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.
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.
The White Bragi Dash is now available for Pre-Order on Amazon! Shipping is expected May 2016. Buy the Dash from Amazon.
Last modified: April 29, 2016