The Halo Sport "neuropriming" headphones sound like some serious mad science. The Iron Maiden-looking cans send electrical currents to your brain to make you better at stuff, and I tried them out today.
As a classical guitarist who used to practice five hours a day, I was pretty curious about a product with the tagline "make practice more productive."
While the Halo Sport headphones are definitely targeted towards physical activities like weight training or running with good form, they can apparently be used to bolster the practice habits of gamers and musicians, to name a couple. Pianist Mario Marzo apparently used the Halo Sport to learn a Bach prelude at an accelerated rate.
How does it work? According to Dr. Daniel Chao, one of the company's founders, the current Halo Sport (which launched last November for $750) targets the central motor cortex, increasing its plasticity with electrical currents.
This means increasing the four core areas of motor control—strength, explosiveness, muscle memory, and endurance. The shocks "prime" the brain to be more receptive to memory and routine, which makes learning a difficult musical scale or mastering a deadlift easier, apparently.
The method of electronic transfer does look a little scary, but what else would you expect from a device that claims to improve brain functions? Oh, and naturally, you can also use them as headphones!
Once you have the prongs dug all good into your scalp, you use an app to start the priming process. There's a current intensity slider that goes from 1 to 10. I turned it up to 10, which made the electrical current feel more noticeable, but apparently its equally effective at any setting.
After 20 minutes of priming, athletes, musicians, and gamers can expect up to an hour of increased routine building and overall brain plasticity.
What does it feel like? Well, it's a bit odd. It feels like a mild tingling. After a few minutes of priming, my hands and fingers started to tingle quite noticeably. And it may have just been my imagination, but it seemed like the edges of my vision got just a bit fuzzy, almost tunnel-like.
After chatting with Dr. Chao a bit, I decided to try and put my newfound super powers to use—but there won't any guitars around, so I ambled over to a quiet corner of the CES show floor (as quiet as could be) and tried to beat my high score in Geometry Wars.
I had set a 64 million score months and months ago, and hadn't really been playing the game. I thought if I could beat it, it'd surely be proof that the Halo Sport headphones were a miracle device. However, this is also my fourth day in Vegas, so to say that my brain isn't at its best is an understatement.
I couldn't do it. I tried for at least two hours, if not more, but never even came close to beating my high score. However, I did notice incremental improvements in performance, though it's hard to attribute it entirely to the Halo Sport headphones, too.
Afterward, I had trouble un-focusing. The massive swaths of people at the Sands felt overwhelming, like my attention could only focus on a single point at once. A couple times while playing, thinking about something other than the game created a strange sensation of "pulling away" in my mind. Could all be placebo, still, but it was bizarre.
But that's not to discount the Halo Sport cans at all—I didn't get the full 20 minutes of priming, after all. This product does suggest a fascinating possibility, and Dr. Chao spoke at length of other applications including learning a language faster or helping increase visual acuity for pilots or baseball players.
Still, as much as I'd love to beat that high score, I don't know if I'd pay $750 to do so.