The greatest technology in the world is useless without an expert to understand it, and that's where Thomas Müller of Acoustix Hearing Technologies comes to the fore.
How did you get into the hearing business?
I'm a Swiss qualified Feinmechaniker precision engineer, and have qualifications in electronics, microelectronics and audiometry. I'm fascinated by miniaturisation and love the fact that my expertise helps people to live better lives.
How long have you been doing it?
Over 25 years now. The knowledge and skills I've acquired along the way have taken me around the world from my home in Switzerland. I met a Kiwi on my travels who offered me a job here repairing hearing aids. All I knew of New Zealand was that it was a country of volcanoes and sheep. I turned up here a year later, and the rest is history.
Your reputation must have preceded you...?
Well, it was very difficult to find anyone in NZ who had my skills. All the hearing aids were imported so if they broke they had to be sent to Europe or America for repair. My skillset meant that it could be repaired or serviced in-house.
When did you branch out on your own?
Around 12 years ago now, after having spent 15 years working with hearing aid manufacturers. I wanted a new challenge, and my vision was to have an independent hearing clinic that wasn't tied to any particular manufacturer or equipment supplier.
What innovations can you see for the hearing industry in the future?
Hearing equipment will definitely become smaller and, I believe, will come down in price. There will be wireless capability, connectivity to wireless devices.
Acoustix seems to be quite ahead of the play already, tell us about your 3D ear scanner.
It's the first one in the country! It requires quite a bit of skill to scan the shape of the ear, but it's a lot nicer for customers as they don't have their ears injected with silicone moulding material.
Do you have any other points of difference?
The best technologies are never cheap. We don't offer any hooks to get customers in - you always end up paying later for so-called bargains. I offer top-of-the-line expertise in hearing technology; I'm not interested in churning through the consultation just so I can fit more people in. My mission is to find the hearing solution that is right for each individual, and I can do this because I'm an independent clinic. We actually get a lot of customers coming to us because they get frustrated with the chain stores that use only certain brands, so they come to us for a custom solution.
Has the perception of hearing aids changed over the years?
Hearing loss is often an ageing problem. I once had an older gentleman who asked me if I had anything that could "help his wife to talk louder"! The older generation are used to the big, boxy hearing aids of the past, so they are more reluctant to admit they have a hearing problem.
And how has the technology changed?
Aside from the fact hearing aids are now miniaturised, they have become fully digital - versatile hearing computers. They can recognise speech from noise, and enhance speech automatically and adapt to various sound environments.
You have another part to your business, Don't Lose the Music. How does it differ from your core business?
It's a hearing protection initiative that came about when I went to a concert then had a temporary hearing loss the next day. Tip for young players and clubbers - if you leave a gig with ringing in your ears, it was too loud! You need to get hearing protection now. You'll thank yourself for it in 10 years' time.
Surely the musicians themselves would also feel the effects of high decibels?
Yes, and that's another aspect to the business. Ultimate Ears in America approached me to become their NZ agent. So I have the exclusive licence for their in-ear monitors, which block external sound and help musicians hear better on stage. It was actually a life-changing opportunity for me; it's given me a thoroughly unique perspective on hearing technology being involved in the music industry.
Care to do any name-dropping?
Not until I get their permission to do so! What I can say is that I have worked with many NZ musicians who have shot to international stardom, many who are professional session musicians locally. I deal with all types of musicians, from rock and heavy metal bands through to classical and country.
Do you play any instruments yourself?
I used to play the guitar, back when I had spare time! I'd like to sign up for guitar lessons though. And drum lessons.
What's your favourite type of music?
Since I've been involved in the music industry I've really broadened my musical horizons. I can be at a heavy metal gig in an underground basement on Saturday then at a classical performance in a church on Sunday!
You've recently moved to new premises at the other end of the village. What was the catalyst for change?
I'd outgrown the building next to the library. The new premises was an empty canvas, thus giving me free rein to design a space that would be uniquely Acoustix.
Why did you want to stay in Remuera?
I first came to Remuera because it was known as 'the medical mile'... it was the place to go if you wanted any type of medical procedure done. I've stayed because my target demographic is here. From a personal viewpoint though, it's a well-established community where everybody is friendly.
Do you think Remuera could do with some kind of music venue?
Absolutely! The nightlife could definitely be spiced up.
Photos by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson