Skip to comments.Austin startup seeks to make noise with chip-driven hearing aid
Posted on 06/17/2011 12:26:24 PM PDT by Red Badger
A few years ago, Russ Apfel was looking for something to do.
The semiconductor industry veteran had sold his chip design startup to Silicon Laboratories Inc. in 2005, then he worked for the company before retiring in 2008.
Eventually, he started looking at the hearing aid industry. It made sense, because the devices' digital signal processor chips are firmly in Apfel's area of expertise.
Apfel was surprised to learn that hearing aids can cost several thousand dollars.
"I was appalled," Apfel said. "I couldn't believe how expensive they were."
Part of the reason, he said, is that audiologist visits and other services are bundled in with the price. Users must regularly return to a vendor or audiologist to have their hearing aids adjusted and calibrated.
Eager to get into a new business, Apfel jumped in. After about 20 months of work, his company, Audiotoniq, is unveiling its first hearing aid today at the Hearing Loss Association of America convention in Washington, D.C.
Apfel says his hearing aid will be just as powerful as those currently on the market but that users will be able to adjust the settings using smartphone applications.
Audiotoniq will sell the devices online for $1,500 to $1,800.
Other companies sell hearing aids online. But critics say that online distributors can't provide the necessary evaluation, fitting and training that users need to correctly use their hearing aids.
To compensate for the absence of audiologist visits, Audiotoniq will provide software that trains people how to listen better, as well as online chats and the option to get help by phone.
Craig Champlin , chairman of the University of Texas department of communication sciences and disorders, said that Audiotoniq's device has features that will result in an improved hearing aid.
"But it nonetheless will only go so far," Champlin said.
While a device might give someone more sensitive hearing, users still need coaching and training on new listening techniques, he said. For instance, a person with hearing loss will need help learning how to focus attention on a particular speaker.
"The hearing aid isn't yet smart enough to do that," said Champlin, who is an audiologist. "Audiotoniq is trying to smarten it up, but it's not there yet."
Champlin, who has advised Apfel's company, said that such techniques could possibly be taught online, rather than in person.
Apfel admits the product, which goes on sale in September, won't be for everyone.
"This is not for 90-year-old Aunt Em who doesn't know how to operate her TV remote," he said. "This is for people who are serious, who understand technology, who embrace technology and want to have control of their life."
Apfel and a local investor he declined to name are major backers of the company, which so far has raised about $2.5 million. Company officials will seek more funding this summer.
Harold Mindlin, Audiotoniq's vice president of sales and marketing, is a serial entrepreneur who said he was lured to the company by Apfel.
"Russ is the pied piper," he said. "Everybody bought into his vision."
Apfel said the hearing aid, which will be manufactured in Dallas, could tap into an underserved market.
About 17 percent, or 36 million, of American adults report some hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Only 1 of every 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid wears one, according to the group's website.
Apfel expects that Audiotoniq, which employs just under a dozen people in Austin, will grow to about 30 by year-end. Next year, he expects to hire 30 more.
Audiotoniq CEO and founder Russell Apfel, above left, and Vice President Harold Mindlin are unveiling today a new hearing aid Mindlin holds a picture at right that will let users adjust settings using smartphone applications rather than seeing specialists, Apfel says. Audiotoniq plans to sell the hearing aids online and will provide software that trains people how to listen better.
Tinnitus Ring List!..................
I’ve been thinking that investing in hearing aid companies would be a good bet. When all the idiots with those big speakers in their cars playing rap music and it’s vibrating the windows of houses as the car goes down the street, there is no way that much energy pounding on their eardrums is not doing some damage.
Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, etc..........earphones....................
It’s about time. I’ve thought for a long time that the hearing impaired were being ripped off by outrageous prices for hearing aids, especially when you compare with other computer and electronic items. I expect the lobbyists for audiologists will try to outlaw these.
WHATT!!!???....bump for later
Another Texas company.
Watch Rick Perry try to take credit.
not to pick nits, but which hearing aid is NOT “chip-based”?
Might be nice to try. In my case I won’t get a hearing aid unless I can pay for it *after* I’ve used it, I’m not pouring money down that rat hole.
My problem is that audiologists have told me (and experience bears this out) that amplifying sound won’t do me any good. I can’t discriminate sounds well. IOW, if I can’t understand what someone is saying in a situation, making it louder will not make it any clearer, just louder.
If I am in a crowded restaurant with a group I pretty much smile and nod. Which probably pleases my wife, anyway.
Oh my gosh! That would be wonderful!! My husband has digital hearing aids. His hearing has changed since he got them, but he refuses to go in to have them recalibrated (if that’s the correct term). It would be great if he could adjust them himself.
I've never figured out the huge price for hearing aids. Microphone, amplifier, batter, speaker and a little smarts to kill the feedback. Although it is in a small case, the individual parts are probably only a few bucks. Add a 10,000% mark up and you're still well under the current price.
Please add me to your list. Thank you.
Guessing here, but I think by "chip-based" they mean digital. My wife is hearing-impaired, and currently uses an analog hearing aid. Her deaf friends say digital hearing aids are far superior, and when we've got the funds we'll switch.
Done!..........You can hear me now!................
Please put me on your ping list
I wear hearing aids. Mine are from 1993. I’ve had them refurbished several times, to avoid paying through the nose for new ones, which would cost around $2-3000 a piece.
Thank you. Sort of. My hearing aids are less than one year old. I’m not sure if I like them any better than the previous ones.
That is just what the digital aids are for. They split the sound "spectrum" into 12 or so separate bands, and amplify them by differing amounts to correct for your specific type of loss, be it high frequency, low frequency or "notch" loss. The old analog type aids had VERY limited capability along these lines. I've worn HA for about 25 years, and made the switch from analog to digital about eight years ago.
Yeah, right. I worked with audiologists (one under the umbrella of an ENT clinic) for all my hearing aids. Coaching....training......zero. The only "customized" things that they did for me was measure the audiogram and cast the ear-molds.
When I switched to digital, the audiologist "did" program them according to the audiogram, but I had so little background information on what the aid could do that I really didn't understand all the possible options, and she wasn't very forthcoming with information to help.
In this day it is ridiculous for hearing aids to cost upwards of $3000 each ($6000 for a pair). And it is ludicrous to have to hook them up by a cable to a PC to have them programmed. Programming should be do-able over a bluetooth link, and the user should be able to do adjustments for themselves. And the available information from the manufacturers SUX.
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