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Whisper AI Announces Voluntary Market Withdrawal of Whisper Hearing Aid System; Will Issue Refunds to Purchasers

Company says it is changing directions and issuing full refunds to purchasers. Whisper's technology is likely to re-emerge with a new tech or hearing industry partner.
Whisper Wide

The Whisper Hearing System was unique in that it came with a separate, powerful AI processing unit called the Whisper Brain.

Whisper AI has made it official: the company announced to its customers today that it will be voluntarily withdrawing Whisper Hearing Systems effective on June 8. It will also reportedly issue full refunds until December 1, 2023 to those who purchased the product (see details below).

Last week, as noted by HearingTracker’s Abram Bailey on LinkedIn, Whisper was contacting hearing care professionals who were dispensing the Whisper Hearing System and informing them of a voluntarily market removal of their product. Whisper says there are no known safety issues with the hearing aids, but the announcement does mean it will no longer be servicing or producing the device.

In today’s announcement to customers, Whisper CEO Andrew Song writes:

Thank you for being a loyal Whisper customer. We have enjoyed helping people hear better, but have made the decision to complete a voluntary market withdrawal of our Hearing Systems as our business direction changes, effective June 8th, 2023. Don’t worry, there are no known safety concerns with the devices, but this means we will no longer service, produce, or support the Whisper Hearing System.

We hope you quickly find a new replacement hearing device that meets your needs, and to minimize any inconvenience, we are providing you a full refund for your Whisper Hearing System.

Should you have any questions, we will continue to provide limited customer service support to facilitate product returns and refunds until December 1, 2023, after which we will no longer offer support for your Hearing System.

  • We ask you to return your Hearing System to Whisper as soon as possible so that we can properly dispose of it but no later than December 1, 2023.
  • You are eligible for a refund whether or not you return your Hearing System to Whisper.

How to Make a Return

Within the next two weeks, you will receive a return shipment box and pre-paid label for you to ship your Hearing System back to us for disposal. You can drop off the box at any FedEx location. If your shipping address has changed, please contact Whisper customer service at 844-936-4327 or by emailing mailto:support@whisper.ai to update your address to ensure you receive the return box.

System Refund Information

As an Allegro Credit financing customer, no future payments will be processed on your account and you will be provided a full refund for any payments made, including tax and service fees. This refund will be issued by Allegro Credit to your listed payment method within the next 3 to 6 weeks and any outstanding payment balances will be paid on your behalf.

You are eligible for a refund whether or not you return your Hearing System to Whisper.

If you have any questions, please contact us at mailto:support@whisper.ai or give us a call at 844-936-4327.

Thanks again for being part of our journey.

— Andrew Song, CEO, Whisper

A unique hearing system

Whisper launched its hearing aid system on October 15, 2020. At the time, it was the first new major hearing aid company that marketed a product specifically designed for professional dispensing since InSound Medical XT launched Lyric in 2007 (it was subsequently purchased by Sonova).

The Whisper AI Hearing System was unique for both its design and subscription-based sales model. The hearing aid used the Whisper Brain—a separate pocket-sized AI processing unit—that ran an AI-driven Sound Separation Engine to optimize sound and then transmitted the signal to the hearing aids in real time. The Whisper subscription payment model for consumers included ongoing care from a local hearing care professional, a lease of the Whisper Hearing System, regular software upgrades, and a 3-year warranty covering the system, including loss and damage. The company offered the hearing aids at $179/month for a 3-year term but periodically offered special pricing.

In a video from about a month ago, Whisper CEO Andrew Song talks about the Whisper Hearing System's genesis and related challenges.

Whisper AI technology expected to re-emerge

HearingTracker has learned from people close to the situation that Whisper’s technology is likely to re-emerge in some other form. Although details are unavailable, an announcement regarding “a change in its business direction” is pending. A note from the Whisper team on the company's website, in part, states:

The story of Whisper has many different chapters, each with their own moments of change along the way. Today, we’re starting a new chapter in our story. While we have exciting plans ahead for all of the technology we have developed, we will be shifting our immediate focus away from hearing aids and voluntarily withdrawing support of our product, the Whisper Hearing System. This is a bittersweet moment for us here at Whisper— we have loved working with each of our customers and partners daily to help deliver better hearing in the world…To all of our partners: thank you for being part of the Whisper story and for your support through the years. You encouraged us to be bold as we challenged how hearing technology was designed and propelled us forward as we worked with you and your communities.

According to one source inside the company, the Whisper Hearing System brought a lot to the table when it comes to sound quality and noise management, and there are a lot of different applications for this type of audio technology. However, it won't be reappearing "in the kind of form that you see in our existing products."

Given that Whisper is issuing full refunds to customers, it seems a safe assumption that the company has found a larger tech or hearing industry partner along with a new direction for its technology.

Hearing is hard

But for those in the hearing industry, the voluntary withdrawal of Whisper doesn’t come as a big surprise: the company joins an estimable group that couldn’t make sufficient headway in the commercial hearing healthcare market, with names ranging from Panasonic to Bausch & Lomb to RCA Labs (Songbird Medical). The phrase “Hardware is hard” is a well-known lament in Silicon Valley—meaning that software and apps are much less risky business propositions than physically manufactured digital devices. The U.S. hearing healthcare market remains a tough nut to crack, even as it lures companies with a siren call of what appears to be an “untapped market of 24 to 48 million desperate consumers” (e.g., see the sidebar in Brent Edward’s 2006 article about how outsiders view our industry).

The Whisper team was no group of lightweights. Cofounder and CEO Song is an engineering and mathematics graduate from Canada’s esteemed University of Waterloo and cut his teeth developing Facebook Messenger. Whisper Cofounder and Chair Dwight Crow was the previous co-founder and CEO of Carsabi.com, which was purchased by Facebook in 2012; he then headed up Facebook’s eCommerce advertising segment, helping drive revenue to over $1 billion per quarter. Along with other executives with impressive resumes, the Whisper team was later joined by respected hearing industry veterans Jim Kothe, audiologist Don Schum, PhD, and engineer Andreas Thelander whom HearingTracker interviewed about AI in hearing care applications only last month.

The company’s initial funding came from investments culminating in $53 million dollars by Quiet Capital, Sequoia Capital, First Round Capital, IVP, and others.

Editor's note: An early version of this article incorrectly stated the Lyric device was launched in 2003 right after it gained FDA approval. The device was launched as Lyric in 2007 and then purchased by Sonova in 2010. Thanks to our friend Susan Whichard for the clarification.

Karl

Editor in Chief

Karl Strom is the editor-in-chief of HearingTracker. He was a founding editor of The Hearing Review and has covered the hearing aid industry for over 30 years.