Flexound HUMU preview: A smart cushion that lets you feel the music you listen to

Audio / Audio Hardware Reviews / Reviews
Flexound-HUMU-preview

HUMU has a great, comfortable design with decent sound and a vibration experience to enhance music listening, movie watching, and playing games.

Music plays a big part in most people’s lives, no matter where you are around the world. It evokes a number of emotions, and can even have a calming effect in certain situations. Up until now, music is enjoyed primarily by listening, but a company in Finland called Flexound Systems feels there’s more than just listening to music and have created a Smart Cushion that lets you also feel the music. The Smart Cushion is called HUMU, which is a Finnish word meaning ”humming” or ”commotion.” Coincidentally, the name HUMU also makes reference to “human music,” as indicated by Flexound.

The technology developed by Flexound transforms sound waves into distributed vibration that can be felt physically, in perfect synchronization with the sound. The patented innovation aims to change the way we consume audiovisual entertainment, like music, films, virtual reality, and games.

“Human being is a feeling creature. Skin is the biggest human organ. Why would you only watch and listen to a film, if you can also feel the sounds on your skin and body, and get a more immersive multisensory experience,” says Mervi Heinaro, Flexound CEO. “As we know, music works almost like a miracle medicine. The added gentle vibration enhances the emotions created by the content. It is very relaxing.”

Flexound sent over a Flexound HUMU prototype sample for us to test out. As it’s a prototype and not the final product, I’ll still be offering my thoughts below in our typical review fashion, but won’t be assigning it a final score as we usually only give review scores to final consumer products.

Specifications

The Flexound HUMU has the following features and specifications:

  • Bluetooth: 4.2, A2DP audio protocol; connection distance of 10m
  • AUX: 3.5 mm socket for stereo line in
  • Battery: Lithium Polymer 3.7 V, 5.5 Wh; up to 8 hours with moderate volume level
  • Physical dimensions: 480 mm x 270 mm x 145 mm (19″ x 10.6″ x 5.7″)
  • Weight: 1.5 kg (3.3lb)
  • Operation ambient temperature: 0°C to 35

What’s in the box

  • Flexound HUMU Smart Cushion (SC200)
  • Micro-USB charging cable
  • Instruction Manual

Design

The Flexound HUMU looks like a standard cushion at a glance. Roughly 19″ wide and just over 10.5″ deep, HUMU featured a rounded design that is about 5.7″ at the top and tapers down to just over 2″ at the bottom. When using it behind your head, the thicker part goes at the top with the thinner portion down by your neck or just under your shoulders.

HUMU is covered entirely in Alcantara, a material which looks and feels like suede. It really is a nice finish, and Alcantara is roughly 68% polyester and 32% polyurethane, which gives it increased durability and stain resistance — definitely something you’ll want in a cushion you’ll be using under your head a lot. Our prototype sample was black, while the middle section featured a checkered blue pattern.

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The Flexound HUMU Smart Cushion.

On either side of this patterned piece is a zipper seam which goes all the way around the pillow and tucks into a little pouch to hide the zippers. While the zippers are functional, the cover cannot — and should not — be removed as the main components are in the region to the left side of the zipper on the left side of the pillow. The zippers are merely there as part of the design and to make assembly of HUMU easier.

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A peek at the inside foam of HUMU.

On the left end of the HUMU Smart Cushion is a cover pocket which stays closed through the use of a magnet in the lower left hand corner. Opening the cover pocket exposes the Micro-USB port, a 3.5mm AUX port, a round power button with a blue LED light in the middle, a white LED to the right of the power button, and an orange LED to the left of the power button.

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The power button, ports, and LED lights are hidden under a cover.

Finally, on the right side of HUMU is a blue handle made out of fabric (the final product will be made out of Alcantara as well) with the HUMU logo stitched onto it in white (the blue and white represent the colours of the Finnish flag).

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The handle on the right side of HUMU.

As I mentioned before, our HUMU sample was a prototype. Flexound is currently running an Indiegogo campaign which will help to kickstart mass production. Final product 0-series is being now produced (a couple of hundred pieces, of which part is reserved for the Early Birds as rewards on Indiegogo) and the large-scale Series 1 will be produced as soon as Flexound has enough pre-orders from retail or e-commerce (Amazon pre-orders should be starting later in March).

Being a prototype unit, there were a few things that didn’t work but will be working or modified for the o-series and Series 1 HUMU Smart Cushions. The user interface programming is still being optimized, which will add proper LED light behaviour and blinking as per the user instruction guide. Some sound performance optimization is on-going as well, and Flexound is primarily working on fine-tuning the higher frequencies. Finally, the handle will be made from Alcantara and the HUMU logo smaller, and the inside label will be properly finished.

For a prototype unit, the Flexound HUMU Smart Cushion is well designed, comfortable, and the Alcantara finish is a really nice touch. It will be interesting to see how durable the finish is over time. Flexound does indicate that HUMU can be cleaned by wiping the cover with a dry or lightly moist cloth.

Ease of Use

Like most Bluetooth speakers, the Flexound HUMU Smart Cushion is easy to use. Once you flip open the HUMU cover pocket, press the power button for one second until you hear the power on indicator sound and a slight shake. The first time you do so, HUMU will enter pairing mode and you should be able to find it on your smartphone. If you don’t, press the power button for about 3 seconds to enter pairing mode. You can also press and hold the button for 8 seconds to reset the devices stored in the memory of the HUMU Smart Cushion.

Once paired, all audio control is controlled through your smartphone, laptop, or other connected devices. You can also connect it to a non-Bluetooth device such as a television or game controller with a 3.5mm Aux cable.

HUMU can be turned off by pushing the power button for one or two seconds until you hear another indicator sound and a slight shake. It really can’t be easier to use.

Sound

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect having sound coming out of a cushion. When lying on it with your head square in the middle, the Flexound HUMU sounds almost the same as if you were wearing headphones. The range is nicely balanced, with rich bass and nice mids and highs to round things out. When watching a movie, you definitely get a stereo sound effect which makes movie watching even more enjoyable.

In my experience with HUMU, listening to it above 75% volume provided the best experience. I tested HUMU with my Moto Z, Bluetooth connected to a desktop and a laptop, and finally wired into the 3.5mm AUX jack on my Xbox One controller. In all cases, while you could hear the sound just fine at lower volumes, the Flexound Xperience didn’t really start to kick in until 60% or higher volume. I found that 75-80% provided a nice balance as it was plenty loud and the rumbling from the lower frequencies really added to the music, movie, or gaming experience.

When I had the sound set to 100%, the sound was still crisp and clear but the vibration was almost too much and it sounded unnatural at times due to excessive vibration. Other than that though, like the EVEN H1 headphones made listening to music a new experience with its personalized sound profiles for each ear, the addition of vibration and being able to feel the sound put you in the middle of the action in movies and games, and made it feel like you were at a concert with the band while listening to music.

Flexound suggested I test HUMU in various ways and various places and test it I did. I tried it under my head and shoulders, under my feet, under my knees, laying on a couch, and even sitting in a gaming chair. I found that it worked best, or rather I enjoyed it best while laying on the couch with it under my head and shoulders. I couldn’t help myself but grin as I watched the opening credits and sequence of Transformers and I could feel the vibrations start at the top of my body and move throughout in response to the low frequencies, Transformer-like sounds, and whup whupping of helicopter blades. It reminded me of being in a theatre but with more pronounced and noticeable vibrations.

The Alcantara material used on HUMU is soft and comfortable when lying on the smart cushion.

Next, I fired up some music and started with Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” then switched it up with “Rosa Parks” by Outkast (my go-to song for testing bass on speakers and headphones), tossed in some Nine Inch Nails, and finally some EDM. Music was a bit of a mixed bag and while listening to pretty much any type of music sounds good, there was the odd song where the Flexound Xperience didn’t kick in enough to enhance the music listening experience. Still, overall it was quite the experience being able to feel the music I was currently listening to. Even at lower volumes, using HUMU was enjoyable and worked well when listening to quieter music at the end of the day and I even caught myself dozing off a time or two while streaming some Neon Lounge Seduction from Google Play Music.

Of course, being a gamer, I had to fire up the computer, pair the HUMU Smart Cushion to it, and fire up Forza Motorsport 6: Apex. I’m currently using a soundbar with my setup and it works great (review coming later), but HUMU was an entirely different experience. Being able to not only hear but feel the rumble of the engines and hear the cars whizzing past each side of your head made an already fantastic game even that much more fun. One thing I did notice though was that the additional vibration from the Flexound Xperience seemed to surface a bit more when I was using HUMU while sitting in the gaming chair. I think this is due to the rounded headrest area and racing seat like design which didn’t allow the HUMU Smart Cushion to lay flat against the chair. Turning down the sound a bit did fix this to some extent, but I surmise that HUMU works best when the back of the cushion is laying on a flat surface without any space underneath it.

To round out the testing, I fired up Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War on the Xbox One and connected HUMU to my Xbox One controller with a 3.5mm audio jack and it worked as expected. Forza Horizon 3 offered a similar experience to Apex on the PC, and the explosions, bullets, and other low-frequency sound vibrations definitely enhanced the gameplay experience in Gears of War.

If you’re still with me on the sound part and haven’t skipped on, the experience really is hard to describe. I had my kids try it out as well and took it over to a friend’s house for him and a few others to try as well. The reaction was pretty much a universal “this is so cool!” and a smile from everyone who tried it. In fact, the kids didn’t want to give it up when I told them their turn was over.

Oh, and one more note about the sound. When you’re lying on the pillow and listening to it even at full volume, you’d think it would disturb others in the room as well. That’s simply not the case as while lying on the couch and listening to music drowns out almost everything else in the room, others can still converse 5 to 6 feet away without having to raise their voices.

Even though Flexound told us that they are working on fine-tuning the higher frequencies, I was impressed with the sound put out by HUMU as it is.

Battery Life

Flexound indicates that the HUMU Smart Cushion will last around 8 hours on a single charge when used at moderate volumes. So far I’ve used it for just over 6 hours at around 80-90% volume and the LED lights aren’t indicating low battery yet. As such, you should definitely see 8 hours on a single charge when used at moderate volumes as Flexound claims.

Price/Value

With just over 20 days left in the Indiegogo campaign as of today, Flexound has already raised 69% of their $35,000USD flexible campaign. There are a number of options available starting with the $299USD Early Bird HUMU, a savings of $100 from the expected retail price of $399. The Early Bird HUMU is available in grey (100 available) or graphite (120 available) with delivery expected next month. Once those run out, you can still order one with an anticipated June 2017 delivery for $349USD.

Flexound is also offering a leather version of the HUMU Smart Cushion. The Early Bird White Leather is already sold out with 8 black leather HUMU and 13 Indiegogo Exclusive grey leather HUMUs still available for a cost of $399 and shipping in March. After those are sold out, leather HUMUs will be available for $449 which is $50 below the MSRP of $499 once it hits retail stores.

While $300 might seem like a lot for a pillow, the HUMU Smart Cushion really does enhance music listening, movie watching, and gaming. If you’re a music or movie lover, you’ll definitely be getting a new experience when you can actually feel the music you are listening to or feeling the sounds of the movie you’re currently watching.

In addition, for every thirty HUMUs sold through Indiegogo, Flexound is donating one Taikofon FeelSound Player to a disabled or autistic child.

Wrap-up

Flexound is working on licensing their Flexound Xperience module to other vendors for integration into any soft cushion or seat for use in movie theatres, cars, or furniture — and that’s just for starters. Given how well our HUMU prototype sample worked in a home environment, it’ll be interesting to see where else it might get adopted and make listening to music and watching movies even more immersive and enjoyable. HUMU already has a great, comfortable design with decent sound and a vibration experience to enhance music listening, movie watching, and playing games and with the enhancements Flexound is currently working on fine-tuning, HUMU is definitely a unique experience.

  Back on Indiegogo
*We were sent a prototype sample of the Flexound HUMU for the purposes of this preview.
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