Japan Airlines’ Intriguing Headrest Speakers

Japan Airlines’ Intriguing Headrest Speakers

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I just had the chance to fly Japan Airlines’ Airbus A350-1000 first class, and it was an unforgettable experience. This is one of the world’s very best first class products, both in terms of the hard and soft product.

While I covered the details of the flight in a previous installment, in this post I wanted to talk about a feature of the carrier’s premium cabin seats that we’ve never seen before, and which I was looking forward to experiencing…

Basics of Japan Airlines’ new A350 headphone-free stereos

The Airbus A350-1000 is Japan Airlines’ new flagship aircraft, and it features an all-new passenger experience. There’s a lot of amazing tech at the seat, though arguably there’s one feature that raises the most eyebrows.

First and business class seats on the jet have the world’s first headphone-free stereo feature, in the form of built-in headrest speakers. That’s right, you can literally blast the audio for your preferred movie, TV show, or song, directly through your headrest.

This is one of three ways you can listen to audio through the inflight entertainment, with the other two options being using the airline headphones, or using your own headphones via bluetooth audio.

It’s shocking to me that a Japanese airline was the first to innovate this, given how much value is placed on respect for others in Japan, plus the general culture of silence in many public places, like trains.

This is technology you’d expect to be rolled out on an airline flying out of Miami, where we’ve just completely normalized doing anything without headphones at airports and on planes, from discussing shady business dealings, to watching a Daddy Yankee music video.

Japan Airlines has headphone-free speakers

Are Japan Airlines’ in-seat speakers disruptive?

I was curious to experience these speakers firsthand. Just to give you a sense of what they look like, below is the first class headrest, and you can see the pattern, and how each of the widgets has a built-in stereo.

Japan Airlines A350 first class headrest

Then whenever you select an option from the inflight entertainment, you’ll be asked for your preferred sound output option, choosing between the headphone jack, bluetooth, or the in-seat speakers. You can then also control the volume.

Japan Airlines A350 first class audio options

So I was curious what the trick is with these headrest speakers, so that you can hear the audio, but that it’s not disruptive to others. Well, the answer is that there is none. Rather it’s just that your ears are potentially a few inches from the speaker, while the next person will be several feet away.

A few thoughts:

  • For the person using the headrest speakers, at maximum volume I’d say the audio is loud enough to hear everything that you’re watching, though the sound may not be very “rich,” and those without great hearing may struggle
  • You can definitely hear other peoples’ audio from a distance, though it’s at a very low volume; it’s sort of like hearing two people talking very quietly in the distance, where you feel like you might be hearing a whisper, but you can’t fully make it out
  • The A350 is such a quiet jet, especially in first class, since the cabin is so far from the engines; I imagine that contributes to hearing the audio more easily from a distance
  • Business class seats are much closer to one another, so I could see this being more disruptive there; however, for the business class seats near the engines, I think the engine sound might drown out any audio

I had some fun with another passenger putting this to the test. There was this adorable Japanese avgeek seated right in front of me, who was as enthusiastic about this flight as I was. So I turned on my headrest speaker to maximum volume playing J-pop, and I asked her if she could hear it in the suite in front. She said that she could, but only a little bit.

The Japan Airlines A350 first class cabin is really quiet

Bottom line

One unique aspect of Japan Airlines’ new A350 is that first and business class seats have built in stereos, so you can enjoy entertainment without using headphones. I was curious about this technology, and it’s more or less what I was expecting.

There’s no magic here, but rather the audio is just a decent volume when you’re a few inches from the speaker, so the further away you get, the less you hear it. This definitely isn’t fully soundproofed, in the sense that those at other seats may hear your audio. However, it’ll be more like a whisper than anything else.

Personally I think this technology is kind of unnecessary when you have the option of bluetooth audio, and it’s a bit surprising to see a Japanese airline be the one innovating in this space. But hey, it’s cool nonetheless!

What do you make of Japan Airlines’ headrest speakers?

Conversations (22)
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  1. Wye Kay Guest

    When I first heard of Devialets concept headrest speakers, I thought they'd be interesting.

    Then I paid close attn to what I did on a plane and there's a few areas I see a problem.

    This set up is best for people who can sit in 1 position for a sustained period of time. If you're snug in one of those herringbone pattern seats, I guess it works as your position is pretty much fixed....

    When I first heard of Devialets concept headrest speakers, I thought they'd be interesting.

    Then I paid close attn to what I did on a plane and there's a few areas I see a problem.

    This set up is best for people who can sit in 1 position for a sustained period of time. If you're snug in one of those herringbone pattern seats, I guess it works as your position is pretty much fixed. (I hate those seats tbh)

    But I'm happiest with seat width approaching 30in as it gives me space to shift around. In this setup i cant see myself with my head in the same position for lengths of movies at a time.

    The other segment of a flight this might struggle would be meal times. I find myself always sitting up to eat over the plate. Can't quite imagine the mess I'd make trying to eat with my head back.

    I still prefer the current setup of a Bluetooth headphone where I can even walk to the lavatory and not miss a beat.

    I get that some users look forward to other niche cases where this suits their needs. From that I'd say this is more niche/gimmicky than a revolutionary development that solves problems for a wide spectrum of fliers.

    Btw, Emirates is hinting they will have headrest speakers for Y cabins as well. Wonder how's that gonna work out wrt to noise pollution

  2. James S Guest

    I was also expecting something like the bone conduction tech you can find in some high end running sunglasses.

    However I agree with the other comments that falling asleep to music like this would be great and much better than dealing with headphones

  3. Minos Guest

    I think it is useful if you want to listen to music while going to sleep. Headphone, bluetooth or otherwise, are a pain when sleeping. Kudos to JAL for trying something.

  4. AW Guest

    This concept has been around for decades. Intercity buses in Taiwan had these and they worked great!

  5. Jordan Diamond

    Very interesting. Thanks for the separate post on this unique setup.

  6. pstm91 Diamond

    I'm very excited for this for the Steven said. However, I definitely thought there was more of a technological breakthrough than simply angling the speakers. If that's really the case, I'm wonder why this couldn't have been introduced long ago. No one thought of it, or no airline wanted to test it and have it backfire?

  7. Moein Guest

    headrest speakers ! It's completely meaningless . I thought they used Bone Conduction technology ! Also, the interior design is not beautiful, It looks like Japanese offices !

    1. Monos Guest

      This is JAL and this is First Class. This is not Frontier. You are not traveling with Daffy Duck or going hunting with Pooh the Bear.

  8. Mike O. Guest

    Does it give you that surround sound experience with bass?

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Mike O. -- While you had audio coming from both sides, I wouldn't describe it as a surround sound experience, so it wasn't as immersive as with a good pair of headphones.

    2. Mike O. Guest

      I think if this catches on, I wouldn't be surprised if they add speakers throughout the shell of the seat for more of a surround sound experience.

  9. Steven Guest

    The main scenario I'd be excited about this is when trying to sleep. I like to have the TV at a low volume so I can doze off - would be great with this and non-disruptive to neighbors. If I was watching something more intently and wanted a higher volume - I'd put on headphones

    1. Mike O. Guest

      Got me thinking if a choice of ambient noise would work for this kind of setup like what you would get on the Calm app

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Mike O. -- Hah, funny you say that, because I sleep with a white noise app at home. Fortunately the airplane engines serve the same purpose for me.

    3. Mangiafiga Guest

      I skip the app and play youtube full flight videos overnight directly. Can't sleep without them now.

    4. 305 Guest

      Great point. Hard to sleep with large noise canceling “cans” and falling asleep with AirPod type headphones in is just asking for one of them to fall out and get lost in the seat

  10. Andrew B Guest

    I have a somewhat related question. Since there’s space for more than 1 person in the suite, is it possible for 2 people to listen to the IFE at the same time? Ie. connect 2 Bluetooth headphones, or use the audio jack and Bluetooth?

    1. brteacher Guest

      I dislike wearing headphones and would really appreciate this feature.

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Andrew B -- Unfortunately best I could tell, you could only connect one audio source to the entertainment at a time. What you suggest would indeed be a nice feature.

  11. hanchicago Guest

    I really dug JAL's new headrest speakers in first class. For me, it was high among the indisputably positive elements of JAL's new product.

    In-ear or over-the-ear headphones eventually get annoying for me when used for long stretches (like on a long-haul plane ride), so this was a welcome alternative while minimally disturbing your neighbor, at least in first class. I was surprised by how effective it was, though sometimes the audio seemed to...

    I really dug JAL's new headrest speakers in first class. For me, it was high among the indisputably positive elements of JAL's new product.

    In-ear or over-the-ear headphones eventually get annoying for me when used for long stretches (like on a long-haul plane ride), so this was a welcome alternative while minimally disturbing your neighbor, at least in first class. I was surprised by how effective it was, though sometimes the audio seemed to slightly lag the visual (not sure if that was a speaker issue or something broader with JAL's audio).

    I really dislike the trend of people blasting their phones' audio in public spaces without their own headphones, but as you report, this wasn't like that at all.

  12. JoeMart Guest

    Daddy Yankee is retired. You may have listened Bad Bunny, Peso Pluma or Rosalía on your neighbors video. ;)

    1. Mark P Gold

      He may have retired, but his music videos live on forever.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Minos Guest

I think it is useful if you want to listen to music while going to sleep. Headphone, bluetooth or otherwise, are a pain when sleeping. Kudos to JAL for trying something.

3
Mark P Gold

He may have retired, but his music videos live on forever.

2
James S Guest

I was also expecting something like the bone conduction tech you can find in some high end running sunglasses. However I agree with the other comments that falling asleep to music like this would be great and much better than dealing with headphones

1
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