Anyone who works in a cubicle farm knows well the annoyance of being snuck up on by a coworker while wearing your earbuds, as well as the annoyance of being that coworker, trying to get the attention of another. So it’s surprising that an app with features like Awareness! hasn’t come along sooner, or even been implemented in music apps like Pandora.

Running in the background on iOS4, Awareness! brings outside noise filtered through your earbuds’ microphone pumping through earbuds while listening to music to help you be more (ahem) aware of your surroundings when necessary. Easily hear sirens or an oncoming car while aimlessly crossing the street with your music blasting, answer a co-worker when they ask a question on their way to your cube, or reply to Mother when she’s yelling down to the basement to see if you want corn or cabbage with dinner.

These are the claims, anyhow. But does it really work?

Read the full review after the jump

The app’s settings are designed to let you decide how sensitive your microphone and the app are at detecting outside noise to alert you to. Want to hear what it sounds like when your microphone brushes up against your hair? The app can do it. Like to hear what the clearing of your throat sounds like amplified? The app can do it. Or just want to hear when you’re being summoned by the boss across the office? The app can do it.

For a city-dweller like me, with earbuds glued into my ears at all times during a commute on public transportation, an app like Awareness! is just what I’ve been looking for. I’m a loyal Apple-provided earbuds user, cranking the volume so loud that there have been times I’ve missed my stop on the bus or train. With Awareness! running in the background while my iPod plays, I can easily hear the calls from the driver or conductor, as the sound is relayed to my earbuds from my microphone.

The app will only relay sounds to you when they’ve crossed a certain sound threshold, which can be adjusted in the settings. Though there were a few instances when the mic was sensitive enough to pick up the sounds of my mic brushing against my face while walking, the app, by and large, is absolutely expert at selecting prominent sounds to send to your earbuds. While on the train, I could hear the conductor calling my stop, but not the creaky rumbles of the tracks beneath me.

One feature that is still in the works and delayed by a bug in iOS4 is the ducking feature, which will be able to quiet your music or game playing when sounds that cross the threshold hit your earbuds. Though I’m not sure if I would use this feature once it’s ready, it’s a great option to have in certain situations, like the office. Until then, the app has a quick button on the home screen to lower the volume of whatever you’re listening to.

Recap & Conclusion

Price: $4.99
Our Grade: A

Though it seems a little pricey at first, this is one app that exemplifies what Apple created multitasking in iOS4 for. What may sound a bit like a novelty is actually a solid app with amazing noise isolation quality, which further proves the excellent quality of the iPhone itself. For anyone who’s had a near-death or near-termination experience while blasting sounds through their earbuds, this is one of the best investments you could make for your iPhone.

Awareness! requires iOS4.1 or later and works with iPhone4, 3GS, and iPod Touch 4th Generation.

Hurry, download it!