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Future AirPods models could offer a range of smart features that would blur the line between in-ear headphones and hearing aids, suggests a new thought piece today.

AirPods Pro models already offer a ‘layered’ sound experience, but future models could offer far more sophisticated sound processing…

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MacWorld’s Jason Snell makes the case. He starts by looking at the three modes currently offered by AirPods Pro: normal, noise-canceling, and ‘transparency.’

The third mode, Transparency, is the most interesting. It relays sound from an external microphone and layers it over whatever you’re listening to, so you are artificially hearing the outside world. It’s a dramatically different sound and I’ve heard a lot of people say they appreciate being able to listen to audio while also having the sounds of the real world accessible […]

Now, imagine a future version of AirPods Pro, with a little more processing power. In addition to Transparency mode, perhaps there’s a Smart Transparency mode that takes a cue from all the audio processing software out there to do things like remove unchanging background noise and even remove room echo so that what you hear is clearer than it might be if you heard it unfiltered.

The technology, he notes, already exists – in audio-processing software used for things like cleaning up podcast recordings. That’s not yet real-time, but it’s already close.

I own plug-ins that will remove electrical hums and broadband hiss from the background of an audio file automatically and in a very short period of time. That person who recorded next to a blasting air conditioner in the middle of summer? My software can make it so you wouldn’t even know the AC unit was there.

So Apple could effectively blur the line between in-ear headphones and hearing aids.

There are probably a lot of us who would welcome a dialogue-enhancement mode for use at noisy parties that would try to filter out all noise except for the human voices in the foreground.

As someone who suffers from tinnitus as a result of too many years riding motorcycles at track speed with mostly rather basic earplugs, I’d buy that model in a heartbeat.

What’s your view? Would you welcome future AirPods models with smart features like prioritizing nearby voices in noisy bars and enhancing PA announcements while filtering out other external sounds? Please take our poll and share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

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