Self-learning “hearables” are using ambient noise and interactivity to personalize music.
Hearables are smart, wireless in-ear devices that promise to deliver a listening experience that is richer and more immersive than what consumers can get through traditional headphones. Often, they also aim to expand the boundaries of wearable technology, adding extra layers of sound that amount to augmented reality for the ear.
Several companies have recently created immersive and adaptive earpieces that calibrate listening profiles and adjust to users’ lifestyles. Doppler Labs’ Here One wireless earbuds incorporate outdoor sounds as an essential part of the listening experience, allowing users to mix and master their environment through filtering and layering real-world noise. Listeners can use a smartphone app to tune out subway screeches, eavesdrop on outside conversations, and balance game commentary with crowd feedback.
LifeBEAM is using artificial intelligence to enhance the audio experience, through earphones that come with an interactive AI personal trainer called Vi. The company’s technology allows users to hear their own heartbeats and customize playlists to match current or desired rhythms.
Wearables today “are absolutely lacking the contextual, insightful, actionable user experience,” said Omri Yoffe, CEO of LifeBEAM. In contrast to these products, he said, Vi tailors earphones to a user’s lifestyle, providing real-time guidance during workouts and checking in outside of training.
Even, which launched a new set of earbuds in June 2016, takes an “EarPrint” of each user to customize its settings. Upon installation, users take a 2-minute listening test that serves as an audio prescription. The test plays different frequencies of sound in each ear and, as they get louder, asks users to indicate when they first perceive them to understand their hearing.
“Headphone technology has been the same for about 100 years—very analog,” explained Pam Kramer, Even’s CMO. “We’ve actually taken headphones into a wearable device as a different type of computer, going from being passive to being active.”
Nura is also developing adaptive headphones that automatically create a hearing profile to match devices to listeners’ ears. The company’s hearing test uses an in-ear microphone to analyze “otoacoustic emissions” or OAEs, which are faint sounds that return from the inner ear. This helps Nura determine a user’s sensitivity to different audio frequencies.
Hearable technology also has potential for use among the elderly. Since the human hearing range can change by up to 25 dB (28%) over the course of a lifetime, hearable technology’s corrective features can help people adjust as their hearing evolves. These devices may even reduce the stigma that people with hearing impairments face by allowing them to use the same earpieces as everyone else.
Hearables are giving rise to new opportunities for personalization and engagement with an active audience. “The true vision is to create an entity that can live within different devices, and this is where the market is going,” predicted Omri Yoffe.