Sound World Solutions is a company with a noble aim – to bring affordable and high-performance hearing aids to everyone, no matter what their location or economic background. CSR recently donated 2,000 units of its CSR8670™ to Sound World Solutions as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility program and in recognition of their inspiring social mission for the hearing impaired. We caught up with Shawn Stahmer, VP Business Development at Sound World Solutions to find out more about the company’s mission and how Bluetooth® Smart is shaping the future of hearing aid technology.
- Tell us a little bit about Sound World Solutions and the history of the company. What is your mission and vision?
Our mission is easy to describe – to create and deliver high quality, affordable hearing devices that allow people to rediscover the power of connection, no matter what their geographic location or economic circumstance happens to be. To succeed in that mission, we have had to start from the ground up in every component of the system; from how the product is designed and produced, to how the individual has their hearing screened and gets fitted, to the types of organizations that we work with to deliver our solutions to those in need.
The scale of the need worldwide is immense. According to numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 600 million people with severe hearing loss. Add in those with more moderate forms of loss and you near the 1 billion mark. Against that backdrop of need, the traditional hearing aid industry is selling about 10 million products per year. Of those, fewer than 1 million devices make their way out of the US or Western Europe.
So our mission is simple – to change this equation, with a particular focus on the parts of the world not currently being served.
“The Companion Hearing Aid is a slim fit solution that can be worn on one or both ears and offers an incredibly low profile from most angles.”
- Can you please give a brief overview of your Companion Hearing Aid product?
The Companion Hearing Aid is a slim fit solution that can be worn on one or both ears and offers an incredibly low profile from most angles. Matching the features and benefits of devices costing 10 times as much, the Companion delivers the perfect combination of Bluetooth® technology and ground-breaking affordability.
Like the other hearable products that we offer, the Companion offers completely customizable amplification to help you hear everything with crystal clarity. The Companion is incredibly easy to use, and comes with controls that allow you to use it right out of the box. You can also pair it via a Bluetooth connection to your iPhone (4s, 5, or 6), Android, or computer and use it to take and make phone calls, stream music or audio, and to completely personalize your device via our free Customizer App. Using the Customizer App, you can do your own hearing screening, then have the Companion automatically programmed with the results so that your amplification profile is exactly what you need it to be.
“Using the Customizer App, you can do your own hearing screening.”
The Companion uses a rechargeable battery, and provides 18 hours of life per charge, so you no longer need to fumble with those impossibly small button cell batteries. It is also multi-lingual – for all of the common settings on the device, the Companion provides voice prompts in your choice of 4 languages. So instead of simply hearing beeps, you will hear a voice confirming such changes as “Volume Up”, “Volume Down”, “Connected”, or “Battery Low”.
Perhaps the best news is that the Companion does all of this at an incredibly affordable price – just $299 for a single unit, and $479 for a pair.
- Can you give a bit of background on how CSR has helped contribute towards your mission?
In addition to the benefits I’ve already outlined, CSR as a company has been very supportive of our work, especially in the emerging markets. While the technology that CSR brings to our product is a fundamental enabler of our overall approach, CSR has also provided material support for us in the work we do to bring hearing care to those not currently served by the traditional hearing aid industry. We appreciate that support and are looking forward to a very collaborative relationship as we progress.
- What benefit does having the CSR8670 in your products bring to the end user?
The CSR8670 along with the CSR development tools includes a lot of standard Bluetooth functionality and profiles “built-in.” That gave us the ability to piggyback on all that functionality and focus on the development of our amplification system. Without those profiles already implemented by CSR, we would not have been able to provide our users with the full headset functionality that they get today. In addition, the CSR8670 has a powerful DSP on the same chip as the rest of the Bluetooth hardware and audio input and output. The CSR DSP is more powerful than the DSPs used by hearing aid manufacturers on their custom chips. So, we are able to provide the end user with very great hearing aid quality algorithms without having to spin our own chips.
- What makes your products different from others in the market?
While there are a number of areas we could highlight, the short answer is that our products were the first in the market to provide direct interaction with smartphones and the use of an app to control and customize the device. In the past few months we have seen several new entrants that provide reasonably similar functionality, but do so at 10x the price. There is no other product that provides similar performance at anything close to our price.
- How do you see the medical technology market developing in the next five years? Wireless hearing aids have traditionally been enabled by electromagnetic fields and frequency modulation (FM) – why do you think Bluetooth has become more popular as a viable alternative?
There is no doubt that the Internet of Things will have a profound impact on medical technology in the next five years. There is so much that can be gained by using inexpensive devices to monitor a patient’s health even when they are away from the hospital. There will be some competition among the various wireless protocols as to which will become the dominant player in this arena. Bluetooth Smart stands a great chance of emerging as a winner. The main reason for this is because most other wireless protocols open a data “pipe” to allow communication between devices. In order to communicate between 2 devices, both devices need to agree on the data format of the exchange. It is not defined by the wireless pipe. Bluetooth, as well as Bluetooth Smart, goes a step further and defines the actual data format, called profiles, that are communicated through the pipe. That means that anyone can develop a device on one end that communicates with someone else’s device on the other end as long as they use the same profile. With respect to hearing aids, the Bluetooth SIG is working together with hearing aid manufacturers to create a profile for hearing aids. This interoperability will boost the acceptance of Bluetooth Smart in the industry. Due to the low power requirements of Bluetooth Smart, the protocols can be implemented on the very low power chips used in hearing aids. Having a widely accepted communication standard like Bluetooth Smart on hearing aids will allow compatibility with a host of existing devices, like cell phones and systems.
“The CSR8670 has a powerful DSP on the same chip as the rest of the Bluetooth hardware and audio input and output. The CSR DSP is more powerful than the DSPs used by hearing aid manufacturers on their custom chips.”
- In what ways will your partnership with CSR help you achieve your own long-term objectives?
Our goal since the beginning has been to bring complete hearing solutions to all of those who need help, regardless of their geographic location or economic circumstance. The technology we gain by use of the CSR chip and the program support we receive from the company are a potent combination in helping us to continue to pursue that goal, and we look forward to further development on both fronts.
Find out more about CSR’s wireless audio solutions here: http://www.csr.com/products/markets/audio