Gear | June 20, 2017 9:00 am

These Wireless Headphones Deserve a Nobel Prize

Meet ORA, the world’s first graphene headphones

Remember graphene?

The miracle material that’s one atom thick but somehow 200 times stronger and four times lighter than steel?

It did not yet “revolutionize almost every part of everyday life” like the Nobel winners who made it promised.

But the first tangible use case is here: wireless headphones from a company called ORA Soundavailable for preorder today.

Are they the miracle cans of the future? Only one way to find out: a test drive.

First, a little background: graphene, discovered in 2004, is a single-layer hexagonal crystal lattice of carbon atoms with advanced mechanical and electrical characteristics. Super strong, super stiff, incredibly lightweight.

But it’s also difficult to shape, so commercial applications have been nonexistent so far.

ORA, a Canadian start-up, figured out how to work with the material. They actually use a proprietary nanocomposite called GrapheneQ, which maintains the same properties of a pure graphene … and happens to be a fantastic material for audio membranes.

ORA (2 images)

“The graphene take less energy to move the membrane back and forth, and because it’s stiff it doesn’t deform or cause distortions,” explains ORA co-founder Robert-Eric Gaskell (the company is primarily comprised of audio engineers and scientists, which may explain why they’re probably the first audio makers to get a shoutout from both Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel and Physics World).

While ORA eventually sees itself as more of a B2B business that outfits cellphones, tablets and hearing aids with better audio drivers, it’s launching with a set of over-ear headphones.

For our trial run, we tested a set of desktop speakers that only differed by the insertion of a GrapheneQ cone and dust cap, as well as a listen of the GrapheneQ headphones against three leading over-ear receivers. We tested both against a variety of genres, including classical, hip-hop, rock and EDM.

First impressions (from an admittedly non-scientific music geek): Increased volume and clarity, sans distortion. Crisp highs, more detail, extended bass and treble response. Yours truly bandied about the word “brighter” — after going back and forth a few times, the non-GrapheneQ audio devices sounded like they were buried under a blanket.

The ORAs have the usual touchpad controls to skip songs, control volume and answer calls, plus a built-in mic for hands-free calling, and both Bluetooth and a 3.5mm headphone jack with removable cable. Plus, the ‘phones should be about 70 percent more energy efficient than a typical wireless headphone (again, thanks to the properties of graphene).

While these will eventually retail for $499, early backers can nab these starting at $219 (price increases as tiers sell out), with shipments early next year.

 Clearly, sounds like a deal.