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Hooke Verse Binaural Bluetooth recording system
Old 14th May 2017
  #1
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Hooke Verse Binaural Bluetooth recording system

“Hooke Verse” Preliminary Review

Manufacturer's site - https://hookeaudio.com/

Why preliminary? Well, I’ve only had the device a couple of days and I’ve only tinkered around with it at home. So these are my initial thoughts, subject to correction in due course.

The Hooke Verse consists of two earpieces which are wired to plastic cases which tuck behind your ears. The two cases are connected by a flexible wire which goes round the back of your neck. Although the device is very light, in terms of fit and comfort I had some initial reservations, but after trying out all six pairs of ear inserts supplied with the device, I found a pair which gave a good seal at the ear, and it’s ok in use - not the most comfortable I’ve used, but not a problem. It is worth noting at this point that the physical design gives minimal (none really) handling / cable noise on recordings, unlike for instance my Roland in-ear wired binaural mics.

A tiny - really tiny - mic is flush mounted in each earpiece housing. In use, the mics are about as close to the ear canal’s entry as could reasonably be achieved. From the front, it’s surprisingly “stealthy”, less so from the side.

There’s a single multifunction control button on the device, which has an indicator light built in to show various things. Unfortunately, when you put your finger on the button, you cover the light. A separate light would be less sexy but more useful.

The Verse connects to your phone - certain flavours of Apple or Android - just like any other bluetooth headset. I’m using it with an LG Android 5.x phone for which I paid $35AU - it has no sim card fitted, I just use it for remote controls and as an audio player. If I’m correctly understanding the way the Verse works, it simply transfers digitised audio from the mics to the phone via bluetooth, so the audio quality of the phone doesn’t make a difference to the quality of the audio recording. The phone is basically a bit bucket - all the heavy lifting happens in the headset.

For audio playback, you can use the Verse in normal BT headphone fashion. Subjectively, I’d say the playback quality is very good - no obvious deviations from a flat response. On Android you can use the device to answer phone calls. During recording it is recommended that you put the phone into airplane mode and then re-enable BT.

To use the Verse for recording, you must use the Hooke Audio app which can be installed from the Apple or Google store in the usual way. This app provides two simple pages. One is for recording audio, with or without phone video - a toggle button turns the video on or off. Another button starts and stops recording. There is no pause button. There is no provlsion for setting any audio or video parameters - audio is recorded as 48/16 wave format. On my phone, its own camera app provides 1080p recording, but the Hooke app defaults to 720p with no (obvious) means of adjusting that.

Before actually starting recording, audio can be monitored via the headset, with monitoring level set by the phone’s volume buttons. There are left and right level indicators (no indication of dB) which incorporate sliders for setting input gain. These sliders work the wrong way round - you raise them if the source sound is loud and you lower them if it’s quiet. This took a little getting used to, but really it’s no problem. If the gain is set too high, “overs” are shown by the metering shooting to the top above the slider position, and the idea is that you raise the slider so the metering no longer goes above the slider. It’s a brave man who turns normal level setting on its head, but actually it’s a scheme that works - full marks for lateral thinking.

Levels are conservatively set in the digital domain - in other words, if you record at the level that the meters suggest, you are likely to see an overall margin of about 6dB or so when you look at the file in a DAW. So everything is slightly quiet, but that’s better than any chance of digital clipping.

When recording, there’s a counter showing minutes and seconds. You get no info about space remaining. There’s no provision for dropping markers. There’s no margin db display. I mention these things only because they are the kind of facility which members here are used to seeing on digital recorders. The design intent of the app seems to be to keep everything as simple as possible for inexperienced users. That does have the advantage that you don’t have to think twice about using the app - just set levels, press record, and that’s it.

When you press ‘stop’, you are taken to the playback page. This could be an annoyance given the lack of a pause control - you might want to resume recording very soon after stopping, but you’re on the wrong page. Recordings are listed with date but not time, and are titled “recording 1” “recording 2” etc - no provision for setting your own naming scheme, but you can rename files from the playback screen (or email them or delete them). Just tap on the item of interest, and it plays back through the headset. There’s a pause button in the playback interface and a progress bar you can use for skipping to later or earlier parts of the recording. There’s no recorded level indicator on playback.

At the moment, there’s one thing which might be a deal breaker for some users - on my Android phone at least, the app only works in the foreground. If you go to another app, or to the home page, or if you turn off the phone’s screen, recording stops. This means that you either have to keep the phone in your hand, being careful not to touch the screen for fear of pressing a button, or put it down and hope nobody swipes it, or you must put it in your pocket with considerable care without causing the app to stop. If Hooke could make the app run in the background, the problem would be largely solved. By the way, if you do put the phone down, you can walk away from it to a typical BT range distance, and the recording continues. But currently - in my experience - if you exceed the range, the app doesn’t cope very gracefully and the recording is totally lost. This and some other issues are the subject of emails with the developer of the device who is very responsive despite probably being swamped with queries at this post-launch period.

So now the big question - what does it sound like? Well, I’d say it sounds excellent in my limited tests so far. I did a fairly crude test which involved playing an Eric Clapton test track (“River of Tears”) on my studio speakers at a healthy level, and sitting between the speakers rather closer than normal. I recorded that using the Verse, then immediately played it back, and it gave the most accurate result I can recall from that rough test - it’s been a long time since I did it with other gear, including my Sennheiser MKH MS pair, but my memory is that even the Sennheisers gave a result which wasn’t that impressive. The Verse device captured the same overall balance of LF and HF and mid as the original, but also gave a very good account of the stereo image, and this somehow helps with the usual problem of room colourations - the image helps the ear separate the original and the reflected sound perhaps.. Looking at the playback on a spectrum analyser, I could clearly see music content right through from 20Hz to 22kHz - the regular tapping of the tambourine cymbals in the recorded track clearly showing, though my ears struggle to actually hear that these days - and when playing back a recording made just walking round the house, the analyser also clearly showed a whistle from somewhere at about 17.5kHz in one room.

With other tests around the house and garden - yes, I even recorded the toilet flush - playback sounded very similar to source, with an accurate stereo image, including conveying to some degree front and back as well as left or right - on a few occasions I found myself turning round to check whether what I was listening to was live or recorded. Certainly the sound would trounce the Sony M10 built in mics, or in fact any built in mics I’ve ever encountered, particularly in respect of stereo image. It’s a balanced sound - not bottom heavy, not mid boomy, not thin.

Listening to demo recordings on the Hooke Audio site, I get perfectly good results listening on speakers - in my view, speaker compatibility is fine, although the best results would be obtained on headphones.

The only reservation I have in respect of the sound relates to noise when recording quiet sounds at full gain. My ears are too old now to really make judgements about hiss, but my current impression is that although you should be able to make recordings of quiet ambiences and play them back at authentic (originally perceived) level without noise being a significant problem, you might not get a good result if you tried to (say) record a distant bird and replay it with the volume turned up unnaturally high in order to hear the bird more distinctly. I’d rate it, subjectively and without really enough testing, as being a device which was acceptable on the noise front for most purposes but not stunningly quiet at full gain. When dealing with normal live music performance levels, it wouldn’t be a problem.

If you want to record on your existing field recorder, or some models of GoPro, or your DSLR, the Verse comes with a cord which connects via the usual mini jack to the USB port on the Verse. There’s a second connector for GoPro. I’ve not tried the cable yet.

Battery life? I’ve not been able to test that, but it looks like it will last for hours. There’s a battery level indicator in the app and it’s still showing full after charging the device once.

In summary, this is a whole new way of recording and in most respects it works very well. For the first time it’s possible to record high quality binaural stereo sound onto a phone (even a cheap one) without physical attachments and wires and other clutter.

In so many cases, Kickstarter projects disappoint when they arrive in the post. This one took its time to arrive, but part of the reason is that Hooke Audio were determined to get it right. The basic hardware is fine, which is the key thing as it can’t be changed once in the user’s hands, but the app could do with some improvements and perhaps some enhancements, and we’ll have to see what comes. I forget what I paid for it (more than two years ago on pre-order) but whatever it was, it’s worth it - to me - and I’ve almost forgotten about the wait…

I’ll answer questions if I can, and I think the developer may chip in too, which personally I’d welcome. Nothing like getting answers straight from the horse’s mouth. Bear in mind what I said at the start, this is a preliminary and pretty subjective review.

Last edited by Ozpeter; 14th May 2017 at 10:30 AM..
Old 14th May 2017
  #2
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Plush's Avatar
Interesting stuff.

The web site said the set up records " 3D sound."

Instead of that description, I think that they mean it makes a binaural recording.
Old 15th May 2017
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Well, that's marketing for you. I think the main target market for this device might be people who have never heard of binaural sound but they know what 3D implies. But I do think that there is some scope for pro / semi-pro uses of the Hooke device - for instance, low-profile sound effects gathering, maybe even for news gathering in situations where the reporter is in the kind of situation where they're using a phone for video and want better than phone sound without attachments and wires.

There's a saying that when you take a photo, what you are doing it taking a photo of someone having their photo taken - the presence of the camera alters the situation. Same with some recordings - introduce a mic into the situation and you're making a recording of a recording being made. While bearing in mind privacy issues, it's none the less useful sometimes to be able to make a good quality recording without it being obvious.

I would love to try the device in front of a rehearsing symphony orchestra or suchlike to get a really good example of its audio fidelity and imaging, but sadly my present circumstances render that an unlikely prospect, Maybe in due course someone else will oblige.
Old 5 days ago
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Hey All!

Anthony here, founder of Hooke Audio. First of all Peter thank you for such an in depth breakdown and preliminary review of the Hooke Verse. It is super helpful. I wanted to reach out and inform you all of our recent app updates which solve a lot of Peter's queries listed above. This is the best part about making the World's first binaural 3d audio recording app, features can always be added! And we plan to add many! The main one begin background recording. You can now hit begin on an audio only recording, put the phone to sleep, put it in your pocket and be on your way. It's a HUGE feature and we think you guys (tapers, engineers, musicians) in particular will love it. Thanks again!
Old 4 days ago
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Heh, Anthony beat me to it by a few hours - I'll post what I'd drafted anyway but this partly repeats what is stated above -

I've only just spotted that the Android app has also been updated and you can now turn off the screen of your phone, and the recording keeps going. For me, that is a huge improvement.

Various other lesser improvements and fixes have been implemented. Stability and reliability seem improved, and I tried putting down my phone and walking out of bluetooth range - although the resulting recording had a silent portion where the phone and headset were too far apart, the rest of the recording was intact. Monitoring in the earpieces was continuous, so that means that you can't judge whether you are out of range or not, but in real conditions I don't see that as important - just don't push your luck with range. Now that you can put the phone in your pocket without risk of recording being accidentally stopped, there's not much point in putting it down and walking away from it during recording.

I did a few trivial tests including walking into the street and recording cars going from ear to ear, opening my garage door and slamming it shut, getting into the car and turning on the radio, etc etc, and the resulting playback was impressive. It's certainly very stereo - as for front vs back, for me the jury is a bit out, but that's a fairly subjective thing imho. Under realistic conditions, I'm not hearing noise issues, and frequency response is very realistic. I like this thing!

One feature I'm going to ask the developer to consider - to set levels you line up a slider against a scale, but to repeat a level setting, you have to count up from the bottom which little tick your slider is opposite. I'm sure it would be fairly easy to provide an additional numeric readout of the level setting simply so that you can set the level quickly to the same point in future.
Old 4 days ago
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Very cool. The closest I can come now with what I have is Soundman in-ear mics and a SONY Hi MD minidisc recording WAV. I will try my phone to see if it can record in stereo. This could be very useful for on-the-road recording. Also, as in-ear binaural has a huge handicap in that when you wear the mics you must keep your head absolutely steady. If you do not the sound field changes. Not good. But Hooke has made it possible to re-use their packaging as a functional head, and a steady head.

I will check if my phone can record in stereo. Thanks for the post and follow up by the company pointing out improvements.
Old 4 days ago
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johnsound's Avatar
Anthony,

Have you changed your email address? I emailed you a while ago and got a bounce back. PM me, if you would be so kind.

Thanks,

John
Old 4 days ago
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Old 3 days ago
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I'll post this before Anthony does, so he doesn't step over the line of promoting his own product here -

https://youtu.be/9-iE1EKP29w

It's a short news item showing the Hooke system in use compared to normal phone audio.
Old 3 days ago
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Quote:
Originally Posted by boojum View Post

I will check if my phone can record in stereo.
With the Hooke Verse system, any (compatible) iPhone or Android phone can record in binaural stereo.

Otherwise, with iPhones I believe you can connect external mics - see

https://www.jeffgeerling.com/article...ic-audio-input

for a roundup, and the TASCAM iM2 seems to be the nearest competitor to the Hooke Verse in terms of it being neat and stereo, but it's obviously a recording device. You can't use it with the phone in your pocket.

For Android devices, some possibilities are mentioned here -

https://www.theguardian.com/technolo...n-a-smartphone

but I don't think most android devices are designed with external mic use in mind. USB input is mentioned in the above article but it's not a very elegant method IMHO.

However - if you have a Windows phone (of course you do...) the Lumia 930 claims to have binaural mics built in! See 3D Sound: Binaural Recording and Microsoft Lumia 930 – nokipedia

So for android devices at least, the Hooke Verse would appear to be the best method of recording stereo sound in replacement for the phone's mono built in mic, and for iPhones it's lower profile than using a clip-on mic on the phone. This is not taking into account the binaural audio aspect where the Verse seems to be in a field of its own.
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