Your Hearing Saved by 16 Year-Old's Headphone Design

We’re going deaf using headphones. Everyone who’s ever tried to listen to music, whether in tiny earphones or big expensive cans, knows that – because that’s what your mum kept telling you.

This post Designed by a 16-year-old, these headphones are meant to save your hearing appeared first on Tech in Asia.

16-year-old Kingsley Cheng got the same speech from his parents whenever he rocked his big headphones, the music leaking out in the room around him. "Turn down the volume or you’ll go deaf!" his father, Rayman, would shout, trying to be heard over the racket.

Most teenagers’ reaction would be probably to sulk for a bit, type some passive aggressive quip into Snapchat accompanied by an angry selfie, and then resume listening once you’ve been left alone. Kingsley, on the other hand, decided to find out for himself whether his dad was right by breaking out the Google.

Listening in

After doing some research online, he realized the danger of hearing loss by listening to music too loudly isn’t just something parents say because they can’t stand your music. According to data by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Audiology, the recommended listening level is 85dB for a maximum of eight hours at a time.

Most devices we use today to listen to music, however, can crank the volume up to more than 100dB. That volume level is comparable to a jackhammer. The same data says that 12 percent of children aged 6-19 suffer from hearing loss caused by bad headphone use.

There are a few headphones on the market claiming they can protect your hearing, but none of them were quite right for Kingsley. The designs were too childish for him. Plus, most of them just employed some kind of noise cancellation or volume limitation system. The experience was not ideal, in other words.

Earlier this year, Kingsley and his dad – who’s a 20-year veteran in the US consumer electronics industry – put their heads together to produce "the world’s safest headphones." Their first effort, the Aegis Pro headphones, is now on Kickstarter.

Along with serial entrepreneur Anthony Lye, the startup they co-founded, Aegis Acoustics, is on a mission to prevent further hearing loss among kids who love consuming their music with headphones.

Kingsley offered design ideas for the headphones and came up with the company name, Rayman and Anthony handled the business side, and sound and audio tech specialist Gates Tan came in as CTO to tackle the technical details.

The sound of music

At first glance, the Aegis Pro headphones don’t look like a particularly revolutionary product. It’s definitely a stylish pair of cans, though, which wouldn’t look out of place next to a pair of Beats or Sennheisers. But if Disney movies have taught us anything, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

The Aegis Pro’s key features focus on ear protection. The company uses both hardware and software solutions to achieve this. Its system, bearing the catchy name JamsDefender, combines active noise cancellation, digital volume normalization, and a dual speaker on each headphone to ensure protection and performance.

On the software side, a method the company calls digital decibel equalizer technology normalizes the volume at a safe level. The tech decodes the source volume down to zero dB and then sends it out the speaker at a volume of 85dB. The difference between that and the volume limiting technology in other brands, it says, is that the output stays at 85dB no matter how much the original recording fluctuates.

In addition, the Aegis Pro tracks listening time to make sure it doesn’t exceed maximum duration – remember, the WHO recommends listening to 85dB for a maximum of eight hours to avoid hearing damage. LED lights change color to indicate when it’s time to stop listening. That’s a useful feature for parents – until the child figures out how to deactivate or hide it, presumably.

The headphones also employ active noise cancellation tech to block out ambient noise. Traditionally, sounds from the environment seeping into our headphones make us crank the volume up to potentially unhealthy levels without even realizing. The Aegis Pro features four built-in mics that analyze the user’s surrounding noise and reduce it using an opposite frequency. Free from distractions, the 85dB are supposed to pack that much more of a punch.

Finally, performance is enhanced by the dual speakers in each headphone. Split into a low frequency driver that covers the bass and a high frequency tweeter that delivers the vocals, the system aims to produce high quality sound, avoiding the bass-heavy approach a lot of other brands take nowadays, which can be responsible for hearing damage in some cases.

The headphones can work wirelessly via bluetooth, but also come with a 3.5mm audio jack. Aegis says the battery can last for up to 14 hours. The Aegis Pro can also be paired with your phone, with dedicated buttons allowing you to answer a call, and a built-in microphone for you to talk into.

The company says it’s conducted several tests in reputable labs to determine the best way to deliver good performance while maintaining ear safety.

Vox populi

Aegis has been self-funded so far, but to help fund testing and manufacturing of its initial batch, the team opted for a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. The goal is US$25,000, but the gadget has so far exceeded US$86,000 and still has 11 more days to go. The target was quite modest, especially for a hardware campaign, but the team says it had to balance estimated costs with a realistic crowdfunding target that wouldn’t deter backers by appearing too lofty. Or greedy.

The campaign blew past its first stretch goal of US$65,000, which throws in a hard carrying case for backers. A second, more ambitious stretch goal has just been announced, which sets the bar to US$140,000. If reached, Aegis wants to pack higher quality speaker drivers into the headphones, promising better sound.

The company decided crowdfunding was the way to go due to the platform’s reach. Besides the validation (and money) a successful campaign brings, the metrics and statistics the company gets out of it can be invaluable in pitching the product to retailers.

Kingsley and his dad have partnered with a manufacturer in Shenzhen, China, that specializes in headphone manufacturing and which serves quite a few big headphone brands – though Aegis won’t divulge which. They say, however, that the manufacturer’s expertise in this area was extremely helpful, offering insight and advice that made the product better.

The Aegis Pro will ship to backers in January 2016, with the US-Singaporean startup aiming at mid-2016 for a retail release.

What do you think about the Aegis Pro? Would you back it on Kickstarter?