This sleek window gadget could block it out city noise.

On the other side of nearly any urban window is an incessant pest. Whirring and humming at all hours of the day, the background noise of city life is hard to avoid. From honking cars to garbage trucks to the ambient hum of traffic moving in all directions, the din leads many people to keep their windows shut.

Sound Eclipse is a new prototype device that aims to give city dwellers a chance to fight back against the noise and reopen their windows. Designed by Moscow-based industrial design firm Kristil&Shamina, it’s a noise-canceling orb that’s meant to hang elegantly in a window, with the smooth black curves of a high-end stereo.

[Photo: Courtesy Kristil&Shamina]

A microphone on the back of the device captures noise from the outside, and speakers on the room-facing side emit sound waves that match and invert the wave of those exterior sounds, effectively canceling them out. The project is now a finalist for the Lexus Design Award; a winner will be announced later this spring.

The idea for the device came from the designers’ own experience of city living, in Moscow. “We live in a big city, there has always been a lot of noise,” explains Kristina Loginova, cofounder of Kristil&Shamina, in an email. “Recently I began to get more tired, [I had more] headaches, and my memory got worse. I noticed that it was affected by noise, especially at night or in the morning.” Noise pollution, studies have repeatedly confirmed, can impair cognitive development and increase stress.

The simple solution would be to keep the windows closed. But Loginova says there are immediate downsides to blocking out the outside, particularly cutting off fresh air. “I bought an air quality monitor, and found that the CO2 level was off the scale when the windows were closed,” she says.

Sound Eclipse is intended to provide the best of both worlds: fresh air from open windows but little of the annoying noise it carries.

[Photo: Courtesy Kristil&Shamina]

“It doesn’t totally cancel the noise,” Loginova concedes, but notes that tests have shown the device reduces noise by up to 15 decibels, or about the equivalent of wearing noise-canceling headphones. Most of the reduction is achieved in the low-frequency range, which is where that traffic noise and ambient city buzz typically sits.

Making the device work properly requires a bit of listening to the room. “Several microphones are placed in the room and machine learning algorithms calculate the sound wave propagation and adjust the noise canceling to work properly in this space,” Loginova says.

The project is still in its prototype phase, and Loginova says more work and investment will be needed to get it fully ready for market. “Active noise cancelation is a complex technology that is far from perfect. It requires high-speed sound processing and expensive hardware,” she says. Finalists for the Lexus Design Award receive up to $25,000 to develop their prototype, which is helping Kristil&Shamina get closer to production.

[Photo: Courtesy Kristil&Shamina]

Ideally such a device shouldn’t be needed at all. “The problem of noise should be solved at the government level,” Loginova argues. Some cities have launched efforts to cut down on the especially pernicious sounds of excessively noisy cars, but these policies are just beginning to be implemented and only target the loudest of the noisemakers. Loginova says the more pervasive background urban noise “is a complex problem related to urban planning, logistics, automobile traffic, and public transportation.”

Until cities come up with effective solutions for reducing this background hum—please don’t hold your breath—the job will fall to individuals in their own spaces. That means a lot of closed windows. If Sound Eclipse can come to market, city dwellers around the world will likely be ready to let quieter urban air back into their homes.