Kyle Slater’s headphones look a little weird. They’re big, like a pair of Beats with large cups that cover his ears, yet they also have earbuds in the middle of each cup that fit into his ear canals.
They also work differently than most headphones: they can figure out how sensitive he is to different frequencies and, working with a smartphone app, alter the music he’s listening to so that it sounds better.
Slater is CEO and cofounder of Nura, a startup that’s making these headphones, which are meant to be like a personal equalizer for your ears. To do this, the company takes advantage of what’s known as otoacoustic emissions—sounds that your inner ears produce in response to the cochlea being stimulated by a tone or other sound (this is commonly done to test hearing). Before you start listening to music with Nura’s headphones, you listen to a series of tones; a built-in microphone captures the resulting otoacoustic emissions, and that data is used to come up with a personal profile meant to sound best to you. The company claims it will work for most people, but notes its sensing is less accurate if you have major hearing loss.
Slater thinks Nura’s headphones can make it easier for audiophiles to get great-sounding music without having to try lots of different ear gear in the process. And he says Nura’s technology can also use the data it’s gathered about your hearing to identify you, so the headphones may also be useful for authentication for things like music-streaming apps.
Right now, the company has a hacked-together working prototype and a design prototype of what it hopes the product will look like in its final form. A Kickstarter campaign started this week to raise funding and interest in the device met its $100,000 goal on its first day; Nura plans to ship the headphones next year.
Peter Torre, director of the Recreational Noise Exposure and Hearing Lab at San Diego State University, says the technology is interesting, but warns that not everyone with normal hearing has otoacoustic emissions.
Source: MIT Technology Review