Airplane seat with headphones attached to the headrest

Editor’s Note – The Monthly Pass is a CNN tour series that highlights some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. This June, we take to the skies to take a look at the latest developments in aircraft interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.

Hamburg, Germany (CNN) – As wireless headphones become increasingly ubiquitous, standard problem airlines’ headphones with their tangled cables and multi-prong plugs look increasingly outdated.

Sure, you can now hook up your personal headphones to some of your in-flight entertainment systems, but will your batteries last throughout the long flight, and are you willing to risk losing your expensive earpiece in the seat mechanism, never to be seen again?

Enter Euphony, a new aircraft seat concept designed by French airliner Safran Seats, produced in collaboration with audio technology company Devialet.

Euphony eliminates the need for a personal headphone. Instead, speakers are mounted in the headrest of each individual seat, with optimal sound levels so passengers can enjoy their choice of in-flight entertainment without being overheard or disturbed by their neighbors.

Safran first demonstrated the concept this month at the Aircraft Interiors Show (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany and CNN Travel got a chance to enter Euphony’s “experience room” to test what could be the next generation of in-flight entertainment.

comfortable stay

Euphony is designed for business or first class cabins.

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At first glance, the AIX prototype looks similar to a regular business-class airliner seat. Safran has made minor aesthetic adjustments to the headrest design.

But the difference is evident once the in-flight entertainment system is turned on. The sound begins to shoot off the headrest, outputting the pre-recorded aircraft engine sounds that are already resonating in the experiment room.

The screen shows the booming trailer for the latest Marvel movie “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”. Atmospheric music blasts through the headrest, before the system moves on to two different acoustic experiences, including audio broadcast, for comparison.

It takes a while to get the headrest in the perfect place – for maximum sound quality, you’ll want it to be as close as possible to your ears.

But once you’re in the right setting, your personal speakers seem to work just fine. The hum of a simulated aircraft engine turns into background noise largely and my attention is focused on what I see and hear.

Euphony isn’t a replacement for a cocoon-like experience for noise-canceling headphones, but it’s a comfortable setup that feels more like watching a movie on the couch. It would be perfect if you are traveling with someone else and want to chat and interact while watching a movie in tandem.

In the AIX experiment room, it’s hard to judge that there really was no sound leakage – there’s only one Euphony model in place. But the fact that you can’t hear the sound properly unless the headrest is next to your ear suggests that it should be relatively leak-proof, at least in business or first class, where passengers are farther apart.

Travelers looking for complete noise cancellation or privacy may still want to use their personal headphones, but Paul Wells, senior architect at Safran and his team say the idea behind Euphony is to offer travelers more options. Passengers can also connect personal devices to the system via Bluetooth, and the headrest speakers work when the seat is fully reclined as well as upright.

In-flight ads will not be broadcast through the headrest, because they will also be broadcast in the cabin in general, and the Wells team wants to avoid a “funny mix of sounds”.

Instead, any announcements from the captain or cabin crew will interrupt in-flight entertainment, as is already usual on flights.

complex design process

Safran has partnered with audio experts Devialet to perfect sound design.

Safran has partnered with audio experts Devialet to perfect sound design.

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Euphony has been in development for several years now, and Wills and his team say mastering the concept requires experience and teamwork.

When Safran first experimented with placing the speakers in the headrest, before the Devialet came on the scene, Wills said the sound quality was “horrendous.”

“At that point, it was clear we were good seat designers, but we’re not acoustic designers, so we had to find who was,” he says.

Frank Lebuchard, CEO of Devialet, says the project has been an “exciting” challenge for his group of audio experts.

“An airplane is probably the most complex acoustic environment you can imagine, both in terms of frequencies – low frequencies, high frequencies – and volume,” Lebuchard told CNN Travel.

The difficulty in simultaneously blocking the aircraft’s low and high-frequency sounds is what led the team to develop Euphony without noise-cancelling technology – the designers wanted to avoid inadvertently blocking one frequency and raising the other.

But Safran and Devialet say the current iteration of the Euphony will be tweaked in real time to mask cabin noise, and future iterations of the concept will look to further improve the sound mix.

Another challenge was to ensure the best possible sound quality at the lowest possible weight. Airlines always try to avoid unnecessary additional load – to reduce carbon emissions and avoid additional costs.

The finished product still adds an extra kilo to any pre-existing seat, which is partly why Euphony is a first-class business proposition, at least for now.

“It may not be relevant at the moment in economics, simply because it weighs too much,” Wells explains.

But in the future, the team thinks they can modify the concept of less expensive cabins.

“There is a clear demand for it,” Wells says.

Safran already has a yet-to-be-disclosed partner airline, which will debut the product on First and Business Class cabins in early 2023. Euphony test flights will take place at the end of this year.

Wells says the ultimate goal is to make flying as “natural” as possible, to replicate the relaxing experience in your own home.

“When you come home, you don’t go and put your headphones on in the evening and watch a movie – it doesn’t work, does it? You can’t chat with your partner or friends, or yell at the dog or whatever else you want to do. You should be free to move.” And that was the idea of ​​this. You can sit back and turn on the TV and play a movie – it’s just like home.”

Top image courtesy Safran

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