Protoype displayed at SxSW.

Sony’s innovation stood out at the recent South By Southwest event when it previewed its  new Concept N headphones, a listening device that doesn’t require anything to be put in or around ears.

Called the Concept N, the device is worn around the neck, and projects sounds in and around the head using directional speakers.


The new headphones are designed to allow their wearers to listen to music while also being able to hear everything going on around them. This allows users who commute, for example, to hear environmental noise such as car horns, and thus stay safer.

Sony claims that the lack of bulky over-ear cans or tangly cables means that the Concept N could be an extremely practical device for people who move around a lot when they ‘jam out’. Plus, they could be the perfect compliment to future augmented reality devices, where people wish to look as normal as possible in a physical world which is digitally overlaid with visual and sonic information.

Last week analyst Telsyte predicted that one in three people will be adorned with wearable tech by 2020.

The “ears free” headphones are designed to be heard mostly by the wearer, project sound outward, but directionally enough that most around the wearer can’t tell exactly what they are hearing. The Concept N also features a camera, and can be voice controlled.

The camera is aimed by moving the head, but it is likely not meant to take high-quality images, instead being added to aid in things like immersive video conversations over the Internet.

The new device is still a prototype but, according at least one hands on review, the voice control aspect leaves a lot to be desired. But it does offer something that no other hands-free headphones offer, in that there is nothing to touch the wearer’s ears.