noopl innovator of year award interview

Addressing the Hearing in Noise Problem: Interview with Dr. Tim Trine, CEO of Noopl

In this week’s episode, Dave Kemp interviews Dr. Tim Trine, CEO of Noopl. His company was recently named ‘Innovator of the Year’ by an international panel of judges in the 2021 Hearing Technology Innovator Awards™ for it’s innovative iPhone accessory that works to provide better hearing in background noise.   
 
The device, which clips onto the bottom of the iPhone, 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 and AirPods 3, it can detect which direction the user is facing to help better reduce background noise and enhance speech where the user is looking.  

Full Episode Transcript

Dave Kemp 0:10

Okay, welcome back to another episode of This Week in Hearing where we cover all types of news, innovation and happenings covering the whole gambit of the world of hearing and the world of audio, hearing health included. And so for today’s episode, I’m joined by the recipient of Hearing Health Matters 2021, ‘Innovator of the Year’ award with his company, Noopl, CEO, Tim Trine. So Tim, tell us a little bit about yourself. And then if you want to introduce Noopl, and just kind of an overview of what your innovative company does, right now

Tim Trine 0:48
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. And before we go on, I actually have to show this awesome trophy that so we didn’t expect that we got notification about the award, which will be, I guess, announced. This is the formal announcement of this award. And I know we’re just humbled to receive that it was, that was very cool, unexpected surprise. But, so, a little bit about me. I’ve been in the hearing aid industry my entire career. After doing my PhD at the University of Minnesota, I went back to Vanderbilt where I had done my master’s degree and joined the faculty there and was there for three years. And during that time, I began doing some research in collaboration with Starkey Hearing technologies. And to make a long story short, I ended up at Starkey initially there to do research. And within about six months, I was driving product development and spent a long career there. So 19 years at Starkey, ultimately, as the Chief Technical Officer from there I moved to Eargo. And I think many of your viewers will be familiar with Eargo as the really the first hearing aid startup that has had success. Many have tried and most have failed. But Eargo successfully took it all the way to an IPO and are still still going today. And then in 2020, I left Eargo to join Noopl as the president and CEO, so and with Noopl we are kind of attacking this hearing and noise problem from a completely different perspective. And we’re just getting started so we launched our first product in may listen to our customers did a quick hardware firmware and application app update and really got moving into the market in late August so we’re available now on Amazon and will be on best in Best Buy online next week and in store in December so we’re beginning to get some traction so we’re excited.

Dave Kemp 3:04
Yeah, I think it’s a it’s like you said it’s you’re coming at this from a different a different approach. It’s an approach that I think is been made possible through sort of the just, you know, astronomical growth of air pods. I think that air pods have really ushered in an entirely new wave of consumer audio and the way in which we as a society now sort of are conditioned to wear things in and around our ears for extended periods of time. And so I think you know, as as so happens often in these tech booms is you have an ecosystem that’s built out around these super popular hits. And you’re a perfect example of that so why don’t you share a little bit about what Noopl is, you know, both the product itself and then what you’re attempting to do, like you said kind of solving some of the challenges like speech and noise

Tim Trine 4:01
right that actually is I mean my you know, the really the deciding technical hurdle that was overcome for me personally in thinking about joining Noopl because I had been familiar with the company for a few years prior to that Steve Verdooner is the co founder of the company and he reached out to me slightly after a few months after I had joined Eargo and and wanted to bring me on board and it was one of those meetings of friend of a friend and I really didn’t expect to be excited about what he had to say and took it as a courtesy you know meeting and but left that was a while you guys are really on to something here. But no I can’t leave Eargo I just started. So but I said look, I’m happy to help you guys out it’s not a it’s not a competing product, and not a competing competing technology. But fast forward to fall of 2019 and that’s when air pod pros AirPods Pro were launched and both Steve and I kind of had the same reaction, which was, this is a great vehicle for hearing. And why is that? Two reasons one, they, they totally nailed transparency mode, right? So right, the notion of using the microphones in your AirPod to pick up voice and transmitted into the ear canal seems like a trivial thing. But doing that in a in a way that is acoustically acceptable, as all of your audience knows very, very well, right? The occlusion effect is a is a significant barrier for that. But Apple absolutely nailed it from a transparency perspective, that and that, and the addition of what was happening on the wireless front, kind of it was easy to see that there was this great convergence of technologies that were going to enable some really innovative products. So let me talk a little bit about about Noopl. Here in that context. So let me just, I’ll show this to the screen. That’s the Noopl device there on the bottom, there we go. And if I hold it just right, you can see that under that little array of dots, there are three microphones. And, and that’s where most of the magic occurs. So three microphone directional array and allows for about a 15 dB improvement in the signal to noise ratio. But the magic really comes from when using your AirPod Pros is the fact that we can leverage aspects of spatial audio to hear that array. So if as I turned my head to the left, and I turned my head to the right, you see that that arc, which indicates the direction of the processing follows my head movement really quickly and accurately. So the use case is, many of your, your viewers are familiar with the concept of remote microphones is kind of a remote microphone on steroids. So in a crowded restaurant, yes, you know, just pop it down on the table in front of you still within arm’s reach, you don’t have to think about it anymore, right. And then as I turned my head, it’s just going to focus in on who I want to talk to. And of course, you know, we’ve made it flexible. The other the other aspect that is been a great compliment is Chatable AI based noise reduction. So we licensed Chatable’s algorithm, and it’s a simple one on one slider interface, right to then dial in additional noise reduction that runs on the phone. So we most of our processing is happening on this accessory. And then we’ve got chattable noise reduction happening on the phone. And then most recently, last feature, which is important for for people with some hearing loss is that and what we heard number one piece of feedback, we’ll see if I can get the glare off of there is really the ability to provide some frequency specific game. Alright, so we’ve just got the simple bass treble control. But again, it’s a bass treble control, unlike, you know, any graphic equalizer you’ve ever worked with. So that’s provide plus or minus 20, dB in the lows and the highs to to really help personalize that experience for anybody and, and compensate for some mild high frequency hearing loss as well. So it’s a great, great all around product at a price point that is very accessible. So list price is $249.

Dave Kemp 8:35
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot that’s going on there that I find to be just so fascinating as somebody that’s been kind of like covering the innovation in this space for a while. It’s you’re really like tapping into a lot of the most exciting trends in my opinion. So first of all, you know, I think with the AirPods Pro, one of the things that I saw that, you know, in a recent iOS, it might it might have been 14, I don’t know if it was as recent as 15 with there on now. But it was the ability for developers to tap into the API’s of the accelerometer and the gyroscope. And you know, so the inertial sensors in the actual AirPods Pro, and you just showed it, you know exactly what this looks like is when you turn your head, you know, you’re basically moving, you’re you’re basically orienting the device in the in the directionality of the microphones in there. So again, I think like that’s so cool to me that we’re already now starting to see what this looks like when those kinds of API’s open up and the use cases that can be built on top of it. The second thing is what you said about you know, Chatable – so I recently had a conversation here on This Week in Hearing with Giles Tongue and Andy Bellavia, and we talked about, you know, basically, what Giles his team at Chatable has been doing and how it’s being baked into different offerings like Noopl’s. And so you know, not only do you have this great directional microphone that’s using, like you said, it’s kind of New Age version of it that’s tapping into things that allows for it to be a directional mic on steroids? Well, now you have the actual AI processing engine that runs on it, so that you’re reducing the latency. And again, when we think about like, how do you solve speech in noise, you have to come at it from a different, probably a different perspective than we’ve ever tried before. And you’re sort of throwing all of the like most New Age tech at it. And I think that’s really, really exciting. And then the last thing that you mentioned is okay, so this is like a lower cost ancillary item. And I think, you know, knowing that this is a show that like really caters to hearing professionals, I want to give you a chance to kind of speak to this idea, which is, this is an awesome, ancillary option that you can position with any patient that again, if the name of the game is how do you just increase your overall value with your patient, and you show them and open their eyes to a lot of the new things that exist on the market today, that in and of itself is highly, highly valuable? I think. And I think that there’s, there’s a real role that the provider can play here in helping to facilitate that in using that as a way in which they can I think, increase their overall perception within their patients eyes. Yeah,

Tim Trine 11:19
I mean, there’s a lot to unpack there. But But I think you’re onto something. spot on, right. And so I’ll start with, this isn’t just a product for AirPod Pros, right. And it works with any MFi hearing aid as well. So it’s, our primary target isn’t necessarily the people with existing hearing aids. But of course, most people I mean, it’s a good reminder to all of us, right, the number one complaint of people that are coming into the clinic is hearing a noise. The number one complaint of people wearing hearing aids is hearing in noise, right, that the top of that Pareto analysis doesn’t change and hasn’t changed in 50 years, not saying that we haven’t made tremendous progress in our ability to treat the hearing and noise problem. But it remains a big, big problem, right. And so having a product like this, that is really low friction and low cost that you can bolt on as a front end to an existing hearing aid is one solution. And then there’s this other population that is going untreated, right? So somewhere between, depending on the clinic, depending on the context of the clinic, between 10 and 40% of incoming patients are coming into the clinic because they have a problem, right? But those between 10 and 40%, are walking away with no treatment. And that’s they’re walking away either because they’re not ready to deal with the stigma or they’re not ready to deal with the cost or, frankly, though they don’t have enough hearing loss to write really derive benefit from a full blown hearing aids. And so there’s a whole segment of the market that really hasn’t been touched, that isn’t, you know, so we don’t represent a threat to existing channel really complement that channel very, very well. And there’s, you know, everybody knows the statistics on the average time between first realization or diagnosis of hearing loss, and first hearing aid is still on average, seven years, right? So if we can get people early, earlier on in that patient journey, and you as a clinician can get that person as part of your database, develop a relationship with that person, right, the total lifetime value of that patient goes up, right. And so we definitely can play a role in that context as well. So yeah,

Dave Kemp 13:47
I know, I completely agree, I think that it’s a it’s a great, it’s a great way, I think, to reach a lot of people that you hadn’t previously reached before. And that’s sort of the name of the game right now, I feel like within this whole industry, and in this space, is that, you know, you look at the writing on the wall with everything that’s coming with OTC and all of that. I think that what you just said there sort of a microcosm of I think the bigger trend, which is, I don’t necessarily know if the current existing markets going to change all that much. What I think we’re going to see is a dramatic expansion of the market as more people that had never really been inclined for whatever reason whether like you said, it’s price stigma, or just the perceived feeling of I don’t warrant anything quite yet. So when you start to present new kinds of solutions, and again, what I find to be so interesting about your particular product is you’re talking about a product that is a it’s a very mainstream consumer electronics device that people aren’t buying for that purpose. It’s a post purchase realization where they say, hey, look, I already own AirPods Pro. Well, you know, there’s this attachment That I can get for my phone that’s like a dongle that I use in a very, very situational setting, maybe initially where it’s, I struggle at work in the conference room or, you know, I, I struggle at my favorite restaurant, just kind of noisy, you know. So I see it as being the that’s what makes me so excited about what’s happening broadly speaking with, I think the a lot of this stuff that’s happening on the more mild end of the market is you’re giving people a much more palatable entry point into the market that I think opens the door to them realizing the benefits of, hey, look, I have this restoration, this is what this sounds like, again, this is great. And you kind of let them come to the realization that they want more on their own terms, rather than saying, Take it or leave it, here’s, here’s what options you have available to you, which is kind of what’s always existed for, you know, for a variety of reasons. But I think technology really has caught up to the point now where there’s some very compelling entry level solutions that I think will really open the door in, in a sizable way to people that, that we’ve never really seen in this market before.

Tim Trine 16:13
yea we will, we certainly hope so. Let me throw out some just quick, some quick numbers at you. Because I’m, you know, part of part of my you know, philosophical view is quantifying, you know, being a very analytical person, I like to quantify things, right. But if you just look at, that’s what I was pulling up on the side here, right? The US hearing aid market is $10 billion, right at the retail level, right? That, you know, the the estimate this year in sales, US hearing aid sales, 4.7 million hearing aids that will be sold in 2021. We contrast that with the truly wireless earbud market — that’s a $35 billion market, and 300 million earbuds to be sold in 2021. Right. So there that the scale is just crazy different now. So the other the other thing is in terms of the growth of that market, right? Where you know, the hearing aid industry has come back, right there. Now the recent reports are now that pent up demand is definitely created a great quarter for for the industry. And anticipation is that, you know, 2021 total end of your sales will outpace 2019 sales even, which is great, but that compound annual growth rate is about four to 6%. Right? best estimates on the compound annual growth rate for the earbud market is 17%. Right? So just a crazy difference. So there is this, you know, we can’t escape it there is this convergence of technologies, that that is a reality for all of us, you know, to understand, you know, how do we take advantage of that, and how to how to clinicians take advantage of that, hopefully, they see that as Hey, you know, I really want to have a solution for those people earlier in the funnel right earlier in the patient journey that, you know, aren’t quite ready for a variety of reasons for full time hearing aid, and situational hearing, they can play a role in in brokering that and in developing that relationship. And I think that’s a winning combination.

Dave Kemp 18:35
Yeah, I mean, I know I was looking at some of the numbers too, and I know AirPods Pro in particular, which is sort of like I know, the, the ideal companion to Noopl right now. And that might change in time as you become, you know, you increase your ecosystem of compatible products. But, you know, we’re talking about a product that AirPods version one debuted in 2016, I think, and five years later, the, you know, the premium offering, there’s like 100, and I think it’s like 190 million units that are sort of circulating globally right now. So it’s not like there’s some off chance that your patients going to own these things, there’s a decent chance that they’re going to own them. And again, as I think you make this a more holistic ecosystem where you’re compatible with all different devices and you know, more and more people opt to for whatever reason have, you know, lots of different hearing aid users would agree they you know, have a pair of their, in the ear device headphones for streaming podcasting, whatever it might be, that just is superior in some way or another, to their hearing aids, and they use them a little bit more situational. So I think this idea of catering to that offering that many people already are owning and are continuing to own at a faster and faster pace. I feel as if it’s it’s another one of these things where It’s just part of that conversation that you can have in the clinic to better understand your patient and figure out, okay, like, let me start to piece these things together and at least provide you with more options that might help to solve some of those things that maybe your hearing aids get you 90% of there, 90% there. But for that remaining 10%, there might be some ancillary things out there that are a better, better fit for it. And so you’re presenting a more holistic offering to them, I just feel like that’s going to that’s going to be something that is more and more viable as time goes on. And it’s already pretty viable.

Tim Trine 20:36
Yeah, I agree. 100%, obviously, and the, you know, the, the size of I mean, the brutal fact is that Apple has won that market, right, they have over 40% market share globally, I think it’s north of 60% in the United States. And they’ve won because they’ve, they’ve created a product that is compelling. And I think the other thing to take note of is that the the cultural, there’s been a cultural shift, right, as Apple has started to introduce things like headphone accommodations, which is essentially a multi channel compressor in in AirPods to, you know, at least deal with mild to moderate hearing loss, conversation boost, boost, which leverages these two microphones, give you a directional boost that’s about at parity with a well designed hearing aid. and in conjunction with products like Noopl, right? The the cultural barrier of seeing people use, you know, wearing AirPods and thinking, Oh, those guys are off, that person’s off the air, they’re listening to a podcast, they’re listening. I can’t come and talk to them. That’s, that’s shifting, right? we’ve kind of been waiting, I’ve been waiting for this cultural shift to occur. And it’s beginning now. And our customers, you know, there, there’s a few people that are apprehensive about that. And once they have it, it’s a it’s a short conversation, and they pull it out and in a restaurant, and somebody goes, What’s that about? You know, are you on the phone? No, I’m using this to hear you better, and it immediately shifts from it from, oh, you’re being rude to Oh, my God, that’s really cool. To me, you know, show me how that works. I could use one of those. Right. I mean, that’s, I think that that takes the power of a marketing engine like Apple to create that shift. Right. And it’s, it’s beginning to happen, and we’re delighted by that.

Dave Kemp 22:35
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think that that’s that’s always been sort of my, my whole prerogative on this or my belief is that I think that the role Apple’s really playing is they’re normalizing situational amplification, or at least they have the potential to do so. Because to your point, you know, it’s, I think pre AirPods it was I think, what was always challenging about this was you know, if if, if not hearing aids in a social setting, like the cocktail party, or you know, at the dinner table or something like that, you’re the behavioral change that you’re demanding for something that’s like an alternative that’s like a situational type device is it’s like you’re you’re basically warranting just like you said, what, what do you what are you wearing there? What’s going on there? And for a lot of people that’s really detracting I think that might be the limitation that causes them not to want to do that. But when you have it so that you just have one AirPod in or maybe both in and you’re at the table and it’s just like you said is this becomes more in the overall mainstream sort of Zeitgeist understanding awareness of like, this is this is a thing like transparency mode has this option. I think that there’s that’s the positive impact that Apple a company like Apple can really have here is to make it so that it’s just completely normal. And ultimately, does it then become like the cheaters equivalent within the hearing space? And and then what are the implications of that, you know, if you own a pair of cheaters, chances are that you have something that’s higher end, you know, especially if it’s a progressive hearing loss, typically. So again, I think it lends itself so much to this idea of how important it is to have an entry point to get people familiarized with combating it and treating it early and in the most challenging situations so that they’re not in the 7 to 10 year gap and they come to you in their in the problem’s festered and over seven years, and they’re in this horrible condition and they’re upset and everything, a more gradual, you know, ride to that eventual point. I think it bodes better for obviously the patient but also the provider, in my opinion, too, because they’re coming to you with an understanding of like, kind of what these things are already entailed. The improvements that they might offer.

Tim Trine 25:02
Right? I couldn’t agree more. But I think the other the other reality, so the other thing is happening, right, at least the gossip that, you know, next week, Apple’s got a another debut, right and the gossip is that AirPods 3 will be part of that, we’ll see, right, and we’ll see exactly what the feature set includes the gossip again, also, as that spatial, spatial audio will be a feature set that’s included there. But it’s important to note, you know, that even though the list price for AirPods Pro is $249, you can get them on Amazon today for 179. Right. So you know, there’s tremendous price pressure within this TWS, TWS bud space, right. And so there’s gonna be a proliferation of products and, and the final technology stack element for us that is emerging as Bluetooth 5.2. Alright, so Bluetooth 5.2 was announced beginning of last year. Not yet in cell phones or buds, but it’s just, it’s right there on the cusp. Right, Android 12. If you read the news on Android 12, early on, before they launched last week, it was clearly part of the planned release. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut quite yet. And part probably more to do with the Bluetooth SIG than the folks over at Google. But it will be there very, very shortly. And that opens up a just a bevy of opportunity for Noopl. Because we it solves the last, you know, bit of latency, that is a problem for listening and quiet, right? So we have an awesome listening and noise solution today. But when people ask, Well, can I use it for my TV, you can. But it’s not a great use case for us, right. And that’s because we still have, you know, 70 to 80 milliseconds of latency. But with Bluetooth 5.2. And the LC 3 codec that’s embedded they’re leveraging that will be down in the sub 30 sub 20 millisecond range, which suddenly makes you know, the issue completely go away, and you’ve got a transparent system. So it’s a, I’m excited about, you know, what’s coming, yes, we will have an Android solution by Q1 of next year, okay. And we’re actively working on that. And, you know, and we’re continuing to add to the functionality of the system that we have so and then, of course, expanding the channel. So for your audience, I’d love to talk to anybody that has interest. And we’ve got, we’re piloting in several clinics across the country right now. And it remains to be seen on whether or not, you know, this is a good channel for us. Because it is a low priced product, right. And typically price, you know, products at this price point aren’t something that moves dramatically within the audiology channel, because people see it as now, I’ve only got so much time in every day. And you know, why should I spend some time at this low end, but I think that’s misguided in terms of not recognizing the lifetime value of your patients. And it doesn’t, you know, a five minute office visit or a visit, you know, selling through in the waiting room, so your office manager is spending that time rather than the clinician spending the time is a great opportunity as well. So if any of your customers are interested in in talking about it with me, we’d absolutely love to pilot something with individual clinicians.

Dave Kemp 28:44
That’s awesome. Yeah, I do. I think that there’s a lot going in, going on in my head right now about it, because I’ve been thinking a lot about, you know, a lot of the conversations I’ve had on this show and on my podcast FuturEar, talking about this idea of you know, what happens if if and when that day ever comes where you find a way as a provider to unwind yourself from the widget entirely. And you’re, you’re more of a, you know, you’re getting compensated on just your time, then does it matter what you’re prescribing? It might just be that, you know, your whole time is based upon the consultation, the education and all that and then, you know, so that’s a that’s a different discussion for a different day. But I do think that this is something that is I think, going to become more compelling as time goes on. Even at the price point. I think that the the fact of the matter is, just like you said, it’s looking at it more through the lens of the lifetime value of the patient and the patient’s perspective and understanding how can you make it so that they have this optimal experience, and they go and they tell their friends about what they’re doing. And I think, you know, if you follow that over the next few years, it’s like you said earlier, it we really might start to kind of see a real behavioral change, broadly speaking, be ushered in where a lot of these behaviors become normalized. And I think that would really bode well for people that might be hesitant to treat their, their current sort of hearing loss or whatever situation they’re in due to whatever variety of factors there are out there. So Tim, thank you so much. Congrats on the award. This has been great. Thanks for everybody who tuned in here and we will chat with you next time.

Tim Trine 30:24
Thanks very much.

Be sure to subscribe to the TWIH YouTube channel for the latest episodes each week, and follow This Week in Hearing on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Prefer to listen on the go? Tune into the TWIH Podcast on your favorite podcast streaming service, including AppleSpotify, Google and more.

 
About the Panel
Tim Trine, Ph.D., is the President and CEO of Noopl. Tim is a scientist at heart and a hearing-industry veteran having built and led world-class R&D organizations prior to joining Noopl. He has a passion for disruptive innovation and thrives on building great teams.
 
 

Dave Kemp is the Director of Business Development & Marketing at Oaktree Products and the Founder & Editor of Future Ear. In 2017, Dave launched his blog, FutureEar.co, where he writes about what’s happening at the intersection of voice technology, wearables and hearing healthcare. In 2019, Dave started the Future Ear Radio podcast, where he and his guests discuss emerging technology pertaining to hearing aids and consumer hearables. He has been published in the Harvard Business Review, co-authored the book, “Voice Technology in Healthcare,” writes frequently for the prominent voice technology website, Voicebot.ai, and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace.

 

About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, hearing-impaired consumers and those who love them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.