Nuheara: Interview with CEO Justin Miller
In this episode of the HearingTracker podcast, host Steve Taddei interviews Justin Miller, CEO and cofounder of Nuheara. Based in Australia, Nuheara has been an innovator in the consumer wireless earbuds industry since 2016. With their latest product, IQBuds Max, Nuheara offers a robust direct-to-consumer hearing enhancement product, which is widely used as a solution for mild hearing loss.
Steve Taddei: Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Taddei and welcome back to The HearingTracker Podcast. If you've been following us the past few months, you know we've been talking about remote healthcare and some of the new innovations in hearing tech. And if you haven't picked up on it yet, a lot of these devices can be rather controversial. And what we'll talk about today is no exception. While exploring the thoughts of professionals and manufacturers in this telehealth mini-series, a question kept coming to my mind. "Where's the crossroad between best practices and accessibility?" So, keep that in mind as you listen to this episode.
Can you hear me now? This is The HearingTracker Podcast from Hearingtracker.com.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: So, I'm Brandon Rogers-Plott, I am a retired funeral director and embalmer. I've recently retired from that, after doing that for 22 years. I don't even remember when I lost my hearing. To be honest with you, it was so gradual that it came on without even knowing that I was losing it. You know?
Steve Taddei: Like many people, Brandon's hearing loss wasn't obvious at first. It came about slowly kind of sneaking into his life. He didn't really start noticing it until after graduating from mortuary school.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: As an undertaker, we have to have quiet voices. You want that quiet somber voice. And if a loved one is crying, or obviously at the darkest time in their life, they're not going to be speaking their fullest.
So, I was constantly having to say, "Excuse me, can you repeat that?" When you're in a grief situation, you don't want to have to repeat the same things over and over and over. And I started noticing that I was doing this more, cupping my ear. From there it just progressively started getting worse. I couldn't hear my spouse talking, I could not hear my colleagues talking. And for the longest time we joked that I had selective hearing and then we realized, no, I'm actually deaf. You have to be in my face or have my attention too, right in front of me, before I can hear you.
Steve Taddei: Feeling a little lost, Brandon did what most people do at this point. He scheduled an appointment with an audiologist.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: I went to my first audiologist, and I failed my test. I guess I can't say that I failed the test because you really can't fail a hearing test, but the results were not great - to say the least. I did not want the big bulky hearing aids that go over your ear that, you know, your 95-year-old grandfather would wear in the eighties or nineties.
So, for me to get a hearing aid, it was going to cost $3,500 to get one for each ear. And insurance doesn't cover that. I have a great profession, but not everyone has just an extra $3,500 laying around that they could throw down.
Steve Taddei: $2,372 - that's the average price per hearing aid based on a 2018 HearingTracker survey. Beyond that, the average price per pair can range from $1,000 up to $10,000.
While that price generally includes other services from a hearing care provider, it's still at a price point that many can't afford. In lieu of getting hearing aids, Brandon tried to muscle through his problems. But eventually the toll became too much.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: And found just one day, you know, it clicked. I was done. I was frustrated. I could not hear anymore. It was affecting my personal life. It was affecting my job. It was affecting my profession. I knew I needed to figure something out and started... Google was a good thing for me that day.
Steve Taddei: While online, Brandon searched for hearing help. Maybe not traditional hearing aids, but there had to be some device that could still get him by at a price he could afford. His search led him to Nuheara.com where he found the IQbuds2 Max.
So, this is really interesting. Fill me in Brandon and tell me what it was like for you when you first got your IQbuds, and you tried them out?
Brandon Rogers-Plott: It was surreal because the way that their system on my phone works is it can pinpoint when I was hearing things. You know, so it was just like I was at the audiologist.
Steve Taddei: Brandon's talking about EarID. This is Nuheara's in ear threshold check. And it sounds like this. [Threshold test beeps from EarID]
Brandon Rogers-Plott: And then I heard her whisper across, and I will not repeat the words that I said. But they were... it was an expression of joy, an expression of shock. I can say that much.
Steve Taddei: Brandon noticed another benefit from wearing the IQbuds that he wasn't expecting.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: My tinnitus instantly went away. Like I put them in, I did the ring test, and yeah, my ears were ringing a little bit. I had the tinnitus from listening to the beeps and stuff. But within five minutes of talking to a colleague, I realized that I had no more tinnitus it was not ringing in my, there was no ring.
Steve Taddei: What Brandon experienced isn't all that surprising. The vast majority of people with hearing loss also have tinnitus, and people tend to notice relief with the use of amplification. A study by doctors Kochkin and Tyler in 2008, found that roughly 60% of patients report some tinnitus relief when using hearing aids. Another study in 2015 by Dr. Henry and colleagues, also suggested that hearing aid use alone can provide significant tinnitus benefits.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: I can't wrap my mind around the first time in how long there was silence. And it was kind of scary not having the tinnitus because you become so accustomed to it.
Steve Taddei: You're listening to the third episode in our telehealth mini-series.
If you're enjoying Brandon's story, head to Apple Podcast and leave us a review. You can also find the full unedited interview by going to Patreon.com/hearingtrackerpodcast. There you'll find other interviews, content, and updates about the show. We'll continue Brandon's story after the break.
I think it's safe to assume that everyone has needed repetition at one point or another. Maybe it only happens in noisy situations like restaurants. It reminds me of an old Seinfeld episode where Elaine tries bribing restaurant patrons to give her an egg roll. [Short clip from Seinfeld episode the Chinese Restaurant]
While depictions like this are meant to be humorous, they don't convey the hardship of having chronic hearing problems. And before the break, Brandon was sharing similar experiences in his everyday life. Before we get further into his story and how the IQbuds have helped him, let's go back a few years and see what made this all possible.
Justin Miller: Justin Miller, CEO and co-founder of Nuheara. Nuheara is really a pioneer in the hearables space. Which is that market that sits between traditional audio and the hearing aid market.
Steve Taddei: Justin of Nuheara joined us last month as well. Nuheara has been an innovator in the consumer wireless earbud industry since 2016.
Justin Miller: From the outset our mission has always been to provide accessibility and affordability into the hearing market. It was all about hearing, and hearing augmentation, and that ability to provide for people with mild hearing challenges some ability to get some assistance.
We quite interestingly, are a group of scientists that had no audiological experience, right. We just applied science probably a different way. You know, there's been some sports focused hearables. There's been some entertainment focused hearables. Our focus has always been around hearing.
Steve Taddei: Nuheara is currently standing on their third generation of technology and has received several awards from the Consumer Technology Association.
There are also new devices on the horizon that will fit in with more traditional hearing aids. Justin mentioned that all this might not have been a reality, had they not made one important decision in the company's early days.
Justin Miller: We were getting incredibly good scale in our business and our product. But ultimately what we saw was, no one goes shopping for hearing. And there wasn't a category in store, you know, you were generally put with the audio products. People go "Gee, that's an expensive audio product, not necessarily an affordable hearing product." So, we had a rapid realization that, hey traditional retail is going to be hard. And we built this direct-to-consumer model where we could take the customer through a hearing healthcare journey, educate them, and ultimately delivering a form of hearing assistance that we were missing in that retail type environment.
Steve Taddei: This is exactly how Brandon came to find their devices. So, when we look at any type of hearing technology, we commonly discuss its features and digital signal processing. For example, it's amazing now that even our iPhone come standard with a way to tune them to our hearing needs. We've already heard about the IQbuds EarID test. So, Justin went on discussing some of the other features.
Justin Miller: Speech in noise control, so the ability to dial background sound and promote conversation. And that's really where IQbuds started was that speech in noise control because quite often people realized that they've got some hearing difficulty when they're in a noisy environment. So, the ability to dial that down and promote conversation.
Our focus features, so the ability to direct the microphones to the conversation in front of you or place yourself in a surrounds sort of environment is pretty significant as well.
Steve Taddei: I don't know about you, but I always get excited by digital signal processing and how it can help people here. Here's some examples of what the IQ buds actually sound like and to take it a step further, be sure to put on a good set of headphones to get the full effect. [IQbuds Sound Sample]
Now let's turn on the noise reduction and focus our mics forward. [IQbuds Sound Sample with Processing]
How about the active and passive noise reduction? Well, here's what it sounds like when you block out the world and just stream music. [IQbuds sound sample in Noise with Music Streamed]
To me, this is the real power behind devices that completely plug your ears. Their ability to process sound and control what enters your ear canal is on a different level. Before we get lost in the technical side, let's hear how these features have helped Brandon in his daily life.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: They were truly life savers, for $400 to $500. They have improved my quality of hearing. I can set my volume for when I'm at work, I can set my volume for when I'm driving, and I can block out the worst thing I ever did was I turned them on, and I had my window down and there was a fire truck right next to me. And that is not a good idea when you have hearing aids. I can adjust at home, when I'm out in nature and walking and hiking because my spouse and I are very much into being outdoors and hiking.
Steve Taddei: So, it sounds like you use a lot of the features and just the app in general. Do you find specifically any of those more useful for your lifestyle?
Brandon Rogers-Plott: You know, the noise cancellation was really really good for me at work. Especially being in the funeral home and I will not go into details of our job. But some of the equipment that we do, it has really high tones and very low tones that when you're hard of hearing caused more damage than anything. If that makes sense.
We have machines that are very very high squealed that would, and I have no doubt in my mind would make my tinnitus go through the roof. And then we have machines that are very very low toned that would... I would just hear the rumbling of it. So, with the noise cancellation and being able to leave them on and turn the noise cancellation on, I can focus solely on you know my job at hand.
Steve Taddei: I don't want to forget to ask, wearing them all day one of the potential downsides is the battery life. So, do they last all day for you? Do you have to give them a charge midday?
Brandon Rogers-Plott: I take them out at lunch and charge them. But that's just because I want to decompress from the world. My family, my husband, my sister, my nieces, my colleagues they know if my hearing aids are out I'm decompressing. So don't talk to me.
Steve Taddei: In last month's episode, Justin mentioned that the IQbuds are not hearing aids and they are therefore not designed to be worn all day. With that said, the Nuheara story does not end here.
As I briefly mentioned before, Nuheara is currently developing the IQbuds Pro, which would facilitate this roll.
Justin Miller: It's a product we've ultimately announced into market with the view that it would ultimately be released at a later point. The intention is to take our hearables customers further down the hearing healthcare journey with a hearing aid version of the product.
I can sit here and say today that the ultimate intention of the [IQbuds] Pro product is to ultimately introduce the situationality, form factor, into the hearing aid or more regulated part of the market.
Steve Taddei: If you recall, we started this episode acknowledging how controversial telehealth and direct-to-consumer devices can be. Many professionals claim that hearing tech must be fit by hearing care providers as this is the only way to optimize outcomes and ensure patient safety. So sure, maybe Brandon's outcomes would be better optimized with traditionally fit hearing aids. But for Brandon, that wasn't an option and he's not alone.
There aren't always discount programs, grants, insurance benefits, or other means. As it stands, Brandon is extremely grateful for the benefits he's received. And for him, the IQbuds were exactly what he was looking for.
Brandon Rogers-Plott: Just try them, try them for an hour, try them for two hours. Go for a hike like I do, and then you will see that you can get the benefits of both because the smart technology they use will help you be able to hear those pinpoints that you need.
I have no doubt in my mind in 10-15 years I might need actual hearing aids. I might actually. But in the meantime, these are going to work. You know, don't look at, don't put your nose down to people who use them. I just found a product that works, for the first time in 20 years, that allows me to hear.
Steve Taddei: I'd like to thank Brandon Rogers plot for sharing his hearing journey with us. Also, it was great having Justin Miller of Nuheara on again to dive deeper into the IQbuds. For more information, head to Nuheara.com.
This episode was written, produced, and sound designed by me with help from Dr. Abram Bailey and Bruce Smith. If you liked today's episode, don't forget to subscribe, and leave us a review. Have a great Thanksgiving and thank you for listening.