When our vision deteriorates, we get glasses. Berlin-based Mimi asks why we don’t do the same with our ears, and how we listen to music.
Mimi previously developed a hearing test app for users but is now pushing Mimi Music, a new app that maps out a listener’s “earprint” and adjusts the music accordingly based on the person’s hearing health.
There are 360 million people globally that have some kind of hearing loss problems, according to the World Health Organization.
With that in mind, CEO Philipp Skribanowitz explains that Mimi’s software is all about unlocking how music is meant to be listened to, as intended by the artist. He likens this to watching a 3D screen without the glasses. You’re missing out on the full picture, and as hearing loss becomes more prevalent, this can makes people’s listening experiences different.
On first glance, Mimi Music seems like a novelty, but Skribanowitz believes its tech can be an important last step in audio consumption for users.
For the artist, they spend money on recording and mastering while the industry is shifting to towards higher-quality lossless formats (such as Tidal’s approach for example), while the consumer buys expensive headphones – but nobody takes hearing loss into account.
“The hearing loss is overshadowing some details and don’t arrive,” he said.
“There are some equaliser apps and some sound optimising apps that just increase the bass or add some treble, which is kind of altering the music of the artist, like putting on coloured glasses. We’re like putting on prescription glasses; we measure the performance of the ear.”
Mimi Music was first inspired by the startup’s original app for hearing tests. Using this same technology, the music app carries out a test of the ear, to create this “earprint”, and the algorithm adjusts the sound of the music player to suit the user.
The main means of measuring a user’s hearing is a ramping test. “There are sounds played, which increase slowly from quiet to loud, if you can tell if it’s on the left or the right ear,” explained Skribanowitz. “The user has to press which is the right one, so we measure the hearing threshold of the user.”
Mimi’s hearing test tech is CE certified and the startup keeps its finger on the pulse of medical research into hearing. Its team includes several post-doc researchers and has a collaboration partnership with phonology and audiology experts at the Charité clinic at the University of Berlin.
The app launched officially earlier in the summer, but Skribanowitz admitted that the technology still needs to be improved – “With every use we’re learning how to do the perfect fit.”
So far the app is only available for iOS with an Android version still in the works.
“We have tested it on around 20 [Android] devices,” Skribanowitz said. “We still have to see how much is enough devices to do a public launch. I think there’s around 3,000 Android devices but it’s impossible to ensure that they work on all 3,000 devices so we’re still seeing how many people have run into problems.”
As for a business model, Mimi envisions a mix of B2B licensing and a B2C freemium model, such as a set free listening time with your earprint.
The main goal though is providing the technology to partners for music, podcasts and even potentially VoIP calls. “We’re starting our SDK pilot so content partners can build the technology into their content apps, like music streaming services, audiobooks, video, podcasts. They can use it in their technology,” he said.
“The user has one centralised profile and can connect to those services so it’s always adapted to him. He only has to do one hearing test and is constantly improving his hearing profile and doesn’t have to do it for each service over and over again.”
So far the startup has two “concrete” partners in tow and others in negotiating stages but Skribanowitz declined to comment further. “There is strong interest but it always takes time to come up with a final agreement,” he said.
As for funding, the startup is not currently looking for new funds but is “always open to talking with investors.”