Never underestimate the power of a dumb question asked earnestly. Upon receiving the press release and gandering at the marketing materials for Atari’s sleek line of Bluetooth ‘Speaker Hats’, I off-the-cusp asked to try one. They obliged, surely unaware my wardrobe could charitably be described as ‘cheap’. Which means the hat is the most expensive item of non-formal apparel I’ve ever worn.
I bring this up because I am not the target audience for a hat that comes packed with a V 4.1 CSR/Qualcomm® cVc™ audio speaker with 5-band EQ and an advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). I don’t even know what a CSR / cVc is, but it sounds fancy and expensive, which is likely why the hat retails for 129.99 (or 99.99 currently on sale).
Speaking of expensive, the box is likely more valuable than most of my clothes, too: A stark-red sleeve gives way to a black matte box with a single tag on it: “#FutureHat”. Opening that reveals the actual hat. Mine was all black with a black Atari logo on the front.
The concept behind the hat is described as ‘invisible tech’; the notion that a stranger wouldn’t know this hat doubles as a high-quality speaker and communications device. And considering the concealed technology inside, including stereo speakers, a battery, wiring, and a microphone, The Atari Speaker Hat is shockingly comfortable, nondescript, and absolutely suited for everyday wear. There’s zero trade off in comfort or weight or bulk. The word ‘premium’ was brandied about in the press materials, and that word fits. It looks, feels, and wears like a regular, quality, sturdy baseball cap.
But look, feel, and presentation do not a hundred and thirty dollar hat make – that price tag is based on function. So, how’s it function? Great. You hit the power button until it starts blinking blue, switch on your phone’s bluetooth, and blammo, you got yourself a Speaker Hat. Every button and scroll and sound your phone would make, now travels through the far higher quality speakers in the hat. Now I just needed something to do with the thing.
What’s the first test your humble author performed once he was fully geared up and teched out with this hat? The most metal thing ever: He called his mom…And boy howdy was the quality awesome! I had both hands free, didn’t need to wrestle with earbuds or constantly ask if she could hear me while multitasking. I walked all the way out of my apartment and into the hall without a problem. For her part, my mom was blown away by the jump in quality – this is the best I’ve ever sounded on the phone according to her.
Next, I played with Siri. Accessing her from across the room, asking questions, treating her as a poor man’s Alexa – at one point getting her to permanently refer to me as ‘Sexton Hardcastle’. Next I loaded up the recently released WWE Mayhem on iOS. A problem with my iPhone 5c, and seemingly most devices I’ve used is my hands will cover up the speakers, distorting the audio, and playing with headphones plugged in resulted in contorting your hands around the phone in an uncomfortable way.
Playing a game with the hat activated, you notice the kind of effort that is put into a phone game’s often-ignored sound design. Having the speakers directly in front of my face resulted in me…actively paying attention to largely canned, insipid commentary from Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler. Music sounds good too – missing some bass as any speakers this size likely would, but overall better and clearer than your traditional phone speakers. There’s also a (untested by me) feature that’ll let you link all the hats together and play music from a singular source. That’s…really weird (but cool!).
This would be a good moment to point out I am not a technical expert. It’s possible there are industry standard speakers just as small that deliver bass, or even an entirely different brand of hats that do what the Atari Speaker Hat seeks to do. Instead, I’m a gamer and a dork who loves weird tech and found this wearable device to be a delight – and arguably the first time the appeal of ‘wearable technology’ has seemed tangible.
It’s rare that a piece of licensed material or apparel – especially a fundamentally gimmicky one exceeds expectations. I expected a novelty and ended up with a utility – a device I can wear around and find multiple uses for: calling my mom, communicating with my phone’s Siri, playing pranks, and simply jamming out to music at a quality level higher than my default laptop or phone speakers. Toss in a microphone I can use for decent podcast recording, and I feel like I would have gotten my money’s worth had I paid for it.
But I didn’t pay for it. And to be frank, I never would have. And that, I think, is the challenge with this hat and product. It’s a fun product targeting…I’m not sure who. I’d argue the primary audience for this thing are the people obsessed with playing their music loud as possible from their phone as they saunter down the street or through the mall. Folks who aren’t content to enjoy their music in peace, no, they need *you* to enjoy their music whether you like it or not, damn it.
My use case is weird because I had an opportunity to find new ways to use this hat after receiving it. Otherwise, as a product…it still exists primarily as a novelty for the gaming and tech obsessed, which makes perfect sense considering the Blade Runner and Atari branding. If you’re in that niche audience that likes trying new and exciting and flat-out weird technology, you’ll certainly get your money’s worth with the Atari Speaker Hat. It’s fundamentally silly, stylish, and shockingly useful. Unlike Atari’s infamous E.T game, here’s a curiosity that won’t leave you stuck in the mud.