We can all probably officially say that 2020 was bunk: between a raging, mutating plague that seems like a deep cut from a Danny Boyle film, all the way through whack-ass killer hornets and painful, unreconciled racial injustice, the year was a hackneyed sprint to close out a marathon of a decade.
Still, the sneakerheads among us can be resolute in the face of chaos: 2020 wasn't entirely unkind to the footwear game—we’ve seen insane kicks come through, from the 100 limited-run all-black Fear of God Nike drop to Undefeated’s throwback release of Nike’s Air Max 97s. But some of the most interesting shoes aren’t coming from our usual suspects like Nike, Adidas or Reebok: there are small companies on the come up pushing the very boundaries of footwear. Enter DropLabs, the scrappy upstart out of L.A. making crazy-ass shoes that let you feel sound. Yeah, you read that right.
We first got onto DropLabs after our boy Lewis of Unbox Therapy out of Ontario gave us the rundown on these suckers. The company dropped an all-black colourway back in August with a Yeezy-inspired design that cleverly hides subwoofers fitted seamlessly within the midsole. Trying them on, you’d never think you were standing on sneakers with bass banging enough to send vibrations up through your body. We know it’s been a minute, but think back to the last time you were at a club with the bass bumping so hard you could feel it in your body, or being so close to the stage at a live show that you could feel the deluge of sound from the monitor speakers and foldbacks. That’s the intensity (and the nostalgia factor) we’re hitting with DropLabs... and that’s not even where the fun starts.
Once you get them on, you can dive into a well-designed app to sync your shoes to your phone or any other Bluetooth capable device so that the sound you’re hearing—whether it be through a film, a video game, or music—is mirrored through a pulsing vibration in your feet. The app has different settings that elevate or diminish certain sound ranges for bespoke experiences: Velvet has got you covered for big bass sounds, Bright is the go-to for mid-range symphonic sounds, and Seismic is the one for big-time “Michael Bay” level sounds, where everything feels like an eruption.
The concept may seem unconvincing at first glance, and the shoes are a bit too gimmicky to rock casually. But once you think of these things less as a fashion statement and more as geek-approved entertainment enhancers, it all comes together: first-person shooter games have more resolution and clarity than ever, with heightened stimulation that allows you to immerse yourself in the action so deeply that you can feel your footsteps, firearm recoil, enemies in your periphery—anything. An old favourite song is multilayered and new, unspooling with deep tonal layers and mid-tones that you can now hear thanks to this crazy vibrating sensation. Movies with impeccably mixed soundscapes are a whole new experience to submerge yourself in, with the shoes a sensory guide through explosions, climactic moments, tense scenes, and diegetic sounds.
DropLabs are certainly not for the collector who prizes unworn shoes, kept mint for resale. You can only experience these jawns through wearing them and testing them out with what you like—be it music, games, TV, VR, whatever tickles your fancy (or your ears.) It’s an intensely personal experience that is sometimes missing from the sneakerhead journey. CEO Susan Paley, who was the OG chief executive at Beats by Dre, said that this is by design, and that each shoe is remarkably personable to the wearer and meant to be a way for us to re-engage with our favourite pastimes with new depth and immersion.
“We are wired to feel our experiences, it is what makes them real to us," said Paley. “The world is in a strange and disconnected place right now. Our technology is designed around feeling by activating the sensory system through the feet and simulating the feeling and excitement of a live experience, be it in music, gaming or movies. We integrated our tech into the midsole of the shoe, which is where much of the innovation in footwear occurs while working with well-known footwear designers to ensure that the fit and comfort and stylings required of a premium shoe would not be compromised. This is just the beginning, as our technology will be integrated into different form factors and designs through future collaborations."
These bad boys retail on DropLabs online store for $299.99 USD—which might seem a bit steep for kicks you'll probably never rock outside the house. But who says you'll be leaving the house anytime soon?