June 2020 Upstate Business Journal
Ric Hoke was volunteering in a nursing home, working with Alzheimer’s patients, when the idea first came to him. For years, Hoke regularly worked with elderly patients suffering from memory loss or other ailments brought on by old age. He wasn’t a medical expert, just a music lover who’d always appreciated how much joy music had brought to his own life. That’s what led him to start doing music therapy with Alzheimer’s patients. It was not only a tool that aided memory — a special song might suddenly bring back a lost time in a patient’s life — it was also, more simply, a way to bring some happiness. When tense or exacerbated, these patients could be soothed by a gentle song in ways no medicine could help. “But one problem I kept encountering was the earbuds would always fall out,” Hoke said. “With hearing aids being in the way, and these patients moving around or nodding their heads, it was difficult to keep them in.”
That was the initial spark that led Hoke and his business partner, Andrew Oliver of the band Brother Oliver, to go on to create WAVS custom earbuds.
They realised the problem of earbuds falling out was not unique to elderly patients. Whether people are exercising, dancing or just moving around in their everyday routines, the reliability of one-size-fits all earbuds left something to be desired. Up to now, custom-fit earbuds could run as high as $2,000, with even the cheapest of models coming with a price tag of more than $500. “You have to go through a whole fitting process,” said Oliver. “And traditionally you have to go through an audiologist.”
WAVS changes that by using the technology available on the cameras of any iPhone with facial recognition software. All someone has to do is take a scan of each side of their face using the high-resolution mode on the phone’s camera. The WAVS team then uses the scans to create custom-fit earbuds using 3D-printed photopolymer resin. “It’s extremely accurate,” Hoke said.
The earbuds offer the same audio quality as Apple’s popular Airpods, but at $99, the WAVS introductory model is priced a full $130 cheaper than the comparable Airpod Pro model, while also being custom-fit with additional artistic design options. Customers who don’t have one of the newer phone models to conduct the scan will receive a 10% “find a friend discount” if they can find one of their friends or family members who have a compatible phone to use. “Our main goal is to make everyday listening more affordable and easier,” Hoke said.
The earbuds are guaranteed to fit, and to prove it, Oliver himself volunteered to wear a set while his brother punched him in the face with a boxing glove — something neither Oliver or Hoke recommend anyone try on their own (even though the earbuds did indeed stay snugly in place). “Music helps people in so many ways,” Oliver said. “We just want to help provide a happy quality of life for people.