Imagine the perfect concert: Rock stars you’ve only ever seen in posters on your walls are now in the same vicinity as you, the light effects are dazzling and the audience is one. Maybe you’re even close enough to the stage to see how sweaty the singers are. You’re feeling the bass reverberating in your chest and vibrating in your shoes, and you’re screaming lyrics along with the best of them.
What doesn’t fit into this fantasy? Hearing loss or, worse, a ruptured eardrum.
Jack Mann ’11 had stood close to the speakers for years, and after he ruptured his eardrum at a concert two years ago, he had the idea for Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs.
According to the World Health Organization, 440 million teens and young adults worldwide are at risk of experiencing hearing damage due to live entertainment. This fact spawned Mann’s need to protect his and others’ ears while enjoying live music.
Mann began his healthy-hearing quest by trying foam earplugs, but found no success.
“Think about it,” Mann said. “Foam earplugs weren’t designed for music. They were made to block sound while using things like heavy machinery, guns or lawn mowers. It’s like putting a wall between yourself and the music.”
Mann’s product, which has only been on the market for four months, is designed for live music. Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs lower the decibel levels of the sound environment without sacrificing sound clarity.
The process from idea to final retail product happened in a little under a year, and began by researching how sound can be filtered. With the help of sound professionals, Mann then created prototypes with 3-D-printed parts.
“If this process had taken place before the availability of 3-D printing technology, this product would have never existed,” Mann said. “The costs to produce parts would have been far too high.”
The prototypes were tested in the sound laboratories at the University of Minnesota’s Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Department, and from there came production of the final product.
When Mann realized that one of the key components to Vibes was only produced in Asia, he traveled abroad to analyze suppliers in the area and select a manufacturer. Minneapolis-based designers and engineers created the packaging designs.
“Of course, that is all just the physical product creation,” Mann said. “It was also done in conjunction with market research, branding, copy, web design, patent/copyright/trademark protection, etc.”
Mann compares hearing loss to live music with what concussions are to football, and said evidence for long-term hearing damage is mounting. “Although foam earplugs have been widely distributed, their overall use by concert-goers remains low,” Mann said. “This is the core of the problem. People aren’t protecting themselves because the foam earplugs diminish the experience. The introduction of Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs will increase the overall use of hearing protection for concert-goers, and once available at a broader scale, this could greatly impact this growing hearing health issue.”
Vibes recently made an agreement with the Sonova AG of Switzerland, a charitable foundation and the world’s leading manufacturer of hearing care products, where Vibes will contribute part of its revenues to Sonova’s Hear the World Foundation. This giveback program will benefit projects to provide hearing aids, surgeries and education to those in need around the world.
“We will create a virtuous cycle of allowing our customers to protect their own hearing with Vibes, while giving the gift of hearing – possibly for the first time – to others,” Mann said.
Mann majored in marketing and credits the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business program for giving him a well-rounded understanding of the necessary components to run a business.
Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs are available to order on its website and through Amazon.