Hong Kong-based startup Aumeo wants to bring real customization to the way we hear music – while still allowing us to wear the headphones of our choice
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 offered in various form factors and colors. It’s easy to find a pair that matches your personal style, but it’s much more difficult to find a pair that sounds just right. Why? Because everyone hears sounds differently.
Not only are the shapes of our ear canals and our actual eardrums different from each other on a physiological level, but the listening ability of our own ears can vary between the left and right side. Hong Kong-based startup Aumeo wants to bring real customization 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,” explains 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 (exact dimensions for the latest prototype are 55mm x 55mm x 12mm). 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 customized sound profile for each of their ears. It then optimizes that baseline by filling in missing frequencies that might have gone unheard otherwise.
“Aumeo is like glasses for your ears,” Lee tells Tech in Asia. “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 customized music from your library, but not for third-party services like 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 audio profile to all audio output, whether it’s from your phone, computer, hifi system, record player – anything that outputs a sound signal that we can intercept.”
That’s also part of the reason the startup didn’t just design its own headphones. Lee adds, “Each headphone manufacturer has its own take on what audio should sound like. Audiophiles also have their own preferences as to how they enjoy sound: whether it’s stronger bass, warmer clarity, and so on. Aumeo seeks not to replace their take on audio enjoyment, but to measure each user’s hearing parameter and bring back the true intention of sound, before they tweak it to their liking.”
Lee, a former financial analyst and Silicon Valley veteran, met co-founder Charles Andrew van Hasselt in 2009. Van Hasselt, a world-renowned otologist and the chairman of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) department, is the chief inventor of the technology that powers Aumeo. His involvement is exactly why the startup claims that it can do more than simply 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 and Van Hasselt founded ACEHearing in 2010 and went on to win two Wall Street Journal Asian Innovation awards in 2011. In 2014, the startup was honored by Sir Richard Branson as the global winner of the Talent Unleashed Awards. Aumeo is still powered by ACEHearing technology, but Lee explains that they changed their name to make it more consumer friendly.
The Aumeo team, now four strong, launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the first production run of its gadget recently. In total, they managed to raise more than $272,000 with an initial goal of $40,000. Passing $220,000 has also unlocked a stretch goal that will see the aptX audio codec – which allows for CD-quality wireless sound – integrated with the device. It’s expected to ship in November.
Editing by Rohan Malhotra
This post was originally published on Tech in Asia.