The Woojer describes itself as a polyphonic tactile transducer that reproduces bass frequencies and enables users to “Feel the Sound”. What does that mean? It means that you attach a small pager like device to your belt or clip it onto your clothes and it vibrates in time and strength with the music and sounds in your headphones in a manner similar to a game controllers’ rumble pack. It is designed to be augmented reality for sound.
The device is aimed at dedicated, generally mobile, music listeners who want to get a more immersive live feeling experience for their music, but they also make nods towards other situations where being immersed in sound would be good such as watching movies and gaming. Finally the Woojer is marketed to the hard of hearing and totally deaf as an aid that makes sound tactile. I looked at the Woojer as a wearable device to enhance audio and as an accessibility device.
The Woojer did add to the immersion whilst listening to music on the go. For a serious listener who enjoys feeling the beat, the advantages are obvious and it succeeds in adding that extra layer of texture. If your musical tastes do not lie in the direction of music that has a reasonable amount of bass, you may find that not a lot of extra is added as the vibration is tied to the beat. The vibration is very smooth, but subtle compared to something like a rumble pack. I found that even on the higher Woojer settings and higher volumes that its vibration was still quite low. This could be good or bad.
It is bonus that it can be an integral part of the experience without pulling you away from the more important part of the music – the sound. The drawback is that if you listen to music at low levels in particular and cannot feel the vibration with your music then what is the point? The vibration scales automatically with the sound, so it isn’t possible to turn up the strength manually. If you are expecting something that will revolutionise your listening experience this is not it. It can however make for a more rounded and immersive experience and the vibration it does put out is superior in quality to any other device or peripheral I have used. The same applies both to gaming and watching TV or movies. The extra vibration can add to the experience particularly in first person shooter games, but it can be easily missed.
As a potential accessibility aid, the Woojer would seem to be most useful for those with some hearing loss. Possibly the most useful thing we have found is making use of it as a notifier. Paired with a microphone it can be used to let the user know that there is a sound. For example, Lily needs to concentrate and look at someone to understand what they are saying and when working she very often misses the start of a conversations because she is not looking at the speaker. The Woojer/mic combination let her know that someone was talking to her and that she should be paying attention to them. It can be a great help when multitasking is required, like working on a laptop during a meeting.
The second use we found was for notifications. Lily regularly misses message notifications on her phone as the vibration and sound on the phone when it is charging or put down on on her desk. She set each of her contacts’ ringtone as well as app notification sounds to a distinct sound with a high bass. The Woojer vibration is distinctive enough to different sounds that with a little experience she was able to identify who was messaging her from the specific vibration alone. The Woojer is much more comfortable to wear whilst seated than a mobile phone and offers a superior experience as well. There is also the advantage that the headset does not need to be plugged in for the Woojer to vibrate so it can be used for this even if you do not want or need headphones in.
A final note here – the biggest problem we found with the Woojer was its cable. The cable from input device to Woojer supplied is a metre long and while this is a reasonable length if you have a smartphone in your pocket we found it too short for reaching from the PC to your chest while gaming and much too short for TV watching (although it did fine on a tablet). We tried a longer cable and a retractable cable and had some success with both but in the long term the ideal solution would be a wireless device.
Size: 7 x 3.7 x 3 cm including the non-removable clip
Colour: lime green, white, black, red and light blue
Connectivity: charged via micro-USB
Battery: Around 3 hours of intense use. This will increase depending on the type of music or audio source. On very occasional light use it went most of a day. A full empty to full charge takes around 3 hours with a wall charger.
The Woojer needs a 3.5mm line in from an audio source to vibrate. This source is typically designed to be from a smartphone, mp3 player or computer but will work from any line in. In our testing we were also able to use a microphone to provide the audio source. The Woojer then outputs the audio, again via a 3.5mm jack. This is typically headphones but can be a speaker. If you choose to use a PC to bring audio in or speakers to send audio out be aware that you will be on a leash – the cable provided is around a metre long and while there is nothing to stop you getting and using a longer cable the restriction will still exist. The Woojer still vibrates if the headphones are not plugged in and if switched off or out of power will still route the audio through itself.
Features and Accessibility
Design & Visual Accessibility
The Woojer is a small metal clip on device that looks somewhat like a pager. It has a total of two switches (on/off and intensity high/medium/low) and three ports (line in, line out and a micro USB charge port). On the front are two LEDs – a red/green that shows if the device is charging or switched on and blue LED that lights up when it is vibrating. The back of the device has a large metal clip which attaches to your belt, clothes or the optional chest band. The clip also has a removable magnet which can be used to attach the Woojer to clothes where you do not have something to clip onto.
The Woojer could be used by those with reduced or no vision with few problems. The switches and plugs do not have any specific raised labels but it is clear which way round the device is being held and there is such a small potential ways of plugging it in that only a very small amount of practice would be required. The LEDs do not flicker or flash and should not create any issues for anyone with photophobia. The LEDs are cosmetic and not required for the use of the device.
Audio & Accessibility
The Woojer is designed to improve your audio experience and is a small mounted sub-woofer, however it does not actually make any sound itself. As such it is usable with any level of hearing loss.
Input and Touch
The device feels solidly and well constructed. The switches and ports slide and move well and have positive actions. The clip on the back is well made from metal and when clipped on the Woojer feels secure. The clip is actually so tight it was initially difficult to attach to thicker clothing or a belt – it has loosened up slightly with use though.
The magnet which can be used to attach to your shirt is strong enough to hold the Woojer firmly. Even when we turned the vibrations as high as we could we were unable to get it to do more than move slightly.
The optional chest strap was very similar to using a heart rate monitor. It held the device securely although there was the trade off between tightening it enough to be secure when running and being too tight when breathing heavily. This is inherent to chest straps though and not a criticism of this particular one.
Ease of Use
The Woojer was simple to use and we had it up and running within 5 minutes of receiving the package. It comes with a partial charge that is enough for an initial use but will not provide full strength vibration a full charge is made . The device is well packaged and comes with a very clear start guide and manual.
It is easy to clip-on and can be attached almost anywhere using the magnet, clip and optional chest loop. I found that my favourite place was on my collarbone with the front of the device turned inwards. In general wearing it under clothing making skin contact worked much better and was easier keeping wiring hidden but it did make it difficult to adjust and switch on and off.
There is an iOS (iPhone) controller app that can be used as a graphics equalizer with eight pre-sets for specific genres and it will also let you adjust for different types of headphones. At its core the app is really just about boosting the lower frequencies so if you are using an audio source such as a PC it should be possible to recreate either with built in controls on the PC or via a third party program. The iOS app is available in the Apple Apps store at the moment and an Android app is promised in the next few weeks.
Price: $99 or around £62.00 plus $20 shipping (£13) outside the US. An extreme version with two devices is available for $179 (£114) and a chest strap for $15 (£9.50)
I want to love the Woojer. The basic idea of adding the feel of sound to make an experience more immersive is a good one. The actual device feels very well made and puts out a smooth, well controlled and nuanced vibration. If you are a dedicated audiophile who wants the most immersive listening experience possible through headphones, then it is right for you. If you are an occasional listener or do not already have excellent headphones then the cost of the device at $99 is prohibitive – you would probably do better spending the money on better headphones.
As an accessibility device the Woojer has potential particularly when paired with a microphone or for enhanced notifications for those with some hearing loss, but I’m sceptical as to how much extra it would give to those with complete hearing loss. It is a well crafted gadget and the vibration it puts out is nuanced and smooth, but it would be better with a little more strength or the option for manual adjustment. I want to love the Woojer, but it falls a little short of my expectations.
The Woojer was released in October 2014 and is compatible with any system that can output audio on a 3.5mm cable. The review is based on a review copy provided by the company.