Every great idea comes from trying to fix a problem. Whilst you could argue there’s never really been a ‘problem’ with ear/headphones for gaming, there’s always a conceit that should you want to immerse yourself in a brave new world fully, your audio needs to be perfect.
Whilst the visuals before you can do a lot of the work, you want the world to surround you. Personally I’ve gone through a wide variety of different set ups, but I’ve always had the nagging feeling I should be able to find a set of earphones/headphones that gave me a feeling of complete immersion, rather than just being able to hear the games audio relatively clearly.
Enter Drown Tactile Earphones. Last week I was very kindly sent a pair and after spending a good proportion of my gaming fortnight using them, I can confidently say without hyperbole, they’re by far the best in-ear experience I’ve ever had.
What’s so interesting about these Drown earphones? They seemingly take the listening experience back to basics via some rather swish scientific deductions. The above video explains the ‘science bit’ far more eloquently than I ever could. To put it plainly; You hear everything, rather than most.
The transmission of audio waves used to deliver spatial or object-based audio (Atmos, binaural) is sent crisp directly to our brains via the ears senses. It’s some hardcore science that when boiled down to its basics is essentially sending all audio signals to our brain via each earphone instead of appearing distant, much like over-the-head phones can do (sending audio signals in a spherical pattern rather than directly). The Drown Tactile earphones uses the shape of the ear to collect the vibrations and move them directly into your ear canal. The results are startling.
I certainly wasn’t skeptical in regards to their quality, but I really wanted to stress test the earphones as best I could whilst I had them. My first port of call was the Call of Duty Modern Warfare Beta. If you follow our almighty Finger Guns Podcast you’ll know that I really enjoyed the beta, particularly because I felt like I was better than I usually am at CoD multiplayer. I had downed far more players than usual, moving around the map quickly and efficiently, my awareness of what was around me more sharp than I perhaps had previously experienced. I put this down fully on the fact I was using these earphones.
I could just simply hear everything around me at any moment. Subtle footsteps, bullets coming at me from behind enabling me to dodge a whisker away from its trajectory. The chat from my teammates was crisp and thankfully not overwhelming the gameplay, which is always a bugbear for me when I’m in the middle of a firefight. I wanted to ensure my attention was fully on my surroundings, as CoD is always fast and frantic. Using these earphones allowed me to know what was coming up behind me and to the left and right. I still died a heck of a lot, mind. Still, that’s just me. It’s not the earphones’ fault I still suck.
Regardless, it made me understand the importance of great audio when playing online multiplayer games, so I took them into the Ghost Recon Breakpoint beta this weekend (at time of writing). Here the experience was completely different. The beta begins as a single player experience (and can continue to do so if you so choose), and if you’ve played the beta, you’ll know you’re stranded on your own at the very beginning, fighting your way through enemies to make it to a safe zone. It’s here the atmospherics took over. Instead of running and gunning all over the place like in CoD, I was taking in a far calmer immersive experience.
The Tactile Earphones were able to give the impression I was alongside my lone soldier. I could hear nothing but my own footsteps until I came across an enemy coming from my right. It was here I actually turned my head to look to the right, only seeing my living room wall. I was fully immersed, whilst calling myself an idiot. The experience was heightened because I was using earphones that was triggering signals in my brain of complete awareness. It was far too quiet for nothing to jump out at me. Amazing.
It was once my experience with Ghost Recon was complete I realised I didn’t want to play any more games without using them. I thought I would try them on something completely different, so I popped them in whilst having a go on Rayman Legends, and the infamous Black Betty level. This level is all about timing your movements to the music and whilst it’s never particularly been an issue, I wanted to see if my reaction times were any better and they were, purely thanks to the vibration. Allowing me to feel the bass far more efficiently and improve my button-mashing by milliseconds.
FIFA 20 was up next, as if there’s anything I want to experience it’s the feeling of being a striker for Manchester United (lord knows nobody else does). Walking out onto the Old Trafford pitch was quite something, and for the first time I was able to make out the words within the fans terrace singalongs. The crowds felt like they were in my living room with me, cheering me on. Martin Tyler has never sounded so good. I could feel the crunch of a rough tackle and the clear instructions from other players. I just hadn’t played FIFA with that kind of attention before.
The final test was the most important; Tetris Effect. Perhaps the most immersive video game through its audio release in years. Whilst the game has been out for a while at this point, and I’ve beaten it several times over at this point, it’s an extraordinary game to use in order to show off your tech, whether it be a shiny new TV or a sound bar/surround sound. I had never played the game using headphones/earphones up until this point and I’m glad I waited. If anything, with the lights off and the earphones performing their internal wizardry that I still pretend to understand, it was rather overwhelming.
Each Tetromino has its own sound depending on which level you’re playing, and the music is utterly stunning. Being able to hear everything clearer than ever before just adds something more to the game that I hadn’t experienced before, making perhaps a perfect game even better. Our own Paul will forever state that Tetris Effect is the ultimate VR experience, I imagine if he could combine the PSVR with a pair of Tactile earphones we may never see him again. He’ll become a new member of the Oasis in no time.
I said near the top of this piece that the Drown Tactile Earphones were the very best for gaming I have ever tested and I’m going to stand by it. It’s simply phenomenal how utterly crisp and clear, precise and immersive these earphones are, allowing you to fully and completely immersive yourself in your gaming sessions.
They do take a little whilst to get used to and can be tricky to figure out initially in terms of placement. I followed the instructions that were sent over to the letter and still found them slipping out in the first through uses but once I found a comfortable position they were locked in and I never looked back. I’ve begun using them as my life earphones, hooking them up to my Google Pixel 3 XL via their USB-C headphone jack adaptor. Granted, you certainly lose something listening to your music through a USB port, but they certainly offer an absolute megaton of difference compared to the stock garbage they include with the phone. If your phone has a headphone jack though, you’re absolutely set and you may never use another pair of earphones again.
So where can you buy them? Well, that’s the thing. You can’t. Yet.
Drown’s Tactile Earphones are currently raising funds via Indiegogo in order to go into mass production. They begin at a very reasonable £81 ( with the currently set 40% discount in place) and plan to ship in February of next year. You can sign up for a set of two pairs which will set you back £146, currently a saving of 45% off their final retail price.
If you want to secure your pair, head here to support the Indiegogo.
Disclaimer: Finger Guns were sent a pair of Drown Tactile Earphones for content and review purposes. If you’d like to learn more about our review policy, please go here.