Record your own voice and play it back and the chances are that you will be very surprised with how you sound. When we speak normally part of what we hear is transmitted through our heads which changes the tones and frequencies slightly. The Forbrain takes this principle and externalizes it by using a microphone to pick up your speech, filtering external noises and then playing it back to you via two bone conduction speakers that do not block your ears.
The design of the Forbrain is simple if a little odd-looking. Take a piece of plastic and bend it around the back of the head. On one side attach a battery, controls, a sound filter and a microphone on a boom. On both sides attach bone conduction transducers for sound and there you have it.
So we know what the Forbrain does – why would I want to use one?
The company behind the Forbrain makes a number of very bold claims about its use. They say that the dynamic filter lets you retrain your sensory system to more efficiently integrate sounds. This has a number of effects – the biggest of which is that your voice becomes clearer and more distinct as does your ability to listen. It also can aid with reading, writing, verbal and short-term memory, attention span, concentration and focus, speech pronunciation and focus, motivation and self-esteem.
So does it do all of these things? That is a very difficult question to answer in a short review. The concepts behind the way the Forbrain works are reasonably well documented for some specific speech therapy, in particular for the treatment of stuttering. This is called Altered Auditory Feedback or AAF and has been around in different forms and fashions since the 1970s. There is less information specifically to do with the Forbrain. Sound For Life – the company behind the Forbrain mentions a study with a single participant at the University of Barcelona that has been commissioned to look at EEG readings of a user of the Forbrain before and after use over one week, but this has not yet published and with only one participant is too small to prove anything.
Scientifically then I have to say that the Forbrain’s claims are unproven. This does not necessarily mean that they are incorrect or mistaken, just that we have no evidence either way. Sound for Life does list a number of testimonials from customers, family of customers and notable personalities including some medical professionals, so that may help some.
I am not personally able to check the validity of the claims and can only offer my personal experience. After using the Forbrain regularly with their recommended exercises I can come to a few personal and subjective conclusions. I have a tendency to mumble and stutter, particularly when tired and with the Forbrain I was able to pick up on this which helped – enough that I plan to keep on using it regularly in the hope of a further increase in vocal clarity. The second big use I found for it was in helping with writing and in particular with proof reading. I read an article out loud after I have finished my first draft and again just before posting. The Forbrain lets me hear the post as if it was being read by a third party which in turn gave me a better perspective on it.
The Forbrain charges via microUSB port and a cable is included. I have been using it regularly for a month for around half an hour a day and the charge seems to last around a two weeks or 8 hours.
The Forbrain has a single small LED on the front of the battery section. This indicates being in use with sufficient charge (blue) or being in need of charge or charging (red). The LED could be covered up if you wanted but when you are wearing it its position makes it impossible to see.
The LED only indicates if it switched on or charging and as such even if you cannot see it a little common sense – plug it in when it is out of charge and unplug 3 hours or so later means it is not required. There are three control buttons on the base of the battery pack, a circular power button and two volume up and down buttons. The volume buttons have inscribed + and – whilst the power button is smooth.
The Forbrain is completely accessible if you have any form of visual hypersensitivity or photophobia or conversely if you have any form of visual loss.
The Forbrain uses a set of bone transducers produced by US company Aftershokz. If you have not used bone transducers in the past you will be in for a surprise. Instead of fitting into the ear they rest snugly on the bone in front of it. They vibrate and vibrate the skull slightly to transmit noise to the inner ear. It means that your ears remain open and the sounds are often of a slightly lower frequency. Bone conduction is often used in hearing aids but is also used in more specialised applications such as underwater communications for scuba divers and in very high noise environments.
This means that the Forbrain is surprisingly accessible to those with hearing issues. If you have partial hearing loss, single sided deafness conductive hearing loss or some mixed hearing loss it should still work for you. Indeed it might actually be more valuable to you in some ways as it would let you hear your own voice as others hear you which is an even bigger deal if you have hearing problems.
Input and touch
Once switched on and placed on your head the only input that you make to the Forbrain is via the microphone. This is optimally used placed at about 3 cm from the mouth.
The Forbrain has a total of three buttons on the bottom of the battery pack. They all have slight edges around them which make it unlikely that they can be pressed by accident but do not make it harder to press them. I found that once I had set the volume I very rarely had to adjust it. If there was a lot of background noise that required adjustment the chances were that it would I would get too much feedback noise to get a good use out of the Forbrain and turning up the volume did not help much.
Movement and mobility
There is no strength or mobility requirements associated with the Forbrain. If you are able to wear it and speak you can use it, although in the worst case you might need help to put it on.
Ease of Use
There are two ways of interpreting ease of use with the Forbrain. The physical act of switching it on and putting it on your head is as simple as it could possibly be. The only problem I have seen is one of the people who I had try it on tried to put the bone transducers over her ears rather than against her bones in front of them.
The recommended exercises are also quite straightforward. I found that they consisted mainly of making sure that you were in a relaxed ergonomic seating position and then reading text.
Cognitive, language and math
The Forbrain works by repeating your voice back to you and allowing you to adjust your diction. On this level it needs very basic language skills and no math skills at all. Most of the recommended exercises have you reading text so a basic level of reading is needed for them.
As an adult user there is no social interaction required with the use of the Forbrain. The only possible exception is that if you were using it to practice for a speech for example there would be an expectation of actually needing to stand up in front of people at some point.
The Forbrain is made of hard plastic whilst the transducers have a rubber like surface. The transducers need to have a snug fit to your bones to give good sound and as such must rest on your skin. It is unlikely the Forbrain will cause allergy issues for the vast majority of users.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
There are no trigger warnings associated with the Forbrain. It has no specific age ratings and can be used by a child. The only restriction on age is a physical one – it has to fit snuggly to your head for the bone conductors to work. My four year old tried it on and found it a little large so the minimum age seems to be about 5 or 6.
The manufacturer of the Forbrain is a Hong Kong based company called Sound For Life. Sound For Life has a number of branch offices worldwide and specialises in products that support learning via sound.
RRP: $359 or 279 Euros. This is about £245 based on current exchange rates.
Retailer: Forbrain website
The Forbrain is not a cheap piece of kit, but if you are looking for one of its effects it is not an impossible price. It is well made and looks durable and is likely to last well, particularly in the extremely padded case that is included. It also comes with a two-year warranty and a 30 day money back guarantee.
Included In The Box
- Forbrain headset
- USB to micro USB charging cable
- Case for the Forbrain with inserts to hold the USB cable and documentation
- Forbrain quick start guide
- Forbrain guide to exercise
- Forbrain user manual
The Forbrain is a unique piece of equipment which I cannot find any equivalent for available anywhere online. The hardware is cleverly designed and manufactured and should last well. At this point the scientific proof for the Forbrain’s claims is not indicative either way but there is a significant amount of anecdotal accounts which support its use. I personally found it useful for my stuttering and for using it to review and edit text.
Recommended for public speakers, those who need to memorize facts such as students and for stutterers. The other markets it is aimed at should perhaps wait until there is more scientific testing and proof of the concepts involved.