Personalization of Audio: Assisting the Hearing Impaired Through Technology
It used to be said that the consumers with expensive, high-quality headphones were simply audiophiles – basically individuals obsessed with a crisp, accurate sound during all auditory experiences. However, little did we know how effective some of these technological advances would be in the future of assistive listening technologies.
The majority of devices for listening assistance are singular in their functionality – they amplify sound. While this is an effective device for the direct treatment of hearing impairment, the technology leaves a lot to be desired, especially when such significant advancement has been made in the AV industry. Customers with hearing impairment could benefit from smart devices and personalized sound design.
Even devices for the non-hearing-impaired have come a long way in the past ten to twenty years. From simple noise cancellation to Bluetooth® connectivity and everything in between, auditory technology has seen many advancements. Namely, wearable hearing technology (a.k.a. hearables) can serve as a transmission device for local ambient audio, a link to a smart device, or even its own separate entity with health and fitness tracking. The sky is the limit, especially as hardware begins to get smaller and smaller – making it able to fit into tiny spaces.
Furthermore, a new concept called sound personalization can be used to mimic natural, unhindered hearing for some hearing-impaired individuals. Rather than relying on increased volume (which can further damage hearing, by the way), sound personalization can fill in the gaps, creating a fuller, more pleasant sound for the listener.
What is sound personalization? It might, at first, seem odd that sound might need to be personalized to each individual’s ability to hear certain tones, but – in fact – everyone’s hearing is slightly different. Furthermore, hearing impaired individuals may have whole ranges for which they have difficulty picking up sound waves. Using adaptive sound personalization, a greater range of audio can be recognized and enjoyed by our brains. Furthermore, only two things are needed for this technology to work: a good pair of headphones and a mobile or desktop application that puts you through a quick hearing test – like this one (full disclosure: beyerdynamic North America is a client). The hearing test is based on Mimi Hearing Technologies’ sound personalization technology that is incorporated into many leading audio brands. Even Apple is addressing this trend with the latest version of AirPods Pro and their Conversation Boost feature.
Back in the day, equalizers were utilized to alter the sound of personal audio. This was, perhaps, the first step in our journey to sound personalization. You might remember the little box with sliders with ranges varying from 15kHz – 5000kHz (sometimes just k). With sound personalization, an application will determine – based on how well your ears pick up sounds at different frequencies – how to adjust the output so that you can best enjoy an auditory experience.
For example, for people with hearing loss in the upper end of the detectable spectrum, the application may boost the next highest range of soundwaves; this way, there is a clear compensation for the missing range, rather than it falling off entirely for the listener.
As an AV industry pro in a constantly changing technological space, it’s your role to keep up with current advancements and offer them to your clients. If you don’t, you’ll be doing your client a disservice. Most older clients can immediately benefit from this technology. Take a look at what some of your represented brands are offering and decide who you want to shine the spotlight on – it’s ultimately your choice, but make sure you’re saying something about sound personalization to your clients.