Aumeo Audio Next Level Audio Personalization System

From time to time PR agents contact me in hopes of a review for their shiny, new gadget. Bone conducting sub-woofer bracelets and headphones with zipper cables generally don't interest me; most inquiries like this get a pass. But not long ago, I got a note from a PR agent asking me to take a look at the Aumeo Audio Next-Level Personalization product that claims to, "Personalize sound to your ears unique sensitivity and open up new worlds of richer, fuller sound." The Aumeo is basically a device that gives you a hearing test and then EQs the audio to compensate for your personal hearing response at various frequencies. Assisted listening is coming down the pipe; I figured I should have a listen.

The Aumeo is a small aluminum unit about 2"x2"x0.5". It has both an analog audio input from a 3.5mm TRS jack and Bluetooth audio input connectivity. The Aumeo only works with wired headphones; you cannot connect to it with Bluetooth headphones. It has an edge rotating volume control that doubles as the Aumeo effect on/off button with a push on top.

A smartphone running the Aumeo Audio app must be connected via Bluetooth to in order to test your hearing and set up your "audio profile." Your should create an audio profile for every device you hokk up to; the number of audio profiles you can create is essentially unlimited. Downloading the app and pairing to my iPhone7 was seamless and smooth; no odd surprises here, everything looked and worked fairly intuitively. Once running an audio profile it appears to be stored in the Aumeo and the effect can be toggled on and off, even when running from a wired source.

Once you start the process of setting up an audio profile, you are presented with a series of eight tones (125Hz; 250Hz; 500Hz; 1000Hz; 2000Hz; 4000Hz; 8000Hz; and 12500Hz), first in the left ear, then the right. For each tone you are instructed to turn down the volume to the point where you are just unable to hear it anymore, and then you move on to the next tone until all are completed. At that point, the Aumeo has an eight-point hearing threshold measurement of your ears. The whole process takes just a few minutes.

I get my hearing tested by an audiologist every couple of years. I do have some mild hearing loss in my right ear—a little less than typical for a person of my age—and my left ear is good for a person of my age. I performed the audio profile for three headphones, here's the results (click on name for headphone measurements):

NAD VISO HP50
Aumeo_ScreenCap_NAD

Oppo PM3
Aumeo_ScreenCap_Oppo

Audio Technica ATH-M50x
Aumeo_ScreenCap_ATM50X

It's pretty obvious to me that the Aumeo is picking up on the hearing loss of my right ear, which is accurate. It's also indicating some loss in the left ear at 12.5kHz, but I'll note that all three headphones show significant notches in response at or near that frequency. I'll come back to these results more shortly.

Technical Discussion
Aumeo_Graph_FletcherMunson

Fletcher-Munson Equal Loudness Contours

I was not able to get a technical interview in time for this report, but there are a couple of details worth mentioning at this point. The first is that just because you have a hearing threshold plot doesn't mean that you can use that plot to EQ the sound at a normal listening level. As you can see from the above Fletcher-Munson curves, the threshold of audibility curve is distinctly more "V" shaped that the 80dB-90dB curve, which would be about where most people will listen. The primary inventor of Aumeo is Professor Charles Andrew van Hasselt, a published and respected otology professional, I'm quite sure he's going to know well the details of the relationship between measured hearing threshold and the EQ adjustment needed to compensate for hearing loss at normal listening levels. This is a technical detail I'm not worried about.

Initially I worried a bit about a self-administered test and biases that may be present. Wikipedia's page on absolute threshold of hearing does show that self-administered are potentially susceptible to errors, but can be a reliable method when implemented well. Here again I'll assume the designers did a good job of implementation. My experience was that the margin of uncertainty between "I think I can just barely not hear it" and "I might be fooling myself now" was small enough that I got the feeling I was getting a pretty reliable result.

More troubling to me was that the test tones were pure, single frequency tones. Those are probably fine for the lower frequencies, but may be problematic for the 4kHz, 8kHz, and 12.5kHz tests. Headphone frequency response can have many very narrowly spaced peaks and valleys. If, on a particular headphone, there happens to be a deep notch at 8kHz, the audio profile test will show this area as needing a boost. The problem is that the boost will be applied over a broad region, rather than just the narrow notch, in order to build a smoothly shaped audio profile between the adjacent points at 4kHz and 12.5kHz. This may result in a fairly strong error in the resulting audio profile.

I also found environmental noise a problem. These were all sealed headphones, but this is a test where you're trying to discriminate at very low volumes. At these levels I did have to listen past the very low level sound of my refrigerator running in the in the kitchen and the birds chirping outside. It does seem possible to me that my poor left ear results at 12.5kHz could be masking from outside noise. Typical noise levels in audiometric testing rooms is 30dB—about the level of a very quiet whisper.

Lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, is the matter of psychoacoustic accomodation. It is well known that your perception of sound is extremely malleable. I can't find the cite for it, but I remember reading that folks who suffered hearing loss in one ear from an injury could exhibit significant reduction in the ability to localize sounds initially, but after about three weeks of mental accomodation to their new hearing profile might regain as much as 90% of their ability to locate sound.

You are used to your particular flavor of rose colored ears. You hear the world all day long through them, and even if your hearing is a bit off you psycho-acoustically accomodate, and the world and voices just sound normal to you. If all of a sudden you were to get perfect hearing, the world would sound wrong...until you accommodated over time.

Subjective Results
The three different headphones I tried all had fairly neutral sound signatures and similar measurements. If you look at the audio profile images above you can see they're more similar than different. It does seem to me I was operating the product properly and making good audio profiles.

Without exception, every time I created an audio profile the resulting sound was far to bright for me. At one point, after I was sure I was doing a careful and correct job of it, I listened to the headphones for a couple of hours to see how much my brain would accomodate—not nearly enough was the result, it remained too bright. For me, the Aumeo did not improve my listening experience. I felt I was much better off using my stock ears—even though they may be showing their age. Audiophiles that have a normal range of hearing won't like this product. You're better off with some sort of EQ that has a normal user interface.

I do think, however, that people with moderate to sever hearing loss may find the Aumeo a great way to pull out the hearing aids, put on a nice pair of headphones, and enjoy music or a movie from your phone, tablet, or smart T.V. Gonna shout it out: YOU FOLKS MAY LOVE THE AUMEO!!! This does seem to be a legit solution for good listening for the hearing impaired on a regular pair of headphones.

Conclusions
In future, we will see a whole new category of earphones called assisted listening devices (ALD), that will do everything from simple music playback and noise canceling, to advanced features like speech intelligibility enhancement, augmented reality audio, and even language translation. These products will be in-ear designs intended to be worn as a lifestyle enhancement on a fairly continuous basis while awake—think interchangeable fashion plates in your ears; hearing aids without the shame. Check out Bose' Hearphones as an example.

One thing all these future headphones will have in common is calibration procedures. The current AKG N90Q has a step to calibrate the response acoustics of the ear cup to match your ear; the Sony MDR-1000X has a button to calibrate the noise canceling performance with changes when wearing glasses, or changing hairstyles. It seems to me the technology in the Aumeo product is terrific example of a calibration step that is unreachable through external acoustic measures, and addresses the listening experience in an oddly objective way through a simple detectability threshold test.

I suspect future products will be smart enough to know they've just been inserted and they should maintain a flat response profile at first to help with the transition into assisted listening. But over minutes, and hours, and depending upon circumstances—like whether you were on an airplane or listening to table-mates in a crowded restaurant—they'd use to good effect your personal hearing threshold test. From that perspective, I think the Aumeo is definitely onto something here. I hope they've patented the shit out of it 'cuz they may make a boatload of money licensing it down the road.

In its current form, however, I don't recommend the Aumeo for audiophiles or the broad consuming public. You're adapted to your stock ears; this thing is just a bright, shiny distraction; you're better off buying better headphones or an amp.

If you're someone with moderate to severe hearing loss, the Aumeo is the best way I've heard of taking a break from the hearing aids and slipping into a decent set of headphones to enjoy your music and movies. Heartily recommended in that case.

COMPANY INFO

COMMENTS
tony's picture

I felt that I had a hearing problem when I couldn't hear anything special from Jude's Schiit Yggy DAC.

I have a corrected hearing system now, I still can't perceive anything special about those Schiit DACs but that's another story.

My Sennheisers now present FABulously musical renderings with the deepest bass I've ever felt or experienced outside of real life.
My system is tuned to my hearing. Huge bang for the buck!

The Phonak stuff is also outstanding for about a $5,000 pop.

HighEnd Audio treats everyone's hearing to be flat from 20 to 20, big mistake. Nobody has perfect hearing!

For oldsters ( like me ), headphones are the only path to superb music reproduction. Loudspeaker/Room systems are not able to be tuned properly.

Once again our Tyll is out front on this kind of stuff.

Nice Work

Tony in Michigan

ps. Headfi's new look kinda sucks for functionality, a step backwards but he isn't constantly pushing up his glasses in his bobble-head stylized videos. He may have just ruined his site and gone Stereo Reviewish.

castleofargh's picture

+1 on accommodation. but this leads me to the opposite of your conclusion. my gut feelings(because I don't have more on this subject ^_^)tell me that a guy with a strong hearing loss at a frequency is screwed because the app will try to boost that lost frequency while he's long used to a real world with that compensation.
so reading all this makes me think that on the contrary, this system is more relevant to people with young/fine hearing and more typical hearing curve, so that it's mainly the headphone's FR that will define the hearing threshold in the test.

but in the end the correction is assuming a given loudness but there is nothing effectively checking that we're doing the test at that loudness(as you mentioned, what if the room is noisy?).
the etymotic hearing test does that I believe by providing both DAC/amp and IEM for a known loudness(assuming we use it with 100% digital level).

tony's picture

those guys are screwed. I know two such persons, one is an Audio Rep.

Tony in Michigan

snafu's picture

I was an early backer of the Aumeo kickstarter and one of the first people to receive a unit. Not surprisingly, while the fit & finish was excellent the device had major issues. That being the battery ran down to 0% even when turned off within 24 hours. Then to make matters worse, the firmware didn't know how to boot up with a flat battery. But, that comes with typical kickstarters.
However, one point that was missed by Tyll. The designers of the Aumeo engineered it with the idea that you would run the hearing test with a "known" earphone. So, they settled on the Apple earbuds. The reasoning being they are ubiquitous and are of sufficient quality to run the test. Tyll should have run the hearing test with those and then listened to music with his regular earphones.
That said - it still doesn't help that much. I also found the resulting Aumeo profile too bright. I no longer use them.

donunus's picture

Well, when a person has some hearing loss then listening to music in a live venue will come with that loss so of course if this thing tries to compensate then everything going through it will always be brighter than what you heard in the live event that you already got used to with warts and all in your hearing. Plus of course, this is only a few bands with wide frequency coverage so it's not that precise either.

DomainRider's picture

I tried Aumeo a few months ago and found that not only was it a bit of a pain to set up and use, but the result was unpleasantly bright, however carefully I set it up.

An interesting audio novelty, no longer in use. Aural profiling and customisable audio profiles are rapidly becoming features of both source devices and headphones (even my HTC 10 mobile does audio profiles in a more restricted but more effective way than Aumeo), so I can't see separate gadgets like this gaining much traction in future.

berita poltik's picture

actually i disagree with it
for me not really good

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