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…]