Ever imagined having super-human hearing, maybe to spy on someone across the room or just to hear your dining partner better in a crowded restaurant? For $299, you can have it with Soundhawk's Scoop, a small device that looks like a typical Bluetooth headset but offers a whole different set of capabilities.
Soundhawk, founded by serial entrepreneur Dr. Rodney Perkins, seems at first glance to be a hearing aid company. The company's device does share a lot in common with the ReSound LiNX, a Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid that can be adjusted on the iPhone. In fact, Perkins founded ReSound in the early 1980s (the company has since been sold).
But the Soundhawk device is emphatically not a hearing aid, according to CEO Michael Kisch. The single-ear device is a much lower price than most hearing aids available today (the ReSound LiNX, in comparison, costs $3,200 to $3,500 per unit), and it's intended for people with normal hearing.
"We’re not a medical device. We're a pure play consumer electronics product," says Kisch. "We are trying to help people with a situational need to hear better—in a noisy restaurant, walking around the city, when they're home with their spouse."
The product, which Soundhawk calls a Smart Listening System, consists of three components: the Scoop, a wireless mic, and a charging case that can offer up to eight hours of charge. The Scoop goes in the ear, while the wireless mic can be used in situations when the user wants to hear one specific thing more clearly—a person or a TV show, for example.
Four types of ear tips also come in the product box. They each fit different sized ears, but they also have varying acoustic properties. One of the larger eartips enables a fuller sound of both high and low frequencies, while one of the smaller ones amplifies high frequencies.
All of the Scoop's settings are controlled by a smartphone app, much like the ReSound LiNX (and the Halo, another Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid). The app, available for iPhone and Android, lets users move their finger across a grid that fills the screen to select the sound settings (higher frequency, fuller sound, etc.) that works best for them. Users can also select different settings for different "sound scenes," like driving in a car or sitting in a restaurant. If you're driving, for example, the wind-noise reduction algorithms will be used more aggressively than if you're sitting in a restaurant.
"Eventually, the device will begin to learn more about you, and you’ll be able to geotag [sound settings], says Kisch. "It's like using a Fitbit or a Jawbone. You can push updates."
Testing out the Soundhawk system made me feel like I had superhuman hearing, as did the ReSound LiNX unit I tested a few weeks back. The big difference, of course, is that the Soundhawk system is more appropriate for my average hearing abilities.
I'm still not sure where the system would fit into my daily life. Loud restaurants don't bother me much, and I rarely struggle to hear others in conversation. But I'm not necessarily the target market. Kisch says that Soundhawk is aimed primarily at customers in their late thirties to sixties—people who generally have good hearing, but run into some communications issues in loud environments.
The price tag is so much cheaper than a hearing aid, Kisch explains, because of the business model. "A hearing aid is not an expensive thing to make," he says. "The upcharge is in the services." Hearing aid manufacturers charge a lot of money because they're also including unlimited visits with an audiologist over the four to five year lifespan of a device into the price.
Foxconn, a consumer electronics manufacturing giant in China and investor in Soundhawk, negotiates with suppliers on behalf of the company.
Soundhawk's system is available for pre-order today and will ship by the end of the summer.