Imagine the pain of watching your child grow up with a disability that leaves her at a major disadvantage — unable to fully experience the joy of sound. That’s what Sam Thomasson experienced when his daughter, Kate, lost most of her hearing due to a sudden high fever at the age of two. He was devastated at first, but quickly changed his focus to getting her the best hearing aids on the market. He soon learned that traditional hearing aids didn’t work very well and were very expensive. As an electrical engineer, he knew they could be dramatically better and should be available at a lower price for everyone.
So in 1994, Sam began his journey to create the world’s most technologically-advanced hearing aids. Sam promised Kate that he would fix the problems with her traditional hearing aids that were the cause of her frustration. Eleven years and 57 patents later, that promise became Zounds Hearing, whose company mission is to “Help the World Hear Better”.
Problems with Traditional Hearing Aids
“Even though I paid as much as $7,000 for Kate’s first hearing aids,” Sam explains, “she still struggled to understand speech and hear in noisy environments. Squealing feedback was also a constant issue. Many of Kate’s challenges were directly caused by the poor performance of her traditional hearing aids.” But Sam soon discovered that these problems were not unique to Kate. They were issues experienced by most hearing aid wearers. In Sam’s quest to solve the hearing aid problems for his daughter, he would solve these issues for the 35+ million Americans who suffer from hearing loss.
To ensure he was covering the wide spectrum of problems for all, Sam based his technology development on the top ten complaints by actual hearing aid wearers. Sam highlights the three he is most proud of:
1) Background Noise Cancellation – ‘I can’t hear in a noisy environment’.
This issue was especially frustrating to Sam. The $7,000 hearing aids that he had purchased for Kate claimed to have noise reduction, but they simply reduced the overall volume when there was noise. So he developed two technologies that could tell the difference between human sounds and other sounds, like wind or road noise, and created a ‘cone of listening’ in noisy conditions. The combination of the two technologies removes 90% of unwanted background noise while enhancing voice.
2) Rechargeable Batteries – ‘I have to replace the batteries all the time.’
Sam explains, “Over the years my wife made many runs to school or an event with new batteries for Kate – they always seemed to die when she was in the middle of something.” So Sam created rechargeable batteries that hold a charge for up to 18 hours, recharging at night in a charging station.
3) Manufacturer Direct Prices – ‘My hearing aids cost too much.’
Sam states, “This was the case with Kate’s aids, high cost and average performance. The problem with the hearing aid industry is there are too many middlemen each marking up the product. With Zounds, you get our superior product through our franchise stores, at factory direct prices. No middlemen means no mark-up.”
The First Prototype
When she was 16 years old, Kate received the first prototype of the Zounds power hearing aid. Kate’s life changed the moment she put them on. She heard the strings of a guitar and could really enjoy music for the first time. Even better, she could now actually hear the sounds she had been struggling to imitate for so many years: the “t”, “s” and “ch” sounds that are found in the higher frequency spectrum, outside the range of traditional hearing aids. It was an historic moment for those who had worked towards this goal.
The Rest of the Story
Kate says, “It is so amazing that my dad created these hearing aids for me – it has changed my life and made so many wonderful things possible.”
Kate is now a college student and, inspired by her father, she is studying electrical engineering. During school breaks, Kate interns at Zounds, working to help develop new technologies that she will someday benefit from herself.
In 2014, with over 100 stores open across the US, Zounds’ Founder and CEO Sam Thomasson has turned the industry on its head. By utilizing company-patented technology, fittings in less than 2 hours, and manufacturer direct pricing, Zounds has quickly become a leader and innovator in the hearing aid industry.
“I am thankful for the thousands of people that have become customers and now friends,” Sam says humbly, “and who have joined me in my quest to change this industry and bring down the cost of a product that most of us will need in our lifetime. This started out as something I needed to do for my daughter, but became bigger than both of us. It is incredibly rewarding to have helped so many.”