Rocking out at the Governor’s Ball in New York City, or other world-renowned music festival can leave you with a lifetime of memories. But unfortunately, it can also leave you with a lifetime of hearing loss. Rock concerts clock in at 120 to 129 decibels, according to WebMD. They ’re inordinately louder than the 85 dB level — heavy traffic, noisy restaurants, lawn mowers — that could lead to irreversible damage with prolonged exposure. To put those numbers in perspective, a normal conversation is 60 dB.
Jackson Mann, an avid concert-goer who also worked in the live entertainment industry, learned this the hard way. He ruptured his eardrum at a concert in 2014. In hopes of finding a way to enjoy concerts without compromising sound quality or going deaf, he developed Vibes High-Fidelity Earplugs. The patented plugs feature sound tubes that reduce decibel levels by as much as 22 dB.
“I realized there was a complete lack of consumer education to concert goers on the topic of hearing health or quality solutions,” Mann said. “Additionally, they weren’t being sold on-site where the music was being consumed on a large scale.”
“When creating Vibes, our goal was to develop a product and more importantly a brand that could be well received by mass audiences of concert goers,” Mann added. “Because of this, we developed a product that was as low-profile, comfortable, easily transportable and of course, produces stellar sound quality.”
Mann’s Minneapolis-based startup had only been in business for five months when he pitched Vibes on Shark Tank in a January 2017 installment. He had sold about 5,000 units, totaling $55,000 in revenue, up until the taping in June 2016. About 70% of sales were online and 30% from wholesale accounts. He didn’t get a shark bite but the Shark Tank effect was music to his sales.
“We hope that Shark Tank can serve as a tipping point to let a massive audience understand the issue and a solution to a better concert experience,” he said.
Hear the Mann Out
Mann tried using foam earplugs but disliked how they diminished sound quality. It sounds as if you are standing on the other side of a wall, he said.
“Unlike foam earplugs, Vibes filter acoustics, lowering decibel levels relatively equally from bass to treble,” said Mann. “This is done through a special sound tube and sound-enhancing acoustic filters that balance and modify the sound waves properly.”
“This wearable tech allows you to hear the music exactly the way it was intended to be heard, only without the damaging decibels that cause your ears to ring and become damaged,” Mann added.
A pair of Vibes cost $23.99, shipping included, at www.discovervibes.com and Amazon. They’re also sold at some 50 retail outlets, music events, arenas and other venues. Each pair of Vibes comes with three sets of reusable ear tips in three sizes — small, medium and large — and a carrying case.
Aside from concert goers, the market for Vibes includes people who work in loud environments such as bartenders, security guards at clubs, event photographers and many others.
“Compared to foam earplugs, Vibes increase speech intelligibility,” Mann said. “You can easily talk to those around you while wearing them.”
Although many competing products already existed, they were mainly marketed to the niche music industry or as a medical product from hearing device markers. Hi-fi earplugs were not sold where people needed them most — at concerts. Mann wants to make Vibes Hi-Fi Earplugs a staple for concert goers like helmets for snowboarders and skiers, a trend that took off in the early 2000s.
“Something that once had a stigma around it is now not only the norm but also has been made cool,” Mann said. “Among other reasons, this trend was due to influencer marketing, better designed and branded products and awareness around the issue of injuries. Sunscreen usage is another good example. We see that same trend taking place in hearing protection as people seek to better their health in all aspects of their lives.”
Mann on a Mission
Mann started the company with a close friend who had major music-industry connections. But his partner unexpectedly died at age 29.
“In his absence, I have dedicated myself to working more passionately to seek out the vision and goals that we both had set for our partnership,” Mann said. “When you face an obstacle, remember how much the world needs what you are doing.”
Vibes donates a percentage of each sale to Hear The World Foundation, a global nonprofit that provides hearing aids and medical care to those with hearing loss.
“My goal is to change the way people listen to live music and save the hearing health of those around the world,” Mann said. “Vibes mission is to not only improve the live concert experience but also help solve a growing world health issue.”
He added: “According to the World Health Organization, 440 million people worldwide are at risk of hearing damage due to live entertainment – concerts, bars, night clubs, sporting events. Every time your ears ring it is a symptom of irreversible hearing damage.”