In 2007, Klipsch introduced the X10s, the smallest in-ear monitors ever created. They’re astonishingly slight. The business end is roughly the size of a grain of rice and, with the silicone ear tip removed, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re just looking at a wire.
But these days, wires are over and the still-stunning X10s continue evolving. Klipsch and Ear Micro, a wearable tech company, have used the X10s as the foundation for the smallest ever pair of wireless earbuds, the T10 Bespoke, by Ear Micro proudly featuring Klipsch Audio. And at a screamingly high $2,500 a pair (at the lowest), they’re some of the most expensive, too.
The original, wired X10s were designed to fit deep inside your ears, sitting very close to your eardrums, so that they could achieve extreme accuracy in part by being relatively quiet, limiting distortion. Some 15 years later, the T10s operate on the same basic acoustic principles.
"If I put the T10 and X10 next to each other, you will discover it's precisely the same thing," says Bear Clark, the chief innovation instigator at Ear Micro. They have the same acoustic package: audio tube, nozzle, precision-balanced armature and acoustic gasket system. "But instead of a cord coming out the end, it has our computer glued onto the side of it," he says.
The result is acoustic excellence plus the smarts of top-tier wireless earbuds. The T10 Ear Computers support high-resolution streaming up to 24-bit/96kHz (if it’s coming from a device that can dispense it). They have hybrid active noise cancellation. And despite their diminutive size, each earbud has a pretty impressive 9-hour battery life. But as their name hints, the T10 set their sights considerably higher in terms of computational capabilities.
Each earbud works like its own computer — sans the screen, of course. They are decked out with a custom processor, built-in memory and storage, as well as gyroscopes and accelerometers to detect head and even mouth gestures. It’s a suite of capabilities that, Clark argues, puts the T10s more in the realm of augmented reality devices than your average pair of cans. "The fundamental difference between Google Glass, which is a computer, and the T10, which is a computer, is Google Glass or Apple Glass is for your eyes and this is for your ears," Clark says.
And to that end, the T10s are upgradable and customizable, designed with internal components that are replaceable by anyone with standard tools and moderate electronics expertise. "You can think of us as creating this chassis," Clark says. "You want more memory? Put a new memory card in here. You want to put 5G in here? Put the new circuit board in it with 5G." But maybe most crucially, it means that you’ll eventually be able to replace the battery — assuming that Klipsch, Ear Micro, or someone else is still selling new ones when you need them.
You can purchase a pair of T10s for $2,500, but that price can double if you choose to customize your pair at checkout. "Part of the reason that these things are $2,500 is that they are built like Swiss watches," Clark explains. "One at a time with exotic materials, under microscopes by a human being."
And with prices like that, the T10s are aimed squarely at a very small and specific market. "We made this product for people who care too much and whose affinity for the dollar bill is way down on the scale," Clark says. "What they really care about is something that is excellent, that gives them goosebumps and pride of ownership, and the opportunity to be the first in the world to have something."
You probably won’t see a lot of T10s out in the wild — they are just too damn expensive. But Ear Micro and its software partner Bragi have designs on making “ear computing” an essential aspect of the coming wave of augmented-reality wearables. Thanks to ownership of a number of key patents, they’re poised to control the space, whether it gets popular or not.
Clark is unsurprisingly optimistic. "When I tell you that ear computing is the way that all of us will be interacting with the world, that's not far-fetched — jerks like me are leading that wave," he says. "And so what you're really talking about with the Klipsch product, or the T10 product, is a proof of concept. This is a product that is designed to teach the world that you can go way past Apple AirPods."