PHOTO: The self-tuning generation of Quietvox audio receivers. (photo by Jason Leppert)

Anyone who has ever taken a river cruise (or some ocean ones) has run across the tour audio devices known as Quietvox.

They are both helpful and frustrating and though they have evolved over the years, there is still much room for improvement.

At their core, Quietvox brand electronics are wireless audio repeaters that dangle from a neck lanyard and play sound through a tethered earpiece. A tour guide will have a transmitting variant with a headset attached that broadcasts their commentary while those following tune in to listen.

The idea is that large groups can hear the guide even when not standing near them or the guide is turned away walking forward and leading.

Since most river cruise lines include shore excursions in their fare, a pair of such devices are generally charging in each stateroom for double occupants to use during the length of the voyage. Fresh singular earpieces are provided to plugin, or you can use your own two ear headset.

Once everyone is dialed in, touring with Quietvox is wonderful. Every individual picks up on the same live information wherever they go. The trick, of course, is to stay mindful of your surroundings as even one occupied ear takes a degree of sensory perception away. For the sake of safety alone, it’s always important to stay alert when traveling abroad.

Even though you may still be able to hear your guide, it’s important to be able to see and keep up with them as well. If the audio begins to cut out, you’ve gotten out of range and likely separated.

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I have now used three generations of the technology and only one is foolproof. The first was the self-tuning kind—brilliant in theory. Everyone in a particular group had to huddle around the guide and turn on their units as they automatically picked up the transmitter’s frequency. However, the process often occurred close to other groups doing the same thing, causing devices to frequently tune in to the wrong guide’s commentary.

The more common version now has a scanning pen tip that either can read fine print off a guide’s flag (aka lollipop) or a numbered and colored card that guests themselves carry in their pocket. This technically works fine, but often people forget to bring the card, which is another bother to consider. The lollipop scanning approach is the best in this case.

The simplest, however, is the generation that just allows each user to manually dial in a numeral that corresponds to the group number. No other extras are required, and it works every time.

Where the technology can still be improved is in the receiver and earpiece themselves. If you’re anything like me, and you’re carrying a camera around your neck already, it really is rather bothersome to have to dangle something else there plus string an audio cable back up to your head. Even without a camera, the whole ensemble is still cumbersome.

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The ideal solution would be an all-in-one earpiece that serves as the receiver as well, eliminating any other bodily extensions. As this might require more nanotechnology to accomplish, it may perhaps be a bit cost-prohibitive at the moment, but at least we can dream. In the meantime, some sort of wireless Bluetooth headphone alternative would go a long way.

One final consideration, though, is to give up the Quietvox occasionally. I’ve found that the constant audio commentary makes it more difficult to be fully present in the destination.

Instead, why not try engaging with your surroundings by tuning in with all of your senses?

This post first appeared on TravelPulse.

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