Y Combinator’s SoundFocus begins preorders for Amp, an iPhone speaker case and headphone amp

Y Combinator’s SoundFocus begins preorders for Amp, an iPhone speaker case and headphone amp

SoundFocus, a startup specializing in personalized audio signals for your smartphone, has announced Amp, a new hardware product designed to drastically improve the sound quality of your iPhone.

The Amp case lengthens the size of your iPhone by adding stereo speakers on the top and bottom. It also houses an external battery that should add roughly 25 percent extra battery life. When the device ships in Spring 2015, it will support iPhone 5 and later. Amp’s preorder price is $69, but it’s expected to retail for $129.

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The iPhone 5s prototype that the SoundFocus team brought to our meeting didn’t seem too big, but I’m concerned about adding extra length to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. However, co-founder Alex Selig asserted that the 6 Plus is already so big that many users will carry it in a purse or a backpack. I’m skeptical about that claim, but I guess there’s always the chance Bendgate has scared off iPhone users from keeping devices in their pockets.

The startup’s mission stems partly from Selig’s own experiences growing up with hearing loss. The SoundFocus app tests different frequencies for users in order to produce accurate audio for your ears. Amp was created with the help of the aggregate data from over 150,000 user surveys.

To set up Amp, you’ll plug in headphones and mark when you hear high, medium and low-frequency tones in each ear. Once you’ve calibrated it, Amp should be properly customized to any hearing loss you’ve picked up over the years. You can also tweak your sound by turning on audio boosts tailored for depth and clarity.

Amp includes a noise cancellation feature when you use headphones. The device can also proactively counter road noise if you plug in your phone via your car’s auxiliary port. Meanwhile, the omni-directional microphone and speakers will make it easier to use your iPhone for group calls.

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SoundFocus is working with Apple for approval to use the Lightning port instead of the headphone jack, so Amp should ship with full digital audio. According to Selig, the device will include a “higher-end DAC converter with 24-bit audio” and support higher-impedance headphones.

I haven’t done any rigorous testing of Amp’s speaker quality, but, at first hearing, it’s a noticeable step up from just using your phone itself. I don’t imagine Amp will replace any high-end bluetooth portable speakers that you already have, but being able to carry one device around is a nice convenience.

SoundFocus’s demo had a couple of hiccups and it wasn’t final hardware, so I’m not ready to recommend Amp. I am, however, intrigued by its potential to improve on the mobile listening experience. I’ll be taking a wait-and-hear approach until I can see the final product next Spring.

Amp

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