Dubs aims to make earplugs a 'fashion staple' by focusing on design

Coming to Best Buy, SoulCycle and music festivals: a new type of earplugs with an 'iconic design'

With an intriguing design accented by splashy colors, Dubs is hoping to persuade concert-goers, sports fans and anyone else exposed to piercing sounds that wearing earplugs can be about “cool” as much as maintaining healthy ears.

“In the new world, design matters,” said Fritz Lanman, an investor who’s made bets in Pinterest, Square, Teespring and now Dubs-maker Doppler Labs. “Sunglasses went from something that was prescribed by doctors to a fashion product, and that’s what we’re trying to do for ear protection.”

Doppler is planning to partner with fitness center SoulCycle, nightclub operator Tao Group and music festival Global Citizen to distribute reusable Dubs in the coming weeks. They’ll also be available beginning Nov. 3 at Best Buy for $25 -- one size fits most.

A pair of Dubs look like Bluetooth earbuds that lie flat against the ear and jet out toward the back of the ear. They’re black with a trim around them in aqua-green, blue, pink or white. Dubs have 17 tiny parts in them, but none of them are electronic.

Lanman described them as a filter that lowers volume in the range of mid and treble while maintaining the sound's fidelity. Though the science is similar to what competitors offer, none has an “iconic design” that can become a “fashion staple,” said Noah Kraft, Doppler’s chief executive.

“This about diving in, being immersed in the world,” Kraft said. “We don’t want to be obtrusive, and we don’t want to take you out of the world you’re enjoying.”

Audiologists have recommended that people exposed to sounds louder than a dishwasher or garbage disposal for more than a few minutes should wear protection to avoid permanent damage to ears. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin is among those who suffer from permanent ringing in the ear because he didn’t heed the warning as a teenager.

“Looking after your ears is unfortunately something you don’t think about until there’s a problem,” Martin said in 2012 as part of a marketing campaign urging people attending concerts to come prepared.

Custom-molded plugs, like the ones Martin now wears, can cost hundreds of dollars. Companies such as Etymotic, Downbeats, Earpeace and Earasers sell much cheaper, single-size earplugs designed for music-listening. But Kraft said young adults -- despite caring about health -- aren’t adopting these options because they don’t look good.

“We’re trying to push the bar over,” he said.

Not seeing a need for earplugs was the most common reason cited by student musicians who didn't use them, according to a study by Adrienne Rubinstein, a professor of audiology at Brooklyn College. She said some musicians gave up on them because they were disappointed with the sound quality, because it's "somewhat dependent on a proper fitting."

Testers have found other uses for Dubs, including tuning out noisy babies, softening the chaos of New York City streets and dampening the chatter of an office. Dubs has a 12-decibel noise reduction rating.

Lanman is calling the product a “hearable,” a play off wearable technology such as smartwatches and smartglasses.

“This is a wearable I think people will actually use because they’ve been wearing headphones, which are really a virtual reality product, for 40 years already,” Lanman said. Doppler is doing design work in Camarillo and New York and manufacturing in China.

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