After unveiling its iPhone® hearing enhancement accessory at CES 2021 in January, California-based startup Noopl recently began sending out orders of its Noopl 1.0 device, which is intended to help people hear more clearly in background noise.
The device, which retails for $199, clips onto the bottom of an iPhone and utilizes a three-mic array and beam steering to help focus in on speech more clearly. By using the head tracking technology built into the Airpods Pro, it is designed to detect which direction the user is facing to help better reduce background noise and enhance speech.
HHTM recently caught up with the company’s CEO, Dr. Tim Trine, and had the opportunity to test out a Noopl device with a set of AirPods Pro.
Dr. Trine is a hearing industry veteran. Prior to joining Noopl, he spent 19 years with Starkey Hearing Technologies in Minnesota before moving to San Francisco in 2017 to be Chief Technology Officer for direct-to-consumer hearing aid maker, Eargo. He holds a Ph.D. in hearing science from the University of Minnesota, an M.B.A. from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in Audiology from Vanderbilt University, and his bachelor’s degree in communication disorders from California State University, Northridge.
According to Dr. Trine, the microphone array processing technology in the Noopl 1.0 accessory was developed over 5 years through a collaboration between the renowned National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL), the HEARing CRC, University of Melbourne and Noopl, Inc.
The company has also recently partnered with Chatable to continuously improve its speech processing abilities. Chatable helps users focus on in-person conversation by “providing clear voice without noise, using an AI-based approach to noise reduction by leveraging real-time neural speech synthesis”. Combining the Noopl device and iOS app with Chatable technology aims to deliver an even better product for users to hear through the noise.
Who Can Benefit from Noopl?
The Noopl device is intended to be used for situational hearing challenges – specifically, trouble hearing clearly in background noise.
While trouble hearing in background noise often the biggest complaint among people with hearing loss in general, there are also millions of individuals with so-called ‘hidden hearing loss‘, who could potentially benefit from this type of technology.
Our test device arrived in nice clean packaging, which included: Noopl 1.0 device, multiple couplers, carrying case and an easy to follow Setup Guide.
The device, which is compatible with iPhone 7 and newer models, is very lightweight and plugs directly into the bottom of the iPhone through the lightning port.
One of the critical parts of setting up the Noopl device on the iPhone is to ensure you have the appropriate coupler – which will vary based on the model of iPhone and whether or not it has a cover. Fit incorrectly, performance will suffer and could result in feedback.
Downloading and setting up the iOS app with the AirPods Pro was found to be very simple and straightforward.
The app is easy and intuitive to use. Adjustable volume and noise reduction levels allow the user to adjust and customize the incoming sound.
The most impressive feature, however, is the steerable beamformer.
Head steering information from the AirPods Pro® is passed through the iPhone to the Noopl 1.0 accessory to steer the directional array based on the direction the user is looking every few milliseconds–which is displayed visually as the user turns their head. In addition, the app is designed to automatically recognize whether the user is holding the phone or has their phone on a table and optimizes the directional performance accordingly.
The device can also be manually controlled to alter the focus of the microphone towards whichever speaker or sound source you want to hear.
We found this feature to work as advertised, both in the automatic and manual modes, using the AirPods Pro.
Does Noopl Only Work with AirPods Pro? What About Hearing Aids?
“We chose AirPods Pro because they currently have the lowest latency Bluetooth audio connection. We will be qualifying other TWS earbuds but currently the only earbuds that currently support a low-latency connection are the AirPods and the PowerBeats Pro,” said Dr. Trine. “I anticipate that this will change rapidly as both cell phone and earbud manufacturers begin to support the Bluetooth 5.2 standard.”
We asked Dr. Trine if Noopl plans to offer compatibility with wireless hearing aids and cochlear implants in the future.
“We already work with all MFi hearing aids and cochlear implants! In fact, some of our most delighted customers are cochlear implant users who for the first time in their lives are able to communicate in a noisy environment. It’s amazing to hear their stories. The key to success for both hearing and and cochlear implants users is to ensure that their ear-level microphone input is muted when using Noopl. Doing so ensures that the signal to noise ratio advantage offered by the Noopl processing is maintained.”
The Noopl device also supports other wireless earbuds, as well as MFi hearing aids and cochlear implants. However, the automatic steering feature is currently only available on the AirPods Pro.
Noopl offers users a simple, affordable solution to address a common problem – hearing clearly in background noise.
While it’s currently limited to iPhone users, the device holds a great deal of promise for millions people with hearing loss and those who experience situational hearing problems in background noise.
The company tells HHTM that it expects to begin supporting Android phones by winter 2021. For more details visit Noopl’s website to learn more.