Thoroughly good-sounding Bluetooth speakers, hidden away in a modern cushion design, featuring a tactile vibration element that lets you feel the beat. The Humu brings a dimension to sound that makes everything more immersive.
Bluetooth speakers are ubiquitous at this point. Whether that’s from a Google Home smart device, or an Amazon Echo hooked up to your own speaker systems, or just a $30 waterproof party speaker. So if you’re going to enter the market, you better be absolutely sure you have a compelling and unique selling point. The Flexound Humu just might.
Before we continue I have a confession to make: I used to work as stage crew at the student’s union in Sheffield University, and during the drum and bass Tuesday Club nights I would sometimes sleep on top of the humongous subwoofers. Relaxed by the bass pulsing through my body, I could doze right off. I’m telling you this so it doesn’t sound weird when I next tell you that today, we’re reviewing a vibrating pillow.
Hold on, please keep reading – this is entirely safe for work, I promise. Putting a speaker into a pillow is not a new concept, but combining one with a tactile bass shaker too, certainly is. Humu, from Finnish company Flexound, wants you to feel your audio like never before: it’s a tactile speaker pillow. The concept has far reaching applications from therapy, to just a thoroughly immersive way to enjoy your music, movies, and games.
Having now delivered on their IndieGogo campaign, the Humu is available to all in grey and graphite artificial suede, for $320. UK readers will find it on Amazon for £279, but US folks can purchase it in b8ta store retail locations in Austin, Palo Alto, Santa Monica, and Seattle.
How Much? Are There Similar Products?
Charging upwards of $300 for a Bluetooth speaker might seem pricey if your name isn’t Apple, but it’s actually not bad compared to similar devices that offer tactile feedback.
The SubPac M2 (which I called “literally breathtaking”), at $300, is a sub-bass frequency shaker that straps on to your body like a vest. A more apt comparison to the Humu Flexound experience is the SubPac S2 model, which sits on the back of your chair instead. Though again, that only reacts to sub-bass frequencies and still needs to be paired with an actual speaker or headphones to hear the rest of the sound spectrum.
The Lofelt Basslets are tiny wrist mounted subwoofers devices, available as a pair for $300. Again, they have no built-in speakers, and though I haven’t tried them, I can’t imagine the force being particular strong in something you mount on your wrist.
The Hardlight Suit is a complete tactile feedback body jacket with transducers in various places, designed to give more precise force feedback. Still in development, but available to pre-order for $550, the suit is also expected to provide motion body tracking.
Of course, there’s also the basic DIY route: a bass amplifier and “puck” style transducer, which can be bolted onto chairs or a sofa, will set you back anywhere from $100 to $500 depending on the power you want to blast out of it and the number of pucks you use.
So as you can see, the Flexound Humu is quite competitively priced, especially considering it has actual audio output in addition to the tactile bass output. The technology inside Humu is similar, but not identical to those devices mentioned above. Humu uses a patented Elastic Vibrating Element (EVE), rather than a more crude bass puck. The effect of the Humu is more nuanced than others I’ve experienced: like a relaxing neck massage, rather than someone thumping your spine with a jackhammer.
Flexound’s concept began life as a therapeutic device for autistic and disabled children, with the Taikofon Feelsound Player. The Humu is the evolution of that product, bringing the concept to a wider consumer appeal for entertainment and relaxation.
Design and Operation
The Flexound Humu is a very understated design, with a small Humu tag and handle on one side. On the other side, you’ll find a magnetically latching flap, which conceals a few ports: 3.5mm audio-in, and a micro USB charging port. A single button does everything, and there’s a small status LED inside.
As a pillow, it tilts ergonomically upwards from the front to the back, and a strong foam forms the core of the device. A mesh fabric covers the central part of the pillow, while faux suede makes up the rest. It’s very comfy, and you certainly can’t feel any random electrical sockets or boards poking through.
Operation couldn’t be simpler: a short button press turns on the device, and you’re welcomed by a quick chime and vibration to let you know it’s on. Another short button press does the same to let you know it’s turning off again. Long-pressing for about 8 seconds will reset the Bluetooth connection and put it into pairing mode.
The device isn’t just for vibrations, however: it’s intended to completely replace headphones, thanks to the superb quality near-field speakers built into the pillow, too. This means that a few meters away from the cushion, the volume muffles and quality diminishes quickly. In practical terms, my wife could certainly hear the sounds when lying next to me, and could feel some of the bass as it vibrated through our bed. However, it doesn’t sound nearly as good for her as it did for me.
When your head is positioned correctly, in the center, it sounds fantastic and you get the full stereo sound. It’s a Bluetooth 4.2 connection with A2DP, and the range is roughly 10 meters under ideal conditions.
Bass response from the tactile transducer felt fantastic from around 150Hz down to 40Hz – lower than that and it distorted significantly. It also appeared to be focussed down to the underside of the pillow, rather than exactly where your head rests, so if you’re lying on the bed you’ll feel it all over.
The maximum volume we could get over Bluetooth or a wired connection was similar, and more than loud enough for personal audio.
Flexound claims approximately 8 hours of use on a moderate volume from the 5.5Wh internal battery. In our testing, that translated to about 4-5 hours of bass-heavy trance music. It also has a great standby time, so we never experienced moments of “oh, I could’ve sworn it still had power left”. In our experience, it took a good few hours to fully charge the battery, but you can continue using it while charging, so there’s no downtime.
There does appear to be an auto-off feature, but it didn’t always work for me. One night when I used a timer to play brown noise for 30 minutes while I fell asleep. In the morning the noise had obviously stopped, but the Humu was still on. That could be an issue with my phone perhaps, but on other occasions it did turn off automatically when not in use.
There’s two areas in which I think the Humu could’ve been better.
Firstly, there’s no control on the amount of bass vibration. To turn up the bass, you need to turn up the overall volume on your device. Particularly at night, I found myself wanting a lower volume but with more bass. Of course, if you have an external audio source with an EQ, it’s not a huge issue, but other tactile transducers typically come with a dial to tweak the amount of vibration from the bass specifically, and phones don’t usually include an EQ at the system level (though individual apps may). At low volumes, the tactile bass element is almost completely absent. The could be a technical reason why this isn’t the case – perhaps the speaker and bass driver is all on the same circuit – but it would’ve been nice to have more control.
Secondly, despite the presence of two zippers on either side, the cover doesn’t appear to be removable and therefore cannot be washed. Considering you”re likely to fall asleep with the Humu, you’ll almost certainly want to add your own waterproof pillow cover.
Should You Buy a Flexound Humu?
$300 isn’t actually a lot to pay for a decent speaker, let alone one with a tactile transducer so you can feel the beat – but the Humu isn’t a device to play those party tunes through. It’s a more personal experience – a multi sensory voyage. It’s fantastic for personal relaxation, meditation, or just immersing yourself in your movie or game. The sound is great and added dimension of tactile feedback is thoroughly immersive. Gamers will love feeling the on-screen action; music lovers will appreciate the experience of standing next to the drums. I found it’s particular good for just watching videos on phone or tablet, as the sound it produces is magnitudes better than that of any mobile device.
However, don’t buy the Humu if you’re just looking for something to shake your sofa, or for communal listening – you can get much more powerful tactile transducers if you don’t need the comfy pillow or high quality near field audio.