Us vs. them

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"It's such a simple concept - how is Natus One really special?". This is of course one of the first questions we had to ask ourselves when we designed the product. So first we had to take a look at which other solutions exist that covers this use case - or rather solves this problem of being wired;

Bluetooth

First off there is the solution of using a simple Bluetooth transmitter and any Bluetooth headphone. Bluetooth technology is incredibly widespread these days and this is probably one of the reasons why it doesn't work very well for this purpose of fast and accurate audio performance; Bluetooth is designed to be very versatile and do many things like data transfer, user interaction and also many different types of audio. What this means is that it is bound to have a lot of extra data besides the actual content that is being sent to be able to serve all these different roles. For audio, this means that most Bluetooth implementations have a delay of upwards 150 ms from audio input, until it is received and played in the other end. This has virtually no impact to normal Bluetooth usage which is listening to music and taking calls, however for a musician or DJ this delay renders the technology completely unusable. There are indeed technologies based on Bluetooth that can provide lower latency than 150ms however currently the best implementations are around 40ms (Natus One is fixed below 16ms), requires the transmitter and receiver to be using the exact same brand of chip etc. and introduces a big drop in audio quality. On the general audio quality side, again Bluetooth has a disadvantage from having to deal with a lot of extra data, which means that the audio data needs to be compressed in order to fit in the bandwidth available. Natus One does no compression of the audio whatsoever! Anyone that has used a Bluetooth headphone will also know that it is not unusual to have drops in the middle of the playback. The most prevalent reason for this is that even though Bluetooth is a standard, there are various ways of implementing it. There is a large number of Bluetooth chip manufacturers and there are even many different ways of creating antenna systems, and unless you control both ends of the link there is no guarantee of how the systems will interoperate.

 

Professional In-Ear Stage Monitor Systems

Another solution that could be used is one of the more or less professional stage monitoring systems. These are the systems you typically see in use at large concerts when performers wear in-ear monitors to be able to perform without being thrown off by reverberation in the room or arena. These system are designed with exactly that in mind; they need to cover long distances of upward 300ft/90m and the way to go about that is to operate at a very different radio band - around 500-600MHz. The effect of that is that the antennas needed have to be a lot bigger and the power consumption much higher. This is why these type of systems typically have large rack mountable transmitter boxes with long antennas and external power supplies. They are definitely not portable and the typical connection to the transmitter boxes are XLR or mono 1/4" jack connections - both not easily suited for hooking up to a DJ mixer or headphone output of a home studio setup. The technology used in these is fundamentally different than Natus One; They are basically analog radio systems that operate exactly like the typical FM radios we all know. In having to work in the limited frequency bands available, these systems have to cut off the highest transients of your signal, resulting in a distorted result. Using FM also means that noise and hiss is introduced, something that increases as the distance to the transmitter increases. Natus One uses a digital transmission system that doesn't clip or compress your audio signal and never has any noise or hiss. The receivers used in wireless IEM solutions are typically clipped on to a belt or dress, but because they require a lot of power they are typically powered by 2xAA batteries which makes them bulky and heavy. The typical weight of one of these receivers is about 150g/0.3lb which is similar to the weight of a standard smartphone - the Natus One receiver weighs about 55g/0.12lb. The other problem with these receivers is that even when using two AA batteries the battery life is only around 8 hours - Natus One is 24 hours. These systems are great for monitoring vocals where latency typically needs to be below 5ms, but then there is the matter of price; While the cheapest stage in-ear systems start at around $199 it only takes reading through a few reviews to realize the performance of most systems below $599 leaves a lot to be desired. Its not until you hit the big brand products that performance like low latency (some high end systems can be all the way down to <1ms) and stability starts to become reasonable.

 

All in all we believe that Natus One is the best solution specifically for DJs and smaller studios; the performance is amazing with a low latency of <16ms, 48kHz/16bit uncompressed audio and a battery life of 24 hours while maintaining a weight of only 55g/0.12lb making it truly portable. All this at a price point that beats even the entry level stage monitor systems - whats not to love?

Tino Soelberg