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. While the video focused on environmental noise, SoundFest President and CEO David Duehren also notes the system will be ideal for consumers who have trouble hearing the TV without turning it up louder than the other listeners in the room want it. Just place the iPhone next to the TV’s speakers, and you’ll get all the volume you need transmitted directly into your earpiece.
Because the system leverages standard iPhone and Bluetooth hardware, the costs will be attractive, competitive with high-value iPhone apps and aggressively priced high-quality Bluetooth consumer products. Pre-release versions of the app and the earpiece are being offered on the company’s Indiegogo fundraising page at discounted prices. You can order the Real Clarity iPhone app for $15 or the Bluetooth earpiece plus the app (plus a SoundFest t-shirt) for $100. If you don’t own an iPhone, you can also order an iPod Touch with the app installed, along with the earpiece, for $300 (you get a t-shirt with this order, as well).
Also coming soon is a Real Clarity system for Android phones. Among other things, SoundFest technology is addressing the latency problem (delay between an audio signal being received and processed for the user to hear, which can make some live real-time applications impractical) with Bluetooth chips and smart phone operating systems. The Bluetooth earpiece will also be t-coil compatible, which means current users of hearing aids will be able to get the benefit of the noise-filtering technology as well.