Noopl Review: iPhone Accessory that Makes it Easier to Hear in Background Noise?
Expert Review by Audiologist Matthew Allsop
Restaurants are getting louder. Those stark, minimalist spaces that are so in style right now are notorious for reflecting sound waves, making it difficult to understand your eating companions in a room full of patrons. The California-based company Noopl was formed in 2020 to overcome precisely this problem, helping individuals hear better in groups, crowds, and noisy places.
But does it hold up to scrutiny? In this article, I’ll be reviewing the $249 Noopl 2.0 iPhone accessory to see if it lives up to the hype.
Noopl 2.0 is an iPhone accessory that makes it easier to hear in background noise. The accessory on to the bottom of your iPhone and is powered by the lightning port.
How Noopl 2.0 works
Noopl expands the capabilities of your iPhone by adding a hyper-directional three-microphone array listening system. Noopl helps you to hear better in background noise by improving the signal-to-noise ratio in two unique ways:
- Directional microphone systems help to isolate the signal of interest—in this case, the sound of your friend in a restaurant. When using AirPods Pro, Noopl is able to track your head movements, which enables Noopl to "steer" the onboard microphones in the direction of your focus. When using Powerbeats Pro or MFi hearing aids, you'll need to use the Noopl Listen app to manual steer the microphones in the desired direction.
- Noopl takes advantage of AI-powered de-noising technology through a partnership with Chatable. Chatable is a market leader in de-noising for speech enhancement, and has partnerships with multiple hardware companies, including Knowles, which develops hardware for the big players in the medical-model hearing aid industry.
What's in the box?
Noopl comes with a variety of accessories in the box:
- A Noopl 2.0 device
- Pacers for a snug fit on your phone, whether or not you use a case
- A hard-shell carry case that is identical in size to the AirPods Pro carry case
The device has a minimalist, unfussy design. It seems robust and well-made, and it weighs just 10 grams. It has a glossy back and a matted front, with a small LED in the center indicating the connection status. The three built-in microphones can be found on the right-hand side.
Noopl connects to your iPhone's Lightning port on the bottom, and it is compatible with any iPhone 7 or later running iOS 14 or later. They're also working on an Android version, which should be available by year-end.
The setup process
When you insert the Noopl into the lightning socket at the bottom of your iPhone, it will guide you to the Noopl app in the App Store, where you can download it. It then goes through a quick setup procedure that requires you to register.
When using Noopl with hearing aids, Noopl suggests that you mute your hearing aid microphones so that the only sound you hear comes from the microphones on the Noopl device. This should be easy to do within your hearing aid's dedicated app.
It's a pretty straightforward device to use. According to Noopl, it's most effective if you lie your iPhone parallel to the ground. If you want to hold the device while using it, keep the angle below 30 degrees.
What technical features should I be aware of?
Chatable, a pioneering neuroscience-based AI firm, developed the AI technology used in the Noopl app, which comes with the device. The company employs proprietary Deep Learning AI with processes that work similarly to how the brain processes speech. This technology also learns and improves over time, so each update of the Noopl app will, in theory, improve the sound experience.
Using the Noopl with AirPods
To get the most out of the Noopl, you need to use it with the Apple’s Airpods Pro wireless earbuds. Why? In the AirPod Pros, Apple added head-tracking technology, a unique spatial audio feature.
Noopl makes unique use of this feature. Here's how it works:
- When a user moves their head left or right, the sound field pans left or right to preserve its position in virtual space. Noopl uses this head-tracking feature to determine whether the user is looking left, right, or forward.
- It then keeps track of the user's head position data.
- The directional microphones' sensitivity is amplified in the direction that the user's head is looking.
- Noopl employs both directional beamforming and AI noise reduction to give more precise hearing in that noisy environment.
In layman's terms, the microphones on the Noopl point left if you look left. The microphones on the Noopl point right if you gaze right.
Using the Noopl with hearing aids
Noopl is also compatible with Made for iPhone (MFi) hearing aids. Your hearing aids should have the 'Made For iPhone' stamp on the package if they are compatible. However, if your hearing aids display in your phone's traditional Bluetooth settings, such as with most Phonak or Unitron hearing aids, they will not work with this device.
A closed-dome tip on the receiver of your hearing aid is recommended when using the Noopl, which makes perfect sense. Noopl works by cleaning the signal that comes in, and therefore the occlusion you get from a closed-dome top allows the Noopl to control the sound better.
On the other hand, a closed dome may not be the best option for your hearing loss if you have good hearing in the low tones but poor hearing in the high tones. So, while Noopl may reduce background noise, it may not be comfortable to wear all day, and you may experience what is known as the occlusion effect.
Features of the Noopl App
The software has a straightforward user interface that controls the beam's width and direction and the output loudness.
In Automatic mode (which is only available with the Airpod Pros), Noopl creates two-way communication with one or two Apple AirPods Pro earbuds and follows your head movement, altering the beam direction to stay in front of you.
Manual mode works with any set of headphones or MFi hearing aids. The beam does not move with your head; instead, you manually point the beam on the app screen.
The width of the beam can be adjusted in both settings. The Noopl also recognizes whether the gadget is held in hand or resting on a tabletop, altering acoustics. There's also a simple control that lets you alter the volume of the person speaking, the level of background noise reduction, and you can adjust the bass and treble to your heart's content.
If you are someone who wants to improve your hearing in noisy environments but aren’t quite ready for hearing aids, the Noopl iPhone accessory is ideal. If you already own an iPhone and the AirPods Pros, you can grab the Noopl and be well on your way to better speech understanding in noise. I've taken it to a couple of restaurants and put it to the test in supermarket checkout lines, both of which were noisy scenarios. In the restaurant, I discovered that placing it in the center of the table was more effective. When I was in a one-on-one situation in a noisy place, it also worked well.
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That said, if you're using them with a hearing aid, you'll miss out on the head-tracking capabilities. As mentioned before, when used with hearing aids, you're required to adjust the microphones' orientation manually. That means that if you place the device in the middle of the table, you'll have to frequently reach out to modify the orientation of the microphones, which isn't very convenient. As a result, Noopl will only be useful in a one-to-one environment for those who use it with hearing aids. Also, although Noople is a fraction of the price of Phonak's Roger On, Roger Select, and Roger Table microphones, it lacks the quality to compete with them just yet.
Finally, when you're in a restaurant with someone wearing earphones, it seems to create an invisible social barrier between you and them. The only way to make that situation less awkward is for these devices to be more widely used.
It might be worthwhile for the next generation of Noopl devices to have a dedicated receiver with a more traditional form factor, comparable to a behind-the-ear receiver-in-the-ear hearing aid. This might provide users with the best of both worlds: the discretion of hearing aids and the full head-tracking capability of AirPod Pros.
Neither Matthew Allsop nor HearingTracker were paid by Noopl to review this product. Opinions expressed are Matthew's own. HearingTracker is reader supported. We may collect a fee when you purchase through the links provided on our website and videos.