have to do is find a computer game I'd like to play.

COMMENTS
cspirou's picture

While these are advertised as videogame headphones, I'm more interested in these for reproducing 7.1 audio for movies. I hope you let us know how it works out for TV/movies as well as crossfeed functionality for music.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
When used wire with USB they will decode and virtualize 5.1 and 7.1 surround.
Maybe's picture

The marketing on the Indiegogo page is insane. They are trying REALLY hard to get gamers in on this (what is "SUPER PLANAR"?).
The DSP and tracking technology looks neat. I'm sure it took a lot of effort, however I'm not sure if I'd find it beneficial.

What I like about headphones compared to speakers is that I don't have to sit in the middle with my head pointing towards the center in order to achieve a decent image.

Also don't see how all the tracking will benefit gaming. I tend to sit still infront of my monitor when I game. Not sure why battery life draining tracking sensors are needed to get the positional cues, especially since the audio DSPs for headphones in mordern game-engines are actually quite sophisticated. Seriously, how often do you loose a match because you didn't get super accurate positional cues when snapping your neck? Maybe useful for VR, although that hype seems to have died down already.
So far to me it looks like an uglier version of the Ossic X.
This should also be the first product that Audeze makes overseas, otherwise they would have advertised it.

So far I find this "future of audio" rather gimmicky. Most people will probably just use it in good old stereo mode to preserve battery.

Time to proof me wrong, I guess.

Phoniac's picture

Maybe not, and you are just right...

Audeze_R's picture

Head tracking aids localization even if there is not a whole lot of head movement. Head movement is an integral part of both visual and auditory perception in real world and this has been widely researched. When a sound source falls within the cone of confusion (for example directly in front or directly behind) and if we were to hold the head perfectly still our brain will find it very hard to disambiguate the location of sound. Even the slightest of head movement will help resolve this. In the real world we do not make a conscious effort to move our head to localize sound, it is intuitive and happens automatically, our brain does the rest. The same is also true to elevation cues, a slight tilt of the head will help resolve location in elevation too which is typically hard to achieve in headphones.

On battery usage, for PC gaming, it is best to use USB connection to make use of up to 7.1 channel surround sound and there is no question of battery drain.

Maybe's picture

The theory is very nice... But where is the practical sense? Maybe I just don't understand this product even though I've been thinking about this thing all day.
So far I have come to the following conclusions:

"When a sound source falls within the cone of confusion (for example directly in front or directly behind) and if we were to hold the head perfectly still our brain will find it very hard to disambiguate the location of sound. Even the slightest of head movement will help resolve this."

That is very true. However:
In this case when playing a first person shooter type game (which is probably the only type of game where accurate localization of sound is required) you can usually tell if something is either situated behind or infront of you by simply looking at your screen and using your eyes!

In addition the head and ear position in the game environmnet is dictated by the position of the camera in the game. If I understand this correctly you can only change that by changing the camera position in the game, respectively by moving your mouse or moving your character position with WASD/the control sticks on your gamepad. How is tracking your head movement supposed to resolve this? You would need tracking sensors that directly cause an input in the game (like VR goggles do).

The Mobius supposedly puts you in a fake room with up to 7 speakers surrounding you when being fed a 7 channel signal. The tracking sensors then translate your real world head position to the virtual "room" position.
However, when using headphones, isn't the game engine already doing all of this? What is the point of putting you in a virtual room inside of a virtual room?
Even in a VR game the benefit of having tracking sensors inside the headset doesn't seem to exist because the Rift/Vive is already doing it(?).

Games are dynamic, you and other players move around constantly inside the virtual environment.
I'd argue that the micro inputs (tilting your head intuitively) are already happening by character/camera movement as described above.

I would therefore conclude that the only _practical_ application then is movies or multi channel music/ something like Sennheiser's AMBEO technology; "360° sound recordings" ..._ _ _...

I'm sure my understanding of this product is very poor.
Nontheless, having a headset with super planar drivers and surprisingly decent ergonomics for an Audeze product that doesn't cost 4000$ is probably more than good enough to sell a couple of these.

Bansaku's picture

Great looking cans coupled with Audeze performance, and gimmicky features that are redundant. The sad thing is Audeze are not the first to come up with this idea and, well, can you (or anyone) name any successful products featuring head tracking technology? I know I can name quite a few failures. :P

Audeze_R's picture

You are right visuals on the screen help with audio cues.

Let me try a different analogy. For example, watching a movie on your screen while wearing a pair of headphones. You could use a pair of headphones and of course without any spatialization you can tell based on the visuals that a person is talking directly in front of you or a car speeds by to the side. Does that mean you would not enjoy using a pair of speakers instead?

Head tracking makes it easier for the brain to believe that you are not wearing a headphone when the audio scene stays anchored even when you move your head. Head tracking is not intended to track objects on the screen as the game engine already does that for you.

zobel's picture

Grammar police.

Stefraki's picture

You could take the example of cinema 3D for an idea of how much our heads actually move without realising it.

In the cinema you need to keep your head straight to keep the 3D effect crisp, if it tilts, then image goes a little fuzzy. One of the reasons I gave up on watching movies in 3D is that I had no idea how often I did actually tilt my head just for comfort, taking pressure off one side of my neck and then the other. It made me realise how uncomfortable having to keep your head perfectly straight all the time is.

While it wouldn't make much difference for a casual gamer, for a pro I understand that perfect imaging can be an advantage, but every time you tilt your head, crick your neck, look down to check something, the audio image will 'blur' to some extent.

It's a small thing, but the question is 'why not'? Audeze isn't trying to make just another headset, they are trying to make the best, and that involves thinking of every little aspect of the experience and trying to improve it.

IkSak's picture

Tyll, try them with the Witcher 3. It's a masterpiece and it has some of the best videogame music. Just listen to the Aard Skellige music and enjoy!

helenolin's picture

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zobel's picture

It is 'champing at the bit', not chomping. Grammar polce.

Bansaku's picture

Even with a VR set-up, I can't think of why the headphones need to track your movement. My reasoning mirrors what has already been mentioned above; Regardless if it is an avatar's movement on screen (via mouse) or a user's movement being tracked in VR (via headset), the game's audio engine does that already! Does Audeze even game? Me thinks they need a new focus group...

Audeze_R's picture

For VR head tracking is already done by the VR engine and the view port moves with you, so it is redundant and would recommend turning off any virtualization in Mobius with VR.

For PC gaming, music and movies, the head tracking will anchor the image as if it is from a pair of speakers or a 5.1/7.1 setup.

I think many misunderstand the intent for head tracking. It is not for tracking movements on the screen, it is to provide the necessary cues for a sense of depth and elevation which are hard to achieve without head tracking.

A couple of good examples of Head tracking already being done is Waves Nx and Smyth Realiser. Though the philosophy differ between these two implementations, the reasoning is the same.

Phoniac's picture

I don't even understand the multi-monitor setups shown on their website. A hard-core gamer will want one single screen in front of him, and will even reject any kind of widescreen models that are so popular these days.

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John O'Connor's picture

As an original LCD-2 owner, I am sceptical about this company. On the one hand I love how they sound. In comparing them to Sennheiser HD650s, I find they have a greater resolution while remaining very musical. On the other hand their frequency response is severely flawed. They are fine with brightly mastered pop music, but fail badly with most classical for example.

People talk about the Sennheiser veil, but my original LCD-2 is much more extreme in that regard. This was driven home to me recently, since I now also use them for gaming. Some of the game effects sound completely different on these phones, compared to the HD650. The latter is the warmest of that product line, with the HD600 widely regarded as close to neutral. I now equalize the LCD-2, and through a combination of listening and measuring with a Behringer DEQ2496, I found that I have to engineer in a +9dB peak around 3-4kHz to get them to sound like the HD650.

You will argue that I own Audeze's first generation product and I may have an extreme example of it's kind. What concerns me, however, is that Tyll called them out on the frequency response of one of their later, high-end, products. Rather than working with him, they gave him a big spiel about it. I have followed Audeze reviews over the years, and my impression is that their planar magnetic headphones continue to have a house sound, to varying degrees, that is not neutral and not suitable for all types of music without equalization.

This new product will be completely digital. Will it be neutral, or will it sound like other Audeze headphones? Will it allow the user to program custom equalization curves?

sszorin's picture

I am quite amazed at your comments about the Audez'e headphones. You have a courage. For some years I've been watching the growth of the LCD cult from the safety of 'neutrality' bunker.
My view is that the prevailing culture drives the aesthetics of music and preference for a specific sound.
In other cultural era the LCD line-up of headphones would have been rejected. The generations before us used to make a distinction between natural and unnatural/twisted and they used to prefer that which seems natural. People of our era prefer that which is twisted. Because our values and our culture are twisted.

RPGWiZaRD's picture

In response to your last paragraph, check out Kingdom Come: Deliverance, just check it out. I've lost interest in computer gaming but turns out it's just been crap games released. :p

As for the headphone, very very interested in how this one turns out, may even back the project (thanks!) didn't actually know of it until now. :)

CNVIII's picture

These would be great for home theater/TV use but that would require a stand-alone LDAC transmitter, and I don’t think they exist yet...

BrooklynNick's picture

BlueTooth/LDAC is not multi-channel, so just use BlueTooth/Apt-X for theater/TV. (Both Apt-X and LDAC are BlueTooth protocols.) LDAC is only better than Apt-X for hires (greater than CD quality), but we don't know if the DAC in the Mobius supports hires or down samples. Either way, you probably need better headphones than the Mobius to hear any difference.

There are currently no wireless multi-channel BlueTooth protocols due to inherent bandwidth limits.

Hifihedgehog's picture

“Now all I have to do is find a computer game I'd like to play.”

GOG is your friend, Tyll. Completely DRM free and chock full of retro goodness. I highly recommend “Medal of Honor: Allied Assault War Chest.”

Hifihedgehog's picture

PS: STAR WARS Battlefront II (Classic, 2005)

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Nathan_h's picture

“none, to my way of thinking, have been a solid step forward into the new category “?

smyth realiser?

ksprashu's picture

I'm very excited about this one, not for gaming but for music - it is an affordable planar headphone and has everything except ANC.

Do you know if the mic would work without the boom? I'd like to use to for regular music and take calls occasionally without having to plug in the boom mic each time I get a call. Of course, while at work, the boom mic would be invaluable.

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