The world is getting smarter, and while it will likely be some time before audiophile brands incorporate digital assistants, if ever, consumer headphone brands are finally jumping on-board the “hearables” game. One of the first of those is OnVocal, which is out with the OnVocal OV headphones.
Now, the word “hearables” may be new to some, but it basically defines a new generation of smart headphones and earphones, designed to not only help you listen to music, but also do things like track fitness and connect you with your digital assistant — be it Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri. The cool thing about OnVocal OV? It’ll connect you with all three. But at $299, it’s not cheap. Is it worth the cash? We put it to the test to find out.
The first thing you’ll notice about the OnVocal OV headphones is its design, and it’s a somewhat weird mixture of a neckband-style pair of headphones and a Bluetooth earpiece. On the right earphone, you’ll find a microphone arm, which we really didn’t like the look of — there’s a reason Bluetooth earpieces were phased out, and that’s part of it.
Still, microphone arm aside, the headphones don’t look all that bad. The neckband is built from a nice rubber material and coupled with some metal, so they feel pretty premium. That’s also true of the in-ear units, and while there was more use of plastic there, they still felt durable and like they could withstand some abuse. Now, you probably wouldn’t want to throw these into a backpack on their own — but if you take care of them they should last.
The headset, as a whole, exists in two parts — the in-ear units, with a wire that connects them and a small connector in the middle of that wire, and the neckband, with a little port to plug in that connector.
On the left side of the neckband, you’ll find a power button, which doubles as a wake button for Alexa, as well as a button to enable the “voice” profile, and a button to toggle the “ambient” and “chat” profiles. You’ll also find a microUSB charging port in the tip of the arm. On the right, you’ll find volume controls and a play/pause button, which can also be used to mute the microphone, and an audio jack.
There’s also a button on the right in-ear unit, which we felt was pretty badly placed. That button is aimed at call control and enabling/disabling your non-Alexa assistant, be it Google Assistant or Siri. The reason it’s badly placed is that it messes too much with the comfort level — every time you press it, you’ll push the unit deeper into your ear, and that can get a little uncomfortable.
In the box, you’ll get the headphones themselves and a few accessories, including a microUSB cable and an aux cable. You’ll also get three sets of gel ear tips, and one pair of memory foam tips, which is a very nice addition. Last but not least, you’ll get a nice case to keep everything together.
As mentioned, the headphones come with a pair of memory foam tips, which goes a long way in ensuring that they’re both comfortable and that they stay firmly in your ears. In general the headphones were not overly uncomfortable or heavy, which is also important — especially considering they’re obviously built for wearing for long periods of time during your day-to-day life.
In-ear headphones in general have a tough time with comfort, especially against the likes of on-ear or over-ear headphones. Still, thanks to the ear hooks and overall design, we felt these headphones offered a higher comfort level than your average in-ear headphones.
The OnVocal OV headphones may be classified as a “hearable,” but sound quality is still important. So how do the headphones sound? Unfortunately, not all that good.
Let’s start with the bass, which is a little weak. Not only did the bass not extend as deep as we would have liked, but the bass that was there also seemed a little pulled back too. That doesn’t bode well for a pair of consumer headphones, where bass is an important consideration to make.
The mid-range is decently tuned, but it’s not very exciting. There’s enough low-mids to provide some warmth, with what seems to be a slight bump in the high-mids.
Its the highs, however, that really kill the sound here. Why? There really aren’t any highs. We detected major cut-off at around 5.5kHz, and the high-end just diminished from there. The result? A boring, uninspiring sound quality.
What’s worse is that these headphones are app-connected, and OnVocal seriously missed out on an opportunity to include an EQ and let users tweak the sound to their liking. We think that OnVocal may have tweaked the sound to optimize voice response — but for a company that’s developing smart devices, there has to be a better way to go about that without having to sacrifice audio quality.
The headphones aren’t built for noise-cancellation, but in general if you get a good seal you’ll be able to cut out most of the outside sound, which is nice. It’s especially nice considering the fact the app allows you to adjust things like ambient noise, which helps when you’re talking to somewhat, albeit with a ton of static noise.
The headphones connect to your phone through Bluetooth, and you’ll get a standard range of 10 meters or 33 feet. In general we found that to be true, though your range will depend on things like obstacles. Within a reasonable distance, the headphones help a connection well and rarely skipped.
The battery life on the OnVocal OV headphones sits in at 8 hours of continuous use, and while we didn’t quite hit the 8 hour mark, you should get pretty close.
Smarts and App
The point of hearables is that they’re smart, and as mentioned, you’ll be able to connect to Alexa through the power button, or either Google Assistant or Siri through the on-ear button. In general we found Alexa to be relatively responsive, though no-where near as responsive as the Amazon Echo, which wakes immediately and without hesitation. With OnVocal OV you’ll have to press the wake button, wait for the tone, then say your command — after which it will think about it for a second before it response. It’s kind of cool, and you’ll get used to the waiting — but we hope hearables get better in that respect.
The app is relatively well-designed, and it’s built to make it easy to switch between sound profiles — in which you’ll control the levels between the audio, ambient noise, and voice. That’s helpful for a pair of headphones that you’ll be wearing for hours at a time, as it means you can quickly amplify voices to be able to talk to people while you’re still listening to audio. Despite the static, which we assume is unavoidable considering the fact that it has to amplify outside noise, we quite liked this feature.
The OnVocal OV headphones are a great concept but the execution of that concept is flawed. While the design is interesting and the headphones are relatively comfortable, the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, there may be a use for these for some people. If Alexa is your assistant of choice and you consistently find yourself wishing you could use Alexa on the go, then these will do fine — though you may want to wait for more, cheaper, better options. If, however, you don’t need constant access to Alexa, then there are plenty of other choices out there to go for, especially at this price.
|Frequency response||Unknown||Active noise cancellation
|Driver size||Unknown||Noise attenuation||Unknown|
|Sensitivity||Unknown||Eartip material||Gel, memory foam|
|Total harmonic distortion
|Rated input power
||Unknown||Battery life||8 hours|
|Maximum input power
||Unknown||Wireless distance||10m (33ft)|
||Bluetooth||Cable length||1.2m (4ft)|
||Yes||Case type||Hard case|