Start-Ups

Ear.IQ customizes your music to better fit the way you hear

Your hearing can be as unique as your fingerprint. Here's how startup Ear.IQ customizes music for your hearing profile.

Co-founder Stephen Davis pitching Ear.IQ at a startup competition.
Image: Jonathan Jones

In today's market, consumers want personal products. Netflix offers personal recommendations for your next movie or TV show to binge watch; Amazon builds you a personal shopping list; your Sleep Number tells you your optimum mattress firmness; and Pandora shows you new artists to listen to based on songs you already love.

Taste in music is a personal thing. But what if you could make it even more personal? According to Stephen Davis, founder of Ear.IQ, an individual's hearing is as unique as his or her fingerprint — and his company has developed a technology to customize music based on the way our ears react to varying music and sounds.

"We strive to do for music what high definition does for TV," Davis said.

Nearly 70% of 18 to 34-year-old smartphone owners are using their phones to listen to music, according to an IdeaShifters panel. And 64% of those respondents said they listen to music daily or multiple times per day. But, the convenience of digital music comes at a price. Digital music files are often highly compressed, leading to lower quality audio, and contain sound imperfections known as artifacts.

Ear.IQ has a patent-pending technology that decompresses a music file and removes artifacts, then custom tailors the music to fit an individual user's hearing. First, users are guided through a simple hearing test, and then a correction algorithm that applies the results of your signature to the music and flattens out the signal. The result is that parts of the music will be altered to better reflect the way you hear.

"Like a tailored suit or custom shoes or jewelry, this allows the consumer to be certain that their music 'fits them,'" said Dana Holmes of 2nd Generation Capital, an investor in Ear.IQ.

The marketing model is similar to that of Select Comfort's Sleep Number beds, which give users a custom number that represents their ideal mattress firmness. Ear.IQ will show users their results on an audiogram graph with the corresponding Ear.IQ number. Then, they can work on helping you boost your Ear.IQ until you can finally say you have "genius hearing."

Another potential product would be selling access to the Ear.IQ of a famous musical artist as a premium buy for conumers, Holmes said. For example, a Brad Paisley fan would be able to buy Paisley's Ear.IQ and hear the music as he hears it, if he were to participate.

Davis said that the company will be pursuing a licensing opportunity and a consumer-facing product. The app will be available in two versions, a freemium version and a pro version.

The freemium version of Ear.IQ will offer limited calibration tools and a simpler hearing test for audio improvement. In-app purchases will allow users to couple more than one device and add different profiles for different devices, so they can have one profile for headphones and a different one for a car's sound system.

For $19.99, users can get the pro version, which comes with premium calibration tools, unlimited device coupling, and all the in-app purchases included. Davis said he understands that it's a high price point, but it plays into another aspect of the business model.

"The real reason why we're establishing a premium version is specifically for licensing purposes," Davis said.

The idea is that if Ear.IQ partners with a company like Spotify or headphone manufacturers, and provides a download code for the $20 version of the app, it could help the partner company add additional value against competitors at the same price point. For example, if two headphones both retail for $200, and one offers a download code for Ear.IQ, it could give them a competitive advantage in the market.

So far Davis said they have spoken with Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, and a hardware manufacturer. He also said that Ear.IQ has a letter of intent in place from a major automobile manufacturer. They've also had talks with Google around Google Play and YouTube, as well as for some other potential applications of the technology.

"There's also been some discussion all the way down at the operating system level because, believe it or not, once you correct for the unique hearing of somebody, it's not just the improvement of music, but you could also improve the way people experience their phone calls," Davis said.

For these types of potential partnerships to be successful in extending the reach of Ear.IQ, Holmes said it is essential that it is done fast enough and with enough scale to capture the attention of early-adopters and trendsetters.

Davis has been collaborating with Ear.IQ co-founder Joseph Moore for the past 12 years or so on a plethora of projects. Seven years ago, they applied for a patent for internet streaming services, and while waiting for patent approval they came up with the idea of Ear.IQ as a product differentiator.

They filed a separate patent in July 2014 and, later, Davis came across an article about music tech accelerator Project Music. They were accepted into Project Music, received Seed funding, and went through the 14-week accelerator program.

The team just finished the hearing component of the application and they are raising around $500,000 funding to finish development of the digital signal processing portion of the app and finish the app itself.

Ear.IQ is currently accepting beta testers. If you're interested, you can sign up to be a beta tester on the Ear.IQ website.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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