The Atari Speakerhat is the definition of a niche product.
Being a cap, its practical purpose is to shield your eyes from the sun. But it’s also speaker, meaning that if you wear it outside, where the sun is, the general public will be able to hear your tunes and eavesdrop on your calls. Speakers are typically for use indoors.
Therefore its target market is people who spend time outside but alone. Gardeners, basically, and one other group: open-minded and relatively affluent fans of videogame paraphernalia.
If you fall into either of those two categories, the Atari Speakerhat is an absolute treat. It’s a fun, robust, surprisingly high quality party piece that you’ll get some practical use out of.
And, even if you’re not a gardener or a fan of videogame paraphernalia, you may find it useful in ways that surprise you.
Design and Features
The Atari Speakerhat comes in a range of different designs with flat and curved brims. Ours is a black Pong hat with a curved brim, a tasteful white ‘Pong’ badge stitched into the front, and ‘1972’ stitched into the back. We think it looks great, but if you don’t like it there are others that may be more to your taste.
Speakerhats aren’t cheap, but it’s clear that you’re not only paying for the electronic wizardry. This is a sturdy, well-made garment, with heavy cotton construction and a buckle at the back for adjusting the size. Even the box it comes in is reassuringly luxurious.
The battery, 2.5mm headphone socket, and Bluetooth gubbins are tucked into two pockets at the back, while the two speakers are stitched into the brim. Because the cap is relatively heavy duty already, the various hardware is surprisingly inconspicuous. You could easily wear this as a normal cap without anybody passing comment.
There’s also an on/off button on the left. Hold this down for a few seconds and three rising tones ring out, and a blue light flashes, indicating that your hat is on. Holding it for a few more seconds triggers pairing mode, and a brief ringing noise signifies a connection, while a strange dizzy noise indicates that a connection has failed.
When you get a call, your phone rings and so does your hat. You can answer on your phone in the normal way or by tapping the on/off button. Either way, the ensuing conversation takes place through the brim of your cap and the mic, and it all works perfectly well.
Privacy is obviously impossible during a call on the Atari Speakerhat, but if you’re alone or you don’t mind others eavesdropping it’s about as good a hands-free speakerphone set-up as you’re likely to find.
In fact, that’s another target customer right there: anybody who drives a lot and needs to make hands-free calls will get a lot of use out of this crazy technogarment.
According to the published specs, the Atari Speakerhat boasts “proprietary high-fidelity stereo speakers and microphone, V 4.1 CSR/Qualcomm cVc audio technology, 5 band EQ, Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile”, and more.
We suspect very few of you are nodding in recognition at this point, so we’ll just tell you what it sounds like. Though even this is a little bit tricky because we’ve never used anything quite like the Atari Speakerhat before.
A high fidelity audio experience it is not. Compared to more or less any set of headphones over £10, they lack bass, clarity, and pretty much any of the qualities that a discerning music-listener is looking for.
However, it’s not a pair of headphones. It’s a pair of (small) speakers. If you leave your Atari Speakerhat on your desk and listen to it from a distance it sounds pretty similar to a naked smartphone. Better, certainly, but not dramatically.
Except you don’t listen to these speakers on your desk. You listen to them on your forehead, and at that range they sound surprisingly passable.
To be clear, the Atari Speakerhat does not provide a sensational auditory experience for lovers of high definition music. But for the kind of casual listeners who just shrug when you demonstrate the soundstage on your new open-backed Sennheisers, it’s totally sufficient.
The Atari Speakerhat is an odd beast. On first inspection it has a very limited range of real world applications, and it’s fairly expensive for an audio device with undeniably indifferent audio quality.
But over time its surprising virtues will become evident, like exotic plants emerging from unexpected places.
It’s a great hands-free device for making calls, a convenient wearable speaker that lets you listen to music and podcasts without shutting yourself off from the world, and, if nothing else, a very nice hat.