Top Pick for Best Translation Earbuds:
Have you ever wondered what would it be like to have a way to understand any and all languages? To have a device that could enable you to help a foreign tourist whose language you don’t understand, or to simply watch a foreign movie without subtitles? I’m sure you did, I most certainly have. And in this day and age, science has provided it: enter translating earbuds.
In this text we will explain how the translator earbuds work, what are some of the best translating earbuds you can find on the market, and offer some insight regarding their efficiency and limitations.
Let us begin!
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What Are The Language Translating Earbuds?
Translating earbuds are probably the closest thing we have to science fiction’s universal translator. The universal translator is a type of device which enables you to understand any human and/or alien language in real time. It can come in a form of a computer (in Star Trek), a ship (the TARDIS of Doctor Who), or an organism (the Babel Fish of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).
Some are wired, some are wireless, connected via Bluetooth to a device, usually a smartphone, and together with an appropriate application. Both you and the person you’re trying to communicate with a need to have this app installed on your smartphones, and once you put the earbuds in, you’re ready to go.
This is how it all works.
Can Earbuds Translate In Real Time?
Translation earbuds can, in fact, translate real time.
The real-time translation process is divided into 5 parts, linked together to form a chain of language understanding. They are:
- Input Conditioning
- Language Identification (LID)
- Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)
- Natural Language Processing (NLP)
- Speech Synthesis
Translator earbuds pick not only what we say, but also every single sound around us. This background noise is filtered out through the process of denoising. Voice activity detector (VAD) activates the system which makes all this possible only when you speak and not some random passer-by who just happened to be there in the moment of speech. VAD accuracy depends on the manufacturer and the overall quality of the translation system.
LID system identifies the spoken language(s) in a matter of seconds. This system is of great importance to the whole translation process, especially when we take into consideration that languages from the same language family can sound so similar they are impossible to differentiate from one another.
For example Russian and Ukrainian are languages from the same language family; they are language pairs. That means that they are almost identical in terms of phonemes. In order to overcome this issue, scientists have developed a completely new way of speech sounds representation called LID-bilinear net, an end-to-end neural network.
- Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)
Essentially, ASR converts the recorded words of the person we are speaking with, disassembles them into strings of phonemes, and then converts those phonemes into the language we’re trying to understand through the process of language modeling. ASR not only fills the conversation gaps, but it also corrects the wrongly recognized phonemes, taking into consideration grammar, context, probability, and pronunciation dictionary.
- Natural Language Processing (NLP)
In this segment of this translation process, machine translation is performed. However, this is not mere switching of one noun or a verb of one language with the noun or verb from the target language. The very meaning of the target language word/sentence/phrase is translated here, with all shades of meaning and other complexities taken into consideration.
This is the final stage of the process, where the strings of translated words and phrases are combining in order to form a naturally spoken translation of the input language sentence.
For this purpose, the systems in some older translating devices used additive synthesis: short recordings of people properly pronouncing certain phonemes or words were collected, and then an entire target language sentence was formed out of them, like some kind of a phonetic jigsaw.
Modern systems are trying to create a natural sounding output language sentence as possible by using complex statistical speech models.
So, if you say a sentence in your mother language which I most likely do not speak (to my eternal shame!), that sentence will go through all these processes; it will be recognized, recorded, disassembled and reassembled into the target language, and presto! – I’ll understand you, and you’ll understand me. Hurray for science!
These Absolutely Incredible Earbuds Can Translate For You In Real Time
Now that we’ve seen the science behind the translation earbuds, let’s see how they work in practice. In this part of the text, we will see some of the most popular translation earbuds out there.
- WT2 Earbuds
WT2 translating earbuds with the smartphone app
The mission of WT2 is to provide natural bilingual conversation by making these elegant translating earphones capable of real-time translation.
- Waverly Pilot Earbuds
Waverly Pilot Earbuds and App
Similarly to WT2, these translation earbuds also started as a crowd-funded campaign, but on Indiegogo. If you decide to purchase them, you will get two very stylish earbuds, a customized application, and a charger. The earbuds are designed not only to serve as translation conduits – you can use them to listen to music like on any other Bluetooth earbuds.
Earbuds come in three colors: black, white and red, and they can last for an entire day.
The translation is done in real time: as you speak, your partner will your words translated into their language. However, unlike WT2, Pilot translation package needs both of you to have the app installed on your phones. That, however, does slow down the conversation in case your partner did not have the app installed on their phone before the conversation.
Waverly Pilot earbuds are sold for 249$. English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese are included within this price; if you wish to add other languages, such as Arabic, Greek or Mandarin Chinese, you will have to pay for every language pack you wish to add.
According to their Kickstarter page, the WT2 package includes two wireless earphones, WT2 speaking app and a charging case.
Communication functions on the so-called “1+2” system. That means that you need only the two headphones and one smartphone with the WT2 app installed. If you have the app on your phone, you only need to give your partner the other earbud, and the conversation can begin!
WT2 translating earbuds supports 6 languages, with plans of adding more as they further develop their product. The supported languages include:
- Mandarin Chinese
This set cost 199$, with the discount price of 99$ for all of their Kickstarter supporters, and you can order it directly from their Kickstarter page.
- Google Pixel Buds
Google Pixel Buds package
When it first appeared last fall, people were not exactly thrilled with Google Pixel Buds. They had a number of performance issues with the quality of sound, and the battery life was anything but impressive. However, as time went by, Pixel Buds grew in quality, but what truly broke them through was the Google Translate app.
In order to use these earbuds, you need to have the Google Translate app installed on your phone (the app itself is free). Once you do that, you need to connect the earbuds with your smartphone via Bluetooth and activate the app. In order to do this, you need to press and hold the side of your right earbud and say: “Help me speak…” and say which language you need to speak or have translated.
I should mention that you don’t actually need the earbuds in order to use this app, it works great without them, but in order to lessen the noise around you and hear your partner properly, you should consider buying them. The price is 109$, and so far, they available only for Android systems.
Google Translate app covers more than 40 languages.
- Bragi Dash Pro
Bragi Dash earbuds package
Finally, we come to Bragi Dash Pro, a functional pair of wireless translating earbuds. They’re elegant and usable on both Android and Apple devices. Other than translating, you can use them to play music and other audio recordings, but in order to use them for translation purposes, you need an app called iTranslate.
Unlike Google Translate and other translation apps and engines mentioned above, iTranslate is not free, which is a minus. If you wish to use these earbuds for translation, you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription of 5$ per month.
The app works really well and high grades on both iTunes and Google Play, but if you don’t have the chance to use this device quite often, then you should probably reconsider buying the Dash.
Another con with this product is that both you and your partner need to use both earbuds in order to communicate with one another. If one of you doesn’t have them, the smartphone with installed iTranslate will do just fine.
the iTranslate app, like Google Translate, supports over 40 languages.
If you’re a traveler exploring everything the many nations of our wondrous planet have to offer or an alien time traveler with a malfunctioning universal translator stranded on the “third rock from the Sun”, consider buying some of these earbuds. However, all these technologies are still a “work in progress”, so certain elements of culture simply cannot be translated. Dear translators, fear not: your job is safe! For now.