TECHNOLOGY

Hong Kong invention that can stop earphone users going deaf

Aumeo adjusts sound for earphone users' left and right ears by filling in missing frequencies, 'like glasses for your ears'. It means you hear clearly at a lower volume

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 July, 2015, 1:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 31 July, 2015, 11:04am

If you head to your local electronics store and take a peek around the audio section, you're bound to find a wide range of headphones and earphones. It's easy to find a pair that matches your style, but it's more difficult to find a pair that sounds just right because everyone hears sounds differently.

Aumeo is like glasses for your ears. We allow you to hear all the music as it should be heard
Paul Lee, Aumeo CEO

Not only are the shapes of our ear canals and our eardrums different on a physiological level, but the listening ability can vary between our left and right ear. Hong Kong-based start-up Aumeo wants to bring real customisation to the way we hear music - while still allowing us to wear the headphones of our choice. Its plug-and-play solution not only makes music sound better, but it could also save your hearing.

"Ears, like any part of our body, differ from person to person," says Aumeo co-founder and CEO Paul Lee. "We just don't notice the uniqueness of our hearing sensitivity as it can be hard to quantify."

Aumeo comes in the form of a small silver or black box, a little less than half the size of an iPhone 6 but about twice as thick. It connects to a user's smartphone, computer or audio equipment via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack cable, then hooks up to headphones via a second 3.5mm jack. It charges via micro USB and features a volume wheel, an LED indicator light, and a WT32i Bluetooth module. On a full charge, it can run for about eight hours on Bluetooth or 10 hours on a jack.

With the companion AumeoPlayer app, users can map out a customised sound profile for each of their ears. It then optimises that baseline by filling in missing frequencies that might have gone unheard otherwise.

"Aumeo is like glasses for your ears," Lee says. "We allow you to hear all the music as it should be heard."

Custom audio settings are saved in both the AumeoPlayer and on the device itself, and multiple profiles can be saved for different users. Without Aumeo physically plugged in, the companion app can still play customised music from your library, but not for third-party services such as Spotify or YouTube. When plugged in, however, it can tweak the sound of just about anything with a 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth connectivity.

"Aumeo is designed to take your tailored audio experience beyond your phone's music library," Lee says. "With it, you can apply your profile to all audio output, whether it's from your phone, computer, hi-fi system or record player - anything that puts out a sound signal that we can intercept."

When your music is tailored to your audio profile, you can enjoy a better audio experience and sound clarity at a lower volume
Paul Lee

Lee, a former financial analyst and Silicon Valley veteran, met co-founder Charles Andrew van Hasselt in 2009. Van Hasselt, a renowned otologist and the chairman of the Chinese University of Hong Kong's ear, nose, and throat department, is the chief inventor of the technology that powers Aumeo. His involvement is the reason the start-up claims it can do more than make your music sound better - Aumeo, Lee says, could potentially save your hearing.

"In our clinical trials for people with normal hearing - that is, people whose audio profiles are still uniquely different but fall into the range of 'normal hearing' - we were able to get people to naturally reduce their listening volume. Because when your music is tailored to your audio profile, you can enjoy a better audio experience and sound clarity at a lower volume - reducing the strain on your hearing and preventing you from subconsciously turning up the volume to damaging levels," Lee says.

The Aumeo team, now four strong, launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the first production run of its gadget last month, and are well on their way to reach their target of US$40,000.

Potential backers still have time to snag an Aumeo for US$99 (plus shipping) - 23 per cent cheaper than the anticipated retail price.

This story was first published by TechInAsia.