Drown has just started shipping their own self styled tactile earphones and we plunged in to check out what makes these earphones more than a feeling.
Drown might look like an very odd pair of earplugs but these unique earphones are more than just a fancy looking pair of speakers. Developed by Drown, in Scotland, these brand new earphones are the result of years of work, a successful Indiegogo campaign, and a patented tech that lets gamers feel incoming sound. Coming in at £129 or local equivalent, Drown seem set on changing the way that we experience sound, whether it’s locking and loading or simply letting a symphony wash over you.
Compatible Systems: PC, Mac, Xbox Family, PS4, Switch, iOS, Android
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 22KHz
Impedance: 32 Ohms
Drivers: 14.8mm Graphine Drivers
Connector: Gold-plated 3.5mm audio jack
Mic: 9mm Back Electret – noise cancelling
Mic Response: 100Hz – 15Khz
Sensitivity: -47(+/- 3dB)
Output Impedance: 680 Ohms
Mic SNR: 65
Drown’s tactile earphones come delivered in a premium cardboard container that speaks to the quality of the final construction. Flipping open the magnetic lid uncovers a set of eight rubberised earplugs, each pair a various size, flanked by the titular earphones. Nestled alongside the immediate mentions is a separate audio extension cable connecting the Drown earpieces to a terminating 3.5mm jack, as well as a very nice looking rigid carry case and a boom microphone attachment.
Fully constructed, the silver and black motif of Drown’s earphones seems decidedly understand for a piece of gaming tech but still won’t be mistaken for any other earpieces. Each silver exterior houses a 14.8mm driver and comes with the Drown logo carved into the exterior. A reinforced kevlar wire weaves around the top of each earpiece and finally terminates at a USB C connector, which joins a detachable 2.4-metre audio cable. This breakpoint sits just shy of chest height and is a nice touch, allowing the Drown to connect to a multitude of audio ports, should you have the relevant USB C connector available. We haven’t tried popping it into our Nintendo Switch quite yet but the flexibility to just disconnect without trailing a long extension cord across the room is appreciated. This contrasts the inline volume controls which, while functional, sits just below the jawline and feel oddly placed for normal use. Overall, however, first impressions of the Drown earphones are very good. A striking yet understated design with good overall construction and some nice touches make for a positive entrance.
Once fully inserted, The Drown earphones continue to stand out with an almost inverted design that takes some getting used to. Putting in the drown earphones isn’t exactly intuitive either. After selecting the correct size and simply snapping the rubber ear inserts over the driver housing, Drown utilizes a twist-lock system that requires a few tries to get right for the first attempt. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to twist in these earphones, after plugging in a sample at Gamescom 2019, but newcomers will find the whole experience is a little trial and error at first. Finally inserted, the result is a seal that produces some fantastic passive noise cancellation. Once you’ve cleared a path and worked out how to twist lock, things should proceed quite easily and the Drown earphones proved surprisingly comfortable in longer gaming sessions, utterly eliminating the overhead pressure of large over-ear designs, like the ROG Theta 7.1.
The pay off for all this unorthodox setup is an utterly stand out audio experience, courtesy of Drown’s tactile audio system. Standing out among other amazing looking peripherals like the Mad Catz range, Drown’s design takes the type bone-crushing explosions that Doom Eternal revels in and drives them home with an enthusiasm that you will love.
The array of rubber inserts that come packaged with the Drown earphones are a deliberate attempt to control the way sound waves enter the ear. Acting as more than just a piece of linear noise insulation, this system contorts sound waves as they are channelled into your eardrums, exciting nerves and cartilage as you rip and tear through hell on earth. It’s probably better if Drown explain the science bit at this point.
While this is actually quite interesting, the result is what really sets Drown apart from the competition. These earphones provide a feeling of space, height, and direction. The first time I tried Drown earphones, I found them to be completely unnerving. Instead of the distant soundscape and flat planar experience that surround sound can construct, Drown earphones continue to give directional information in a more natural fashion. They feel present, and I mean this in the most literal sense. The fancy physics that make up the Drown earphones allow gamers to feel the impact of mortars as they land or the crack of a rifle as it fires behind you. In the same way that firework explosions can be felt, Drown puts players into the battle by bringing that battle into the real world by exciting your whole ear, rather than just blanketing it with loud and quiet.
We tested this nuanced design in a range of scenarios and found them particularly effective when stalking prey in the virtual realm. When dashing through FPS and Battle Royales, like Apex legends, the crack of an automatic rifle rang out like a beacon. The drown’s tactile push helps drive an almost instinctive reaction, accelerating players towards the source of each disturbance and enhancing traditional surround sound with better spatial awareness. It’s an unusual feeling at first but incredibly useful too. Turning on virtual surround sound can take some tweaking and in-game directional audio is usually more than sufficient to push your own built in buttons and start tearing towards danger. When directing your teammates to the action, the Drown boom mic makes a decent stab at picking up and passing on your instructions. The detachable boom arm comes fitted with a 9mm back electret microphone that does a good job for a mic of its size. The noise cancelling is adequate enough but not entirely fullproof. There will be absolutely no issues communicating but, as you can hear from my sample below, this still isn’t going to win any prizes against a dedicated desktop or a $300 pair of cans. Check out the previously linked ROG Theta review for comparison.
Outside of video games, we tested the Drown audio experience across a number of scenarios and they are particularly effective at enhancing most types of audio. Soaring orchestral performances, the swish of a lightsaber in the dark, and the thud of artillery fire all invite players to plunge themselves into the soundscape of a new world. One of the most unnerving moments of this period was wading through Nolan’s Dunkirk. Set during the evacuation of Allied soldiers from mainland Europe, The relentless heart pounding soundtrack of this 2017 feature film feels almost oppressive thanks to the absolutely unrelenting heartbeat that accompanies every moment of space. From the tick tick tick of impending doom that the Drown earphones press home to the sloshing sensation that made underwater scenes almost bewildering, the fantastic sound production of features like these are enhanced no end by Drown’s tactile tech.
Equally, listening to music with Drown’s earphone is a whole new world. While treble and human speech can fade away at times, every cack of the drum skin and each pluck of the bass with comes across as if you’re standing in front of a stage full of performers. Something none of us will be doing anytime soon.
TOO BUSY TO BOTHER
While Drown’s tech is undoubtedly incredible, don’t expect them to assist in every scenario. As I’ve expressed already, the combination of tactile feedback and channelled audio gives a great concept of spatial awareness but this largely depends on what you put into them. For music this works fantastically in most pieces, pushing the soundstage out and giving great clarity, all while immersing the listener in the performance. This all comes at the cost of a little EQ tuning as Drown’s default can push the treble a bit far out and lose human speech behind the kick drum.
With particularly some audio experiences, Drown still creates a similar soundstage but I also found it harder to make out specific details. This depends on the particular piece but largely came down to too much busy work in the recording. This is mostly an issue in games where players take a top-down approach, or titles like Overwatch, where a mess of character quotes, fancy explosions, and sweeping soundtracks all mesh together to make audio feel more like a colorful collage rather than a game-changing part of the action.
Drown’s first set of earphones is unique in many ways. This team from Scotland has put together a solution that sidesteps the digital processing of products like the Creative SXFi, or the upcoming Playstation 5, to create a fantastic feeling of immersion. Be in no doubt, if you are looking to get a tactical edge then Drown brings the game that little bit closer to reality, making movement almost instinctive. If you’re looking for a pair of earphones that are tuned to give a great experience as you scroll through your local Spotify playlist on the commute or chew through Path of Exile then these might not be for you. If you want to plunge into Abzu, add an extra dimension to VR worlds like Nostos, or easily pinpoint the next kill in Warzone then this set of earphones is a game changer. Drown’s new earphones are available now over on the Drown website for £129.99 or local equivalent.