Ultrasonic Speakers Could Be a Breakthrough for Those With Hearing Loss
Form and function
HyperSound Clear speakers emit sound in a controlled, narrow beam. Attached to TVs and other electronics, the speakers are designed to improve clarity and speech intelligibility for those with hearing loss.
Innovator: Woody Norris
Chief scientist at Turtle Beach, a 200-employee audio equipment company in San Diego
Turtle Beach came from a merger of Voyetra Turtle Beach with Norris’s company, Parametric Sound, which developed the speaker technology.
Norris previously founded Long Range Acoustic Device, which makes a sonic weapon used by ship captains to ward off pirates.
While typical speakers create audio waves that can be several feet long, HyperSounds emit ultrasonic waves with lengths of about 2/15 of an inch.
The waves’ small size means the speakers can focus them in a particular direction. “It’s like a flashlight beam, compared with light from a bare bulb,” Norris says.
The ultrasonic waves carry an audio signal that’s converted back into sound, maintaining its focused direction, when the wave hits air molecules.
Turtle Beach also sells sound-beaming speakers to stores and museums that could use displays that focus audio directly in front of them.
Tests reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has cleared the $1,675 speakers for use as a hearing aid, showed the speakers improved speech cognition among 10 adults with mild to severe hearing loss. Turtle Beach is mostly selling HyperSounds through health-care providers but has begun putting them on retail shelves. In August, the FDA cleared an add-on feature designed to relieve symptoms of tinnitus. Norris’s next project is a speaker that can be integrated into a TV or computer screen, or a car dashboard, to focus sound on people in front of it.