It's no cheeky business, it's only for the ears

Updated: 2017-02-24 08:49

By Zhou Mo in Shenzhen(HK Edition)

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Personal safety while cycling or running is normally viewed as a prime consideration for outdoor sports enthusiasts but, unfortunately, it's much ignored, either wittingly or unwittingly, by most of them.

The risk of an accident mounts when sporters are in the dark about the environment, particularly when their ears and minds get totally immersed in wild music blaring from headphones.

Entrepreneur Chen Hao is determined to get the problem out of the way, believing it's highly necessary to innovate traditional headphones.

Traditional headphones available in the market at present use air as the medium to transmit sound. They need to be plugged into the ears to perform their functions.

It's no cheeky business, it's only for the ears

Chen's company, Shenzhen Voxtech Co Ltd, has developed a new type of headphone that relies on bone conduction and sends sound waves through a user's cheekbones.

Instead of transmitting sound to the inner ear through the eardrum, Trekz, as the headphone is called, makes the transmission directly from the cheekbones to the inner ear without harming the eardrum or blocking sound from the surroundings, explains Chen.

The hardware, which is connected to a smartphone via bluetooth, can work up to eight hours after being charged for two hours.

Trekz is not the first product of its kind launched by the Shenzhen startup. Since its first generation of bone conduction-enabled bluetooth headphones hit the market in 2013, the company has made rounds of innovation and improvement to sound quality, noise reduction and comfort.

Trekz is the fourth-generation device launched last year. It has since won a technological innovation award at the Consumer Electronics Show - one of the world's biggest and most influential technology events.

Last year, Shenzhen Voxtech's revenue surpassed 70 million yuan ($10.17 million), with more than 300,000 of the Trekz devices sold on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong, the United States, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia.

"This year, we expect to see three to five-fold growth, and we aim to have more than one million units sold in 2017," Chen tells China Daily.

While adopting a positive outlook, Chen says low production capacity is hindering the business.

At present, the company's only factory can produce 300,000 to 400,000 headphones every year. "We're striving hard to solve the problem. We plan to expand our factory by three times."

Despite lacking a background in acoustics, Chen firmly believes it's the right field for his entrepreneurship.

"Acoustics belongs to the industry of electronic information. It's an area that will develop as long as the industry grows. It's also one that doesn't require a huge investment or a high entry threshold."

With an initial capital of 800,000 yuan from his own savings, plus investment from his two partners and borrowings from relatives and friends, Chen launched the project from research and development (R&D).

He rented two apartments - one for R&D and living and the other for manufacturing.

"At the outset, we had just two workers. Sometimes, I also had to be a factory worker myself. It was tough but we made it."

As the smartphone market gradually saturates, more smartphone makers have switched to headphones, including some of the biggest names in technology.

In 2015, Huawei's smartphone sub-brand Honor launched its first hybrid headphone, marking the company's entry into the Chinese mainland's high-end headphone market.

Last year, South Korea's Samsung released its own headphone product on the mainland, while Apple launched its wireless headphone AirPod along with its iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus smartphones.

According to a report by Shenzhen-based consulting firm Qianzhan Industry Research Institute, the global headphone market hit $10 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $18.2 billion by 2023.

Wireless and smart headphone products are expected to become the mainstream, the report says. However, as artificial intelligence technology is still far from maturity, smart headphones may not gain a big market in the short term. That may drive the "explosive development" of the bluetooth headphone market.

The report also points out that a lack of awareness among consumers has been a challenge to the market.

"On one hand, it's because bluetooth headphone makers aren't publicizing the hardware enough. On the other, the market is littered with shanzhai (copycat) products, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between the genuine and fake ones," it says.

Chen says the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stick to innovation.

"As long as you innovate, you'll always be able to grab public attention and lure customers."

It's no cheeky business, it's only for the ears

(HK Edition 02/24/2017 page9)