LOS ANGELES — Let me tell you what it’s like to really hear for the first time.
I’ve been profoundly deaf in my right ear my entire life. Going into a demonstration from Turtle Beach, an audio specialty store that offers gaming headsets and other sound tech, I was skeptical of what use I’d be. I can’t tell you much about the fidelity of sound because, well, I can’t hear in stereo. Everything comes in one ear, literally. That means my hearing is affected most by whatever is loudest in the room, and proximity is a secondary factor. It also means I can’t locate things by hearing them. A sound is just a ping, and it offers no clues.
Wednesday, I felt something different. Turtle Beach showed us its headsets, which include some pretty cool models, but it also showed off HyperSound Clear, a hearing solution speaker set designed to help those hard of hearing watch TV. I was skeptical. Only certain types of hearing aids, the really expensive ones, work for me. I’ve never owned one. A solution around $1,500, even for just watching shows or gaming, seemed absurd.
Lyndsay Swann, a Turtle Beach marketing director, turned on the TV, and a frog chirped in the background. The bass of E3 boomed around me as she spoke. Sounds blended as usual, but I’ve gotten pretty good at reading lips, or at least picking up context clues.
“This is what it sounds li–”
My head snapped up. I could already tell what it sounds like with Hypersound on. I could feel it. My ear drum isn’t used to vibrating, apparently, so it was like stretching a sore muscle. But it felt incredible, unheard of (sorry), and I knew there was something to this.
“A lot of people find out they’re losing their hearing because it’s getting harder to hear the TV,” says communications director MacLean Marshall, who is in his 40s and suffering from early hearing loss. HyperSound is an early solution, a gateway into hearing aids and other fixes for hearing loss. It can remind someone of what it’s like to fully process sound.
Or, in my case, process it for the first time in more than a decade.
HyperSound works through two speakers that create a sound beam, which you direct toward the person who needs assistance. The system operates best from 4 to 14 feet away, though it can work outside of those constraints as well. To use it, I sat so my reflection was visible in both of the speakers, and with the flip of the switch, I had directional hearing.
The system doesn’t affect hearing outside the beam, either. Ambient sound surrounding the focal point remains untouched, and the volume of the show will remain normal for those listening elsewhere, even from a few feet away. One goal of HyperSound, Marshall says, is to make it possible for people hard of hearing and those with typical hearing to share the same space and watch, or listen to, the same thing with the same level of enjoyment.
This model of the HyperSound allowed for adjustment of pitch to accommodate different levels of hearing loss, and though the product requires a doctor’s evaluation and isn’t commercially available, the next couple years might bring change. Marshall suggested this technology could be made smaller as advancements continue, and from there, the applications grow. For example, HyperSound could be used to listen to music at work without earbuds, so you can keep track of conversation and your tunes.
HyperSound will be available as a hearing solution technology later this year. It’s still an investment, and I’m a broke college student, so I’m not sure I’ll buy in. But this tech excites me. It’s a sign of medical advances to come, straight from the gaming and entertainment world.