From Berlin to Hong Kong: Soundbrenner builds wearable, vibrating metronome

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If you’ve ever felt you’re a slave to the mechanical beats of the metronome, a Hong Kong startup has an answer for you. Soundbrenner’s Pulse replaces the clicking metronome with the vibrations of a wristwatch, complete with customized settings, color tempos and swipes to change your beats.

“To be able to truly feel the beat you need to have a very strong vibration. Especially when you are in motion while playing music (think of a drummer). Existing devices such as the Apple Watch are not even remotely strong enough,” Florian Simmendinger tells Geektime. For comparison, our motor is rated at 7G whereas the Apple Watch is rated at 1G in vibration amplitude. That is the main reason a dedicated vibration device makes sense!”

It’s the brainchild of pianist and CEO Florian Simmendinger, rock drummer Julian Vogels and orchestra violinist Vini Tiet. Clearly, the trio knew what they wanted. For someone like me, the product looks and sounds amazing. Then again, I don’t have a musician’s background. So naturally I’m interested in why a product they say has to its detriment not been updated in 200 years would be something that should be replaced. Here are some of the arguments I found compelling.

The crew at Soundbrenner accuses the metronome of annoyance and draining musicians’ passions. The classic click also has a disadvantage versus the Pulse, whose vibrations are purportedly seven times stronger than average phone vibrations. You can touch to change the tempo, which it infers after just a few taps on the top of the device itself. The other option is to input the exact BPM (up to 300) by rotating the watch portion of the wearable, or adjusting it classic iPod style on the app itself. So instead of fidgeting with a smartphone, you can shift to your wrist and make the adjustments yourself.

The most interesting feature is Multi-Link, synchronizing up to 10 users at a time. It works through one bandmate’s smartphone whose app will serve as a hub. In that sense, it has an obviously localized metronome beat. For an epic ballad, the feature makes a lot of sense (How many many Slipknot-sized bands are battling it out in local coffee shops is a stat that escapes me).

“We are all musicians ourselves and had the idea to synchronize multiple players with a smart wearable while practicing. Everything else developed from there. The Soundbrenner Pulse is unique and actually the world’s first smart wearable for musicians,” Simmendinger regales.

Included in the app are rhythm exercises and a “Smart Music Coach” that challenges the user to gamify their practice to reach certain, personalized goals by learning the musician’s habits. However, it remains to be seen how in depth that coaching will be.

The real question is whether this is something enough people will want to spend $99 on? If it’s Indiegogo campaign is any indication, the answer may be an enthusiastic yes: They oversubscribed 2,347 Indiegogo backers, raising $206,054, almost three times their initial goal of $75,000.

They started shipping their first batch three weeks ago, just before the company showed off its successes at Brinc’s Launch Consumer IoT Summit. Still, there is an endless list of free and cheap options for metronome apps on iOS and Android: Metronome Plus ($1.99), Tempo Advance for iOS ($2.99), Time Guru (iOS $2.99, Android $1.99), Dr. Betotte ($9.99) and Metronomics (iOS, $2.99) are beyond freemium but clearly the economical musician’s choice. The extra features that the Pulse offers need to pack one hell of a punch to get people to shell out the Benjamins.

Transplant: startups moving to Hong Kong

Soundbrenner's co-founder and CEO Florian Simmendinger impresses the crowd at the Launch Consumer IoT Summit in Hong Kong during StartmeupHK, hosted by the Brinc IoT accelerator (image, Techwave.jp)
Soundbrenner’s co-founder and CEO Florian Simmendinger impresses the crowd at the Launch Consumer IoT Summit in Hong Kong during StartmeupHK, hosted by the Brinc IoT accelerator (image, Techwave.jp)

When Brinc invited them in early 2015, the team transplanted themselves from Berlin to Hong Kong. The constant advantage that Hong Kong offers consumer IoT developers is one main thing: Shenzhen. The Newark to Hong Kong’s New York, various companies told Geektime during StartmeupHK that it wasn’t merely the lower prices for manufacture and design that gives Shenzhen an advantage, but also turnaround time. Some products can be reassessed and redesigned in as little as three weeks. The cost can add up when tempted to go to the well more than once, but that’s several iterations of a product versus one or two in Western manufacturing centers.

Simmendinger tells Geektime, “First we just wanted to go for a couple of months but it turned out that Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world to start an IoT company. That’s why we ended up staying and are now a Hong Kong company :).”

The device uses a Haptic motor that is both small and strong, but one of several that he could have gone with that was available in the southern Chinese industrial center. The options were far fewer in Simmendinger’s native Berlin. Beyond Shenzhen, the ease of business operations and the care with which local law takes intellectual property makes it an attractive place to move operations and be right next to the world’s most prolific manufacturing hub.

Soundbrenner's Pulse takes away a pianist's mainstay in favor of good vibrations (image, Soundbrenner)
Soundbrenner’s Pulse takes away a pianist’s mainstay in favor of good vibrations (image, Soundbrenner)

“Every location has its strengths and weaknesses. If you’re building electronics though, Hong Kong is the clear winner. Starting from amazing logistics, then you have a great rule of law, access to the supply chain of China within 1 hour and much more. The ecosystem here is rapidly growing when it comes to IoT and we’re very excited by this.”

There are different possibilities for giving its device more utility and making the purchase more worthwhile for cash-conscious starving musicians. With oversubscription, the team is confident their growth is inevitable.

“Of course in our head we are already three years further down the road in terms of product development and we are actually very ambitious with where the company is heading. We want to get a device in the hands of every single musician on the planet because rhythm is for everyone. So we will keep adding more useful software features, but also release iterations of our wearable to make it even better.”

The battery lasts between four and five hours and recharges via micro USB. It includes an eccentric rotating mass (ERM) vibration motor, a Bluetooth Smart connection and water-resistant casing. The device costs $99 through soundbrenner.com.

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