• SoundFocus

    (SoundFocus)

  • SoundFocus

    (SoundFocus)

  • SoundFocus

    (SoundFocus)

SoundFocus’ Tiny Amp Sound Studio Is All the Boom, Minus the Box

By FOXBusiness

SoundFocus is on a mission to preserve and even amplify your hearing, and the duo behind the audio brand has taken the wraps off a sound studio compact enough to fit in your pocket.

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In its first move into hardware, 2-year-old SoundFocus has created a new intelligent sound system in a case, called Amp, that slides right onto your smartphone. The smart case has built-in speakers and microphones, and uses sound mixing technology to enhance a user’s listening experience by tuning to one’s specifics hearing, tastes and surroundings.

“Our customers wanted personalization for everything — calls, music, movies,” the co-founders explained to FOXBusiness.com. “Amp learns your tastes over time and tailors the audio to match the styles of music you like best.”

Amp can digitally capture a user’s listening preferences, and according to the company, its Dynamic Noise Reduction technology reduces background noise, by adjusting audio frequencies to compensate for the environment around the user.

According to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, one out of eight kids and teenagers in the U.S. has permanent hearing loss caused by high-volume sounds, and many of these cases could have been prevented simply through better listening habits.

Co-founders Alex Selig (who grew up with hearing loss), and Varun Srinivasan met while working on the Office team at Microsoft. After leaving the software titan, they developed a one minute hearing test to capture hearing patterns. A year ago they put out an app that tunes iTunes and Spotify music based on the user.

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According to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, one out of eight kids and teenagers in the U.S. has permanent hearing loss caused by high-volume sounds, and many of these cases could have been prevented simply through better listening habits.

The San Francisco-based startup launched in September 2012 and was part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2013 batch. SoundFocus raised a $1.7 million seed round this past year from investors that include Kapor Capital, Y Combinator, VegasTechFund, OVO Fund, RTA Capital and ACP Singapore.

Amp cases are available in black and white and retail at $129. They’re currently available for pre-order at a discounted price of $69, but won’t be shipped until next spring.

The app has already received a five-star rating on the Apple App store, and it’s been downloaded 150,000 times and sees over 1.5 million songs played per month. And, good news for them, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the music industry’s digital revenues grew by 4.3% to $5.9 billion in 2013, and there are 28 million users paying for subscription services on platforms like Spotify.

But some tech industry experts warn SoundFocus should proceed with caution. 

According to Dean Takahashi, lead writer for GamesBeat at VentureBeat, hardware startups are “tough to get off the ground” as they not only need “a big investment inventory,” but also to “hit the right target market [who are] willing to pay for a separate hardware device in addition to a phone.”

That said, Srinivasan said the biggest challenge for SoundFocus so far has been setting up the right testing system to effectively leverage customer feedback. They intentionally build the app for iOS in order to expand their audience reach, so as to “learn how to improve our audio processing software far more rapidly than a standard one year hardware cycle,” he said.

On the flip side, Takashashi said that contract manufacturing has enabled upstarts to prototype new devices and launch hardware products. “If they can find a contract manufacturer that helps them launch a high-quality device -- and helps them get attention for it,” Takashashi said, “then that could help them become more viral.”

SoundFocus’ main priority in the short term is to empower people with personalized audio. Looking ahead, as devices continue to shrink in size, the brand sees audio taking the lead in the next human-computer interface.

“We want to be the layer that connects you with your mobile and wearable devices,” the SoundFocus guys said. “Seeing people’s faces light up when they turn on Amp and listen to music has been a rewarding experience for the team.”

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