A few years ago, after administering music therapy to individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and early-onset dementia, Ric Hoke noticed that their headphones would often fall off or fit too loosely on their ears. After seeing how expensive the custom earphone market was, and how difficult it was to be fitted, he dedicated himself to developing a new solution—and WAVS’ patented technology was born.
Hoke is the inventor and CEO of WAVS Custom, an innovative music tech company dedicated to the craftsmanship of “better listening” alternatives.
Its patented process allows customers to 3D scan their ears from their cell phones, allowing for a custom-fit and custom-designed earphone set. Since WAVS’ launch in early 2020, they’ve turned the custom-fit listening market on its head, filling a much-needed gap in the music industry and in-ear monitor market.
Each set of WAVS is digitally processed and handcrafted with 3D printers in Greenville.
Born in Rock Hill, Hoke got a job offer at iHeart Media before he began studying the effects of music on Alzheimer’s patients as well as 3D technology, and fell in love with Greenville about 10 years ago. With a paternal lineage in textile manufacturing, Hoke had the lightbulb moment with WAVS.
“It’s in my blood that I’m able to use my hands to manufacture something,” he said. “I bought a 3D printer on Amazon, then learned how to build them (earphones), and continued to grow the company, keeping up with demand. I’m a musician at heart and have played since I was a kid. As a music therapy volunteer, I would give them (patients) earphones and realized they need better fitting ones for individuals in general.”
Before Hoke could even finish the final development of the product, he said he had other musicians reach out saying they need these in-ear monitors that he created.
“It’s been a great opportunity to do what I love to do while building a company, finding the passion to do this was organic, and I knew I wanted to create a physical product,” he said. “I tinkered my whole life with new technologies.”
In the last five years, 3D printing, scanning and modeling advancements have been astronomical, Hoke said, with an ease of usability and accessibility, which opened doors for him to build the earphones on his own without outsourcing the manufacturing.
To date, WAVS has approximately 7,000 customers and has recorded $1.5 million in sales. The average cost for a set is around $300-$350.
Customers can choose whatever design and color they want on the exterior of the earphones, sometimes making a fashion statement, said Hoke, which a lot of musicians are into.
Although anyone can use the earphones for a number of different reasons such as listening to music and podcasts, nearly 6,000 of the 7,000 customers are musicians, said Hoke. They include worship musicians in hundreds of churches across the nation, and drummers and bassists in Nashville.
WAVS was named one of the top 10 most exciting startups in the Upstate at this year’s NEXT Venture Summit in September.
“It feels natural and good to be making these here (in Greenville),” said Hoke. “Not a lot of people are doing this type of manufacturing in South Carolina, and it’s new but I’m enjoying the ecosystem provided and have made a lot of connections and support.”
So, what’s next for WAVS?
Gaming headsets are next in the product line to be release during the holidays. Customers can get them customized.
Two-way radios are also in the works, said Hoke. WAVS is currently working with two different police department branches to provide first responders with customized headsets.
Additionally, Hoke is working on audiology solutions. Considering the FDA recently cleared over-the-counter hearing aids, he thought it would be a great time to break the stigma regarding hearing aids, he said.
“We are really excited about this,” said Hoke. “With license agreements, kids can get their favorite Disney and Marvel characters on their hearing aids and we’re really trying to offer a great product to help out in this sector. Since the audiology market is a medical market, we want to make sure we do everything right before this type of product is released.”
With the next round of funding, WAVS is focused on scalability and is prepared to take orders for the upcoming season. In the near future, said Hoke, WAVS will continue to offer more high-end options for its earphone sets, like gems and diamonds, and rare materials will be offered for those who want an even higher end product.T