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Have You Heard About 'Hearables'? Doppler Labs Just Got $17 Million to Make Them.

Is the ear the next tech frontier?

Doppler Labs — which created an unusual splash last year by making stylish earplugs and now bills itself as a “superhuman hearing” startup — said it had raised $17 million in a new funding from a star group of investors.

That includes: The Chernin Group, David Bonderman’s personal Wildcat Capital Management and Acequia Capital. Doppler had previously disclosed that Live Nation Entertainment, Universal Music Group and WME were also in this Series B round.

Before the new financing, Doppler had raised several million dollars from a spate of well-known angel investors, including Casey Wasserman, Owen Van Natta, Joe Lonsdale, Gordon Crawford and Blake Krikorian.

The new money will be used for a product called the Here Active Listening System, which launched in June on Kickstarter. It uses two wireless earbuds and an app to control a live audio environment. Some examples that Doppler uses to describe its effectiveness include being able to turn up the bass at a concert or suppress the sound of a baby on an airplane.

Imagine a hearing aid for millennials and you are in the right ballpark, although executive chairman and co-founder Fritz Lanman was horrified at my clever metaphor and offered several different ones to use like: “Hearables,” “hearing enhancement” and “audio augmented reality.”

(Sorry, Fritz — I am sticking with mine!)

But it does looks like a pretty nifty little device, even if the consumer products arena is tough sledding (see Jawbone). To help it, Doppler has made some big hires, such as its VP of product design Kennard Nielsen, who worked on the Nike FuelBand and, before that, for Amazon on its Kindle Fire tablets.

Both Kraft and Lanman insisted that Doppler was in it to make revenue and noted that it has sold 250,000 Dubs acoustic filters — earplugs for the rest of us — including to music festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Outside Lands.

“What we are doing requires significant capital and partners as we move toward the mass market consumer,” said Noah Kraft, CEO and co-founder of Doppler Labs, in an interview. “We are aiming to use tech to enhance life.”

Lanman offered another analogy, calling Doppler’s Here product “a computer speaker in the ear,” noting that things like alerts could be better delivered aurally than via products like Google Glass or Apple Watch or other means. “It’s not headphones,” he said. “We are aiming for real hearing enhancement.”

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