What Happened to

Soundhawk was established in December 2011. In June 2014, the firm introduced the Smart Listening System. The founders of the company declared: “Everyone deserves to hear the world the way that they want.” The company described its history as “founded by one of the world’s leading experts in hearing health and built by a team of executives and engineers from Apple, Palm, Cisco, and Amazon. We’re on a mission to transform the listening experience.” 

However, without warning in October 2016 the company announced a suspension of operations. Visitors to the company’s website were soon directed to support pages. By March 2018, the support pages went dark as the domain name expired.

What happened to such a promising firm? We took the time to find out.

Soundhawk’s Short-Lived Promise

Soundhawk was established to develop a wearable device to improve hearing in different environments. The company operated from Cupertino, California. With around 20 employees, the business received about US$11.2 million in venture capital (Source). The firm made a bold promise: “We’re changing the way the world listens.”     

Soundhawk was started by Rodney Perkins, an ear surgeon, and entrepreneur. When Perkins established the company, he was 74 years old. Perkins has created over a dozen companies, including EarLens – founded in 2005.

Three of Perkin’s companies went public and he raised millions in funding from the angel and venture community. Among some of his acquaintances, Perkins counted Hewlett-Packard’s William Hewlett and David Packard, as well as Apple’s Steve Jobs (Source).

The History of appeared on the internet at the beginning of 2014. The website showcased the leading members of its team which it claimed brought together “the best of life sciences and lifestyle technology to create new products” (Source). 

In 2014, Soundhawk received its second USD $5.5 million in venture funding from Foxconn. Foxconn is an Asian company that manufactures products on behalf of Apple. A report in the Mercury News indicated that Foxconn had been testing the Smart Listening System since 2012. The first round of funding, led by a Palo Alto firm, had raised more than US$5 million.  

The Product

The Soundhawk Smart Listening System was designed for people with mild to moderate hearing loss who may experience hearing difficulties in specific situations.

One of the reasons why the Soundhawk Smart Listening System attracted so much attention was its affordability (about $300 on Amazon). It was also able to connect to a smartphone.

Some reviews claimed that the Soundhawk Smart Listening System was better than a hearing aid. While this is debatable, the product offered several features that an ordinary hearing aid does not. For instance, it could work as a Bluetooth device for taking phone calls. When driving, you could also use it as an earpiece for navigational instructions.    

What Happened to

An attempt to find out what happened to leads to a dead end. Apart from the 2016 statement indicating that the company had suspended its operations, no one has said anything else. An email sent to Rodney Perkins, for comment, remains unanswered at the time of publication of this article. No former employees have come up on any forum to give an idea of what happened.

Better Business Bureau, the nonprofit organization which helps consumers in Canada, the US, and Mexico identify trusted businesses and charities, says that it appears the company no longer exists, and their phone numbers are no longer listed (Source).

Even though the original 2016 announcement seemed to imply that the shutdown was temporary, it looks like Soundhawk has been shut down permanently. 

Filling the Void

Even though Soundhawk has since shut down, it looks like the market for smart earbuds still exists.

Sound World Solutions CS50+

Like most modern hearing devices, the Sound World Solutions’ CS50+ can be connected to a smartphone using either the Android or iOS system. This is an excellent product for someone who wants to decrease background noise and feedback.

You can also use this product to stream any multimedia audio from your phone, computer, or AV equipment using Bluetooth technology. Its restaurant mode allows you to point the mic in the direction of the sounds you want to hear.  

Apple Wireless Earbuds

A startup called Smart Hear released the Fennex app, which works through Apple’s AirPods. Users can take a hearing assessment to personalize their experience with the wireless earbuds. They can also set the scene according to where they are (for example, a meeting) to customize the sound.

Currently, the app offers a 30-day free trial for access to all its functions. After that, users can select a monthly or yearly subscription.

Mini Invisible CICI Hearing Aid Kit

The designers of Mini Invisible CIC Hearing Aid, which comes for a price of less than $50, promise that it is comfortable to wear, something these types of products struggle with. It cancels noise, has easy-to-use controls, and a volume regulator. It is a small device, which aids its invisibility.

The product is also marketed as invisible partly due to its flesh-colored plastic. While some users of the product say it works well to amplify sound, others complain that it is so small that adjusting the volume is almost impossible.

BeHear Personalizable Headset

According to the manufacturers of the BeHear Headset, the product is designed “to help people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, who may not need amplification in every hearing situation.” BeHear’s Bluetooth earpiece is ideal for listening to audio and taking calls. It has an app on Google Play and the App Store.

Users can take an assessment to determine their hearing needs using the app. More information about the product is available on the manufacturer’s question and answer page here.

Nuheara IQBuds

The makers of the Nuheara IQbuds Wireless Headphones promise that their product delivers crisp sound amplification. The product can also be connected to any device using Bluetooth. From noisy places to more intimate settings, the device can also be controlled to adjust to surroundings.

The Nuheara IQbuds can also be controlled through the IQBuds app. However, some reviewers complain that its price (About US$300 at Amazon) is too high. 

There is Still a Future

While the unexplained demise of a promising product like the Soundhawk Smart Listening System may be of concern to people with hearing challenges, the future of the industry looks bright. This is a view supported by researchers such as Zlata Jelisejeva, a research analyst at Futuresource Consulting, who says that smart earbuds “are converging with hearing aids.” She adds, “They are becoming wireless, and, therefore, have an integrated power source; have integrated microphones; increasingly include smarter ambient noise control, suppression, and isolation; and they are shrinking in size.” 

It would have been great to know what happened to Soundhawk. This would have provided lessons for other startups. The numbers show that this is an industry that has not yet been fully tapped into. For instance, Michela Tindera, writing for Forbes, quotes the Food and Drug Administration, which says that in the United States, more than 37 million people above the age of 18 require a hearing aid. Around the world, she refers to the World Health Organization, which indicates that by 2050, nearly a billion people will need some assistance with their hearing (Source).

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