May 2018 Australian Financial Review
Seemingly out of nowhere, Australia is becoming a powerhouse of audio equipment that users can personalise to match their hearing. Audeara, a start-up out of Brisbane, has released Bluetooth headphones that make up for any deficiencies in their owner's hearing, based on a conventional hearing test the owner takes when they first set up the headphones. Nuheara, a start-up out of Perth, has released Bluetooth earbuds that do a similar thing, albeit with a more simplified hearing test, that can also act like hearing aids for the pub-deaf, pulling voices out of crowds and hiding the background noise. Nura, a start-up out of Melbourne, has released a pair of headphones that offer a more gentle adjustment to their sound, based around a hearing test similar to the test hospitals give newborn babies.
Nura CEO Dragan Petrovic acknowledges Australia has a long track record of expertise in the very skills that are coming to the fore in the era of Bluetooth headphones.
The Nuraphones feature an earbud inside a headphone.
That's on top of the likes of JayBird, BlueAnt and BioConnected, all Bluetooth audio companies founded in or, in the case of Utah-based JayBird, by Australians.
As it happens, though, the trend hasn't come out of nowhere. It turns out Australia has a long track record of expertise in the very skills that are coming to the fore in the era of Bluetooth headphones, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s and Australia's world-beating cochlear implant technology.
"Australia has a disproportionate number of people who know about hearing science," says Luke Campbell, co-founder and chief technology officer of Nura, which makes the Nuraphone headphones based on work he did while completing a doctorate in cochlear implants at the University of Melbourne, the same place Professor Graeme Clark worked on the bionic ear 50 years ago before going on to found Cochlear Ltd. "There's an ecosystem, particularly in Melbourne originally, of people whose job it was to know hearing better than anyone else. And the leftover body of knowledge and expertise from that has cultivated a body of expertise where there's people kicking around today who just know a lot about the ear, and about hearing," he says. "While there are people around the world who have deep expertise in biology and hearing science, and people who have a lot of expertise in signal processing, it's oddly uncommon for people to have expertise across the board", says Nura CEO Dragan Petrovic.
Audeara, the maker of headphones that can be customised to an individual's hearing like hearing aids, says it, too, has had people who once worked at Cochlear Ltd involved in its product development. "Even saying that adds a gravitas to the skill set," says James Fielding, Audeara's co-founder. Like Campbell at Nura, Fielding is also a medical doctor, and he says the huge size of the country, which can make it difficult for many Australians to access health care, also drove Audeara to work on the headphones, which can help the hard of hearing hear music.
And while Perth's Nuheara doesn't trace its roots so directly to Cochlear Ltd and the bionic ear, its founder Justin Miller did come from another Australian audio company, Sensear, which makes earplugs that let people have conversations in high-noise environments, just like Nuheara's Bluetooth earbuds. Though it does have a "bilateral technology exchange with the likes of Cochlear", says Miller.
There might be another reason, too, for all these customised audio companies coming from Australia, says Audeara's Fielding. "Australians love music. It's as simple as that."