The idea of an “invisible” pair of headphones sounds too good to be true. But in fact, we tested such a product at CES 2022—the Noveto N1 speaker. It uses beamforming technology to create pockets of sound around a listener’s ears, providing privacy and comfort without headphones. Unfortunately, you’ll never get to try this speaker.
Two months ago, the company behind Noveto N1 quietly slipped into insolvency. It no longer provides updates to Kickstarter backers, who demand refunds but receive no answers. And here’s the frustrating thing; Noveto N1 probably wasn’t a scam.
Nearly every year, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) hosts a bevy of cutting-edge technology from nearly all major brands. But it’s also home to a bunch of half-baked crap. Needless to say, when we heard that there were “invisible headphones” at CES 2022, our expectations were quite low.
But Josh Hendrickson, our Editor-in-Chief, had an excellent hands-on experience with the Noveto N1. Not only did the speaker create “pockets” of private sound around his ears, but its 3D cameras did an amazing job tracking head movements, and the sound quality was shockingly immersive—in Josh’s words, “it’s everything the company is promising.”
The Noveto N1 was a real product. And with the rise of remote work, it seemed like a game-changer. You could privately listen to music without headphones, for example, or make headphone-free video calls without any noisy echo. And since the Noveto N1 doesn’t cover your ears, you can still hear your surroundings—perfect for parents.
We’re not alone in our enthusiasm. Several outlets, including Forbes, Rolling Stone, and Tom’s Guide were impressed by Noveto N1’s appearance at CES. The technology wasn’t perfect, and it only worked at a short distance (around three feet), but it was ready for manufacturing.
But the Noveto N1 never hit store shelves. And for all we know, it was never manufactured at scale. It seems that Noveto ran out of money before it could really hit the ground running.
The Noveto N1 design was finalized in November of 2021, and Noveto Systems promised to ship the first units to Kickstarter backers in December of that year. That’s a pretty short window to manufacture a hardware product, and unsurprisingly, Noveto missed its deadline.
Customers repeatedly asked when their Noveto N1 speaker would arrive, but did not receive a response. Instead, they got a blog post celebrating the Noveto N1’s success at CES. Three months later, Noveto Systems apologized for its “silence and lack of information,” citing manufacturing holdups.
Another three months went by, and Noveto Systems came back with bad news—“Noveto has encountered a financial distress and initiated insolvency proceedings.” The company is unable to pay its debts and must search for a new owner.
If Noveto can’t find a buyer, it will liquidate its assets, including patents and copyrights. This seems like the most likely outcome. There’s little reason for a company to acquire Noveto (and clean up its mess) when the patents for Noveto’s only product will eventually go on sale.
Noveto burned through an eye-popping sum of money in just one year. The company generated $227,765 on Kickstarter, and according to Crunchbase, it collected about $17 million in venture capital. Even if Noveto Systems had prior debts, this should have been enough money to build a speaker.
Well, it seems that building the speaker wasn’t such a big problem. The Noveto N1 design was finalized in November of 2021, and working units were shown during CES 2022 just two months later. While I doubt that these floor units were 100% perfect, Kickstarter products always have a rocky first run. Production should have kicked off at the beginning of the year.
But Noveto genuinely couldn’t manufacture its “invisible headphones.” As explained in a very demure Kickstarter update, the 3D camera utilized by Noveto was discontinued by its manufacturer. And a speaker that tracks your ears is pretty useless without a camera.
Instead of finding a new camera, Noveto Systems decided to build its own. The company called this the “correct” decision, but later stated that its custom 3D camera was “underperforming” and couldn’t track heads correctly. (The company also said that its firmware was “not yet stable,” which is unsurprising given the hardware changes.)
This appears to have been a costly hangup. And it isn’t the only time that Noveto resorted to building custom hardware. The company had trouble securing chips throughout 2021 and had to develop a proprietary solution, which is never cheap.
Now, this whole thing about the 3D camera isn’t the full story. Other behind-the-scenes details, including management decisions, likely played a role in Noveto’s downfall.
There’s a small chance that Noveto will be acquired by a larger company. In that case, we may finally get the Noveto N1 speaker. But it seems like a bit of a long shot—Noveto has zero brand recognition, one unreleased product, and a bunch of debt.
If Noveto can’t find a buyer, then its assets will go on sale. And that includes any patents related to its beamforming technology, custom silicon, and 3D camera. In theory, another company may purchase these assets to build a speaker that’s similar to the Noveto N1.
Either way, this isn’t the end of “invisible headphones.” Noveto Systems generated almost a quarter million dollars in pre-orders for its beamforming speaker, proving that there’s a market for this technology. Apple is reportedly working on an “invisible speaker” that slips around your neck like a lanyard, and of course, beamforming microphones are featured in most new headphones and smart speakers.