Imagine a near-invisible, in-ear wireless device that combines hi-fi listening, sensor-driven health and fitness monitoring, hands-free phone calling and user-customizable hearing enhancement into a single package no larger than a peanut. That far-off vision started coming into focus at last week’s International CES show, where wireless headphone makers gave a peak into the future of “hearables,” a new class of in-ear Internet-connected consumer products that one forecaster says will be a $17 billion global market by 2020.
By now most people have heard of “wearables,” the body-worn Internet-connected devices that perform multiple applications for consumers. Right now the most common of these are wristwatches or wristbands that monitor your vital signs during exercise. One research firm predicts the global market for wearables will grow to more than $30-billion USD by 2018.
But don’t be surprised when you start to hear a lot about a fast-growing subset of wearables called “hearables” — a new class of Internet-connected in-ear devices that provide multiple forms of communication and biometric monitoring with the potential to act as hearing aids or personal sound amplifiers as well. In fact, one well-informed analyst, Nick Hunn, predicts the annual global market for in-ear hearables will grow from zero to more than more than $5 billion by 2018.
The question for the hearing industry will be how well and quickly it can respond to the opportunity. [Read more…]
Sound World Solutions has added an iPhone app, music streaming, improved directional microphones and longer battery life to its line of Bluetooth personal sound amplifiers with the introduction of its new CS50 model.
Priced at $349.99 and available direct from the company’s web site, the new model incorporates wireless features that expand its functionality well beyond sound amplification and reception of Bluetooth phone calls.
Sound World Solutions promises to “clean up” sound with a combination of digital signal processing, compression, feedback reduction, echo and noise cancellation, Bluetooth low-power technology, and directional microphones.
In layman’s language, the CS50 and entry-level CS10 ($299.99) pack advanced digital technology into a small package that looks like a typical Bluetooth earpiece, enabling not only amplification of quiet sounds a listener normally wouldn’t hear, but also better comprehension of speech in noisy environments, along with high-clarity Bluetooth phone reception. (Check out the animated video produced by Sound World Solutions that provides one of the best and clearest explanations of digital sound processing that we’ve seen).
At the same time, the CS50 utilizes the Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) to add high fidelity streaming of MP3 music, podcasts and video chats. And the CS50 is now compatible with iPhones running iOS7 as well as with Android phones, with corresponding apps that can be used not only to stream music and phone calls, but also to control functions such as audio volume and sound quality.
Because it uses low-power Bluetooth 4.0 technology, the CS50’s batteries also now last up to 15 hours before they need to be recharged.
Personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) are not hearing aids designed to compensate for hearing loss. Rather, they are for people with normal hearing who want to hear better in challenging listening environments. High-tech PSAP manufacturers such as Sound World Solutions are integrating amplification with other advanced functions to make them attractive to tech-savvy communicators who don’t necessarily need or want a hearing aid.[table “8” not found /]
The New York Times has weighed in on the confusion between hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs) with a well-researched article that explains the issues well. Unfortunately, it still falls short of clearing up the confusion about what should be classified as a hearing aid, what not, and why you should buy one or the other.
Instead, “Just Don’t Call Them Hearing Aids” goes off on a surprising tangent — reporting that PSAP makers are designing their products to look more like Bluetooth earpieces than hearing aids, “betting that the high-tech look of a new generation of sound amplifiers will tempt people to try them.”
Ever since I read a story in Network World three years ago entitled “It’s official: Wearing a Bluetooth headset makes you ugly,” I’ve shied away from making the argument that wearing any kind of earpiece is “cool.” It’s a pretty funny story, based on a survey that was done about what kinds of gadgets each sex finds attractive or unattractive in the other. The survey found that people by and large did not find most gadgets very attractive. [Read more…]
A new generation of Bluetooth earpieces is coming in 2014 that should give a lot of help to people struggling with a little bit of hearing loss.
Three startup companies have recently gotten a lot of attention for new products that perform double duty by improving the clarity of Bluetooth phone calls while also providing hearing assistance in challenging listening environments.
- First out of the gate is Sound World Solutions of Chicago, which started selling its CS10 Personal Sound Amplifier in 2013 and was the subject of a CBS Evening News report on Christmas Eve about its ambitious plan to bring affordable hearing assistance to millions of people in the developing world.
- In Silicon Valley, Soundhawk, a company founded by a legendary hearing-aid industry pioneer Rodney Perkins, announced it raised $5.7 million in venture capital for its Bluetooth hearing enhancement earpieces. Bloomberg BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal both reported on Soundhawk’s plan to deliver an affordable Bluetooth earpiece in 2014 that uses sophisticated hearing-aid sound processing to provide “situational” hearing assistance to consumers.
- And Boston-based SoundFest is putting the finishing touches on its RealClarity Earpiece that works with an iPhone app and amplifier to clarify speech in noisy environments while also improving Bluetooth phone reception.
We’ve been waiting a long time for this inevitable marriage of Bluetooth earpieces with personal sound amplifiers featuring sophisticated hearing aid sound processing technology. Watch for these and other announcements in 2014 that should open up the market for consumer products providing affordable hearing enhancement.
If you need a little help hearing better in noisy restaurants or are having trouble hearing the phone or understanding the dialogue on your favorite TV show, VitaSound Audio Inc. has a great new solution for you.
The Canadian hearing aid company has packed some of its most sophisticated sound processing technology into a slick multifunction personal sound amplifier that not only helps you hear better in challenging listening environments but also streams crystal-clear phone and TV audio directly into your earbuds.
The VitaSound Personal Audio Enhancer (PAE 300) incorporates the company’s Neuro-Compensator technology, previously available only in its high-end hearing aids costing several thousand dollars, into a consumer product available on the web for only several hundred dollars. [Read more…]
VitaSound Audio Inc., the Canadian hearing aid company known for its sophisticated Neuro-Compensator sound processing software, is taking its high-end technologies into the consumer market with a new personal sound amplifier. The new VitaSound Personal Audio Enhancer (PAE-300) is a multifunction amplifier that conditions and clarifies environmental sound as well as TV, phone and MP3 audio signals.
The product is the first personal sound amplification product (PSAP) I’ve seen that you can use in both a conversation mode — with a microphone that picks up a speaker’s voice and processing software that dampens background noise — and in TV or telephone listening mode, where the software enhances and clarifies the audio to make listening and comprehension easier. And it’s sold at a price, between $200 and $300-plus on the web, that’s competitive with other quality PSAPs and high-end TV audio-streaming products.
The product is interesting enough in its own right (for a more complete description, see our writeup on Hearing Products News). But even more significant is what it says about the new directions more hearing aid technology developers and manufacturers should go as they try to find new growth markets beyond the relatively small niche of hearing-aid users dealing with moderate-to-severe hearing loss. [Read more…]
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to split hairs as it attempts to draw a clear distinction between hearing aids, which are Class I medical devices subject to government regulatory oversight, and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which are not. While its recent draft guidance document updating its 2009 Regulatory Requirements has more emphatic wording, it continues to draw the same inadequate distinction between the two types of devices. Unfortunately, the new guidance as currently drafted seems destined only to exacerbate the simmering conflict between hearing aid makers and PSAP marketers.
In 2009, the FDA said the difference was in the intended use of each product. It said because hearing aid makers market their products as a way to alleviate a medical problem — hearing loss — they should be subject to government regulations. But as long as PSAP makers only market their products for recreational uses such as “hunting (listening for prey), bird watching, listening to lectures with a distant speaker, and listening to soft sounds that would be difficult for normal hearing individuals to hear,” they are not selling medical devices and need not be regulated.
In other words, if the PSAP is not sold as a way to correct hearing loss, it’s not a medical device subject to regulatory oversight.
But PSAPs use the same technologies as hearing aids, look like hearing aids, and amplify environmental sound like hearing aids. And the new FDA document does little to resolve the question that’s bothering everyone: “If it quacks and has a bill, wings, white feathers and webbed feet, isn’t it a duck?” [Read more…]