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It was my pleasure to have Tom Trones on this episode of theOpenScore Conversation Podcast. He is the Co founder and Chief Product Officer of Minuendo - a company that is passionate in bringing category defining hearing protection products that users will truly enjoy wearing. In this podcast, you’ll learn about the importance of protecting your hearing as a musician, his pathway from guitarist to designing his ear plugs and what it was like to take a product from the idea stage all the way to selling a complete product during the pandemic.
00:00 - Intro
01:24 - Tom's musical background
04:07 - How Tom became the CEO and CPO of Minuendo
05:15 - Tom made ringtones
06:03 - How Tom developed his passion for hearing protection
Hearing Health and Safety
10:00 - Unsafe decibel levels for hearing
13:03 - Correlation between hearing damage and dementia
14:18 - Practice examples of unsafe decibel levels
18:03 - How is hearing damage accumulated?
20:19 - Environments that could potential harm your hearing
23:07 - How do you know if you have hearing damage?
On the Lossless ear plugs
34:12 - Lossless ear plugs and its revolutionary technology
29:29 - Who could use the Lossless ear plugs?
32:18 - What's special about the Lossless ear plugs?
The experience of developing a product
37:01 - How were the Lossless ear plugs manufactured?
40:16 - The experience of testing a product
43:20 - Why so many ear tips?!
48:30 - Testing stages for the Lossless Ear Plugs
49:36 - What it feels like to have the final product
50:49 - Bureaucracy is harder than creating a product
53:33 - Minuendo's next product
57:02 - Where can you purchase the Lossless ear plugs?
Welcome to this episode of the open score conversations. I hope you're having a fabulous holiday season. I'm very excited to bring to you this special guest Tom Jones, who is the co founder and chief product officer of Menuetto. He has been protecting his hearing since he was a young musician and has combined his various skills to create the revolutionary musicians earplugs, the lossless earplugs. It is the world's only variable passive High Five filter earplugs but also has a natural flat frequency response. This all means that you can adjust how loud or soft the sound will be as it enters your ears. On top of that, and today, you're going to learn about the importance of protecting your hearing as a musician, his pathway from guitarist designing these earplugs and what it was like to take a product from the idea stage, all the way to selling a complete product during the pandemic. Although this video is not directly sponsored by menu endo themselves, I do have a discount code for 20% off the lossless earplugs from their distributor soundbrenner. So check out the link in the description below for more information. Let's go and meet Tom. So before we get started with talking about hearing protection and your earplugs and your journey, can you give us a little bit of a background of your musical journey and your musical background as well?
Yeah, yeah, so I started playing piano, not very seriously from, you know, seven bit on enough until I was maybe 11/12. And then started to- I found the guitar. And that kind of took over. So for a while I was kind of doing both piano and guitar, but they kind of they crossed over as I went into a musical High School, here in Norway,doing more and more guitar first little bit classical, then more and more electric guitar. So, so after high school here in Norway, I studied music technology. So I've always kind of enjoyed that transition. And the combination between the creative and the technical fields. And I think that's kind of been the red thread throughout my career. And my my interest is in that. Yeah, finding that balance between those two. So after Music Technology, where I did a lot of production and live sound design and synthesis and these kinds of things, I wanted to have a little bit more technical meat on the bone. So that's why I did a full acoustics degree in electronics and signal processing. So they went the engineering way. So that's kind of my my, like formal background, but it's for musically, it's been, like more and more rock and then a lot of progressive metal and these kind of things when I was around 17, 18,19. And was very, super focused in that direction. I think after that. I've ventured a little bit more broadly, and trying to be more, more of a diverse musician after that. What other genres have you grown from after your tunnel vision? I think you know, more pop and blues and even even trying to appreciate the genres that I was kind of very against to begin with or can relate to, like country music, and now trying to push myself to find things that I I like in many genres, even those that maybe had a negative starting points towards. It's awesome that you're like opening up to a lot of other genres. It's just so so good to just, you know, be in the music world that way. Yeah, yeah.
So can you tell us because you are now like the co founder and also the CPO of innuendo. Can you tell us what events in your life have led you to that point?
Tom Trones 4:20
Yeah, so I spent the most of my like working career after university in Cisco Tandberg, so they do video conferencing. And in that company, I was able to do a lot of things that both had to do with the technical side and the creative side. So I did sound design and ringtone design for a lot of video conferencing products there and also a lot of project management. So when the guys that were running this project before it became a company so this was a research project funded by the Norwegian or governments for three years. And then they had something that they would like to commercialize. And then they asked me if I wanted to join through some common common friends that knew about me. So that's how I got into the company and how I co founded the company.
Oh, very awesome. Can you go a little bit into the ringtone thing? Because that seems really interesting. Like, were you composing the tunes, or how did that work?
Tom Trones 5:24
I still find it fascinating to work within within very tight constraints. So you have a very tight framework, you know, it has to loop it has to be played on really bad speakers still kind of retain a lot of the same musical qualities, it has to scale to a bigger sound system, and still sound good, it has to have some kind of brand identity needs to be played 100 or 1000 times without you like completely getting sick of it. So it has, has to tick off a lot of boxes. And you have to do that within 15 seconds. So I found that kind of very narrow framework of being creating within quite rewarding, challenging. Yeah, it is said that a lot of creativity can come from just having like boundaries. Because if you don't have those, then you don't know what to do with creativity.
So I think that's a really, really amazing. And as we start to go into, like hearing protection and how important it is, can you tell me a little bit of how you got into hearing health and protecting your hearing? Was there a certain event that happened for you, or more of a situation?
Tom Trones 6:30
I think I'm not sure exactly where I quite early on got this awareness, maybe it was just like the extreme levels that I was exposed to quite early on in my musical career. We were for like four teens in a very small basement playing as loud as we could, we had a very loud drummer, it was so tight. So we were like, this symbol was in my face, basically. And my amp was in my other ear. Yeah. And everyone was like, cranking it to kind of compete with him. And it was not possible to be there without. And then I quite early on got custom molded earplugs with 25 DB filter, because that's was what was needed in that quite extreme situation. So yeah, I think I was 17 when I got my ears molded the first time. So it's quite quite early to make that investment in, in your hearing. But even even if I'd have had hearing protection with me, at clubs, I'm always the guy that puts like, toilet paper or something in my ears, even though it looks very dumb. So I've always had that. I've always wanted to protect myself without being you know, scared, but I feel you know, it's uncomfortable in, in those extreme situations, or maybe I'm quite attuned to what levels are, are potentially dangerous or for what time I can be exposed without it being too hazardous. Yeah, I'm the same way. Like I have the my very old like custom earplugs that I used to wear whenever I went to concerts. You know, when it gets really loud, because you like feeling like the bass through you, right. But at the same time, it has to be quite a high level of volume and intensity for that to happen. So it's, it's, you know, you need to protect your hearing.
Was there anyone who told you that you needed to get like custom fitted earplugs? Or was just something that through your research you discovered?
Tom Trones 8:47
I can't really remember how that came about. I don't think I can't remember that out too many. People tell me that. That was what you should do. Yeah, I can't remember. But somehow I got that done. And, you know, that was a big investment for me as a student that that time. So yeah, I mean, custom molded earplugs has been for the longest time, the best option for most, that want to retain a certain sound quality because the filters available for customers can be quite good or like they have been the best available. So I've always been a fan of that. But I've you know, through the throughout the years of use, found some some things that have annoyed me a little bit that I wanted to go and bring into this new product that we were making to make it even better than than the experiences that I have had in the past.
Today, we're gonna soon get to filters and all the nifty features that we have with a lossless earplugs. But to establish a little bit of a foundation for the listeners who might not know anything about hearing protection, can you give them a little foundation as to why it's important and maybe talk a bit about unsafe decibel levels or sound an exposure that is healthy and isn't unhealthy?
Tom Trones 10:24
Sure, yeah. So, so basically, much like other chemical substances of gases, there's a certain dose, or exposure you can get without you getting into kind of a hazardous risk area, where you either in a short or long, long period of time, can accrue permanent hearing damage. So, you know, you might go to a concert and not wear earplugs, and then go to bed. And if your ears are ringing, probably you have some kind of temporary threshold shifts, or like very short term, hearing damage, most often that that kind of heals itself, it kind of goes away, but over time, that will, those kinds of events will accrue, and you will get increasingly more hearing damage that will be permanent. So there is no really a good way to get back from that kind of state and, and the effects of hearing damage, some might take lightly on it to begin with, you know, it might be a little bit harder to hear when you're talking with friends at a club or, or, you know, you just have to, you know, speak speak up, but, but it can have really big consequences to the way that people live their lives. And there's a big correlation to dementia and death, also. So there's a lot of research now showing that the huge effects of negative consequences of hearing damage. So you know, that that's what most most people kind of expect that their hearing will get worse as we age. But I think there's a lot to do, that we can do to keep our hearing as good as possible for a much longer period of time. And especially for musicians where you know, if you lose your hearing, that's going to seriously affect the thing that you love to do the most. So you really want to kind of keep that as as long as possible. It's like kind of investment into your future self 20 years from now, you know, you want that personal view, like that version of you to have a good life and be able to enjoy music and keep continuing to play music.
Absolutely, you definitely not only want to continue being able to hear and make the music that you love, but also to hear like your loved ones voice when you're older or to hear maybe if you want to have a family to be able to hear like your child's voicemail to speak to them without being like, once again, can you speak a little louder? Can you if it's possible? Can you go into a little bit more about the correlation between hearing loss and like dementia and death? Because that's, that's quite a correlation.
Yeah, so and, and the cause causation part of this is still not quite figured out. But we do think it has to do with kind of the, the social stimuli so that there is a negative spiral between the two, like not necessarily that dementia cause hearing damage or having damage causes dementia, but it's this like negative spiral of reduced social interactions and stimuli.So I'm not an expert on this. But I do trust the science in it, although I'm not maybe the person to to recount it in a perfect way.
But I guess that doesn't make sense because I imagine if you are having trouble hearing on a day to day it makes it hard to connect with others. And then if it's hard to connect with others, you feel more lonely and then you know things spiral further from there. And would it be possible to talk a little bit about what are unsafe hearing decibels and we're not all carrying around like a decibel meter, like dusting things, so that there'd be like packed practical examples of how loud maybe 85 is or 90.
Yeah. So you know, there are levels to understanding these. The single number values of a sound because as we either, you know, a, a very bass heavy sound or a very high frequency sound, they might have very different effects on the body. But we're still, in this context, we say, okay, it has a certain level decibel level. And, and it's very hard to get the real, really good intuition around decibel senses a logarithmic scale. So just like it's hard to interpret that an earthquake, which is also on a logarithmic scale the Richter scale. So, so having, you know, a good understanding of what Decibels are, can be quite tricky. But typically, we say that to avoid a certain amount of risk, then you should stay beneath an average of 85 decibels for eight hours a day. And for every three dB, you increase the level, you can only stay there for half the time. So if you then go to 88 DB, do you have that as a background noise throughout the day, it can also always, only stay there for around four hours, before, you know you're incurring too much risk. Or to the point where you should do something about that. And that's quite high nine, like 90 dB, would be almost shouting, Oh, okay. Yeah. So, but my band practice, for example, I was playing in the cover band for the last year, we used to have levels around maybe 95 to 100 dB. At about 100 dB, you've spent a dose after 15 minutes without hearing protection? Well, that's fast. So that, yes, so if you do that, like throughout years and years and throughout the career, then you there's a very high likelihood, you will see an early decline of hearing ability. And my my other band where we like this, this premiere, previous band that I mentioned, it had electric drums, so that wasn't really that loud for an amplified, kind of setting this other than playing it well, at maybe 110 decibels with acoustic drums, and we're playing really loud. And then it's just a matter of minutes before you've you've, you've gone into this red zone, where for that day has you like in that in the span of just a few minutes, you've kind of spent the exposure allowance for that day. So then that's, that's quite the serious case, if you're if you're not using hearing hearing protection, and that, you know, 110 DB that would be more than a chainsaw, basically, or cutting cutting metal or these kinds of things. So it's quite high.
You mentioned about 85 decibels and have an exposure level about, let's say, eight hours. And if you're at 88, it's down to four. Now, is it a continuous four hours? Or is it like accumulated throughout the day for hours?
Tom Trones 18:16
Yeah, so the all these kind of models are very simple simplified, in order to be able to talk about it in the way that that we do to give recommendations for legislation, for example. So if you are an employer, you kind of have a responsibility to keep levels be below that. And if they are higher, then you need to have some some hearing conservation program in place, for example, making sure that your workers have earplugs or that you put in more sound absorption in in the symphony orchestra or make it so that the the ones that create the highest levels are maybe separated a bit more away from the others these kinds of things.
So having sound absorption having hearing protection, if you're near other loud musicians, perhaps space yourself apart, so that's not as like in your face. Are there other ways that musicians can help to protect their hearing?
Tom Trones 19:23
Yeah, and I think the important thing that you mentioned is like taking breaks. So there is the difference between this four hour continuous and, and you know, spreading it out and making sure that you're yours to have have time to kind of adjust because usually hearing damage is caused by a lack of nutrients that are getting into the cochlea. That's at least what we think so that there's, you know, poor diffusion of nutrients that are getting or removing rest materials that you don't need any longer from that area, and you don't really have a whole lot of blood flow in that area. So, so you need some time to let that kind of cool off and get to an equilibrium. So I think you think taking breaks is a really good suggestion for that.
Awesome. What are some environments or scenarios that musicians need to be a little bit more aware of that they will know that there'll be exposed to higher levels of like volume intensity, aside from you know, going to clubs, or listening to concerts or being too close to I don't know the timpani, when you're in rehearsals or other scenarios
Tom Trones 20:40
it's quite easy to think that when you're alone, in your studio with a grand piano, for example, you know, you have full control of the sound. So and it's, it's a small room, but that's where you spend most of your time probably, you know, if you're if you're practicing maybe six hours a day, and and doing a lot of pieces that have very high intensity, you might spend your dose in that even for acoustic guitars, you know that that over time, that can be quite high. And for a violinist, for example, that the ear that is closest to the violin, we've measured 110 decibels.
Wow, the violin, that's like 15 minutes of practice, right there.
Tom Trones 21:34
Yes, but you're not going to, most often you're not going to do 100 tests that 110 decibels for 15 minutes. But you know, if it's very high intensity, you know, you will have peaks up there. And then if you're practicing for eight hours a day, five days a week, for years and years, you know, that's going to add up over time. So even this, in these cases, where you think you might be protective, you have full control here, maybe in a kind of acoustically damped practice to do, it can still kind of add on to that
accumulating noise exposure that you can control a bit. And I think, you know, previously, there hasn't really been products that have low enough attenuation for those kinds of situation, because it feels very weird to put hearing hearing protection in and you're just seeing along with practice to do with an acoustic instrument. Yeah. But I think there is an opportunity to take a little bit of the edge off in these cases where you're spending most of your time and that maybe, you know that if you think I don't like wearing earplugs at the concert, I need to be at 100% There. Okay, maybe don't wear hearing protection at your symphony orchestra concert. But you know, the 90% of the time was practicing towards the concert concert. So that's where you put in their protection?
Yeah. How would someone know if they have hearing damage? Aside from having tinnitus or like that ringing in the ear? Is that the only symptom?
Tom Trones 23:20
It's not necessarily so that if you have tinnitus, you have hearing damage, there is a correlation there. And you know that the best way to know if you have hearing damage is to go to your audiologist and do a audiometry and they will take you through a number of tests that check okay. How is the like mechanical status of your hearing apparatus? Is it neuro sensorial or if there is something measurable wrong, they can try to pinpoint what that might be. And usually that can explain some, some tinnitus but tinnitus and hyperacusis, hyperacusis and misophonia. They're also quite related to stress often, you know, how will you deal with it? So there's, it's not like, Okay, I have tinnitus, something externally bad happened to me and now I just have it you know, there's, there's this weird thing where the level of tinnitus that you experience the ringing in your ears, it's not correlated to how much it affects your life or like how, how badly you feel that it? It is. So how bothersome it is. So I think that's, you know, counterintuitive, you would think that the higher your tinnitus levels, the more you're bothered by it, but that's not really the case. So there's an element to how you react to that situation as well.
I see. So as the co founder and the CPU of menu window, you've created two different types of like hearing protection. The one that we're most interested in right now is the lossless earplugs, which I think is absolutely revolutionary with the fact that you couldn't adjust like your filter levels. Like, that's amazing. Before we get into the nitty gritty of that, can you tell us what the lossless earplugs are, who they're for, and how they're different from just like regular foam earplugs that you would just stick into your ear, like toilet paper.
Tom Trones 25:36
So the foundational thing is that we are using a membrane filter. So a lot of other products, like the simple foam ones, they're just blocking everything out. That means that you're you're getting, they're cutting away most of the high frequencies, so it kind of gets rough corner, feeling when you're putting your hand in front of you know, you can't really understand you can hear some things but the you get, it's mostly like bass that's getting through. And it's really hard to hear speech if you're, if you've fitted them well. So that's, that's, you know, they're great hearing protection. But it takes away too much of the experience for like musical settings. But if you fewer, like cutting the grass and just want to block everything out, they're great, you know, they're cheap. They work if you know how to insert them properly. But most most people don't. So often they don't end up working, even though like they can work really well. So that may be an issue. So that's a simple phone once. And then you have a kind of middle category where you by just opening a tiny hole through the phone, in different products do this in slightly different ways, then you can introduce a base leak, and then you have a slightly better here through a little bit more control. You're not taking absolutely everything everything away. But still, it's not really great for music, you're losing a lot of high end, for example. I see. And then then finally, you have the category with membranes. So like Minuendo, and also like most custom molded musician's filters, they have a membrane. And that allows you to attenuate the bass frequencies and the high frequencies at the same level. And that gives this natural sound. That's why we call it lossless, you're not losing any of the frequencies of the natural sound. But you're keeping you know that natural naturalness.
For those who may not know, can you explain the importance of why it's so important to have earplugs that when they do, let's say, take the edge off of the sound, or at least lower the decibel levels, why it's so important to have it equally across the low and the high frequencies.
Tom Trones 28:08
I think it's mostly about the experience of of sound like keeping it natural. If you're a musician, you want to like have control over the tone, if you go into concert, you want to hear it, you want to hear the vocals you want to hear the hi hat, you don't want can just have part of the experience that the sound engineer is creating for you. So that's one, one part of it. And so so if you if you want to kind of have a compromise less on your experience of your sound environment, then it's important to have it flat. But from a protection point of view, I don't see it as critical like because it's the higher frequencies that are, you can say more dangerous or hazardous for us. Because if we lose, lose the higher frequencies, it's harder to discern speech and that has the highest impact on us. If you it's very rare that you get low frequency hearing loss that really affects you in an adverse way compared to the higher frequencies where your speeches. Yeah, I think it's really important for musicians, like they might say, oh, I need some hearing protection.
So I might as well just go to like the nearest drugstore and buy the foam earplugs and they're good enough but because we have to be so nuanced in how we hear the sound and the quality of the sound. If you have those like you said and you put your hand over your mouth, you're gonna sound really well fooled like this, you won't be able to hone in on your craft, but having like the lossless earplugs or And earplugs with that filter makes it, it takes away that muffled newness. And so you can still hear with the same amount of clarity or very close to without losing your experience, like you said, but also without, it's basically like you have your normal type of play, but it's just a little bit softer, which is really great for your experience and also to protect your hearing. So with these earplugs, are they just solely for like practicing musicians? Or can other people also use them?
Tom Trones 30:28
I think they're for everyone. And, you know, if, if you have the budget, you know, not, you're not going to buy a pair of earplugs for $150, if you're going to mow the lawn, most likely. But so there needs to be some kind of awareness around keeping the quality, good having the need for maybe the stepless adjustment or need for having a quite open filter, as well as the possibility to close it. So, so they're, you know, everyone can use it, but everyone won't buy them because, you know, it might be a little bit overkill for, for the for normal, or normal use cases where you would not necessarily need a musician's filter or something like that.
So if you're going on your daily business stuff going to the mall, you probably don't need like custom molded earplugs or the lossless earplugs either. But if you're a musician, lover, you love music, whether you're going to concerts, or you just practice in your room, it might be something that you really want to consider. This podcast is not necessarily sponsored by Minuendo butSsoundbrenner did. Give me a wonderful code for 20% off of diminuendo lossless earplugs. If you're interested in that, please do check out in the description down below. I'll definitely leave that there. Thank you for that lovely segue in there. And on top of that, I'm wondering with these lossless earplugs, how are they different from let's say, getting custom molded ones? And can you talk a little bit more about what you said earlier, where you said, Oh, I have custom molded ear plugs. But there were some things that annoyed me. And I wanted to make something that said, like your ear plugs apart from the market. So what's so special about the losses earplugs?
Tom Trones 32:18
Okay, I can start with some of my experience around them the custom molded, so I did find that theI mean, you usually you have to, you have to when you're getting the mold that you have to have your jaw in a certain way. And and if you move your jaw away from that set position that you're getting the molded at, then they will kind of lose fit. And then you will experience that as like clicking in and out. So when I'm at a concert, and maybe singing along, or I'm singing back backing vocals, or chewing chewing gum or something like that, it's it's not a good experience, you know, you want to keep your jaw in the same position as when you were molding them, which is kind of a big restraint. Because they're, they're usually like just only like rubbery semi compliant. So they're not going to give too much give way too much to the anatomy. The other part is that even though they're custom molded doesn't mean that they have great fit anyway, so they could have big bass leaks. And that could be due to improper fitting manufacturing, you might lose a little bit of weight or gain a little bit of weight that will change your anatomy slightly as you grow older, the anatomy changes. It's not like the Erie Canal is constant throughout your life. So there will be sort of evolution in the way of that. So you might get a false sense of security of of this custom fit, you know that they're custom fitted for that specific place in time and jaw location. So that's one thing to keep in mind. And if you're using them to play for example, you could move your jaw while you're getting them molded or sing along. But that will that will mean that they fit worse, they will have more of the bass leaks because they're naturally not as fitted to the ear canal because that that changes when you move your jaw. So that's that's one thing that annoyed me the other part was there. I had no semitransparent one, they turned yellow they might have as well too.
They're not very, like they're relatively, If they kind of disappear in the air, like, not everyone will see that you have something in here, which might be a positive for some, but they're not very nice when you take them out. And they're kind of hard to get ahold of, yes, sometimes where they're kind of deep, so they're harder to get out. And, you know, I found them relatively easy to put in, but you kind of have to have a little bit of technique to, to do that. So, you know, and, you know, getting hold of them gradually losing them at a concert, that kind of experience was not, not great for me, either. The third part is, is just like the filters, I, I knew that I could get other types of filters, but I never changed away from my 25 dB once. And that was usually way too much for every other situation than my very extreme band setting that I was alluding to earlier. So. So these these are, are things that I brought with me into the kind of specification of this adjustable lostness plugs product.
Yeah, I definitely agree with you about how custom molded ear plugs like they're easy to put in, but sometimes can be cumbersome to like pop out. And also the filters, when I got my custom molded ones, they only came with one filter, I couldn't choose anything else. So even trying to swap back and forth. Even if I had the ability to do so would have been, it's kind of like changing the lens on your your camera that you can do it, but then it just stops the flow of everything that you got to make sure everything's all like, you know, in the right place, you got to make sure it's all fitted and nice. So I love the fact that your losses earplugs can actually go from this adjustable attenuation, basically from seven to 25, meaning that you take the decibel level, if it's at 25 is going to be 25 decibels softer. Was that difficult to like actually manufacture into your product?
Tom Trones 37:01
Yeah, we we had the, you know, that we thought we had something that worked when we started the company, because this was a three year research product or project that that had gotten quite far. They they had done lots of you know, commercialization studies, and you know, they thought they had the product almost ready for production. But when we started the company, you know, we had the foundational technology, but basically we had to start from scratch. And then we spent a year going through, you know, dozens and dozens of iterations with 3D printers and, and different different variants, before we kind of settled on something that we thought would be great for, for this musician niche, specifically, awesome, it is super important for musicians to to adjust from like different decibel adjustment adjustments, because we are in you know, you might be in rehearsal, and it's not when you don't need 25 decibels softer, sometimes you need more a little bit less, it's really nice to have that adjustment, but are the earplugs like actually 3d printed? No so so just like the pre production phase, we, I see we're reliant on that technology to to figure out what we were going to make, and how we were going to make it these. So so the core technology that we brought with us from the research project was this membrane that was adjustable. And and using this single lever, we are able to not only
adjust the tension of the membrane, but also other parts of the filter that compensate for like if you're tuning a drum, the frequency, the resonant frequency, the resonant frequency will go up if you tune the drum higher, so if so you need to counteract that to keep the frequency response flat. So we're doing that with the lever also. So that makes means that we can have a flat frequency response while we are doing the adjustment and that's like the key innovation of the product. How we are able to do that adjustment while we are keeping the the the frequency content to flatten and the sound natural basically how many like iterations or trials that you have to go through in order to find like what you have right now.
Oh, because I'm assuming, you know, doesn't take one shot?
Tom Trones 40:04
No, we had, we had dozens, we had dozens, but by using the 3D printer, we were able to iterate quite fast. And at that time, we were four people that started the company together. So, so us for basically, the brand of the work. Yeah. Getting that to market them.
And what was your experience, like getting from like an idea and getting testing through the stages, like what was testing like, and then finding the marketing actually selling it? What was your experience, what it feels like? I imagined stressful.
Tom Trones 40:42
Not too stressful, to be honest. You know, it was, it was kind of bizarre, because we launched a product for musicians and lives live, like concerts, in the middle of the pandemic, where, you know, you know, everybody's worried about their income, and there's not really much events to go go to. So that was maybe the biggest challenge, or are worried that, okay, this is like, this is the worst time to launch a product like this. But still, it's been like growing really well. And gradually, and we've been able to reach out to a global audience, even though we're a small company from, from Norway. So we're really pleased with that. And, you know, maybe maybe US launched it in the pandemic, made it so that we were able also to kind of ramp up our production in time with demand. Because if if demand had skyrocketed way too early, then you know, we wouldn't be able to deliver so. So that is, you know, that it's long, relatively nicely up until now.
Yeah, so it was a little bit of a blessing in a way to kind of grow the things.
Tom Trones 41:55
So it gave us some time also to, to kind of adjust to the market and figure out, like, really validate that we had a product that people liked. And if we had made some huge mistakes that, like, didn't account for that, you know, we might have been able to kind of adjusted but but we haven't really found a need for that, because feedback has been really, really good. So we're happy about that. And, you know, this, we choose in the product, we choose to have 11 different type of ear tips as part of it. Because we kind of have this custom molded musicians earplugs as a starting point. And getting a good fit in the ear canal is, is critical to getting both good sound and protection. And what we've seen is with the range of tips, which is market market leading, I believe that people are able to find things that are both very comfortable in their ear that you know, can adjust if they're moving their jaw, and they're super light in the air. And that that really allows us to compete with the custom molds and even be better for some people, a better alternative for some people.
When I went to open up your product, and I saw so many customizable tips. I was like “This is amazing!” Because when you normally get like regular headphones and stuff, you have what maybe three, small, medium, large at best. And even for me, sometimes the smalls don't fit my ear canals very well and having a seal to make sure that you know you are sealing off the sound and then being able to filter in the love your sound is really important. Is there a reason why? Or like for each design that you have? Because there's different designs? Is there a specific nuanced reason? Does it help fit different eras? Aside from just you know, the different sizes? Can you go into that? I thought it really interesting.
Tom Trones 44:06
Yeah, and I think it's a matter of comfort as well. So both anatomies very and, and usually there's the balance between comfort and and how well it is fitted. So the deeper something that goes into the the ear canal, the less comfort comfort it is but the better attend attenuation it has a lower frequency. So that means that you actually get a more flat sounding earplugs if you get it really deep into your ear.
And if you put it into the closed position, you will get even more attenuation. So that's that's part of it, but then you have to sacrifice uncomfort but if you choose a foam variant that you don't really interact that deep into the air that's really comfortable. It is the fits well, it doesn't fall out easily. But it may have slightly more bass leakage, and then that will go a little bit out over them the frequency response. So it's something that that every person has to kind of spend a little bit of time on figuring out what's most important to them and finding something that has the best kind of balance between comfort and fit.
What would you recommend someone to start with? Like, when they first open it up? Should they go with the ones that are more cone shaped, or the ones that are a bit more foam in like shorter round? Which one would you recommend trial?
Tom Trones 45:31
First, I think meat medium foam is is very popular, that that covers a large amount of anatomies. And foam is really nice in the way that they're easy to get in and out. And if you're sweating, it's kind of, or it's, I enjoy the material a little bit better than the, the kind of silicone like material, which is in the single, double and triple flange ones. But, you know, the reason why we keep all them in is people are different. So we're hearing, you know, a lot of feedback that, you know, I like this one, I like this one, but we're not getting a lot of feedback that people are having a hard time finding something that fits them. So that's, you know, a really good validation that the amount of tips that we put in, even though it might be some work for the users to put in, to find something that fits them that that we actually can compete with customers in the fit category. And that there will always be, you know, maybe less than a half percent that have trouble or very, like ear canal anatomy that is so smaller, so large that our tips can't fit. And then it's possible to do a custom mold and, and still use mineral Endo. So there are a few providers that do that. But it's not something that we go out and recommend because so many people found, find what they need in the package.
I mean, when you have 11 tips, I would hope something will definitely score. I wasn't you brought up the thing about when you wearing your earplugs, and sometimes you're gonna sweat. That's something I never thought about as a player, but it is true. And that does like change the fit and make it more comfortable. Is that something that you discovered while you're in your testing stages, like oh, people sweat when they like are on stage, and we should accommodate for that?
Tom Trones 47:40
Not specifically, you know that, I think that might be something that people experience and then maybe switch over from the silicone type to, to foam if they experienced that, or they think okay, it's worth it. And when I've used custom mold, no, that gets that can get quite sweaty as well, because it's it doesn't have any pores or anything, that kind of material.
So can you describe a little bit more what the testing stages were like? You said you started off with like a team of four? So did you just test within the four of you? And then like, bigger groups?
Tom Trones 48:23
No, no, we were quite active in going out to musicians, I have a large network of musician friends and and people working in, in as professional musicians, in orchestras and in lots of different genres. So it was really important to get feedback from the beginning. So lots of different sizes of earplugs and and geometries that we tested in different ears. And it was only you know, I think it was about six months in where we we managed to reduce the size of the earplugs by around almost 50% Wow. And that that finally that made it so that we could cater to female and children's ear hears much better because before that it was kind of sticking out but now they're actually so small and nimble that even even the the children of our CEO was able to fit in in their ears. So we were very active in going out and getting that user feedback. I think that's in general really important if you're doing product development to always so that you get away from the the echo chamber that you're you're in yourself.
Absolutely. What did it feel like to finally like have the product like the final product in your hand and then be able to like ship it out to customers? What that what would that feel for you? What did it feel like for you?
Tom Trones 49:56
It was great. I mean, we started kind of small in Norway. And but to be honest, looking back at it, there wasn't like a single point in time where we felt like we've made it or reached a milestone because it was we were always like, always something to do or is something next go to reach. So even though we did, like, specifically in the pandemic, it was hard to, like get together and celebrate, like, one, one specific milestone, so. So I think that's something that we we are better at now. Looking back, and, you know, after four years, it's possible to get a little bit nostalgic to the time we were four because now we're a company of 16 people. And growing so that's interesting to to see how the culture changes and the how.
Yeah, yeah, during the whole process of taking it from like, start to the end and selling it, what was the most like, difficult scenario you had to overcome in this whole journey?
Tom Trones 51:12
I think it's no product development by itself. I don't think that was too difficult. There's a lot of different smaller problems to solve. But one of the bigger challenges that we, we, we kind of knew about but didn't understand the real scope of was getting hearing protection certified. Oh, that's just like being allowed to sell it as hearing protection. How how much bureaucracy and testing external testing, it has to go through for you to have it in your hands, and that it says on it, but it's a C marked product or tested to a certain NRR in the United States, for example. Achieving that is, that's, that's a big achievement that you take for granted. You know, it's just a sticker on the box. But you know, that sticker means something, and it's quite difficult to achieve. And it means that you can, you know, you can trust, trust the product, basically to do it, that it says what it does. And there are external agencies keep holding us accountable for that. Yeah, I think yeah, that's under appreciated as aspect of it.
It sounds like almost the legality is we're more difficult than you actually having to make the product. In hindsight, it kind of feels like that. Like that. I'm sure there were very different difficult things to solve engineering wise along the way. But since we got over them, you know, and they didn't stretch out at the same in time, the same way like this. If so, like, a one year project, getting it service certified. Would you say then, like getting it through the legalities was the most memorable thing throughout this whole journey? Or something else?
Tom Trones 53:13
I'm not sure exactly what would be the most memorable, but you know, it feels really good. When artists and musicians I look up to give great feedback around the product or, or magazines that I used to musicians basing that I used to read when I growing up. And then my product is they're getting a great review. And you know that that really hits home. That's a great thing.
It definitely is. You must be really proud of your product. And I think it's amazing. Like I'm not just saying this, because I you know, working with Soundbrenner, I'm also talking to you, but I really do love your product. Thank you. You're welcome. What can we look forward to seeing more from innuendo and from you?
Tom Trones 54:00
Yeah, so you mentioned that we have two products. So the second product that has most of our focus right now is a product that is geared more towards industrial users and construction people that are in different kind of noisy situations than musicians but have equally or more statistical chance to get high levels of hearing damage. So a lot of companies nor in Norway now have this zero harm goal. No one should get sick, by or, or harmed by by working at our company. And there's a big discrepancy to the reality of that where maybe, you know, 60% of their workers have hearing damage. So the 0% and the goal and this 60% reality, we need to close that gap and great hearing protection has been available for decades. But still, the problem is still there. So there, there's a need to have a product that can help you. That catches the data of the user and tries to motivate you to use the product in the right way. So the Smart Alert earplugs that we have launched it, it basically tells you when to wear the product when it's loud, so then you don't have to judge yourself, when you are in a hazardous sound environment. It tells you to wear the product, if you if it's really extremely loud, they can tell you to wear ear muffs on top of the earplugs in also situations you need double protection like that. And then at the end of your shift, you dock the product and then the data of your day will sync to the cloud. And you can track improvement and exposure over over time so that you you actually know what the workers are exposed to. And then you can do things around the environment can you have shorter shifts to alleviate the hearing damage potential for the worker in some situations, you can have longer shifts, because you're you're actually measuring rather than just using some some table so that's a different target area. But you know, we're passionate about reducing hearing damage in in the area so that we can so that's kind of the next next thing that we're doing.
That's really exciting. I can't wait to see what how that's going to be released. Where can we find you or Menuetto and how can we like connect?
Tom Trones 57:02
Minuendo.com meaning under the customer tab. We are quite available on email and chat through our web website. So if you have specific needs, go to us if you want to buy the product, I think going through other channels at our website you can see where where to buy in your local area. If you're in the US, you know we have some Britain or Amazon in Europe, and gear for music that are quite available.
Yeah, I believe in Canada because I'm Canadian- Long and McQuade is also offering that as well. Tom thank you so much for joining me on this podcast and talking about the lossless earplugs. It's been a pleasure speaking with you and learning about your journey. Thank you so much.
Thank you, thank you. I really appreciate it.
Happy Listening! Michelle
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