LE Audio and Auracast™: Taking audio accessibility to the next level through convergence with mass-market demand

bluetooth le audio auracast hearing accessibility
June 10, 2024

Join us for an insightful discussion on how cutting-edge connectivity is revolutionizing hearing care through Bluetooth® LE Audio and Auracast™. Originally presented by Andrew Bellavia at the 2024 Australian College of Audiology conference on May 9th, this session delves into the transformative impact of these technologies on everyday listening experiences, enabling people to hear their best in various situations.

The conversation highlights the significant advantages of LE Audio and Auracast over current systems, emphasizing the benefits for both hearing care professionals and their patients. By addressing the shortcomings of Bluetooth Classic and showcasing the value of a standardized system, we are provided with a comprehensive understanding of the future of hearing technology.

The discussion also covers the broader implications of Auracast’s deployment beyond traditional assistive listening systems, illustrating how it can enhance accessibility for people with hearing loss and others.

Full Episode Transcript

– Thank you, everyone, it’s a pleasure to be here. I appreciate the invitation to speak here today. Also, the Australian College of Audiology is a sponsor of the Future of Hearing Healthcare Virtual Conference, which is run by Hearing Health and Technology Matters publication. And this will be re-broadcast later in the month as part of that. So we’re actually going to video this here and then re-broadcast it again, which, if you enjoyed it, you could refer your friends and they can attend the other session, which has a lot of really interesting things in it as well. What we’re going to talk about today is, first and foremost, why connectivity is important to hearing aid wearers. And I can tell you from my own perspective, being in the industry for more than a dozen years and being a hearing aid wearer for five of them. For a person who lives equally in the real and virtual world, it’s very important that you have solid connectivity to all the devices you use throughout your day. But also, let me ask a question. How many of you are practicing hearing care professionals in a clinical setting? Raise your hands. All right, now raise your hands if you’ve never been frustrated by the state of hearing aids connectivity. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to talk about the current Classic Bluetooth, its shortcomings in the hearing aid world, why because of those shortcomings the proprietary systems were developed by each of the hearing aid companies, the shortcomings of those proprietary systems in terms of interoperability, and how and why the new Bluetooth system was created in order to solve those problems. And then we’ll talk about Auracast, which is entirely new, it’s a broadcast system of Bluetooth. And I’ll share all the use cases for hearing impaired people in the general public that will be coming very soon. I want to talk about streaming first, because today people listen in all different ways. Of course, first and foremost is enabling communication in-person for a hearing impaired person, especially in difficult environments. And there’s been a tremendous amount of development in the hearing aid space to improve that more and more. But people listen in lots of different ways too. For example, I listen to podcasts all the time. My hearing aids, I’ve got Phonaks, which are using Bluetooth Classic, and I stream to them all the time. So for example, I’m washing dishes. If I play, say, the Sports Radio channel out the smart speaker that’s on the counter there, it sounds okay. But if I just get out my phone and I direct stream it, I’m getting corrected, direct-streamed audio to my ears, it’s a lot better. And actually, the NAL is doing a lot of research in that area to show just how much more effective it is to have direct streaming to hearing aids in different situations. And then there’s audio books. And I classify these two together, spoken word audio. Hearing aids are great with spoken word audio, that’s what they do, right? They’re meant for spoken word intelligibility. I have a friend, he’s in his mid-nineties, and he was an avid reader, but now his vision is making it difficult for him to read. He streams audio books. This is what keeps him engaged in the world. He can still follow his interests by reading or listening to audio books rather than reading printed books. Now, he was able to figure this out by himself, but there are plenty of people who don’t even think of this or know that it’s possible and I think it’s really great when hearing care professionals in talking to people about their lifestyles they find out that people like to read or they like to listen, that helping them establish connectivity to do that most effectively is really a good thing. And then there’s internet meetings. With internet meetings, listening to the little speakers in the PC, it’s not great even wearing hearing aids. This is where direct streaming really pays. You can see my setup. I’ve got a Roger mic in its cradle connected to my PC, and every internet meeting I do, I’m streaming this way. And I had, during the pandemic between work, international business, and volunteer things I was doing, I had plenty of days which would start, the first meeting would start at seven in the morning, and the last one would end at nine o’clock at night. And I was pretty fresh for that whole span because the listening fatigue was at a minimum. So these are the benefits of streaming. And of course, you know, countering the benefits of streaming are all the frustrations of the connectivity systems you experience today and we’re going to talk about that. I talked about spoken word and how people like to do it. The time spent listening to spoken word audio is going up and up and up, particularly in the age groups you’re working with most often. So in other words, in the 55 plus age group, a third of the time people are listening, they’re listening to spoken word audio. So your clients are doing this all the time. And not only that, but the share of spoken word audio being played through mobile devices is going up and up, set to pass listening to ordinary radios now. Look at how it’s increasing and increasing. So people are listening to spoken word audio, doing it through their phone, to be connected to their hearing aids is almost mandatory because listening through the phone speaker, that’s, you know, that’s the worst thing. Internet meetings in the workplace. It’s unbelievable how a long workday is made better if you can hear well. And you see, if you just look at, you know, the top line graph of hearing impairment versus age, you can see there’s a lot of working people with hearing impairment of some form. And this really has an ill effect on one’s career. I want to share with you one study that illustrates this. In this study, they took a cohort of people without hearing loss and a cohort of people with hearing loss and they gave them a memory recall test. They first did it visually, and this was to control for any other cognitive issues. And so everybody scored the same when given a test visually. Then they put headphones on people and they did it verbally, no correction whatsoever. The group with hearing loss scored about half as well as the normal hearing people. And then they did a really interesting thing. They flipped it. So they delivered corrected audio to the people with hearing loss, and they delivered simulated hearing loss to the people who had normal hearing. And the results went completely backwards. So in other words, if you’re not hearing well, you are less engaged, you’re less able to recall what happened. And for your career, this can be a real detriment, right? If everybody hears at their best, then they can perform in their best in their careers. And this applies to live conversations as well, but since we’re talking about connectivity, I’m focusing on internet meetings here. Now let’s turn to Bluetooth. And the thing to understand is that the proprietary systems in use today are not actually Bluetooth. Everybody calls it generically Bluetooth. They’re not official Bluetooth. And you’ll see the hearing aid companies don’t claim that it is Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a standard that is written by an organization called the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, or Bluetooth SIG. There are thousands of members in the Bluetooth SIG and all the different parts of Bluetooth are managed by them. So for this particular case when we’re talking about audio, they create the Bluetooth standards and then they have people qualified to those standards. You cannot call your device Bluetooth, you cannot use their logo, if they haven’t qualified you. And what this does is it assures that everything plays nice with everything else. Standard Bluetooth in terms of consumer products has gotten really good. And you know if you buy any Bluetooth headset, it’ll connect to your phone or other Bluetooth devices. It actually works out, you know, pretty well these days. And you can be confident if it’s Bluetooth, it’s going to connect. Now, don’t read all this stuff. I really just put it up there for you to see how long the present Bluetooth system has been around. It started with a mono system. Remember those ear pieces you’d use for phone calls and for cars? Mono. Later it was created so that stereo music could be put up the channel. However, it was never designed around true wireless devices, devices without a wire between the two ears, and so there were workarounds to get that to work. And the whole standard has gotten older and older. The next biggest thing that happened was the creation of Bluetooth Low Energy, or BLE. BLE was intended for data. You move data on the BLE channel. And so if I, for example, get out my phone app to control my hearing aids, it’s Bluetooth Low Energy that’s sending the control data to it. If I use my running watch, the running data gets fed to my phone through the low energy channel. But now what’s completely new is they’ve created a way to deliver stereo audio through the low energy channel and that cuts down the power consumption a lot. The other big problem with Bluetooth Classic in the hearing aid environment is that the latency or the delay is too long. It’s an old system, and the method of taking the audio, digitizing it, compressing it, and then doing the reverse on the other end takes too much time. The delay, the latency is too long with Classic Bluetooth, and it’s for that reason along with the power consumption that the hearing aid companies created their own systems. Systems with a lot lower delay so it would be functional. The other problem with the proprietary systems, or I should say the problem with the proprietary systems, is that they don’t play with each other, everybody created their own. So if you, for example, carry several hearing aid brands and you like one particular remote microphone, your customers are consistently giving you good feedback about it. And maybe there’s another brand of hearing aid who has the best table microphone. Well, you can’t use them with each other’s systems. You’d love to be able to prescribe this table mic or that remote microphone to people and you can’t do it. And the other thing is that eliminates or reduces innovation because I could, for example, create the world’s best remote microphone and my only recourse today is to try and get one of the hearing aid companies to adopt it. And devices don’t play well with each other. For example, if I have an Android phone, I can only connect to certain things. I could buy an Amazon Fire TV, it only works with the Android ASHA system. So I have to have ASHA hearing aids to be able to direct stream out of an Amazon Fire TV. So all these kind of incompatibilities always get in the way. And then of course there’s the problems. You’ve all seen this, right? Raise your hand if you’ve had that time when all of a sudden people start dropping off one after the other because of operating system changes and whatnot. And this is not the hearing aid company’s fault. The problem is is that they don’t control the whole signal chain. And my belief is, and I give the phone companies credit for all the accessibility work they’re doing in different ways. For example, when I was in the morning sessions, I had my Google Live Transcribe going and getting captions while I was sitting there in my chair. The phone companies are doing a lot. But in terms of connectivity, they created these systems, MFi for Apple and ASHA for Android, but I believe they don’t treat them like a core functionality of the phone. And so they change the operating system and they do something different, you know, without noticing something happens to the transmission to hearing aids and now all of a sudden your hearing aids don’t connect anymore. They can’t do that with Bluetooth. First off, Bluetooth is a standard. They have to conform to the standard. And second, when’s the last time you heard every single Bluetooth device in the world falling off a mobile phone and disconnecting? Right, it doesn’t happen. Because it’s a standard that you have to adhere to or the Bluetooth SIG will come knocking on your door. And also it’s a big problem, not just for hearing impaired people, but every consumer with a Bluetooth device. So they look after Bluetooth in a different way that they look after this. And hearing aid companies, they get very frustrated by this. All of a sudden something happens, they’re responsible for figuring out what the mobile phone company people did different. It’s not an ideal system by any stretch of the imagination. So now we talk about LE Audio and Auracast. So LE Audio is the next version of Bluetooth. We don’t have to say a lot about it because it is becoming the standard Bluetooth version that all devices will adopt. Just like the past versions, when we went from version four to version five, after a little while everybody was running Bluetooth 5. Well same thing now. Eventually all devices will use LE Audio. What makes LE Audio special is that it’s been a design-from-scratch thing, it hasn’t just not another paste-on to a 20-year-old system. So, the system of digitizing the audio is much, much better, delivers better audio quality, pairs fast, uses lower power, and the delay, the latency is lower. If you really try for minimum latency, you can get 20 or 30 milliseconds. Bluetooth Classic is over 100. And that over 100 is too high to be using in hearing cases. Now Auracast is something completely different, it’s a broadcast version of Bluetooth. Bluetooth Classic, you pair a device to an earphone or a device to a car system. It’s a one-to-one pairing. Auracast is broadcast. So imagine you have an FM hearing assist system. Any number of people can tune in with the FM receiver that you get. Well that’s what Auracast is except Bluetooth. Any number of people can tune into a Bluetooth transmission. And any compatible device will do it. So I’ll show you here, I’ve got Samsung Galaxy Buds, they receive Auracast. I’ve got GN Nexia hearing aids, they receive Auracast. There are other devices and I’ll share, you know, the developing ecosystem, give you an idea of some of the devices that are out there, but any one of them will tune into an Auracast transmission just the same. The other thing about Auracast is the latency is adjustable. There are actually times when you need more delay than the system is capable of. And it’s a nice feature of Auracast that you can set the delay accordingly. So in the small environment, the personal environment, latency becomes important. If you’re watching TV, for example, this is an old Phonak study, but this was one of the drivers for their current remote microphones and TV connectors. In terms of lip syncing, watching TV, and getting the audio, how much delay was tolerable to people. And you can see that for spoken word, which is the news broadcast, the one on the top, up to 45 milliseconds was pretty acceptable. I wish they had done something between 45 and 113, but you see then by the time you get over 100 it’s not good. Movie with a little bit more complex audio at 45, a little bit less acceptance, but still not bad. Now, reading lips, the sound, you can’t have the lip sync too far out it gets disconcerting. It actually gets disconcerting for non-hearing impaired people if it gets too far off. But then there’s mixed reality. Mixed reality is one of the hidden joys of modern hearing aids. I’ve had all kinds of mixed reality experiences from the mundane to the sublime because I can set the mix whatever I want. If I set, for example, one-third streaming and two-thirds live, it’s like listening to a background radio. I could be listening to Talking Heads right now, you would not know it and I could converse with you. I can also do it the opposite. I can put it more towards the streaming side and less towards the live side. So when I am, for example, watching TV, I’ll normally put it either 50-50 or 60% TV, because the streaming sound is louder than the TV sound, it’s a little bit more tolerant towards latency, but I can still talk to my friends or family who are sitting next to me. I can hear them and interact just like normal while getting the streamed audio through the TV connector. I’m going to play for you audio. You can hear what increasing latency sounds like. And if anybody is listening through the headphones right now, take ’em off because it’s going to get really confusing.

– [Narrator] Here’s what zero milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what five milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what 10 milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what 20 milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what 30 milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what 50 milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what 100 milliseconds of latency sounds like. Here’s what 300 milliseconds of latency sounds like.

– All right, you can see even up to 50, especially if the streamed audio is louder than the live audio, it’s not bad. By the time you get to 100, no it’s really not good at all. And that was Bluetooth Classic, 100 or more. And that’s why the proprietary systems were developed. That was intolerable to use in a hearing application. Now interestingly, Nicky Chong-White of the NAL, just before I flew to Australia, she posted this on LinkedIn that her and her husband tried for the first time Apple Live Listen. Apple Live Listen is a feature of the iPhone, you can turn it into a remote microphone and through MFi it’ll stream to your listening device. It can be AirPods or it could be hearing aids with MFi. And she wrote about how great the experience was, and I wrote her asking what was latency a problem? And you can see she said no, it was working really good. Well I got curious, what is the latency? So I want to introduce to you my friend Carl van Gogh. He was given to me by AHead Simulations so I could do tests like this. And what you see here is Carl with the microphone output, the microphone that’s in the ear canal feeding one of my RODE microphones, and I have to give a hat tip to the quality of the whole audio ecosystem in Australia. These RODE microphones are great, and they have practically zero latency so I could use them in this test. So Carl has a RODE microphone connected, he’s got a device in his ears, and he was kicked out of my office and set on the hallway, and the office door was closed, so he was only picking up the device in his ear. On the other side, the white box on top is a homemade metronome. My daughter actually built that with my assistance when she was six. She’s 31 now, so it’s held up pretty well. It’s clicking away. And you have the iPhone in Live Listen mode, so Carl out in the hallway is getting the iPhone transmission. I’ve got the second RODE microphone sitting there listening directly to the metronome, and both are driving the RODE receivers going into my phone and recording the audio. So even, you know, the latency of the RODEs is minimal, but whatever there is, it’s canceled out because both ends are being picked up by a RODE and transmitted. You can see, now I used the Nexias, I don’t know what hearing aid Nikki’s husband was wearing, but it had to be very similar because MFi system, the latency with the GN Nexia in MFi Live Listen Mode, 83 milliseconds, okay? And her husband was perfectly happy with that in the context of a loud restaurant setting. In a quiet TV viewing, it might have been a little high, but in a restaurant where the Live Listen microphone pickup would’ve been louder than the live pickup, and of course you’re looking for any help you can get in a loud restaurant, it was perfectly acceptable. I was curious, so I popped in an AirPods Pro into Carl and I got 93, very close. Okay, that’s the system. Well then I started measuring other things. If you take the Nexias running in Auracast mode. So here instead of the iPhone, what you see is a GN TV-Streamer+ in Auracast mode and it’s being driven by a microphone. And I had to go through a microphone preamp to drive the transmitter, but it’s an analog preamp so there’s no delay there. So now I’m streaming the metronome out the GN transmitter in Auracast mode, and then the other half, you know, Live Listening with the second microphone. And I’m getting 50 milliseconds with a Nexia in Auracast mode. JLab is a very popular earphone company. Their latest model will do LE Audio and they give you a little dongle, because if you don’t have an LE Audio capable device, you can’t take advantage of it. I suspect by software update, the earbud will do LE Audio directly, but for now they do it with a dongle. I plugged the dongle in, I got 70. My Galaxy Buds, they were 86. And then I took the same JLab, but instead of running with their LE dongle, I did it with Bluetooth Classic, 124. So this is the value proposition for LE Audio and Auracast. The low delay. Now sound is slow. Who knows how to tell how far away a thunderstorm is? Three seconds per kilometer. If you’re ever out trying to squeeze in a run before the storms get here, it’s easy to figure out that you didn’t make it because the spread between the lightning and the thunder gets narrower and narrower. Well that applies in this case too. So, every three meters 9 milliseconds, so say you’re sitting three meters away from the television set, the actual television audio takes nine milliseconds to get to your ears. So if you’re running, say the Nexias at 50, it’s actually more like 40 when it gets to you if you’re sitting that far away. You’re in a larger venue, you actually have the opposite problem. So meet my wife and daughter, we’re at the Andrew Bird concert last summer, last North American summer. And I eyeballed the distance and figured that we were about 150 milliseconds behind. And you could see it. So hit the drum and there was, you know, that delay before you heard the sound of the drum. So if you’ve got 50 milliseconds of delay in Auracast, the apparent is actually going to be 100, which is too high, so you actually have to dial up the delay. And in the Auracast system is the ability to do that. So if you put Auracast transmitters in a large venue, you’re going to do it by seating section or bank of seating sections and you can set the delay for each seating section so you get pretty close to the live sound versus the Auracast transmitted sound. How do you actually tune Auracast is really interesting, because there are lots of ways to do it. And there was a consortium of different groups including different groups in the hearing world to work on how to make this as easy as possible. The primary way for a while will probably be via a mobile phone. So I can take this mobile phone, Galaxy S23, and it will tune Auracast. This right now is the weakest link. I mean there are barely any assistants out there. There’s clearly some development needs to be done because as you’ll see in a little bit, when you do it through the S23, you’ve got to go deep into the Bluetooth menus to get there. It’s not really usable for the general population yet, but these are early days and there’s no reason it can’t be made nice and fluid. Think about wifi. I walk in here, it says open wifi networks available, you know, and you just, okay, I’ll take it. Okay, it can be made that easy. The second way is with QR codes. You can do it with QR codes. So for example, if there was one transmitter for this half of the house and one transmitter for this half of the house, when you walk in the doors there could be a QR code, you just boink and you have tuned into that one. If you walk into those doors, you tune into that one. And I’ll actually show you when I was at EUHA, the hearing industry trade show in Germany, in October, GN had this running. So I’m going to play this video and you’ll just see how he does it. There we go. That easy. Hit the QR code, it pops up. And ultimately you could do it by tap too. So you could have a tap space like when you pay for something and you could just tap. There are other options as well. There are a couple of companies making smart earbud cases today so that you can do all the earbud control functions on the little screen of the charging case. It’d be no problem to integrate Auracast functions in there too. The key is, is that the tuning, when you tune, this acts like a remote control. The audio’s not actually passing through the phone to the earbuds, you’re simply telling the earbuds to go to channel whatever. And so you can do it with a smart case, you don’t even need a phone. Pick one of the available channels on the smart case, put the smart case in your pocket, you’re good to go. Similarly, it could be done with a smartwatch. So these are the techniques I expect will be coming. Now I’m going to do a live demo for you. I bet, how many of you have actually seen Auracast running before? So now we’re going to do a live demo. I know there’s a few headsets kicking out there. And just to show you how well everything works well together, I have a set of Samsung Galaxy Buds. I’m transmitting one channel with an Audeara transmitter, and thanks to Audeara for helping me get this set up on that one. And there’s some Audeara headphones going around in the audience. I have a second channel music streaming my phone feeding a GN transmitter. So you’ll see everything working well together. And by the way, if you wonder why Carl’s last name is Van Gogh, because he was really excited about being able to go to Australia and he was bitterly disappointed when I told him I can’t bring him. But he very graciously gave me an ear. So I’m going to pop a Galaxy Bud into his ear and on the phone I’ll tell you the steps I’m going to do. I’m going to the Connections, Bluetooth, connected the Buds, hit the little gear, there’s an Auracast screen, and I’ve got the choice of channels. All right, so, is my speaker out there?

– [Assistant] Yeah, I’ve got it.

– Great. All right, so I will do me first. So now you’re actually getting me and you can hear I’m streaming the Auracast from the ear via another set of RODE microphones to the speaker so you can all hear the level of delay. And I have to ask you, how’s the delay? ’cause I can’t hear from here.

– Good. Zero.

– Good.

– Is that sounding good? All right, so if you don’t mind, walk around just a little bit and people can hear how it’s going. As an aside, by the way, when I did this demo in November, there were no commercial products available at all. None whatsoever. I borrowed the prototype set from the Bluetooth SIG, it was the only thing that existed at the time. Now I’m doing it on all devices you can buy today. The Audeara device is maybe a month or two away from production, but they’re production ready devices. And so you can hear what it sounds like and the system really works and everybody plays together. Now, deployment in Auracast is going to take place on three tracks. And actually, even talking here, I had a lot of people saying things like, “I feel like it’s going to be forever,” or, “Do you think Australia’s going to be behind everybody else?” This sort of thing. And my answer’s a very firm no. Because each of these three will proceed pretty much independently, and they all have their reasons why. So we’ll talk about personal first, okay? This is already happening. You can buy a Samsung TV that streams Auracast. Or if you have an older TV, you can put an Auracast TV streamer on it. You can buy different devices that do Auracast, for example JBL speakers now do Auracast. So you can share audio to multiple speakers. You can have, say two people watching a movie on their phone or tablet, they can both listen to the audio silently through their headsets broadcasting Auracast. And then PC connectivity, this is a really interesting thing I’m going to show you, is that LE Audio and Auracast connectivity to PCs. There’s some really interesting applications for that. So these are all things you can get now or you’ll be able to get very, very soon in the personal space. And this is also the space where you can make the most impact with a hearing impaired person. Because you scatter a couple of Auracast transmitters around the house, put one on the TV, put one on the PC, put one in the audio output of your smart speaker, And wherever you are, you can tune into the Auracast and you get the best possible audio through your hearing aids. If somebody else comes over and they just want to, you know, watch the TV without playing the actual volume, they can pop in their Galaxy Buds and do it. And so this is already moving. The second one is multi-screen venues, and I believe this one will be next because of the mass market possibility for it. Say I own a sports bar. There are two other sports bars in town. I can gain a competitive advantage if I’m the first one to install Auracast and let people listen to the audio of every screen there. And this is not just for hearing impaired people, this is for everyone. So if every patron in a sports bar can tune into the audio, chances are, they’re going to want to come to mine versus one of my competitors. You know, there’s this saying that designing for accessibility is designing for everyone. Like you make the curb ramps, right, for people with wheelchairs, but if you’re pushing a cart or a pram they’re really good. This is the opposite. Designing for everyone is designing for accessibility. Because the mass market possibilities will drive a lot more installations, especially in places where it’s not possible to do loops. Then come the single screen or stage venues. Venues like this one. So for example, here they have the wifi assistive listening system. There’s no great impetus to install Auracast. You can do it, you could have Auracast and say an FM system, or Auracast and a loop. You just simply take an output from the board, feed it to an Auracast transmitter and you’re good to go, okay? But the impetus isn’t there because they have an assistive listening system in place already. Now Chuck Sabin at the Bluetooth SIG had some ideas about that I’m going to share a little bit later, but that’s why I think the single stage venues are going to be the least or the last one to adopt Auracast. Here’s an example, this is not exhaustive because it changes week by week, but here’s an example of the kinds of devices that are available today, okay? You can already get GN hearing aids that work right now. Signia and Oticon, they’re ready and they’ll do a software update. And although there isn’t a product that’s released yet, Starkey’s been very public about their relationship with Intel and LE Audio connectivity to the PCs, so you know something’s coming there. You’ve got the cochlear implant and you’ve got more and more consumer earbuds coming and the JBL speakers. Now, right now not very many people know about Auracast, but when you see more advertisements like this JBL one, it’s very quickly going to enter the public consciousness.

– [JBL] Auracast a new Bluetooth Low Energy feature offers users a highly reliable connection, enhancing their experience with our audio products and reducing interference in crowded wireless environments. Its standout feature is the ability to effortlessly share audio with friends and family who have compatible JBL Auracast-enabled devices, enriching shared listening experiences. Auracast is being implemented into a growing range of products, such as our newest portable speakers and party boxes.

– And I’m convinced that they’re going to do an earbud pretty soon without knowing any, not having any special knowledge. They’ve already got a smart case earbud and they’re doing it in their speakers now, why wouldn’t they do it in an earbud? And this is one of the major earbud companies. So Auracast is going to start to enter the public consciousness pretty soon. What Intel is doing is super interesting. They started this initiative at least publicly last year to make a connected experience with their PCs. And this is advancing very, very quickly. My 2-year-old machine that I’m using right here can do LE Audio, but it’s very hit or miss with old machines. I had to make sure I had the right software and this sort of thing. But their new machines, the ones that they call Intel EVO, they will do it out of the box. If you look for that black Intel EVO label, they’re shipping these machines right now. Then you get the full LE Audio experience. And I’ll tell you, some of the things they’re doing with artificial intelligence are really, really interesting. Dave Fabry’s going to talk about that after me, and if you want to see what they’re doing, you can also hit that QR code and you’ll see the video from their innovation summit where their CEO demonstrated some of these features. Now, the software that gives the next level connectivity, Windows 11 software, is going to be released to the general public in the second half of this year. So basic connectivity now, more advanced connectivity in a few months, and then the AI stuff is coming. The AI stuff includes things like, and like I said, Dave is going to share more detail. Let’s say you’re in an internet meeting, you’re a hearing impaired person, you’re streaming to your hearing aids and somebody knocks on the door. You may not hear that somebody’s knocking on the door, but your computer hears that somebody’s knocking on the door and tells you that someone’s knocking on the door. It’s really interesting stuff. But what I’ve got here is one of the machines, Intel was kind enough to send it to me. This has the pre-release version of the latest software. So I’m going to show you what connectivity to the Nexia looks like. What I’m going to do is I’m going to start up this machine and then I’m going to switch the cable to it. All right, there we are. I’m going to get out my pair of Nexias. And pairing these the first time was like that. You took the Nexias out of the box, you went to the Bluetooth settings, you said search for devices, the Nexias popup, they were in, 10 seconds. But now I’m going to take them out. So there you are, you see both hearing aids. You can also go then into the advanced sound properties, and now look at the things you can do. You can actually change the hearing aid setting. So anything that’s programmed into the hearing aids, I can change here from the PC. So this is the all-around setting, the automatic setting. If I want to go hear in noise, there they go, okay? Right from the PC. I don’t have to pull out the phone or have the phone app. You can also change the ambient sound level. If I want to focus more on the internet meeting, I may dial ’em down a little bit so I can still hear the outside sounds, but they’re more muted. These are the things that you’ll be able to do when they make public the next Windows 11 software release, but it’s running on here right now. And here, the automatic mode is where the magic will really happen. This is some of the things that Dave is going to talk about or that you could see on the QR code I showed recently. So that’s hearing aid connectivity with the PC. All right, now I want to leave you with a closing thought on all this from the Bluetooth SIG, from Chuck Sabin, because I don’t even think we’re thinking of half of the things that can be done in the accessibility space. So for example, let’s say I am a low vision person, I want to use the assistive listening system. Do I know what they have? Like there’s a little sign out there that says they have it and if I can read it, I can go ask. Well imagine having an Auracast transmission that says “accessibility information” and I could play then through my ears everything that’s being done in, you know, in this venue regarding accessibility. There’s all kinds of things we’re not thinking of and that’s why I’m going to leave you with Chuck Sabin’s thought, because he’s reacting to what I said about large venues. Tell me if you agree or if you disagree and why, but I think the next application will actually be the multiple TV application. Because hearing loops can’t operate in sports bars, right? Single channel per.

– Correct.

– Plus it’s mass market. In other words, if there are three sports bars in town and I own one of them, the minute there are enough ordinary, true wireless earbuds doing Auracast, I may install them to get a competitive advantage over the other two sports bars in town. Whereas an auditorium that has an FM system or a loop installed, they’re not necessarily in a rush because they’re already providing that service and they can wait a little longer before installing yet another one. Is that how you see it playing out?

– Yes, I mean that’s a good example of how this all might work out. Where, you know, places that have, when we talked about your unmute your world, places where you have multiple screens or multiple channels of application or availability of audio, Auracast is perfect for that. I do want to challenge one aspect associated with like theaters and, you know, plays, and so on. Even within the loop system which might be a single channel, you might get just the audio from on stage. We’ve heard from a number of people and a number of these installations that are looking at different types of audio that people might want to have. Some of it might be just I need dialogue enhancement. So there’s general audio, there’s dialogue enhancement, and then there’s also a place for people who don’t have sight that want actually audio description as a part of their experience at that theater. So they can hear fine, they can hear what’s happening on stage, but they can’t see what’s happening on stage. So now even within those theaters and so on, they can provide multiple different types of accessibility to the individual based on what their actual needs is.

– That is super interesting. I’d never heard it described that way before, but that is really, really interesting.

– Yeah, so this is really, to me, this is really about overall accessibility. It’s not accessibility for one group of people, it’s accessibility options for a large group of people, whether or not it’s just the general consuming public or other people that have other types of accessibility challenges that need to be addressed through an audio experience.

– Oh, that’s fantastic. I love that. I really love that. So this is where I think Auracast is really going to make an impact in so many different ways. And I’m going to, we will do a little Q & A, but I’m going to answer a question I’m going to get in advance, and that is, what does this mean for loops? Because I get that question asked all the time. Well, you see the white box up towards the top of the screen? That is a large venue Auracast transmitter made by Ampetronic, it’s a couple of months away from release. You can put that in a venue where there’s a loop. You don’t have to tear out the loop to put in Auracast, you can just add it and leave the loop running. And there’s also a couple of ways of doing compatibility back and forth. For example, there’s a version of the Nexia that has Auracast and a T-coil in it. And I know Signia’s IX is the same, and there may be others that are going to do the same thing as well. You can have both in the hearing aid, both systems, and it works the other way as well. Listen Tech, who makes the assistive listening systems, FM and wifi, they’re one of the companies who do it, they have an Auracast receiver that looks like one of the FM receivers. So if for example, I only have a T-coil in my hearing aid, I can get one of the Auracast receivers from them and wear the neck loop. Or I can do it the way I do it when I get an FM system is I pop my Roger mic’s audio input into the thing and I can set it down aside and get the streaming through the Roger mic. But it’s the same idea. With an Auracast receiver in hand, I can receive Auracast, even if my hearing aids don’t have Auracast. So the compatibility with loops is there. And because when you think about how long it is between, you know, time when people change their hearing aid models, it’s actually going to be a long transition period. So I never hesitate to tell somebody in a venue if you’re remodeling your venue and you’re considering a loop, don’t be dissuaded by Auracast. because the loop’s going to have a long and happy life while Auracast slowly gathers steam. So I’m happy to take any other questions and I appreciate you spending some time with me today.


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About the Presenter

Andrew Bellavia is the Founder of AuraFuturity. He has experience in international sales, marketing, product management, and general management. Audio has been both of abiding interest and a market he served professionally in these roles. Andrew has been deeply embedded in the hearables space since the beginning and is recognized as a thought leader in the convergence of hearables and hearing health. He has been a strong advocate for hearing care innovation and accessibility, work made more personal when he faced his own hearing loss and sought treatment All these skills and experiences are brought to bear at AuraFuturity, providing go-to-market, branding, and content services to the dynamic and growing hearables and hearing health spaces.

**The Bluetooth® word mark and logos are registered trademarks owned by Bluetooth SIG, Inc. The Auracast™ word mark and logos are trademarks owned by Bluetooth SIG, Inc

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