App of the Week – Awareness! The headphone app

If you cycle or run while pumping tunes at your eardrums, this could save your life

Price: 59p

Platform: iOS

While wrestling with iTunes occasionally makes me consider ending it all, few music apps claim to be actual life-savers. Awareness is an app designed for anyone who listens to music in public, and especially those brave souls who run or ride bikes while grooving down to Rihanna.

Awareness listens to the world beyond your earbuds and feeds through sounds louder than a certain threshold – perhaps just someone commenting on your terrible taste in music, perhaps a bendy bus bearing down on you with homicidal intent.

The interface is a straightforward decibel meter with a needle that twitches to every revved engine or screaming passer-by. Having exterior sounds pop into your ears is strange at first but soon feels pretty normal, although speech does come through a little distorted.

The basic version lets you set the microphone threshold yourself, which is fine for environments with a pretty stable noise level. If you’re regularly out and about, though, upgrade to the AutoSet system (another 59p), which dynamically adjusts the threshold so you only get alerted to unusual noises. The other paid upgrades, to autopause music, improve voices and display sound pressure levels for hearing loss paranoiacs, are less essential.

Ultimately, we only need Awareness because of all the bad drivers around. No one expects motorists to roll down their windows and pick up every whisper of ambient noise. But then car drivers don’t generally get turned to jam in a 20mph impact. Sadly, Awareness could well be a modern essential for music on the move.