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…]
While GN ReSound and Starkey introduced Made for iPhone hearing aids, a third member of the “Big Six” fraternity of leading global hearing aid makers, Oticon, has opted for a different approach.
Instead of introducing a new hearing aid, Oticon’s new Made for iPhone ConnectLine Streamer Pro 1.2 and ConnectLine App will enable all of the wireless hearing aids it has sold since 2007 to synch up with Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices. [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.
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…]
Phonak’s new “Roger” wireless hearing aid peripherals make it easier to understand conversations in noisy environments, hear the TV and stereo, and communicate more effectively on both mobile and landline phones. Taken together, the new products comprise a wireless ecosystem for Phonak hearing aid users. By transforming hearing aids into connected, multi-function communications devices, they enable users to hear well in a range of challenging listening environments where hearing and comprehension previously were impossible.
Based on a new digital signal processing chip set and proprietary 2.4 GHz digital transmission technology, the Phonak wireless devices promise substantial new benefits for hearing-aid users, especially those with severe hearing loss.
Plenty of traditional hearing aid companies and technology startups are reaching for the Holy Grail of hearing loss correction: a product enabling people to understand what their table mates are saying in noisy restaurants. But SoundFest Inc. of Boston is among the few using the ubiquitous Apple iPhone as a low-cost, high-quality signal processing platform to deliver a practical, real-world solution to the speech-in-noise challenge.
SoundFest is readying its Real Clarity iPhone app that will enable you to use your smart phone as a microphone and speech processor with standard earbuds to filter out unwanted sounds, making it easier to understand speech in noisy environments. Users will be able to place the iPhone on the table as a microphone to get the enhanced audio through their earbuds. The company is also developing a Bluetooth earpiece with additional proprietary digital signal processing that will enhance wireless signals from the iPhone.
To get a sense of the benefit provided by a good signal processing algorithm that filters out unwanted noise, the company has posted a compelling YouTube video that demonstrates the difference without and without its Real Clarity sound processing. [Read more…]
Oticon’s ConnectLine communication devices have made it easier for users of hearing aids to listen to their Apple iPods and personal MP3 players, their TVs, and their Bluetooth mobile phones for a while now. But with yesterday’s introduction of the Oticon ConnectLine personal microphone, you’ll finally be able to hear your dinner companion as well, even in a noisy restaurant.
The new wireless Oticon ConnectLine Microphone clips to your conversation partner’s lapel and picks up his or her voice while filtering out unwanted background sounds. It transmits the audio directly to the ConnectLine Streamer, which you wear on a loop around your neck, and the streamer transmits the unadulterated audio signals directly into your Oticon Agil hearing aids. It can also be adjusted to transmit at frequencies most compatible with the listener’s hearing-loss profile and hearing aids.
Ever since the big hearing aid makers began incorporating communication receivers directly into hearing aids, there’s been a not-so-quiet revolution in people’s ability to connect to more of the sounds of the modern world. But strangely enough, it’s taken some time for the major manufacturers to come up with workable assistive-listening solutions for the most common complaint of hearing-aid wearers–comprehension of speech in noisy surroundings. The ConnectLine Microphone is one approach to the speech-in-noise problem that is small and easy enough to actually be useful in the real world. When you add to the Oticon ConnectLine solutions for your TV, phone and personal listening system, you end up with a complete, end-to-end listening and comprehension system. [Read more…]