How Your Unique ‘Earprint’ Shapes the Future of Personalized SoundThe individuality of your ears
The previous year marked a fierce competition in the sound space and it would seem like every major player in the market has taken a keen interest in your ears. The answer for this race to own the hearable market is simple, your ears make you unique and they are the key for personalized sound.
Your Ears Are You
For most of us, our ears are just oddly shaped and ridged pieces of cartridge that awkwardly stick out from our heads, but it is time for our ears to gain the respect they deserve. Just like your fingerprints, the subtle twists and turns that make up the shape of your ears are exclusive to you and only you. So much, that it caught the attention of forensic science that views your ears as crucial elements for the future of biometric identification.
Knowing that the shape of your ears does not change as you grow older – they do grow larger while keeping the same proportions – paved the way for utilizing 3D technologies to extract characteristic geometric features of your ear.
Mark Nixon, a computer scientist at Southampton University and a leader in ear recognition research, explains how a new algorithm called ‘Image Ray Transform’ uses the tubular features of the outer ear to identify an individual with a 99.6% success rate. Indeed, by creating a detailed model of your ear, the outer ear may prove to be one of the most accurate and discreet methods for biometric identification, and hence identifying you.
The technology has advanced to an extent where a blurry photo of your ear can identify who you are. Soon, we may say, show me your ears and I will tell you who you are. However, the distinctiveness of your ears does not end with the outer layer but continues to affect the way you perceive sound.
How Do We Perceive Sound?
The human ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear or the ear we see, the middle ear which is a cavity containing the smallest bones in our body that transmit sound vibrations to the third section, the inner ear which contains the snail-shaped cochlea that cradles the actual hearing organ, the Corti.
The Corti contains roughly 3,500 inner hair cells which detect sound waves at different frequencies. When the microscopic tiny hairs sitting atop the inner hair cells move due to sound vibrations, the cells send electrical signals to our brain which decodes them and recognizes whether what we hear is speech or music.
In addition, the organ of Corti houses about 12,000 outer hair cells which control the mechanical properties of the cochlea and are responsible for the high sensitivity and excellent tuning of our hearing sense. Under certain circumstances, these outer hair cells are even able to generate their own faint vibrations which result in so-called oto-acoustic emissions, nearly inaudible noises that can be detected using sensitive microphones.
Your Hearing Profile is the Fingerprint of Sound
As we get older and become exposed to excessive noises or suffer from diseases, our hearing capacity deteriorates in different ways – we can even observe differences between the two ears of the same person . As a result, hearing impairment is a highly individual problem – creating the unique hearing profile.
Apart from changes in the basic mechanics of the inner hair cells, sound processing in the brain, as well as, feedback signals to the cochlea also play a central role in creating our unique hearing profile- affecting the way we perceive distinguish sound when we suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus.
Tinnitus, Hearing Loss, and the Brain
We must understand that we hear with our brain and not our ears. If an individual suffers from hearing loss or tinnitus, this distorts how the brain understands sound.
“Most people with hearing loss say they can hear they just don’t understand what someone is saying. They aren’t getting the right signals to the brain.” explains Tim Fick, an audiologist at Heartlandhear. “When a person has a degree of hearing loss, it is important that we send the correct signal to the brain.”
Hearing loss occurs when a part of your hearing is damaged, resulting in different types of hearing loss and to different degrees. Two of the most common causes of hearing loss are noise and aging which in return also means that our hearing changes as we age or if we suffer from a hearing damage.
Tinnitus, on the other hand, is a perception of nonexistent sound. In other words, the brain hears sound when there is no external noise present. Most sufferers of tinnitus refer to it as ‘ringing in the ears’ and it is usually accompanied with some degree of hearing loss.
Whether it is tinnitus or hearing loss, the brain plays a crucial role in understanding sound while our ears define our capabilities to capture sound. Given those two facts, the customization of hearing enhancement and tinnitus relief become a pressing matter.
The Best Sound is Tailored
By now we understand that our hearing profile is unique and depends on our varying hearing capabilities. What is more important to comprehend is this hearing profile is the catalyst for personalized sound and music.
In their article “Earprint or The Introduction to Personalized Sound” our partners Mimi Hearing Technologies, the specialists in tailored sound and hearing, compare personalized sound to prescription sunglasses.
They elaborate on how prescription sunglasses adapt your surroundings to your visual abilities and compensate the loss of vision you incurred. You can also personalize your sunglasses by picking your favorite lens color.
Personalized sound follows the same concept but instead it is digital and for your ears – what you hear can be adapted to your hearing abilities with your personalized settings (more bass, less treble, etc.). You can simply see why the best sound you could experience is one that is personalized and matches your hearing profile.
The Era of Personalized Sound Enhancement
The potential of individual hearing lies in helping those of us who suffer from mild to severe hearing loss to hear music and sound again with the least degree of distortion. The goal of this movement is to remove the stigma of hearing loss that is associated with wearing unappealing hearing aids, allowing billions around the world to enjoy the best sound using personalized hearing amplifiers.
Prominent players such as Even, Nuraphone, and Mimi Hearing Technologies saw the opportunities in personalized sound. Even, with their Even Earphone, challenge the current market of headphones with their promise of a remarkable sound experience based on the result of a hearing assessment. Similarly, Mimi Hearing Technologies focus on personalized sound combining both innovation and their expertise with over a million ears tested world-wide and a unique sound personalization technology that is developed by hearing scientists and audio engineers in Germany. On the other hand, Nuraphones use a test that employs sensitive microphones in their headphones to measure the Otoacoustic Emissions, claiming to capture the user’s hearing profile.
So, what is an Earprint?
An Earprint is simply the term we use in the hearable space to describe your hearing profile. It is the print of your ears that makes your hearing unique. It is also the backbone that drives us at Bragi and especially Project Ears as we move forward in our path to provide Hearing Enhancement. Expect to hear this term more often in the future with the rise of the age of hearables and more specifically hearing amplifiers and enhancers.
Editor of Project Ears and a true believer in our mission to enable you.