DESIGNED FOR ACCESSIBILITY
Now Hear This
How the audio app SonicCloud is helping the hard of hearing.
SonicCloud Personalized Sound
Podcasts, Radio & Phone Calls
A few days after attending a party during his freshman year in college, Larry Guterman noticed significant changes in his hearing.
It was subtle at first, a ringing he figured stemmed from the giant speakers and small room he was in. But in the months and years following, it gradually got worse. Today, Guterman has near-total loss. If a fire alarm goes off, he can’t hear it.
After graduating, Guterman invested countless hours and upwards of $50,000 on audiology appointments and hearing aids. But he never found a long-term solution. In fact, there wasn’t any agreement on the cause, let alone a fix.
But Guterman had an idea when the iPhone debuted. “What if I could take the functionality of the hearing aid and stick it onto this little supercomputer?” he says.
Five years later, Guterman cofounded SonicCloud, an app that helps those with hearing loss by personalizing the timbre of phone calls, podcasts, and internet radio played through the app to suit the way they hear.
For many with hearing loss, the problem sneaks up: Studies have pegged the average time between someone realizing they might have an issue and when they talk to a medical professional at more than 10 years—partly because the topic can be intimidating.
SonicCloud was designed to help with that too, says Sachin Khanna, CEO of its parent company, Sonitum. “The idea culminated into ‘Let’s create a product that’s whimsical, engaging, and not clinical, because frankly hearing loss can be scary.’”
For Guterman, who studied physics at MIT and Harvard before taking a left turn into film school, the results were immediate. His first test was a call to his wife. When he saw her afterward, she was in tears, he recalls.
“She said, ‘You used to ask me every 30 seconds to repeat myself, and we just talked for 30 minutes and you didn’t ask me once,” Guterman says.
Let’s create a product that’s whimsical, engaging, and not clinical, because frankly hearing loss can be scary.
—Sachin Khanna, CEO
Such stories are common among SonicCloud users. “The first time I used it, I remember just beaming,” says Hollyce Phillips, a retired philanthropist and broadcast journalist who started experiencing symptoms nearly two decades ago. “It reminded me of what things used to be like before I lost my hearing.”
Michelle Othon, a materials scientist in her early fifties, uses the app every day. “Listening to music again is pure joy,” she says. “And I’m able to connect with friends that I haven’t spoken to in years.”
To personalize its audio to your hearing, SonicCloud walks you through a test that’s best taken in a quiet room using headphones. Cute cartoon characters and intuitive slider controls make the experience more enjoyable than you might expect.
During this evaluation, the app captures more than 50 parameters to arrive at your hearing profile. If you have difficulty making out certain letter sounds, for instance, the app adjusts those frequencies accordingly. And because everyone’s hearing loss is a little bit different, SonicCloud lets you tune its audio on the fly.
“It’s relevant both for people looking to augment functioning hearing aids and people who don’t have them,” says Kevin Franck, director of audiology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear at Harvard Medical School, who has recommended the app to patients.
He adds that SonicCloud’s secret strength is its friendly interface. “It’s easy to understand what to do and how to do it,” he says.
What’s more, the app adjusts audio for each ear individually. For Othon, hearing music in stereo again has been a game changer.
“Literally every time I use it I marvel at the sound,” she says. “I’ll never ever get tired of it.”