“Earprint” or the introduction to personalized sound
This article was first published on www.earprint.co
“What is personalized audio?”
This year, major events happened in the sound space which indicate that your senses will have a higher importance in the upcoming years. On September 7th, Apple announced the Wireless version of their EarPods, called AirPods. Though other companies already opened up the hearable market, when Apple picks up on technology like this the impact on the market will be significant. Just this week the headphone (and personalized audio) company Even announced their partnership with music streaming service Napster. It shows that the topic of personalized audio has arrived in the mainstream market and that is excellent news for all the ears out there.
This article is for you to get a better understanding and overview of the market and the potential that goes along with customising your audio experience. We’ll be summarising what personalized sound is, and you’ll find small pieces on different companies in the field. If you want to know who we are and what we normally do, visit our website or hear for yourself.
Personalized Audio: A Quick Explanation
To make the concept of personalized sound more comprehensible, let’s compare it with classic prescription sunglasses. Prescription glasses adapt the things you see to your vision abilities, so your imperfections get compensated. You can set your own preferences by choosing the lens color. This is basically what personalized sound is, with the difference being that it is digital and for your ears instead of your eyes:
The things you hear can possibly be adapted to your hearing ability (how well your hearing works), your personal preferences (more bass, more treble) but in addition also to the environment you are currently in (e.g. while commuting).
Why does Personalized Hearing become more and more important?
Put simply, the things we use our senses for are changing. We use technology differently than we did 10 years ago and this new form of usage requires all our senses, and this is exactly why Personalized Audio will become more prominent. Earlier this year, Apple introduced their Apple AirPods — wireless earphones — which means you won’t need to hold your phone as much anymore. Therefore, hearing and voice become more important than the ability to view and touch.
Most likely you do not know many people who own or use wireless earbuds… yet. Hard to imagine? — Just think about how many people owned a smartphone just a decade ago.
Also Siri recently started to talk to you, first on your phone but now also on your computer. Or take Amazon’s Alexa: What a great personal assistant — if you can hear her. And I could go on and on with this, as there are a million use cases already.
What is the potential scope of Personalized Sound?
There is a broad range of positive effects for everyone if sound personalization is done right: First, it simply sounds better because it is adapted to your hearing ability, your preferences, or/and your environment.
Second, people who suffer from mild to severe hearing loss are able to hear music again without too much distortion and without the need of wearing the hearing aid. Removing the stigma around hearing loss will also positively affect more than one billion people worldwide.
Coming back to the comparison with glasses: Personalized sound has the potential to make “hearing auxiliaries” as cool as a pair of glasses.
Please read below a selection of companies which are aiming for this to happen!
“Aumeo — Hardware works well because it makes the topic more tangible”
Aumeo Audio created a device that you can put between your headphones and the audio source you’re listening to. Tailoring the audio to your hearing takes about a minute according to their website, and can be done through their app.
Choosing a hardware solution that is separate from the headphones is an interesting approach. It means that you can listen to any audio source, while still using your favourite headphones. The main drawback is having to carry another device with you. Still, hardware works well because it makes sound personalization more tangible for people. With this little ‘black’ box, you intuitively know where the audio is changed to fit your hearing.
Providing their solutions in software might be an interesting path for Aumeo going forward. With the advent of the AirPods, and the trend of wireless audio that also Doppler and Bragi play into, having a physical device that you can only use with wired headphones will not be relevant anymore. The question is if their processing and fitting technology is unique enough to be able to be a pure software company? Hearing loss is not just the loss of sensitivity to frequencies, and having a pure software solution means that there is less headroom to play with the sound.
“Doppler earbuds show great potential in becoming an intelligent piece of tech in your ear”
Doppler is the company behind the wireless earbuds called Here One. The company wants to “redefine the way we engage with sound through technology”.
Doppler’s products attract users because they let you control live sound with an app that adjusts the earbuds with “real-world volume control, EQ, and sound effects”. Not only are you able to listen to your music wireless but you can also play around with live-sound, take phone calls or, what I found really interesting, amplify speech. Speech amplification can be a big bonus to people with hearing problems, while not being immediately identified as hearing impaired.
The company claims that you can “personalize” the sound to your needs because “we all hear the world differently”. Personalization in this case can mean the way you use the earbuds (music, live-sound, speech enhancement) and the level of EQs and sound effects you apply. Since Doppler is one of the first companies that provides such a hardware product, they have received a lot of attention from the media.
The earbuds show great potential in becoming an intelligent piece of tech in your ear. Remember that movie Her? Combining with the fact that they look good, are really tiny and claim to help with speech amplification, this could attract many customers indeed.
Business-wise the company has an impressive track record. After successfully launching a Kickstarter campaign which collected $635,189, they raised another 50 million dollars in four rounds and grew to over 50 employees.
“Human’s shape is inspired by the human ear”
Another company that claims to have invented “the future of audio” is “human inc”. The approach is reminiscent of Doppler’s Here One but still it aims to be different. Its shape is inspired by a human ear and it intentionally looks like a earmuff, covering the whole ear when put on and thus clearly visible for everyone.
Human headphones let you listen to music wirelessly, take phone calls, switch and blend between live sound and music just as the Here One. In addition the company says it has longer battery life, a touch control and a bunch of extra features such as sleep tracking or body monitoring. It even let’s you use the headphones as speakers when put on a table for example.
The company started with an Indigogo campaign (just as Doppler did on Kickstarter) and raised $518,525. Another 5 million dollars have been raised with investors.
For both Doppler and Human, the challenge lies in the hardware part of their business model. Building, improving and innovating hardware products that compete with the experience, quality and price of trusted players is a massive challenge.
In the end, if choosing a hardware device, the users also have to decide if they want a small, rather unobtrusive earbud which is controlled with an app or rather headphones that cover the entire ear, attract a lot of curious views and have touch control.
“Even Singular Sound wants to take your headphone experience up a notch”
Even recently released their Even Earphone and Even H1 headphone set. Their products allow users to hear personalized sound on a hardware device — challenging the current market of headphones, which is dictated by good looks.
They emphasize that no one’s hearing is the same; not even both of the same person’s ears, and that personalized hearing is the solution. As hearing abilities are unique, these devices promise an extraordinary sound experience by tuning it to one’s hearing via the EarPrint.
The EarPrint is a new terminology that expresses the uniqueness of one’s hearing, just like a fingerprint. It embodies the user’s hearing profile which is then used to personalize one’s sound experience. The term is simultaneously used by software company Mimi Hearing Technologies and more.
The company is among the first players in bringing the terms “personalized sound” and “earprint” to a bigger audience. For the sound and music space, these terms are rather new and it will still take time until everyone will understand that the times of mainstream sound are over now.
“Decibel Therapeutics are Striving for Perfection”
Hair cells are the structures in the inner ear responsible for converting the mechanical vibrations associated with sound into neural code. They are also responsible for the active properties of the inner ear which assist the listener when listening in noisy environments.
Within the hearing space, Decibel Therapeutics stands out as a company that is looking at therapies to protect and restore hearing through therapies that directly affect the function of these essential structures. Their publication list suggests that they will be looking at interventions more in the pharmaceutical domain rather than preprocessing audio for the individual as is done with conventional hearing instruments.
The precise embodiment of the products on the horizon is not entirely clear, but they publicly state that their “unique capabilities encompass animal models, drug delivery to the inner ear, imaging, inner ear PK/PD modelling and measurement, bioinformatics, genetics, and target identification”. Reliance on electronic devices for hearing will always have some limitations compared to audition as nature intended. Decibel Therapeutics are striving for perfection. We look on with anticipation.
Don’t worry — No need to read it all:
Here you can find some short descriptions from companies that we find interesting in alphabetical order:
Aumeo Audio — “Audio customized to every ear” — Aumeo Audio is located in Hong-Kong and derives from ACE Communications Limited which is working on audio profile based technologies since 2010. In November 2014, Aumeo Audio was seed-funded with an undisclosed amount from the incubator “Brinc” — also based in Hong-Kong.
Aumeo Audio’s personalizer device has to be plugged in-between the audio source and headphones. It then adjusts the sound based on the user’s hearing profile before it gets transmitted further to the actual headphones.
Bragi “Dash” — “Listen. Track. Communicate.” — Munich-based Bragi was founded in 2013 and has around 120 employees. Having started with a successful crowdfunding campaign in 2014, Bragi raised $3.3 Million followed by another investment of $22 Million in november 2015 by yet publically unknown investors. Bragi’s flagship is the wireless and waterproof hearable Bragi Dash. The Bragi Dash offers tracking of fitness data, control of environmental sounds and, gesture interactions. It comes in three different sizes to match the dimension of your ears.
Decibel Therapeutics! — “Protect. Repair. Restore.” — Founded 2015 in Cambridge, USA Decibel Therapeutics’ team consists of 32 employees and has raised $52 Million funding within one series. The funding is mainly backed by bio-tech and health-focused venture capital Third Rock Ventures whose founder is also the CEO of Decibel Therapeutics. By discovering and defining the biological causes for hearing disorders, Decibel Therapeutics develops new drugs to protect, repair and restore hearing.
Doppler Labs “Here One” — Doppler Labs was founded in 2013 and is based in San Francisco with 72 employees. They have raised a total equity funding of $51 Million. Their wireless earables Here One allows you to change the way your environment sounds and to adjust your listening experience according to your preference and taste. Additionally, numerous smart filters are available for specific environments (e.g. near an airplane).
Even Headphones — “Even is reinventing the way you listen to music, podcasts, and anything at all, based on your unique hearing.” — Israel-based and San Francisco headquartered Even Headphones just launched its recent partnership with streaming service Napster. Founded in 2014, Even is currently funded with $2 Million and has 10 employees. A pair of Even earphones currently costs $99 USD and can be adjusted to your hearing ability through a quick hearing test that determines your “earprint”. The hearing test can also be done on their website.
Human Inc headphones — “Discover sound with human” — Seattle based Human Inc.has a total equity funding of $5.75 Million and already has a huge media presence supported by various eye-catchingl yet controversial videos on their channels. Founded in January 2015, approximately 30 people currently work for Human Inc. Their striking, large, and wireless headphones offer functions to control environmental sounds and are available in different sizes that can be adjusted to the shape of your ears. The personalization is not based on the hearing ability itself, rather on social and preference features.
Jacoti — “Hearing without barriers” — With its headquarter in Wevelgem, Belgium and its development centre in Barcelona, Spain and a comparably small team of only three, 2012 founded and privately held Jacoti offers various CE-approved and FDA-registered iOS apps. The apps provide an integrated hearing test on which Jacoti bases their personalization. With its clinically reliable results in real-life environments, Jacoti has a strong focus on the medical environment.
Mimi Hearing Technologies — “Sounds like you” — Named MIDEM’s and Mobile Premier Awards’ winner in 2016, Mimi Hearing Technologies builds smartphone-based tools for people to hear better. Mimi’s patent-pending technology creates your personal “earprint” that seamlessly integrates with your favorite music source to create sound perfectly tailored for you. With over one million tested ears, twelve years of R&D and a patent pending sound processing, Mimi is the expert for hearing ability and behavior. Mimi consists of a team of passionate scientists, audio engineers and designers, based in Berlin and dedicated to delivering the best listening experiences today and in 20 years from now.
Nura Headphones — “Headphones that learn and adapt to your unique hearing” — New-to-the-market and Melbourne based Nura is currently running its kickstarter campaign and has already raised $1.8 Million. As of November 8, 2016, the new founded company counts 7 people. Nura’s headphones are especially interesting because they personalize sound based on your unique hearing ability — a similar approach to Even’s headphones.
Psy X Earprint — Launched 2015, privately held Psy X’s Earprint is located in Los Angeles, USA and is a team of two. The Earprint app is available on iOS and is based on the audio processing research from Psy X. The app adjusts music on your smartphone depending on era of the song, background environment, your hearing and expectations, along with the compression of the song. Psy X’s earprint has not been updated since April 2015.
uSound — “Better hearing means better quality of life” — uSound is located in Jujuy, Argentina and consists of ten people working from headquarters in Buenos Aires and Boston, USA. The Argentinian branch focuses on Spanish-speaking people. It closed three funding rounds, raised $7718K in total and is mainly backed by the telecommunication accelerator Wayra, a subsidiary of the Spanish Telefonica group. uSound offers an iOS and Android app which adjusts all the audio content on your smartphone to your individual hearing ability. This is determined with an in-app integrated hearing test.
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