Listen to this app to drown out other noises

By Elizabeth Chang

Offering called Hear can help you filter out distractions in several different ways. Photo / Getty Images
Offering called Hear can help you filter out distractions in several different ways. Photo / Getty Images

The Washington Post moved to new offices late last year, and while many things are an improvement, we are sitting closer together in a space that is Silicon Valley-start-up minimalist.

All the white noise being piped in cannot drown out reporters conducting interviews at their desks, chattering tour groups and the constant clack of heels on hard floors. Plus, each connected desk has a bench for visits and conversations, which can make a deadline-facing neighbor go mad.

Lots of people wall themselves off by donning headphones and turning on music.

But when I really need to concentrate, music can be distracting - not to mention embarrassing if I forget myself and start tapping or swaying.

So I was intrigued to learn about an app launched earlier this year as Hear, which takes the chatter and clatter around you, or from you, and turns it into a wall of ambient, if unmelodic, sound.

(After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from a company that claimed ownership of the word "hear," the creators at Reality Jockey are crowd-sourcing a new name.)

H--r (iOS; free) has seven filters: Super Hearing (which amplifies sounds), Auto Volume (intended to dampen background noise), Relax (self-explanatory), Happy (which creates lighter, fun effects, though perhaps not the advertised "ecstatic cascades of happiness"), Talk (which will take voices and "autotune them into music"), Office (which creates a cocoon of somewhat annoying sound around you) and Sleep (whispery and spooky). The whole thing is a bit trippy, and I can imagine people using it, well, recreationally.

Each filter has several adjustable settings. Some I got (hello, "bass"), but "space," "depth," "presense" and "brilliance" left me confused. The app would benefit from explanations for digital music laypersons.

Not all the filters or settings will appeal; I found myself selecting the Happy filter because I liked how it amplified and echoed the sound of my keyboard, making me feel productive.

I layered it with the music on my phone, and it mixed impressively well with some up-tempo songs, though that doesn't mitigate the embarrassment factor.

I'm pretty sure I couldn't listen to these effects for long without a work-prohibiting headache. The makers of H--r differ, believing that "in the next few years eartech will have higher impact in our society than vistech" and people will be wearing "hearables" most of the day and night.

I just hope that they make those hearables more comfortable than ear buds and that my filter isn't tuned to Sleep.

The app:

Name: H--r
Cost: Free
Operating system: iOS
Creator: Reality Jockey
Review's bottom line: Fun to play with, helpful for work.

- Washington Post

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