If you're approaching late middle age, you've probably noticed that your hearing isn't what it used to be. Too much rock 'n' roll, airplanes overhead, amplifiers cranked to 11 and just plain life takes its toll on the quality of your hearing.
One of the first signs of significant hearing loss is the ability of ambient sound -- in a restaurant, a crowd, traffic noise, explosions, wind -- to reduce your ability to hear another person speaking to you, even one right in front of you.
For those of us with these issues, a Cupertino, Calif., startup company, Soundhawk, is introducing what it calls a Smart Listening System (SLS). Careful now -- it's not a hearing aid. It's a programmable listening enhancer that can be fine-tuned via its associated smartphone app (iOS and Android), using pre-configured settings that address some of the most common hearing-challenging situations. The user can also customize these settings. This is one way in which the SLS differs from a hearing aid since it is a situational device and not a corrective, medical aid.
Another point of difference -- the SLS doubles as a Bluetooth phone headset, able to make and receive calls.
The system consists of a smartphone app that acts as a controller, a wireless microphone that can be worn or set up within 33 feet of an in-ear headset that connects via Bluetooth with the smartphone. The headset, named Scoop, has the outward appearance of a small, stylish Bluetooth headset that fits in the ear but only extends slightly in front of the ear. This design helps differentiate it visually from both a standard phone headset and a hearing aid. The wireless, omnidirectional microphone can be clipped to a shirt or coat or placed on a table. It connects with the headset via Bluetooth.
Features of SLS include:
* adaptive audio -- enhancing key sound frequencies and prioritizing them over unwanted background noise;
* a personal assistant -- places calls, searches for places of interest, gets weather updates and works with Siri and Google Now;
* sound scenes -- pre-sets for commonly noisy and challenging environments, a one-touch solution for better listening;
* personalized fit -- four different ear tips are provided with the SLS for a secure and comfortable fit; and
* battery power for up to 24 hours.
"We designed Soundhawk's Smart Listening System for people who want to hear, communicate and connect better in everyday situations and environments," said Michael Kirsch, CEO of Soundhawk. "As our world gets noisier, many people are hearing less of what matters most."
Both the Scoop headset and the wireless microphone are available in sand or graphite colors. Retail price has been set at $299, but there is a special pre-order price of $279.