Posted by - Hearables.

The Bragi Dash is one of the most talked about in-ear wearables (aka “hearables“) to ever to hit the market. After raising over 3 million dollars through an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter (in early 2014), Munich-based Bragi went on to raise 22 million dollars in venture capital from a group of unidentified global investors (in Nov. 2015). In the most simple terms possible, the Dash can be described as a rechargeable wireless earphone that has the capability to store and play music files, stream bluetooth audio, track fitness stats (heart rate, step counter, etc), and provide two-way communication with a smartphone.

Following an announcement on Wednesday that Bragi would be partnering with Starkey (a large US-based hearing aid manufacturer) many people in the hearing aid industry began wondering how well the Dash performs as a hearing amplifier, and whether Starkey plans to help market the Bragi as a hearing aid alternative at all.

Starkey Promotes the Bragi Partnership in a Tweet

The Press Release Provides Clues

In the official partnership press release, we find a few clues as to the direction of the partnership. It would appear that Starkey has plans to leverage the Bragi partnership to “revolutionize the hearing aid industry.”

As hearing pioneers and tech design innovators, Starkey is thrilled to be working with Bragi to revolutionize the hearing aid industry and bring new technology and consumers to our hearing professionals – Chris McCormick, senior vice-president of marketing and chief marketing officer at Starkey Hearing Technologies

This quote doesn’t quite clear things up. Is Starkey planning to revolutionize the hearing aid industry by staking a claim in the burgeoning smart-hearables industry … or does Starkey see an opportunity to help Bragi market and distribute the Dash as a hearing aid, using their extremely well-established clinical sales network (thousands of audiologists and hearing aid dispensers worldwide). Here’s another clue:

Starkey and Bragi have a shared vision that hearing aids and hearables can empower people to communicate and enhance their abilities … Bragi’s advanced integration of sensorics provides tremendous value to hearing aid consumers, while Starkey’s invaluable knowledge of advanced audio processing and psychoacoustics expands Bragi’s potential to enable people to utilize contextual computing audible interfaces.” – Nicolaj Hviid, Bragi founder

Nicolaj Hviid, the Bragi founder, tells us that Bragi is interested in “Starkey’s invaluable knowledge of advanced audio processing and psychoacoustics.” There is no mention of hearing amplification, but based on this quote, we can safely assume that Bragi is interested in Starkey’s technology, which is largely focused on amplifying and enhancing speech and environmental sound for consumers with hearing loss.

Does Bragi plan to bring Starkey’s sound processing and amplification algorithms into the Dash? Is there a future product collaboration that takes the best of Dash and brings it into a hearing aid? So many questions, so few answers. What we do know is that a custom-fitted version of the Dash will likely be sold by Starkey’s clinical sales network:

Starkey will offer custom versions of Dash

If all goes well, Starkey should help increase the brick-and-mortar distribution for the Dash using their established sales network, and help bring smart-hearables to a more mainstream, more matured demographic. This partnership looks like a huge win for Bragi, and for the hearables industry in general (this is great exposure). Still, the question remains. Will Dash be more than an in-ear wearable? Do the new partners plan to upgrade the Dash with hearing aid tech and market it as a hearing aid alternative?

Dash Functions Like a Hearing Aid

The Dash comes with a really cool feature, called “Audio Transparency,” which effectively picks up sound using an onboard microphone, processes it, and delivers it to the listener via a broadband (20-20k Hz) speaker. Note: Most hearing aids deliver a more limited range of pitches.

Dash Audio Transparency

It’s hard to say how much sound amplification the Dash delivers in audio transparency mode, but there are a few clues out there. Here’s a relevant snippet from Engadget’s Dash review:

Possibly the only downside is that certain kinds of ambient noise can be annoying, mild wind sounds that are like someone raking gravel in your ears—particularly relevant for fast-moving cyclists—and even jangling keys in your pocket can be pretty grating.

As an audiologist with a few years of clinical practice under my belt, I’ve heard complaints like this before. When a person is fitted with new hearing aids for the first time, or when their existing hearing aids are adjusted to be louder, everyday sounds like jangling keys can be a real problem. It takes time to adjust to amplification. Sometimes weeks or even months. This reviewer’s report tells me that Dash is capable of producing serious amplification, even though Bragi is adamant that Dash is not intended to be a hearing aid:

“Transparent Audio”, when activated by user, does provide some amplification of ambient audio via an external mic and some digital signal processing. But this feature is intended to be used for safety, peace-of-mind and convenience, as opposed to providing a true “medical” hearing-aid function.

For another take on Transparent Audio, fast forward to ~1:30 on this video review, created by Verge:

Hearing Aid Alternative

The Bragi Dash is an extremely impressive device that provides users with an unrivaled feature set. While the Dash isn’t currently marketed as a hearing aid alternative, we can clearly see the potential, and Bragi’s partnership with Starkey signals that Bragi may be moving in that direction. With only 3 hours of continuous battery life, it’s unlikely that most people would consider the Dash a true hearing aid alternative, but for hearing-impaired consumers wishing to take the first step, the Dash may be worth a test-drive. Soon, your nearest Starkey dealer should be able to help with that.

RELATED Soundhawk Review for Hearing Loss – Expert Analysis

Starkey announced the Bragi partnership at their annual “Starkey Expo.” Learn more at twitter by searching #StarkeyExpo, or checking out Madison Levine’s Starkey Expo 2016 Recap.


The White Bragi Dash is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon!  Shipping is expected May 2016. Buy the Dash from Amazon.

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  • Hearing Hacks

    Good article Abram, thanks for collecting all the clues.

    I think Starkey should take advantage of this partnership and start disrupting the industry from within, which would give them an unfair advantage. Starkey should build the best hearing aid app for the Bragi and while it can distribute the hardware and have some control on the price, they should charge a subscription model for such app. The hardware industry is moving that direction, with the software driving the most durable business models.

    They could use their infrastructure of audiologists and clinics to train users to become more independent and aware of the device.

    I understand that the Dash needs some more time to develop their battery power, but as you said, it could still help a lot of shy people in need make the first step.

    • It will be interesting to see how Starkey prices the custom version of the Dash.. I’d imagine it will cost at least $500 for the set considering the clinical time to take the molds, the shipping, the custom fabrication, and the delivery of the units and counseling on use by the clinician. If the dash is set up to “treat” early stage hearing loss, I could see it costing even more, as the clinician would need to run some real-ear-measurements to ensure the Dash is meeting their hearing prescription.. We’ll see if it takes that direction.

  • I think it will take some time to understand what this partnership means. Bragi has done an amazing job with the Dash, but it has highlighted the level of skills needed to make a device of this complexity. I’ve been playing with mine for around a month and there are areas where they could do with help. But it’s a powerful statement of where hearables can go.

    The more interesting aspect of the announcement is that it suggests that hearing aid companies like Starkey are realising that hearing aids are not just about old people. As the WHO report last year pointed out, around 1.1 billion youngsters are heading to hearing loss in their twenties. That means that the industry needs to look at the full spectrum of things we put in our ears, from earbuds through to hearing aids, aiming to provide us with safe audio entertainment to support what we hear throughout our lives.

    I’ve just published a piece on that need for attitude change (, which by chance coincided with the Bragi / Starkey announcement. I rather provocatively asked the question of whether hearing loss is heading to be the new diabetes? The challenge is not just supplying clever hearable devices, but helping new generations understand that they need to take a longer view of what we hear.

    • We’ve heard that the Dash has intermittent Bluetooth connectivity issues. Are you experiencing that, or other issues? Great article Nick. Thanks for sharing.

      • I’ve also heard that, but I’ve not experienced it myself. Possibly perversely, I’m mostly using it with a Windows Phone, where the Bluetooth connectivity has been rock solid. Also, my usage model probably isn’t a common one. I find it really good in the workshop when I’m using the lathe or table saw, as I can stream radio whilst also cutting out the noise of the power tools.

        • That sounds like an amazing way to work. I might have to try that next time I cut the grass. By the way, how loud would you say your powertools sound with Dash in your ears? If the sound is still somewhat loud, be careful not to turn your music up too loud to overpower the noise. A good test would be to listen to your music at the same volume in a quiet environment to get some idea of what kind of loudness levels you’re being exposed to.

          • I’ve learnt to set the level against ambient and then never turn the volume up.

    • Hearing Hacks

      Hi Nick! Your bitly link is broken. cc @abram

    • Hearing Hacks

      There are a lot of similarity between diabetes and hearing loss. The industries face similar challenges in terms of cost of devices and lack of education regarding nutrition for diabetes could be comparable to the lack of education regarding protecting one’s hearing.

      Interestingly, diabetes is not only at more mature stage in terms of general awareness but also from the community point of view, a lot has been done from patient hackers of the #wearenotwaiting movement, who are innovating faster than the industry itself.

      This partnership is definitely giving Bragi a fast way into the hearing aid industry, directly through the front door. And I wonder if the Bragi, as a hearing aid with an SDK, means that patients (or any developer) will finally be able to hack hearing aids.

  • Madison Levine

    I attended the Starkey Expo this last week and got to hear the introduction and demo the Dash. I know that the relationship between Starkey and the Dash are big news but it also just feels like the most obvious, aha! moment too. I swear that every single one of my friends (late 20s/early 30s) were wearing fitbits last year, but they have started dropping off. I’m really on board this hearable wagon as it is going to solve even more wants/needs at once and I believe it to be a more tolerable wearable than a bracelet/watch. Add to that the obvious plus of audible data that relieves the owner of looking down all the time..and I see great potential. I wrote a recap of my Starkey Expo experience…

  • Kjell Gunnar R. H.

    It’s a fact now, that using the Bragi The Dash earbuds helps the persons with tnnitus very much. The low frequence white digital sound in the audio background when using the audio transparency function is really fantastic for users that have tinnitus, is Bragi now telling on their net site, after got feedbacks from their users in the last. If that is not enough you can also have audio files downloaded from net sites with tinnitus friendly sounds and relaxing music pløying on the internal MP3 player inside the Bragi earbuds.. I have not tinnitus and have no hearing loss but I am one of the daily users of the Bragi earbuds.