Hearables: Wireless Earbuds for Assistive Listening

Two forerunners in wireless Bluetooth EarBuds are driving the Hearables scene.  Bragi and Nuheara offer products that enhance sound for certain audio frequencies.  Today, these earbuds are targeted towards active people who like to invest in technology and who have some hearing impairment.

1. WHO are hearables for ?

If you want to spend $200 to $400 to use your ear buds to help with hearing impairment.

If you don’t have this kind of cash laying around, learning about hearables available today still gives you value.  Gather details about products so can ask your medical support team for what is possible for you.   Even using brand names with your doctors, your health providers, and your insurance companies can help you drive for more services.

Our own medical care depends on each of us being our own number one advocate.

If hearing is a problem for you, having a breadth and depth of smarts about hearables could aid you to ask your doctor for better support, or find a doctor or resource who can meet your needs.

2. WHAT are hearables ?

Hearables, Assistive Audio Devices, and Assistive Listening Devices are all descriptions of technologies to aid with hearing.

Hearing aids and wireless earbuds have merged. Hearable devices are a bigger and wider category recognized even by Wikipedia.

Best use – focusing on people talking, and de-emphasizing background noise.  >We want to amplify a sound, or a range of sound frequency.  Everyday Hearing has a great article describing the evolution from wearable to hearables, which includes hearing aids and earbud hearables.  We are focused on earbud hearables.   If you are totally deaf, this is probably better reading for you.

Samsung released their new earbuds Gear IconX  in February of 2018.  Gear IconX does have pretty cool ‘tap your earbud’ functions, and they can store music with 4G of storage, but do not have any assistive audio functionality so they are not a hearable for our purposes.

In January 2018, Bragi and Nuheara dominated the Consumer Electronics Show with their products that merge hearing aids, and ear buds.

3. WHERE is this technology right now?

There are two big companies on the market: Bragi and Nuheara.   Doppler Labs is no longer a player.  

  • Bragi has a designed their product, the Bragi Dash Pro Airbuds with Bluetooth.  It interacts with Android, Apple or Windows.
  • It also has 4GB of storage, so when you are offline you can source music from the actual earbuds without a phone.
  • There are ZERO wires.
  • Bragi says 30 hours of battery, 5 hrs of continue playtime, PASSIVE NOISE ISOLATION, biometric info, real time translation for 40 languages!!, and you can take a call.  You need your phone for most of that.
  • You can also use the earbuds as kinetic inputs – which means you can turn your head to go to the next song.
  • Verge reviewed Bragi Dash on March 18, 2016, and they criticized some of the dependability of bluetooth connectivity in that review for that product release.  I would expect that to have evolved dramatically by now; I hope that’s true.  John Velasco reviewed the Bragi Dash Pro in February 2018 – and he talks about ‘AUDIO TRANSPARENCY’ which allows you to turn up audio frequencies by range, which he says works really well.  His comments about the connects are much better than the Verge two years earlier.
  • In 2016, Bragi was talking about leveraging Watson for their functionality, which is very cool.   Bragi is also integrated with Alexa.
  • Bragi also has a groundbreaking data management strategy that gets them out of the cloud.  IT Infrastructure lesson here: remember when we talked about taking everything to the cloud? I mean even Cameron Diaz talked about the cloud.  New technology architecture is now evolving out of the cloud; that’s part of why blockchain is so interesting. This is probably why Bragi Dash Pro is so expensive, at almost $400.

Nuheara have designed their product, the IQbuds, with similar features.

  • They describe their high fidelity audio, dynamic noise control, speech amplification, blended audio worlds (I don’t know what that means), and Custom Tap Touch.  IQ buds have 16 hrs of streaming, or 32 hours of hearing processing.
  • I would like to know more about blended audio worlds; it sounds cosmic.
    Nuheara IQ buds are priced lower, closer to $200.

Engaget covered hearable technology 3 times already in 2018:  2018/01/072018/01/082018/01/14 so we know it is super in this season. After the  Eric Clapton announcement of Tinnitus are we looking for more solutions here? Here’s what the The Verge wrote about Headphones in Dec 2017.   If you are wondering why Alexa Earbuds aren’t in the mix yet, read this from Fast Company.

4. WHEN can I get AirBuds that help with Hearing  ?

January 2018 two products are available.  February 2018 Samsung drops an ear bud with 4G storage but no hearable, which shows more progress. 

Keep Watching

5. WHY would I want Assistive Audio ?

Because if you need the volume turned louder than speaking volume, you already have some hearing loss.

The NIH says

  • 15% of the main population has hearing loss
  • 25% of those ages 65-74 have hearing loss
  • 50% of those over age 75 have hearing loss

You also may soon be able to use your medical benefits to pay for hearing assistive devices.  There has been a recent change to classifying assistive hearing devices as Over-the-Counter per the Over-the-Counter-Hearing-Aid-Act of 2017.

Here is the summary of Assistive Devices for People with Hearing, Voice, Speech, or Language Disorders from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institute of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services.