I saw this app featured on the iOS App Store, and because I’m always on the look out for a viable alternative to the horrible Apple Music app, I downloaded it for a trial (it was free)
The premise of Mimi Music is that you also download the Mimi Hearing Test app, and then link your results to the app, which will tweak the EQ (I guess) of your music so that it sounds clearer to your ears without increasing the volume.
It seemed like a good idea, though some might see it as a bit of a gimmick. I’ve known for a long time that I’ve lost the highest frequencies from my hearing, so I was curious to both try the hearing test and then listen to the result. What the ‘gimmick’ crowd probably don’t get is that being able to listen at a medium volume rather than turning it up loud is better for long-term listening, likely to lead to less fatigue.
You need to be in a fairly quiet environment for testing your ears. Your headphones will only be on 50% and some of the sounds are very quiet, so if you’re sitting next to a washing machine on a cycle or a television set, the test won’t work.
I ran through both the mini test (which takes a couple of minutes) and then the longer one (which takes around ten), and then gave the phone permission to link the results to the Mimi Music app. The test consists of a series of tones played at various amplitudes and you respond by touching your phone’s screen when you (think) you can hear the tone. The highest frequency tested is only 8kHz, so you’re probably not going to hear anything beyond your range unless you have severe hearing loss. In terms of music, 8kHz is an extremely high pitched whine – the highest note on a piano/piccolo is around 4kHz. The lowest tone I remember hearing was around 200Hz, but I might be wrong about that. So when you’re talking about frequencies over 4kHz, it’s the harmonic overtones you might be missing, and I guess it’s the volume of these that Mimi Music might tweak to make music sound ‘brighter’ and ‘clearer’ (the usual caveats about visual metaphors applied to sound notwithstanding).
Anyway, the results surprised me. The test gave me ‘hearing age’ of 39, about 15 better than my actual age, with my right ear at around 98% (of perfect I assume) and my left at 91%. So I’m not as badly off as I thought. Where I do have issues is in the ‘conversational range’ which is somewhere between 1-3kHz, and there’s a distinct scoop in my graph at that point, explaining why I have problems hearing people speak against background noise (a common problem).
So then you listen back to your music through the app, adjust the slider to different levels of the ‘Mimi” effect, and see what you think.
It might be a gimmick, but through headphones my music definitely sounded clearer and brighter at the same volume. The headphones I used were an AKG on-ear model, but the app does warn you that the test is optimised either for the Apple earbuds or a pair of Sennheiser ‘phones. In my view, my AKGs were probably a match for the Sennheisers in terms of frequency response.
But I do have a number of quibbles with the Mimi Music app.
I don’t listen to all my music through headphones – in fact, I rarely do. Through speakers (a Bluetooth one in the house, or the ones in the car), the music does sound brighter, but you can also hear the tiny distortions caused by the algorithm. It’s not a deal-breaker, but this does seem to be an app that assumes you’re wearing headphones.
My second quibble is that, over time, your ears get used to the effect (of course) so it quickly becomes the new normal. You’re not really noticing it, but other people in the house or car (listening over the same speakers), might well be irritated by it, especially if they have much younger ears.
Thirdly, and more importantly, I found that playing music back from existing playlists was problematic. The app refused to play anything until it was added to the Mimi playlist, which is odd behaviour. It also showed a ‘locked’ icon next to any tracks bought before 2009 and couldn’t play them because of the DRM. Thanks, Apple. I also found that selecting songs was just as much of a pain in Mimi as it is in Apple music – its behaviours seem just as pointlessly malicious, not to mention that the playback controls were too fucking small and hidden down at the bottom of my huge iPhone screen. There’s also a distinct lag when you start the app and press Play – so much of a lag that you think you have mis-touched, and then hit the (tiny) Play button again, and again, until the music suddenly starts, then stops immediately, then starts etc.
Finally, here’s the current dealbreaker. The app uses a lot of battery power, even when running in the background with the screen off. I was using it just last night to play during dinner because we had a guest in the house and weren’t watching telly. And by the end of the evening, my phone was down to 30%, and 71% of the daily usage was down to Mimi’s background processing.
Sure, it’s doing maths on the music as it plays it back, but so is the built-in EQ in Apple Music. And so is Marco Arment’s Overcast podccatcher, which does both voice enhancement and ‘smart speed’, which strips out lengthy silences.
So on those very rare occasions when I do go out for a day and carry headphones to listen to music, I’m not going to be able to walk around with music playing through Mimi because my phone’s battery (which usually ends the day on 40% or higher) won’t last the day.
To be fair to the Mimi people, they did contact me on Twitter and say they’re working on the battery issue. But there are around 20 of them, whereas there’s just one of Marco, so c’mon! Priorities, people.
Anyway, your mileage, as they say, may differ, but if you do suffer from some kind of hearing difficulty, give it a go.