The idea of ”invisible” headphones sounds too good to be true. But we actually tested one such product at CES 2022 – the Noveto N1 speaker. It uses beamforming technology to create sound pockets around a listener’s ears, providing privacy and comfort without headphones. Unfortunately, you will never be able to try this speaker.
Two months ago, the company behind Noveto N1 quietly slipped into bankruptcy. It no longer provides updates to Kickstarter backers who are requesting refunds but are not receiving any responses. And here’s the frustrating thing; Noveto N1 probably wasn’t a scam.
Noveto N1 was the darling of CES 2022
Almost every year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) hosts a bevy of cutting-edge technologies from almost every major brand. But it’s also home to a bunch of half-baked crap. Of course, when we heard that there were “invisible headphones” at CES 2022, our expectations were pretty low.
But Josh Hendrickson, our editor-in-chief, had excellent hands-on experience with the Noveto N1. Not only did the speaker create “pockets” of private sound around his ears, but his 3D cameras did an excellent job of tracking head movements, and the sound quality was shockingly immersive – in Josh’s words, “it’s everything the company promises. “
The Noveto N1 was a real product. And with the advent of remote work, that seemed like a game changer. For example, you could listen to music privately without headphones or make headphone-free video calls without a loud echo. And since the Noveto N1 doesn’t cover your ears, you can still hear your surroundings – perfect for parents.
We are not alone in our enthusiasm. Several outlets including forbes, Rolling Stoneand Tom’s guide were impressed by the appearance of Noveto N1 at CES. The technology wasn’t perfect and only worked at close range (about a meter), but it was ready for production.
But the Noveto N1 never hit store shelves. And as far as we know, it was never made on a large scale. It seems Noveto ran out of money before it could really take off.
Noveto is out of funds and will not refund backers
The Noveto N1 design was finalized in November 2021, and Noveto Systems promised to ship the first units to Kickstarter backers this December. That’s a fairly short window of opportunity to make a hardware product, and it’s no surprise that Noveto missed its deadline.
Customers repeatedly asked when their Noveto N1 speaker would arrive, but received no response. Instead, they got a blog post celebrating the success of the Noveto N1 at CES. Three months later, Noveto Systems apologized for its “silence and lack of information,” citing production delays.
Another three months passed and Noveto Systems came back with bad news: “Noveto has found itself in financial distress and has initiated bankruptcy proceedings.” The company cannot pay its debts and has to find a new owner.
If Noveto tip find a buyer, it will liquidate its assets, including patents and copyrights. This seems the most likely outcome. There’s little reason for a company to acquire Noveto (and clean up its mess) when Noveto’s patents are in place single product will eventually go on sale.
How did Noveto lose all its money?
Noveto has burned a staggering amount of money in just one year. The company raised $227,765 on Kickstarter and raised about $17 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase. Even if Noveto Systems was previously in debt, the money should have been enough to build a speaker.
Well it seems so building The speaker wasn’t that big of a problem. The Noveto N1 design was finalized in November 2021, and just two months later, working units were shown during CES 2022. While I doubt these floor units were 100% perfect, Kickstarter products always have a bumpy first run. Production should have started earlier this year.
But Noveto really couldn’t make its “invisible headphones.” As explained in a very low-key Kickstarter update, the 3D camera used by Noveto has been discontinued by the manufacturer. And a speaker tracking your ears is pretty much useless without a camera.
Instead of buying a new camera, Noveto Systems decided to build their own. The company called this the “right” decision, but later stated that its custom 3D camera was “sub-par” and could not track heads correctly. (The company also said its firmware is “not stable yet,” which isn’t surprising given the hardware changes.)
This seems to have been an expensive suspension. And it’s not the only time Noveto has resorted to custom hardware development. The company struggled to secure chips throughout 2021 and had to create a proprietary solution that never comes cheap.
Well, this whole 3D camera thing isn’t the whole story. Other behind-the-scenes details, including management decisions, likely played a role in Noveto’s demise.
What’s next for the Noveto N1?
There is a small chance that Noveto will be acquired by a larger company. In that case, we might finally get the Noveto N1 speaker. But it seems a bit of a stretch — Noveto has no brand awareness, an unreleased product, and a bunch of debt.
If Noveto cannot find a buyer, its assets will be sold. And that includes all patents related to beamforming technology, custom silicon and 3D camera. In theory, another company could buy those assets to build a speaker similar to the Noveto N1.
In any case, this is not the end of the “invisible headphones”. Noveto Systems generated nearly a quarter million dollars in pre-orders for its beamforming speaker, proving there is a market for the technology. Apple is reportedly working on an “invisible speaker” that slips around your neck like a lanyard, and of course beamforming mics are included in most new headphones and smart speakers.
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