Sony's newly formed R&D outfit, Future Lab, is here at SXSW to show off its first concept prototype: a pair of headphones worn around the neck that direct audio upwards so only you can hear it. Codenamed Project N, the Bluetooth device takes the design of those wacky-looking neck-worn headphones and packs in multi-directional speakers so you can listen to music without buds or over-the-ear pads.
Sony, which became an industry giant thanks in part to its pioneering audio technology, is trying to reimagine headphones for a world with too many sounds. The idea behind N is to create a system for listening while trying to retain background noise for when you're wandering about outside or riding your bike. The device also comes with an accompanying pair of cone-shaped ear pieces that communicate with the neckband, in the event you want a more traditional headphone-like experience. The buds, with holes punched through the middle, don't block outside noises, so you're still able to, say, hold a conversation while listening to music.
N also comes equipped with voice control and a camera, and Sony programmed it to respond to commands with the name "Arc." In a way, it resembles a toned-down version of Google Glass that, instead of being plastered to your face, gets worn like a necklace. It's less obtrusive than Google's wearable, but still not quite fashion-forward enough not to turn heads.