Startup’s Wireless Earbuds Augment Hearing and Control Noise

Latest version of Nuheara’s IQBuds Boost can also be used by those who are hard of hearing

7 June 2018

Earbuds are designed so that we can listen to music on the go without disturbing others, but they also can leave us isolated. With the buds in our ears, it can be difficult to hear someone trying to get our attention—or a car heading our way as we cross the street. IQbuds Boost from Nuheara allow people to hear what’s going on around them as they listen to music or podcasts.

Member Alan Davis, who oversees Nuheara’s R&D and product development arm, in Perth, Australia, considers IQbuds Boost a hybrid of wireless earbuds and hearing assistance.

It relies on proprietary noise-reduction and speech-amplifier technology. Tap the right earbud once to hear everything in the immediate area, he says. Tap it again to shut out background noise. Two quick taps can activate Siri from the user’s smartphone.

Apple’s AirPods and other earbuds are meant for listening to music, while hearing aids help the wearer hear better. Boost earbuds can do both.

Boost is the follow-up to Nuheara’s IQBuds, its first product which was launched in January 2017 after a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The publicly held company had raised more than $792,000—1,460 percent of its funding goal.

Nuheara has grown to nearly 40 employees, with 14 on the product-development side.

“Our products give people control over what they hear,” Davis says. “Hearing is the one sense that is difficult to turn on and off.”

LOUD AND CLEAR

IQbuds can be synced with your smart devices. You can listen to a TED Talk on your laptop, for example, without missing the ring of an incoming phone call. And they can be worn during a conference to amplify a presentation if you’re in the back of the room.

Nuheara’s mobile app lets wearers customize the controls, such as which sounds to mute. You can set the buds on restaurant mode, for example, to reduce the volume of chatter, allowing you to focus on what your dinner guest is saying.

One shortcoming is the battery, which lasts eight hours maximum before it needs to be recharged—even less if being used continuously for, say, streaming music. Hearing-aid batteries, by comparison, can last as long as several weeks.

That is one important reason Boost buds are for situational hearing and cannot replace hearing aids, Davis notes. But at US $499, Boost buds for both ears cost much less than a typical hearing aid for one.

TRANSITIONING TO HEARING AIDS

Many customers who hear pretty well use IQbuds to augment their hearing in certain settings, according to Davis. But for those who are hard of hearing, he sees Boost as a transition product.

“When people learn they have hearing issues, it will take them an average of 7 to 10 years to decide to get hearing aids,” Davis says. “They’ll wait until their hearing is at such a poor level that they have no choice.”

A purchaser might buy Boost buds before hearing aids because they look like a consumer product rather than an assistive medical device, he says. They’re also a more affordable option for those who have mild to moderate hearing loss.

The earbuds share some of the same underlying technologies as those found in prescription hearing aids, including software that determines the wearer’s frequency range by completing a hearing assessment on the mobile app.

While people wear the buds, the user will tap a button on the app when they hear a tone. The app then automatically calibrates the buds based on the results. The software for the hearing assessment, NAL-NL2, was developed by National Acoustic Laboratories in Australia and is the leading prescription formula for hearing assistance.

The company holds workshops where people are paid to test its products and provide feedback. Of particular interest, Davis says, are people ages 40 to 60 who might need a transitional product before getting hearing aids.

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