Techstination interview: ClearCast’s innovative Personal Assisted Listening device (PAL).

Fred Fishkin of Techstination talks with Dr. Sreek Cherukuri about ClearCast’s innovative alternative to hearing aids, The ClearCast PAL.


In a Techstination interview, Fred Fishkin speaks with Dr. Sreek Cherukuri from ClearCast Hearing about their novel Personal Assisted Listening device (PAL), designed as an alternative to traditional hearing aids.

Following the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter hearing aids for early-stage hearing loss, the ClearCast PAL aims to offer a more accessible solution for those who find hearing aids challenging to use or unnecessary for constant wear.

The device, worn around the neck with earbuds, also features a unique “magic mic” that can be placed near sound sources to enhance clarity and reduce background noise, making it ideal for TV watching, group conversations, and listening to speakers at a distance.

Targeted at individuals with severe hearing loss or those in early to middle stages not ready for hearing aids, ClearCast’s device is rechargeable, works with phones on speaker mode, and avoids Bluetooth pairing issues.

The ClearCast PAL provides a more affordable and flexible option for hearing enhancement, addressing the stigma and limitations associated with traditional hearing aids.

[00:00:00] Some help with hearing. Welcome back to Text O Nation. I’m Fred Fishkin. With us from ClearCast is Dr. Sreek Cherukuri. Thank you for taking time with us. Thanks for having me. Well, the FDA has opened the doors for over the counter hearing aids and hearing assistant devices. You’ve taken, I think, a less traditional approach to the problems here with ClearCast.

[00:00:30] Give us the overview. So

[00:00:32] everyone knows what hearing aids are. They’ve been around for decades and decades. And yes, more recently, the FDA has allowed for over the counter hearing aids to help people with early stages of hearing loss. And that has reduced costs and improved access. But what I know from a prior business where I used to manufacture and sell low cost hearing aids, after selling Over 300, 000 sets of hearing aids to customers.

[00:00:56] What I realized as an ear, nose, and throat doctor is a hearing aid is not the right solution for everybody. So at ClearCast, we wanted to bring a second option to people where hearing aids may not be a great fit, whether it’s due to dexterity issues or they don’t feel like they need an all day device.

[00:01:15] As you may know, sometimes it’s really hard to handle and manipulate hearing aids, so we came up with a new solution to the problem of hearing

[00:01:22] loss. Well, show them to us and describe how they’re different. So this

[00:01:27] is one of the first personal assisted listening devices. Instead of something you wear on your ear, you wear it around your neck, very much like the head form headphone form factor from a couple of years ago.

[00:01:39] And it has earbuds that you can wear like this. And the device itself is very simple, on off switch, volume up and down, and a microphone mode switch. There’s a built in microphone when you want to have a conversation or hear something right near you. But really, the secret to the whole operation is what we call the magic mic.

[00:02:00] This is a wireless microphone that you can place near any sound source or conversation source. An example would be the television. You often were sitting 10 to 15 feet away from the television. Hearing aids have a hard time amplifying the television because there’s all that empty space between the sound and the ear.

[00:02:20] If you have a dinner table conversation, four or five people are talking, it gets really muddy, but when this microphone’s at the center of a dinner table, whoever’s wearing the ClearCast will hear clearly as opposed to sounds from behind them or around them. They hear what the microphone hears. Another use case would be if they want to hear a lecture.

[00:02:40] It could be a church, it could be someone speaking. Uh, this allows you to, to hear the speaker very clearly. And then, the one that’s really close to me, because my uncle has real, is real hard of hearing, and has not had good success with very, very expensive hearing aids. Is once the hearing is dropped very significantly hearing aids do struggle and the microphone is wearable as a clip and whoever is wearing it, it will sound like they’re speaking right into the user’s ear.

[00:03:09] So it’s very, very clear.

[00:03:11] Really interesting. So are there particular types of patients or people that you would recommend this for?

[00:03:18] So there’s a few different types of patients I think would really benefit from a clear cast. Uh, one, as we just mentioned, the more severe hard of hearing, especially in their older age, we might call them super seniors, they’re gonna have a real hard time manipulating something, wearing it, even putting something on.

[00:03:36] This is a really easy option for someone like that. The other very prominent use case is, again, people with early or middle stage hearing loss, they may not feel like they need a hearing aid or something in their ear all day, every day. They may want to wear something simply for television or for a dinner table conversation and then get by without any device for the rest of the day.

[00:03:58] And so those are the two populations I think really would benefit from this. In our early, uh, um, testimonials, people that have hearing aids find they vastly prefer this for something like the television, uh, because it is much clearer and much louder without background noise or, or, or whistling or feedback.

[00:04:17] And as far as the form factor is concerned, are, these need to be recharged, obviously. Do they also work with phones?

[00:04:26] So they are rechargeable, which is great. You know, hearing aids have moved toward that direction, but a lot of them still use very, very tiny batteries that are hard to manipulate and don’t last that long in terms of this, both the device and the microphone use the same USB C charger.

[00:04:43] And, uh, what was your other question? I apologize. Do they work with phones? So they would work with a speaker phone, just like a hearing aid. They don’t stream per se. But there is one other, uh, feature here. You can connect the microphone to a tablet, for example. In theory, you can connect it to a phone or And you can hear an audio book or a podcast directly into the headphone.

[00:05:04] It’s not designed for phone streaming.

[00:05:07] It’s not like a Bluetooth headset that you would use for conversations as well. But if you’re on speaker, you can work around

[00:05:14] that. Yeah, one advantage of Bluetooth, it has a pairing problem. That often things get unpaired or you have to pair them initially. These don’t have that issue.

[00:05:23] And Bluetooth has a built in latency and that’s challenging for hearing loss because when someone speaks, the lips don’t match the sound and this uses a different FM technology that’s much cleaner in that regard. Now, a lot of people, as we know, seem to be reluctant to wear hearing aids at all. Only a fraction of the people who need them, I guess, are wearing them.

[00:05:47] Do you feel like you’re going to get around that issue with this kind of form factor around the neck? So, the analogy I like to use is imagine if someone had mobility issues and the only option out there was a wheelchair. There’s no crutches, there’s no cane, there’s no walker, there’s no other treatment options.

[00:06:06] Right now, in the medical community, I think it’s falling short because we’re only offering people this one option. Hearing aid? And as you alluded to, there’s people that don’t feel like they’re ready for a hearing aid. Their hearing loss might not be that bad that they need something all the time, but rather situationally.

[00:06:22] And unfortunately, there is a stigma. Hearing aid screams that someone might be old or slightly less capable. And that’s the resistance we hear as medical professionals. And so this is designed for hear what you want, when you want. Without using hearing aids. So we do believe people that don’t want a hearing aid or aren’t ready for a hearing aid.

[00:06:42] This is a great option. Very much, the form factor reminds me of cheaters or reading glasses, uh, for the ears. So we call them cheaters for your ears. And so you, so when you want to hear something, you can put them in. And when you don’t want to hear something amplified, it just rests around your neck and you’ll forget that it’s even there.

[00:07:00] And there’s no setup needed, correct?

[00:07:03] Out of the box, it’s already charged, ready in 30 seconds. So tell us about pricing, and that’s another advantage I think you have. Right, so hearing aids, even to this day, prescription hearing aids can get to 4, or more a pair. When I hear from patients, sometimes they’re offered 7, 000 pairs, it is really striking.

[00:07:27] Over the counter hearing aids have helped, as well as my prior company. You can get over the counter hearing aids for somewhere in the several hundred dollars to several, you know, 1, 500, with the good ones being 1, 000 or more. You know, Costco is one of the leaders in hearing aids sold, and those are about 1, 600 for a good pair.

[00:07:45] We wanted to price this much more accessible, much more competitively. This is under 400 for the entire unit. Terrific. So where can people go for more info?

[00:07:56] So is where you can find more information and really get to understand the product, the technology, and the solution it provides.

[00:08:05] Well, congratulations on on the innovation there, Dr. Sreek Cherukuri. Thank you so much for taking time with us.

[00:08:12] Thanks for having us.

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