Private Ear and TMC are working on a natural hearing system for musicians
Gerrit Eijkelboom has two major hobbies, and they both involve a lot of loud sounds: (rock)music and racing cars. A few years ago, the always being surrounded by loud music caused him to suffer Tinnitus, a type of hearing damage. This made Eijkelboom decide to do something about this problem. “I really had the need for a new kind of hearing protection. One that allows you to experience the intensity of music without the number of decibels causing problems. So, you basically want to be able to turn down the volume in your ears, but be surrounded by music,” says Eijkelboom. This is how he came up with the idea of Private Ear, which he is now developing in collaboration with TMC’s Entrepreneurial Lab.
Protecting your ears without compromising on sound quality
Your hearing is a valuable possession. Especially for musicians it is indispensable. For them, the best hearing protection possible is extremely important. However, current solutions are often far from ideal. From a wet piece of toilet paper or cheap foam earplugs to custom-made earplugs, they all make music sound like it is ‘far away’ and you cannot experience a space in a natural way. There are professional in-ear solutions as well, but these are difficult to arrange without the assistance of a sound engineer. Plus, they can only be used if a complete installation is available. To tackle all these problems at once, Private Ear has been designed.
“I haven’t seen a product that comes close to Private Ear in terms of sound quality and convenience. I’d like to buy the product when it comes to the market,” says Jeroen Roelofsen.
Private Ear is a sound system as well as hearing protection, designed especially for musicians. You wear them inside your ears, and you can listen to music on a sound level which is not dangerous, without losing quality of the music. The earplugs are equipped with a microphone. Once the music passes the microphone, the sound becomes electronic. This means you can turn down the sound, eliminate the loud peaks and adjust the sounds to your preferences. As a musician, you might have certain sounds you want to hear louder, such as your own instrument or one of your band members. These can be added to Private Ear as an extra entry. The system can be used everywhere and anytime, whether you enter a rehearsal room or if you are at a festival. Once you have programmed the earplugs to your preferences, all you have to do is put them in.
From the first drafts to a functioning prototype
“When I started with Private Ear, I only had an idea of which I assumed it could work very well. But to actually develop a professional audio system I needed specialized engineers. That is when I got in touch with TMC’s Entrepreneurial Lab,” Eijkelboom explains. TMC is traditionally mainly specialized in the high-tech industry. But nowadays their specialists also contribute to a variety of other (social) projects. For example, various startups already benefit of TMC’s innovation as a service. By joining forces in an early stage, major stake can be taken very quickly. For Employeneur and music enthusiast Jos de Vries, this is a great project. “I often design and craft with speakers. When I heard about this project, it immediately caught my attention. The challenge in this project is to make the electronics as small as possible, but it needs to be built very strongly at the same time,” says de Vries. “We are currently carrying out various tests for the first prototype, which is made up of a number of separate components.”
After the prototype was tested internally, it was time to have test sessions with professionals. Jeroen Roelofsen, professional pianist, tested the prototype while playing the piano. Roelofsen: “I usually don’t wear my earplugs during live performances. With in-ears everything sounds quite isolated and oppressive. Testing Private Ear was very exciting, I didn’t even realize I was wearing earplugs. You can hear the ambient sound just like when you wouldn’t be wearing earplugs, which makes listening very peaceful.”
A product in which everything is 100% right
Despite the great progress which is being made, there are some optimizations to be done before Private Ear can enter the market. Besides getting the electronics working properly, the challenge at this point is to make sure a delay in the sound cannot be noticed. To be able to anticipate to other band members, it is extremely important for the target group, musicians, that the music is a 100% ‘right’.
If everything goes according to plan, the first full-functioning Private Ear prototype will be ready by the end of the summer. “In the future this product can be used for other applications as well. Think about people working in loud environments like factories, they need to hear sounds properly without being exposed to too many decibels. If another version of the product would be introduced with limited options, this can also be a great solution for people going to festivals and concerts,” adds Eijkelboom. “For now, the focus is on musicians, that is where it all started with after all.”