Reimagining Hearing Aid Design: Interview with Nick Morgan-Jones and Gray Dawdy of Decibels

February 16, 2022

This week, host Dave Kemp is joined by Nick Morgan-Jones and Gray Dawdy of Decibels.

Nick says that he has needed hearing aids since the age of 10, but was turned off by the stigma associated with traditional hearing aids. In 2021, Nick started Decibels (originally Butterfly Audio) and video blogged his journey along the way. Working with his friend and designer, Gray Dawdy, the pair designed and tested a number of iterations along the way.

Their goal is to make their hearing enhancers available to everyone who wants to have hearing devices that look as good as they sound.

Full Episode Transcript

Dave Kemp 0:10
All right, and welcome to another episode of This Week in Hearing today I am joined by Nick Morgan-Jones and Gray Dowdy like rowdy, so I wanted to bring these two on today to talk about what they’re building with Decibels. Really an awesome story and project. I’ve been following Nick for a while. And, you know, along this journey, it’s been about a year I think since you sort of introduced to the world what you were trying to do with this. First time I’m getting to meet Gray. So awesome to have you here as well Gray and hear a little bit more about, you know, what’s going on a year from you know, the the genesis of this whole project and kind of like, how you guys are progressing with with your project and where things stand today. So let’s kick things off. Let you two introduce yourselves. Maybe talk about you know how you even got to know one another? So we’ll start with you, Nick.

Nick Morgan-Jones 1:05
Yeah, thanks so much. So yeah, my name is Nick. And I started this project, it used to be called Butterfly Audio, the last time we were talking at least. And this was kind of a personal project for a long time to reimagine hearing tech, or the stigma associated with hearing tech is something that has always frustrated me. And this project is a way to try and eliminate that stigma and have hearing tech which is super cool. So I started working on this thing full time about… Yeah, about a year ago. And in March, I made a statement to the world say, I’m gonna redesign my own hearing aids in my bedroom, cause I hate how my current hearing aids look. And after making that kind of statement, I went, Oh, God, now I actually have to go ahead and do it. And now there’s a lot of skills that I didn’t have to move forward with this. And that’s why I reached out to Gray actually. We used to work together and still working together in a slightly different light now.

Dave Kemp 2:10

Gray Dawdy 2:11
Yeah. Good intro. Yeah, I can introduce myself a bit. I’m Gray. I’m originally from the states from California. Now I live in Munich, in Germany. And I’ve been a product designer and like, mechanical engineer, product developer, and all that kind of stuff. For like, you know, I guess it’s getting close to a decade now. Yeah, so we used to work together. Actually, I think the story is pretty good. I think it’s fun. So we, we didn’t really we’re like in the same company, but in different offices. So we didn’t meet and we’re at the Christmas party. I randomly sat next to him. And I think I think at first, I didn’t really like you. I thought, because you’re like, you’re super cool. And he was like, I’m not even sure if I wanna be here right now. And then. And then we started really, really hitting the wine pretty hard. I think we got really drunk. And then it was like, super fun. And then we’re like best friends all of a sudden. Pretty good time. Kept yelling the name of the wine. Yeah. Remember, you just kept yelling the name of the wine like. Yeah, I looked it up later. And we were saying it totally wrong. But yeah, that’s,

Nick Morgan-Jones 3:29
that’s how we became friends.

Dave Kemp 3:32
Yeah, it’s like that when we’re not. Yeah,

Gray Dawdy 3:34
we’re not drinking. We’re easy, pretty professional. I think so yeah, we did a bunch of projects together. Through that place we worked at. And the Nick, Nick started working on this project. And then I think I’d randomly get emails from him like, Hey, can you tweak this 3d file? Or can you like 3d print this for me? And it kind of just started blowing up into like, now all of a sudden I’m designing the product but yeah, right. I guess with Nick is a better way to say it. Yeah, now we’re working on this together. It’s a super cool project. As like a product industrial designer. It’s like, like a great thing to work on. You know, I’m always like, scoping out like the next coolest thing I can put my hands on too. So once Nick told me about this, I always had this in the back of my head, like, oh, man, I should really try to trick him into let me do some design work on this thing. And obviously, that’s been successful. And yeah, now we’re just pushing forward into the future together.

Dave Kemp 4:38
Yeah. I mean, I think that what’s really interesting though, is, you know, when you were when you made your proclamation, you know, on on social media, and you kind of announced that, I’m going to try to redesign the way in which you know, hearing aids look, and just go back to first principles and really think through like, what what could this thing look like if we started from scratch today? And I loved everything that you did around, you know, the 3d printing process. And it sounds like Gray, you were pretty integral in that part. So can you just talk a little bit about what that was, like, I guess getting to the point now, where you actually have a functional prototype, seems like there was tons and tons of different iterations. And again, like just doing this out of your quote, unquote, bedroom is, I think, just kind of inspiring. And it’s also a testament to what can be done today. I mean, it’s like that’s, you know, through all of these cool new innovations, like 3d printing, you actually can from scratch, develop a prototype. And that’s really, really neat. So just kind of talk through I guess, like, what that was like that period of iterating. I’m sure there were parts of it, where you probably thought like, this is pointless, what are we doing? But you didn’t give up and you kept pushing through it. So I’m just curious to hear about like, what this was, like.

Gray Dawdy 5:57
Let’s say there’s different streams like that we have been working on and like, also, obviously, in the future. One of those was, like, let’s say, the more classic design a things like where are the materials? What’s the shape? Looks kind of like the design language, we industrial designers like to call it. So what’s the general vibe with the product? That’s one stream. And then another stream be like how the thing fits and how secure it is and how you put it on. And like the ergonomics and kind of like the functional part of the the stuff, all the stuff that’s not the electronics, and then the electronics are another thing too actually probably that over to Nick, I can talk about the other two. So the let’s start with the design language kind of stuff, because that’s the stuff I’d like to talk about. Yeah, we, Nick, when I jumped on this project, Nick, he already had some starting points have some kind of ideas he had, like, he sent me some, like, some watches and some glasses, and I think some other kind of products too. And we started kind of getting like I would say, like, desire, like they call it design language. But that’s not really like a good word, to communicate it. I like to call like the vibes, but that’s like a super like California thing. Like, what are the vibes of this thing, man. So you kind of like start to get like, the vibe that we wanted to go for. And then basically, the process is, we make a bunch of different ideas. So we made like, and these are like, let’s say 3d modeling, and then putting some materials on it and making some renders out of them. So in the end, you have like kind of almost as photorealistic image of a product that doesn’t exist yet, so you can already kind of look in the future before you build it. So we made some different ideas out of that. I think we had something that was really like really plasticky and like fun and kind of like electronics he thing. We had some like more dynamic little sportier, kind of ideas of like black and metal. Kind of, like kind of Yeah, that’s right. We had that one as well. Yeah, like one that was kind of like, I dont even know what to call like, like liquid metally kind of lookin thing. Yeah. So we tried a bunch of different stuff out. And then we came to this one, which is the one like that’s on the website now. Which is like, like, really, I’d say like, definitely inspired by like, you know, just like acetate glasses. Like we have this clear plastic material which, like, you know, it’s like acetate. And we were still in the process of figuring out what this actually is. And yet, we have like this, like, metal wires inserts that kind of like the design glasses, but also a lot of functional benefits. And kind of like this like metal highlight piece that’s kind of like inlaid. So we got to that through like a kind of really fit with a vibe you want to but also, we wanted something that looks kind of like a hearing device and not like for instance headphones. And now with something that we actually found out like a little bit by accident, by like Nick, where he’s around town and trying to talk to people and simpler actually, was we found that the material had a really big impact on like, does this look like a headphone or hearing device kind of thing? Yeah, so in the end, we ended up like come into this thing. That doesn’t look like a hearing aid, but it doesn’t look like your buds but you still kind of get this sense of the hearing thing, but it’s a little bit more like let’s say refined and like what I think a hearing aid designs usually are at least it’s like different and kind of fits with the vibes we want. So that was yeah, that’s that’s the sort of thing. Nick had already found out some functional things before I got on to like, we’re thinking about moving the microphone to to like the front of the ear, and I think that has some benefits too.

And, yeah, so that’s, that’s like a quick overview of the design story. So, like the tools, which I guess is also maybe interesting too, is like a lot of a lot of sketching, a lot of three, printing a lot of like, making like rendering on a computer using like, CGI software kind of stuff, which is like the standard industrial design toolset. And then also the actually, the really fun part of this too, is like in the middle of the pandemic. And Nick and I live in different cities, which aren’t too far. He’s in Berlin, I’m in Munich. It’s like a four hour train ride. But a lot of us are remotes are just like, you know, sending pictures, having video calls, and just like dropping stuff in the DHL box and send over to him. Yeah, but that was like the design styling, I think was relatively straightforward,

Nick Morgan-Jones 10:59
I’d say in general is super cool that you can have an idea. And then you can spend like, what, 200 Euros or less on the 3d printer. And then boom, you’ve got like a new idea. It’s just kind of cool, how you can go from sketches that having something physical in such a short space of time, I guess, like 20 years ago, like, you spend a lot of money on a 3d printer, whereas now it’s just doing something super cheap. Yeah, even

Gray Dawdy 11:25
like, five or 10 years ago, it was like, the cost because when I was in my Bachelor’s, I remember which is way back in like, like, 2010 range of time. There is a 3d printer in our school, and it was like, it was like $100k

Dave Kemp 11:47

Gray Dawdy 11:47
I think it was like one of the only things available at that time. And then all sudden, now we have these, like, super cheap consumer 3d printers that make like, like, especially for something like this, where it’s like, some products you can kind of get away with not really like prototyping and testable maps, like, you know, if you wanted to design I don’t know, like, like a speaker or something like the the prototyping the physical form is like, once you do once, like, okay, it’s not gonna fall apart, kind of thing. But like, it’s not something you have to fit on a body or all this kind of stuff. Yeah, it’s, uh, it’s really cool. I think we’re kind of lucky. And the timing to everything.

Dave Kemp 12:35
I’m curious. So like, when you were in the midst of really iterating? How often were you creating new 3d prints? Was it like, you know, boom, here’s a new one, send it to Nick. Nick tries it out. Okay, I need you to tweak this. I mean, if you had to guess, how many iterations did it take for you from the first one, to where you’re finally like, this is really good. This fits me.

Nick Morgan-Jones 13:00
Too many I have a bag of themg.

Gray Dawdy 13:02
I know, right? I have. That’s the thing I have a box of em too, like 15 to 20? Does that sound right?

Nick Morgan-Jones 13:12
I think I think more though, I mean, I mean, like, also, even before we move to 3d printing, just using wire and foam and stuff like this. I must have done like 10-20 of them. Because I think I think the thing with ears, was I think generally a design, you often think in kind of worse than your x axis, what’s in your Y axis was in your Z axis, but ears are like, there’s like, there’s no straight lines- everything is kind of weird. And every ear is kind of unique and different. So creating a shape, which all the pressure points and the structurally important areas are all in the right position. It just, you can’t really do it on paper. Because there’s really very little straight lines, you’re very much working within a 3d space in order to create a structurally like, structurally good piece of technologies.

Gray Dawdy 14:10
So yeah, and you know, like, if you’re designing like, like watches or clothes or something, there’s actually a lot of like publicly available data on. It’s called, like anthropometric data. So like, how, how big are people’s heads, usually? And what’s the range of sizes? Or like, how long are people’s noses? There’s a lot of this kind of data available. But like, you know, for the ears and especially like, the points we want to touch on the ears and what the exact like 3d layout of that is, I mean, I couldnt find anything. So basically, we’ve just resorted to, like, let’s just start making stuff and put it on people’s heads and sticking these little speakers in people’s ear holes and seeing what happens

Dave Kemp 15:01
But So with this, so you you landed on the one that’s fits Nick. And then it sounds like you have like 20 people that you’re currently sort of iterating on and trying to create something that fits for them as well. So say that that’s all successful. And so you have this side of the equation is how do you actually design that device itself? And then I guess the other side of it is what you put in the device, all the electronics and all that. So is that been more in your wheelhouse? Nick?

Nick Morgan-Jones 15:28
Yeah, well, I think the important thing is that we’re not really approaching this whole project from designing everything from the ground up like electronics, because I mean, I think we would have said before that, the I mean, there’s a lot of really solid hearing tech out there, it does a great job. Our kind of hypothesis, is it that no one really wants to wear it. I mean, no one there’s generalization, but like, given how good the tech is, and how much it can improve your life. Not enough people want to adopt that technology. And so we’re really focusing on how can we redesign it and reposition it in a way to take it forward. So with that in mind, we’re actually looking to work with manufacturers to basically fill our new form factor of a device with already existing already proven technology, rather than having to build that from the ground up. So we’re currently in conversations with a few different manufacturers who’ve reached out to us. And we’re just yet in the process of finding the right one, that’s going to be a great partner to work with, as well as provide the technology to create the experience that we really want to deliver as well. I think that’s an important part that there’s some great hearing tech out there, but maybe the, the tech stack is just not really going to deliver the kind of listening experience that we want. And by listening experience, I guess not focusing too much on the audio quality. But more on is there going to be Bluetooth connectivity? What is it going to be rechargeable battery, is it? Yeah, there’s just there’s a number of kind of extra additional features within the electronics, which we’re interested in looking into and seeing what things should we compromise on what things should we really try and get in to build a really solid experience. And I think this is something that generally in the hearing tech industry, as a hearing aid wearer, myself, I’ve felt has been lacking is just focusing on what I want, like as a as a wearer of hearing tech, like, what would be like super nice to have. And I mean, I think Apple gets pulled into every conversation. But like, they focus on that, first and foremost, what’s the experience of using that product. And I mean, AirPods, like every, every detail of how the hinge on the box opens and everything is really carefully thought about because it just makes it a pleasure to use. And this is really how we’re trying to think about hearing tech as well. We want it to be a pleasure to use. From the technology through to the fit, and everything in between.

Gray Dawdy 18:05
Yeah, like Absolutely. Like, just to really, really reiterate. Oh, that’s a big word. Now is sound smart, because I said it to reiterate what Nick said, like, the like, the studies on like, how satisfied people are with like, the normal hearing aid function of satisfaction rate is like super high. It’s like, I like because I’m a total outsider to this industry. Like now I’m kind of getting into it. But before it was I was really surprised, like, you know, it’s like, you know, like high 80s, low 90s kind of rates of people saying like they’re satisfied or very satisfied their hearing aid dependent on things that you look at. So like the, the, like, main function of the hearing aid isn’t really the problem, I think of like, why people aren’t wearing hearing aids, as far as I can tell. And yeah, that’s that’s why we’re just focusing on like, Okay, I mean, like, like, like, again, to like use the vernacular that all us silly Californians use – hearing aids just aren’t cool. And I think like we want to, we want to make them cool. You know, that’s, that’s like the most layman way I can think of to say, what we’re doing

Dave Kemp 19:26
well, I, I think it’s a it’s really interesting because that is what the that you’re really challenging. I know like is the status quo of and I think it’s really interesting that you’ve already sort of identified that. It’s not really the functionality. That’s the problem. It’s the everything that Nick talked about when he again made like his proclamation that I’m bucking the trend and I want I want to reimagine what these things look like because I don’t have any desire to wear them today. And that’s a real problem is that you know, you have people out there for any number of reason whether It’s like sort of the, the stigma of you know, there’s, you know, ‘geriatric’ connotation with it or this disablement. You know, it’s, there’s lots of different negative connotations with it. For, you know, I think a lot of it is a little bit unfair baggage. But it’s, the problem has always been, I think that there’s only really been one option, it’s like, here, you know, you got to wear this thing. And I think that’s why what you’re trying to do is such a breath of fresh air, because, you know, I think that it’s not even really an ascertation that hearing aids are completely defunct in that they’re not appealing to people, like, there are people that really like the fact that they’re almost invisible. And, you know, they can walk around and wear them all day. They perform awesome. You know, they’re, they’re great devices for some people. But I think that what really resonated when I was watching your, you know, a series of videos, Nick was like, But why can’t we have alternatives? Why can’t we have more options to that? And I do think that it’s interesting that there is this uniform approach, every hearing aid, by and large looks the same. And so to have you two come along and say, like, well, you know, what, what are ways in which maybe this would be a different spin on it. And I thought, like, that’s what’s so exciting about this is, I hope you all succeed. But I think even just putting it out there that there are, there are people out there that are really turned off by the way in which these things look. And we want other options, I think that’s really important to even just have that, like thought exist in the world today. And so I think that, that you’ve already really made a contribution, I think of, of putting that thought out there. And now it’s cool to kind of see this thing to come to fruition. And it’s fascinating to hear how this thing has kind of come to the point. And it is, like you said, from a timing standpoint, where we live in a day and age where it’s kind of feasible now, like, it is similar in the sense that you used to have to spend $100,000, to have a 3d printer even five years ago, to be able to prototype these things. Now you get a one for a couple hundred bucks. And you guys are just prototyping like day in and day out. To the point to where you know, now you’re maybe piquing the interest of some of these different manufacturers that are at least willing to play ball with you and say, Okay, fine, like, you know, we’re willing to dabble in this, and maybe we’ll license some of our electronics or our IP in some fashion. So I guess like, what, if you could speak to prospective partners and those that can help to bring this into fruition? Like, what would be your message that you want to communicate in to kind of like what you’re trying to do here? And it’s only January of 2022, so there’s a lot of time left in the year, what would what would be the best way to maximize your time this year? In kind of, I guess, corral some additional support?

Nick Morgan-Jones 23:00
Yeah. So I think, like, as we said before, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the tech. And one thing that we’re really keen to find a partner on is, is repackaging something that already exists, like working to kind of get something into the market as quick as possible, learn about what we need to improve and then improve on it. And that means not trying to build a custom hearing device, like with everything, even if it’s not from the ground up like that, just trying to repackage something pretty quick. And I think we’re looking for partners that share that kind of mentality with us as well. I think some might be more might err, more on the side of spending three years and tweaking and the perfect thing I got, we’re planning to design something which is as close to perfect and build something about as close to perfect as we can take it. But we want to move quickly. We want to get these safely in user ears and learn how we can make it even better going forward. So we’re looking to move quick.

Gray Dawdy 24:09
Agree. Yeah, I mean, like, I mean, like we’ve been talking about, like I I think me and Nick have a lot of respect for like all this like technology and hearing aids out there. And like they function great. We just kind of have our own vision of how we want to how we want to wear that technology, and also around like the experience of you know, like buying the hearing aid and packaging it fitting in all this kind of stuff. I think we have a good idea of what we want to do there. So but we’re you know, we’re we’re more focused on the design side and the marketing and branding and stuff. Because we know like there’s a lot of great people out there doing great stuff. And I think we just want to make friends in the industry and find some people that are willing to go on this journey with us. And yeah, have a lot of fun with ears.

Dave Kemp 25:10
I know, I think it’s really neat. I guess as we kind of come to the close here, I’m curious, what what has been some of the feedback that you’ve gotten from some of these other early adopters, if you will, people that you’re kind of fitting with their own set of Decibels, what, what’s some of the feedback that that you think is worth sharing?

Nick Morgan-Jones 25:28
The really cool thing is making something I guess that was originally planned for my ears, and then kind of putting on someone and just like really hoping it’s actually going to work. And like, I would say, like 95% of the time, like, what we’ve made works really well. And we don’t really have to make too many changes. And so the feedbacks been fantastic. It’s like people are going, Wow, this is, feels so much lighter than having them having like an earbud in my ear or something like this. Now, the interesting thing, that we’re also working to really tap into the area of the hearing loss market, that are not currently hearing aid wearers. I mean, this is really why we kind of wanted to start this project. So many people don’t wear hearing aids, who really could benefit from the technology so that these are the people we want to, we want to build products for. And what’s interesting is that we’re putting these kind of prototype prototype devices in the ears of people who’ve never worn hearing aids before. And I think they’re all a little bit like, oh, wow, that was really deep in my ear canal. Because the difference to having ear buds in your ear, and you know, a few more millimeters of something a little bit deeper, can feel a little bit weird and uncomfortable for a couple of people for the first couple of seconds. But then secondly, often many of them forget that it’s even there. So it’s, it’s cool to kind of witness people who’ve never experienced the technology, kind of try it for the first time and just really watch like, what are the things they react to? What things do they like, what things are, they kind of maybe a little bit shocked about and then these are all things that we can use to kind of just continuously iterate on our design, on our experience to kind of build something that’s going to be as easy to kind of blend in with the with the existing world today?

Gray Dawdy 27:16
Yeah, exactly like that. The outsider perspective is a really interesting one for me, because I mean, I have, like, let’s say, like, I’m a bit of a newbie, to the hearing aid space and the experience of putting hearing aids on but now I’m starting to get used to it. So when we like, you know, test with people, and like, for instance of thing where people don’t want to put the, the speaker way into their ear. Like, it’s just kind of like, all this stuff, that’s kind of normal in the hearing aid world. But, like, in a way isn’t like normal, unless you’re into it. And kind of getting like, like, let’s say, a fresh set of eyes on this. And I mean, really what we’re doing like as if hearing aids were that now, what would they be like, and we’re doing our take on that, and putting our own like creativity and experience into that too. Also, it’s interesting to hear about like the, the features people want to like, what do people think’s important, like, what does somebody expect in 2022, that a hearing aid would do, if they’ve never worn a hearing aid before? So it’s, it’s really interesting, getting the feedback there. But I would say like outside of the testing to just like, let’s say, you know, obviously Nick’s like a very charismatic, good looking young British guy with a nice mustache that people want to watch. So he pulls people into the video, but like, you know, I think early on when I was just kind of like, helping Nick and I think I wanted to get more involved, but I think he was also trying to, like, suck me in, he was just sending me these comments that people would do on the video. Like, you know, I’ve worn hearing aids my whole life. And I’m like, 24, and I hate it and like, please make it you know, like stuff like this. Yeah, you’re just like, wow, yeah, it’s really, it’s really amazing. Like, what, you know, people just want something that looks nice. And, you know, like, I’m in the realm of product design. So I totally get that, like, you know, like, we’re, everyone’s a little bit emotional, no matter how, like logical we try to be. So it’s like, I just lean into it and say, Yeah, let’s make something that. Like, if it started something that me and Nick like, but it seems like that we’re tapping into something that other people like as well. So we’re happy to share as much as we can.

Dave Kemp 29:46
Yeah, I mean, I think that it’s really neat. I mean, ultimately, you’re, you’re providing people with an alternative and I think that’s resonating. I think there’s a lot of young people out there that feel as if that the The current form factors don’t really speak to them. I think it’s really interesting, Nick, that you’re making it a huge focus to say, why are we making these things invisible, we should they should be visible, you should be proud to be wearing something like that, you should want to wear something like that. That’s a really interesting, sort of, there’s a lot of depth to that thought, you know, there’s a lot more than meets the eye there because you think about it. And it’s true. It’s like air pods are probably the the polar opposite of hearing aids in that regard, where they are almost a social symbol. At this point, people really do buy them as a status thing, they want to be seen wearing them. And so there’s a lot to be said for that about, you know, this, this idea of, you know, if you are going to design a product in a way where you’re increasingly making it more and more invisible, there are trade offs. And I do think that one of the trade offs is that you do sort of inherently position the product in a way that almost is, you’re you’re communicating that you don’t want people to know about that. And so I think there’s a lot of interesting aspects to what you’re doing in terms of challenging these, what is now uniform thinking in this industry, I think. And again, I think that’s just really cool is that I think, today, you know, this combination of having new blood and new thinking that’s kind of coming in, in coincides with the ability for folks like you to kind of get something off the ground rather quickly. And cost efficiently is a pretty potent combo. So I think it’s definitely, I’m taking you two serious, I think it’s definitely like, you know, you’re onto something here, clearly as it resonates with more and more of these people that are that are kind of like being exposed to what you’re doing in buying into this idea. So I think it’s really neat.

Gray Dawdy 31:50
Yeah, it’s, it’s, yeah, yeah, it’s a super interesting topic, the invisibility thing, because like, over Christmas, my, my aunt started wearing hearing aids, I was hanging out with her on Christmas. And I was like, oh, yeah, you know, like, I’m actually working on this thing with a friend. And, you know, like, hearing aids are always supposed to be hidden. And we, we want to, like change that. Because, you know, like, you don’t hide your classes. And you can get designer classes, like, Why? Why can’t you get like good looking, hearing aids kind of thing? And then she just looked at me, and she said, You know, I don’t think that’s gonna work. People want invisible hearing aids. It’s just like,

Dave Kemp 32:30
well, but that is, it’s a really interesting thing. Because again, it’s like, there are camps of people like, my mom wears hearing aids. And I think that she likes the fact that they’re, you know, kind of invisible. I think there’s a large portion of people that do. But again, I don’t think that negates the fact that there are people that feel the opposite. And if you only cater to one portion of people, then of course, you’re kind of alienating these other camps. So the question that is remains to be seen is like, how big is this camp? And I also think that you kind of touched on it earlier with the these more mild forms of hearing loss. You know, this has been this has kind of been a huge topic of conversation within the industry, that’s only picking up more momentum. As you know, all the OTC legislation in the US is due to kind of come online next year is like, Are these people not buying hearing aids because the price point is their main objection? Or are these people never going to wear what you’re basically offering them today? Do we need to rethink the entire way kind of like what you’re doing of the type of offering that’s actually going to resonate with these people? Does it look more like an earbud? Does it look more like something like a bone conduction device that sits kind of up, you know, on the opening of your ear, I just think that these are really interesting thought experiments, because I’m not really bought into this idea that cheaper hearing aids is going to suddenly create mass adoption. There’s parts of the world that have free hearing aids, Nick, in, you know, your home country of the UK, the NHS gives them out. I mean, there’s some, you know, like, nuance to this, but it is by and large free to be able to get that and their adoption rates are pretty similar to the US. So it kind of continues to beg this question of like, is like the the solution here, really just lower cost hearing aids? Maybe that’s going to drive more adoption. I think it’s a net positive, but I don’t really think it’s a silver bullet.

Nick Morgan-Jones 34:35
I couldn’t agree more, I think absolutely reduce the price of hearing aids. That is really important. More just like this is a product that improves people’s lives. Let’s make it affordable. That needs to be done. Like without any question. But yeah, I mean, I think there was a study that was done last year that said something like, even if hearing aids were completely invisible and completely free. Still, only 30% of people would actually go ahead and get them. And it was just like kind of eye opening to me. Whereas I think the way that we look at a lot of products is based on what our current experience of that product or product category is, like you said, almost all hearing aids look pretty much exactly the same. I think I actually showed Gray, a PDF from hearing tracker, which had this kind of map of all of the different hearing, hearing aid brands, and then like their flagship devices, and he goes, Wow, they will make the same product. Like they will look pretty much exactly the same. And so I think if you are in your audiology practice, and you talk to your patients, and you say, Hey, would you like a visible hearing aid? The only thing they’ve ever experienced is one design. Like you can’t, you can’t ask someone to reimagine something completely new, because they’ve never seen it before. So that’s what we’re that we’re taking that responsibility. For everyone else. You’ve not seen any alternative, why would you expect one? That’s what we want to do for you or create a new way of looking at it all together. And, yeah, the topic of invisibility in general was just, I, it frustrates me because I feel like the hearing aid industry is one of the only ones that the only industry that seems to stigmatize its own products. It kind of implies that you should be trying to hide that product. I mean, with any other kind of consumer product, you have a problem in your life that technology can solve. You are putting your arms up saying Please, yeah, I want to buy this product. And I’m happy that I have it because it improves my life and now if these companies suddenly were like, Hey, you should also be trying to hide this. It takes all of the desire away from buying it in many ways.

Dave Kemp 36:55
Look at look at optometry, right. I mean, they’re they have an invisible solution – contacts yet, there is, you know, that they’ve there’s been percent adoption, I believe? Well, it’s interesting. You know, like, I think that we’re all roughly the same age, like even when we were kids, it was, you know, the stigma of four eyes. And now, you have people that are wearing designer glasses that are that aren’t prescription lenses, you know that it’s just truly fashionable. There’s a lot to learn there, you know, I don’t really know exactly what the key takeaways are. But that’s got to be something that this industry needs to take a really good hard look at is they were literally faced with the exact same dilemma, which is do we go all in on, on, on contact lenses. And clearly, like they catered toward that but also toward the eyeglasses and actually like the Warby Parker’s that really kind of challenged this, and maybe it’s the business model that needs sort of a revitalization. So there’s a lot there.

Nick Morgan-Jones 37:56
Definitely. I’m super excited, because I think the next couple of years, we’re gonna see more innovation, probably in the next 12 months then we’ve seen in the last 12 years, when it comes to hearing tech I think with the OTC market about open, I think it just allows, I guess it allows players like us to come and make make a difference, you know, without these huge barriers to entry, which have been preventing a lot of other people from doing stuff. So I think you’re gonna see some interesting stuff coming from headphone companies. Hearing Aid incumbents, I think everyone’s gonna start looking at it in a slightly different way. And I think we’re really excited to kind of be trying to kind of spearhead that movement in one way or another. Put our flag in the ground.

Dave Kemp 38:48
Awesome. Well, thank you two, so much for joining me today. Thanks for everybody who tuned in here to the end and we will chat with you next time.

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About the Panel

Nick Morgan-Jones has grown up with hearing loss and while he knew he would probably benefit from hearing aids, he did pretty much everything he could to avoid wearing them – he hates how conventional hearing aids look. This kick-started his journey with Decibels, combining his professional life as a User Experience Designer with personal goals to feel comfortable and confident with how he (and millions of others) look and hear.


Gray Dawdy is an industrial designer, mechanical engineer and binge-watching-enthusiast from California who now lives in Germany. He loves to bring products to life, especially if they involve daily life, fashion and technology. When he is not designing, he likes to jam on guitar or explore old funk and soul albums.


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,, 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,, and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace.

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