Israeli start-up's headphones adapt to people's unique earprints

"The two basic precepts of the audio industry are that we all hear exactly the same, and that we all hear perfectly, and we know that that's biologically untrue."

June 30, 2016 18:16
2 minute read.

Passengers use their mobile phones on a skytrain in Bangkok June 20, 2014.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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It began simply enough, with a question between friends on which headphones offered the best quality. But when the friends in question are a technologist and a professional musician, the answer resulted in Even headphones.

“The two basic precepts of the audio industry are that we all hear exactly the same, and that we all hear perfectly, and we know that that’s biologically untrue,” said Danny Aronson, CEO of MeQ Inc., the company that created Even.

So Aronson, a classically trained composer, and his San Francisco-based technologist friend Ofer Raz, with backing from the First- Time fund, which is a part of TheTime group, decided to build a headphone that could adapt to any person’s unique “earprint,” or audiogram.

The headphones, painted a striking white for the right side and black for the left side, administer a short test upon first use, measuring how sensitive people are to eight different frequencies. After the test, it can figure out where some people have natural deficiencies or even slight hearing loss, and pump the audio through an algorithm to compensate for it, leading to richer sound.

According to Aronson, some 30 percent of Americans suffer from some level of hearing loss, a phenomenon which has been linked to some degree to overuse of headphones. The even headphones, he hopes, will help combat the problem. When people hear a sound more specifically tailored to their ear, they actually turn down the volume about 25-30 percent, he said.

The headphones have some drawbacks: they run on a separate battery, which means they need to be charged after a certain number of hours of use. But with rumors circulating that the next iPhone will eliminate the audio jack in favor of Bluetooth earphones or lightening port earphones, that problem may soon seem moot. At $99, they are not the cheapest headphones on the market, but they are more affordable than many of the premium brands.

Though the technology developed for the company tests a wider range of frequencies than most hearing aides, Aronson and Raz do not see a medical future for the technology.

Instead, they are hoping to branch out to other audio products, such as home speakers and car speakers. For now, they are focusing on the success of Even, which they are selling through their website.

“One day, picking out earphones and hoping they will fit your hearing ability will seem as bizarre as going into an eye store and randomly trying any pair of eyeglasses in hopes that they’ll fit,” Aronson said.

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