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Title:
AN EARPIECE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/042177
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
An earpiece for an earphone comprising a first portion (100), a second portion (101), and a resilient bridge (102) interconnecting the first portion (100) and second portion (101), wherein the resilient bridge (102) is configured to flex so that the earpiece can conform to ear canal geometry as it is received in a user ear canal and thereby be at least substantially locatable within the ear canal. The resilient bridge (102) may be configured to provide a biasing effect so that the first portion (100) and/or second portion (101) can bias against the ear canal wall (15).

Inventors:
AUSTEN, Simon (8 Bell Close, Lichfield Staffordshire WS13 7TW, WS13 7TW, GB)
Application Number:
GB2017/052534
Publication Date:
March 08, 2018
Filing Date:
August 31, 2017
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
THIRD SKIN LIMITED (8 Bell Close, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 7TW, WS13 7TW, GB)
International Classes:
H04R1/10; H04R1/24
Domestic Patent References:
WO1996021334A11996-07-11
WO1997011573A11997-03-27
Foreign References:
EP2930944A12015-10-14
US5572594A1996-11-05
US7627131B22009-12-01
US20090103763A12009-04-23
DE3625891A11988-02-04
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HARDY, Rosemary (Withers & Rogers LLP, 4 More LondonRiverside, London Greater London SE1 2AU, SE1 2AU, GB)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. An earpiece for an earphone comprising: a first portion; a second portion; and a resilient bridge interconnecting the first portion and second portion, wherein the resilient bridge is configured to flex so that the earpiece conforms to ear canal geometry as it is received in a user ear canal and the earpiece is thereby at least substantially locatable within the ear canal.

2. An earpiece according to claim 1, wherein the resilient bridge is configured to provide a biasing effect to bias the first portion and/or second portion against the ear canal wall.

3. An earpiece according to any preceding claim, wherein the earpiece is configured to form a gap space between the earpiece and ear canal wall.

4. An earpiece according to any preceding claims, further comprising operational apparatus carried by the first portion and/or the second portion.

5. An earpiece according to claim 4, wherein the operational apparatus comprises one or more of: a speaker to produce sound; a sound enhancer to augment low frequency sound signals of the speaker; a microphone to detect ambient noise in the ear canal; a physiological sensor; and an environmental monitor.

6. An earpiece according to claim 5, wherein the sound enhancer is a piezoelectric actuator configured to vibrate the ear canal wall at a low frequency.

7. An earpiece according to any preceding claims, wherein the first portion and second portion are arranged to meet at the resilient bridge with an acute angle therebetween to form a

V-shaped body, wherein the first portion extends in a trailing direction from the first end of the bridge, the second portion extends in a trailing direction from a second end of the bridge and the resilient bridge is configured to allow for relative lateral flexing movement between the first portion and second portion to vary the acute angle to conform the V-shaped body to ear canal geometry.

8. An earpiece according to any preceding claim, further comprising a resilient wing extending from the first portion or the second portion, wherein the wing is configured to flex and fold around at least a part of the said portion and/or bias against the ear canal wall.

9. An earpiece according to any preceding claim, further comprising a resilient skirt extending at least partway around the first portion or the second portion, wherein the skirt is configured to bias against the ear canal wall and/or comprises a split allow the diameter of the skirt to vary according to ear canal geometry.

10. An earpiece according to any of claims 1 to 6, wherein the first portion, resilient bridge and second portion are arranged sequentially to form an elongate body, wherein the first portion forms a leading portion of the body, the second portion forms a trailing portion of the body and the resilient bridge is configured to allow for relative lateral and/or vertical flexing movement between the leading portion and the trailing portion.

11. An earpiece according to claim 10, wherein the leading portion is configured to be positioned inwardly of the ear canal isthmus adjacent a tympanic membrane, and the trailing portion is configured to be positioned outwardly of the isthmus when the earpiece is at least substantially located within the ear canal.

12. An earpiece according to claim 10 or 11, further comprising a leading resilient wing extending from the leading portion, wherein the leading wing is configured to flex and fold around at least a part of the leading portion and/or bias against the ear canal wall.

13. An earpiece according to any of claims 10 to 12, further comprising a trailing resilient wing extending from the trailing portion, wherein the trailing wing is configured to flex and fold around the trailing portion and/or bias against the ear canal wall.

14. An earpiece according to claim 13, wherein the trailing wing is configured to form a stop to inhibit the trailing portion from passing through the isthmus.

15. An earpiece according to any of claims 10 to 14, further comprising a trailing resilient skirt extending at least partway around the circumference of the trailing portion, wherein the trailing skirt is configured to bias against the ear canal wall.

16. An earpiece according to claim 15, wherein the trailing skirt is configured to form a stop to inhibit the trailing portion from passing through the isthmus.

17. An earpiece according to claim 15 or 16, wherein the trailing skirt extends in a trailing direction and/or the trailing skirt has a frusto-conical shape having a narrowing leading end and wider trailing end.

18. An earpiece according to any of claims 15 to 17, wherein the trailing skirt comprises a split to allow the diameter of the skirt to vary according to ear canal geometry.

19. An earphone comprising an earpiece according to any of claims 1 to 18.

20. The earphone according to claim 19, further comprising: a module configured to carry operational apparatus and mountable behind a user ear, a connector extending between the module and earpiece to electrically couple operational apparatus in the module and the earpiece.

21. The earphone according to claim 20, wherein the operational apparatus carried by the module comprises wireless data receiving and/or transmitting means.

22. An earphone system comprising a pair of earphones according to any of claims 19 to 21, the first earphone configured for a user right ear and the second earphone configured for a user left ear.

23. An earphone system according to claim 22, wherein the pair of earphones have a master-slave configuration.

24. A method of fitting an earpiece at least substantially in a user ear canal, the earpiece comprising a first portion, a second portion and a resilient bridge interconnecting the first portion and second portion: flexing the bridge to adapt the earpiece to ear canal geometry as it is substantially located in the ear canal; and biasing the earpiece against the ear canal wall.

25. The method of claim 24, wherein if the earpiece has a V-shaped body where the resilient bridge forms the vertex of the body and the first portion and second portion extend in a trailing direction from opposing ends of the resilient bridge with an acute angle therebetween, the method step of flexing of the bridge comprises: relative lateral movement between the first portion and second portion to vary the acute angle.

26. The method of claim 24, wherein if the earpiece has an elongate body where the first portion, resilient bridge and second portion are arranged sequentially, the method step of flexing the bridge comprises: relative lateral movement and/or vertical movement between the first portion and the second portion.

27. The method of any of claims 24 to 26, the method step of biasing the earpiece comprises: biasing the first portion and/or second portion against the ear canal wall.

28. An earpiece substantially as described herein, and/or with reference to the accompanying figures.

Description:
AN EARPIECE

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[01] The present invention relates to an earpiece for an earphone, an earphone and an earphone system.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[02] Earphones can be used in a large range of applications including audio listening, communication technology, physiological sensing and environmental monitoring. Such earphones typically include an earpiece that is inserted into a user's ear.

[03] Referring to Figure 1, an ear 1 comprises an outer portion 2, middle portion 3 and inner portion 4. The outer portion comprises an auricle 5 that collects sound waves and guides them along an ear canal 6 to a tympanic membrane 7. A tragus (not shown) protrudes at least partially over the opening of the ear canal. At the middle ear, the sound waves strike the tympanic membrane causing it to vibrate. These vibrations are amplified by the bones of the ossicles 8. Once the amplified vibrations reach the inner ear they are converted into electrical impulses by a cochlea 9 and sent to the brain via an auditory nerve 10.

[04] As can be seen in Figure 2, the ear canal 6 is a generally S-shaped tube with a first bend 11 towards the rear of the skull and a second bend 12 towards the front of the skull. The ear canal inclines upwardly and the narrowest section lies between the first and second bends at an isthmus 13. In an adult, the length of the ear canal is approximately 20-30mm, the width of the isthmus is approximately 4-7mm, the height of the isthmus is approximately 6- 10mm and the angle of incline is approximately 24-26°.

[05] Conventional earpieces sit in the auricle of the outer ear, blocking the opening of the ear canal. These earpieces can be ill-fitting and easy to dislodge. Users have found that these earpieces can be uncomfortable to wear and unsightly. The volume of sound produced by the earpieces may need to be adjusted to sufficiently counter ambient noise and prolonged use at this higher volume consumes higher power and may risk damaging a user's hearing. Due to their occlusion of the ear canal, users are also required to remove the earpieces when not in use. [06] The present invention seeks to overcome, or at least mitigate, the problems of the prior art. The present invention seeks to provide an improved earpiece for an earphone, an improved earphone comprising the earpiece and an improved earphone system.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[07] According to a first aspect of the invention there is provided an earpiece for an earphone. The earpiece comprises a first portion, a second portion and a resilient bridge interconnecting the first portion and second portion. The resilient bridge is configured to flex so that the earpiece is able to conform to ear canal geometry as the earpiece is received in the ear canal and thereby be at least substantially locatable within the ear canal.

[08] The resilient bridge aids the guiding and locating of the earpiece in the ear canal. Due to the resilient bridge, the earpiece has a protean configuration. As a result, the earpiece is able to change its shape and size whilst being positioned in the ear canal.

[09] By enabling the earpiece to conform to the ear canal geometry as it is received in the ear, the earpiece has a universal fit. It is also comfortable to wear. Moreover, the earpiece does not require moulding prior to fitting.

[ 10] The earpiece is discreet to wear as a result of being at least substantially locatable within the ear canal. Preferably, the earpiece is fully locatable within the ear canal. So as not to protrude beyond the ear canal, the length of the earpiece is preferably approximately 20mm or less. Due to it's resilience, the resilient bridge is able to return to its original shape after being flexed.

[11] Preferably, the resilient bridge is configured to be sufficiently resilient to bias at least a part of the first portion and/or the second portion against the ear canal wall as the earpiece is modified to the ear canal profile. Consequently, the bridge also helps retain the earpiece in the ear canal. The bridge may bias the first portion and second portion against opposing ear canal walls.

[12] So as not to occlude the ear canal, the earpiece is preferably configured to form a gap space between the earpiece and ear canal wall when it is fitted. Accordingly, the sound waves of ambient noise are able to reach a user's tympanic membrane via the gap space in the ear canal and the user need not remove the earpiece to hear ambient noise when required. [13] The earpiece may comprise one or more operational apparatus carried by the first portion and/or second portion. Operational apparatus may be mounted externally on the first portion and/or second portion. Operational apparatus may be housed internally in one or more cavities formed in the first portion and/or second portion.

[14] The operational apparatus depends on the function of the earphone. The earpiece may comprise operational apparatus to allow for audio listening, communication, physiological sensing and/or environmental monitoring. To produce sound, the earpiece may comprise a speaker and speaker controller. In an embodiment, the speaker may be mounted in a cavity of the first or second portion and the portion may comprise a sound outlet port to project the sound of the speaker towards the tympanic membrane. The speaker controller may be mounted in a cavity of the first or second portion and electrically coupled to the speaker via a cable extending through a cavity of the bridge. By positioning the earpiece in the ear canal, closer to the tympanic membrane, the sound producing performance of the earpiece is optimised. The proximity to the tympanic membrane minimises the pathway from the speaker to the tympanic membrane such that extraneous effects are limited and power consumption is reduced.

[15] To provide sound enhancement and/or counter low frequency leakage in the ear canal, an embodiment of the earpiece may comprise one or more sound enhancers to augment the delivery of low frequency sound signals with frequencies approximately < 300Hz. The one or more sound enhancers may be arranged to extend longitudinally in the first portion and/or second portion, adjacent to the ear canal wall and use a bone conduction effect to directly vibrate the middle ear at low frequencies.

[16] To provide noise cancelling to counter the effects of ambient noise when the earpiece is in use, an embodiment of the earpiece may comprise a microphone to detect ambient noise. Due to its location in the ear canal, the earpiece may comprise an accelerometer to measure the vibration of the user's skull so as to record a user's voice independent of ambient noise.

[17] By locating the earpiece in the ear canal, physiological factors can be accurately measured from the ear canal wall and/or tympanic membrane. The earpiece may comprise sensors to detect physiological factors of the user such as, for example heart rate, blood oxygen saturation and body temperature.

[18] The first portion, second portion and resilient bridge may be integrally formed or separately formed and coupled together to form a body. The body may be a V-shaped body or an elongate shaped body. [19] In an embodiment, the first portion and second portion are arranged to meet at the resilient bridge with an acute angle Θ therebetween so as to form a V-shaped body with a leading end and trailing end. The bridge is arranged to form a vertex at the leading end of the V-shaped body, interconnecting the first portion and second portion. The first portion extends in a trailing direction from a first end of the bridge. The second portion extends in a trailing direction from a second end of the bridge. The bridge is able to flex to laterally to move the first portion and second portion closer together or further apart and thereby vary the acute angle Θ. As a result, the V-shaped body of the earpiece is able to adapt to the ear canal geometry. The bridge may be able to flex to vary the acute angle Θ between approximately 0° and 45°.

[20] The V-shaped earpiece may adapt to the ear canal geometry so that the leading end of the body may be positioned inwardly of the ear canal isthmus, adjacent the tympanic membrane. The trailing end of the body may be positioned outwardly of the isthmus and inwardly of the tragus

[21 ] The V-shaped earpiece may comprise a resilient wing extending from the first or second portion. The wing may be configured to flex and fold around at least part of the portion when inserting the portion into the ear canal. The configuration of the folded wing helps the earpiece further conform to ear canal geometry and ease the insertion, removal and/or movement of the earpiece along the ear canal. The folded wing may additionally or alternatively bias the earpiece against the ear canal wall.

[22] The V-shaped earpiece may comprise a skirt extending at least partway around the first or second portion. The skirt may be configured to bias the earpiece against the ear canal wall and/or provide sound isolation. The skirt may be split to allow its diameter to vary according to ear canal geometry.

[23] In an alternative embodiment, the first portion, resilient bridge and second portion may be arranged sequentially to form an elongate shaped body with a leading end and a trailing end. The first portion is a leading portion extending in a leading direction from the bridge. The second portion is a trailing portion extending in a trailing direction from the bridge. The bridge is able to flex to allow for relative lateral and/or vertical movement between the leading portion and the trailing portion. The bridge may be able to flex to allow for relative movement between the leading portion and trailing portion in any direction. Due to the relative movement between the leading portion and trailing portion, the elongate body of the earpiece is able to adapt to the ear canal geometry as the earpiece proceeds through the ear canal. [24] The earpiece may adapt to the ear canal geometry so that the leading portion of the elongate earpiece may be positioned inwardly of the ear canal isthmus, adjacent the tympanic membrane. The trailing portion of the elongate earpiece may be positioned outwardly of the isthmus and inwardly of the tragus.

[25] The elongate earpiece may comprise a leading resilient wing extending from the leading portion of the elongate earpiece. The leading wing may be configured to be sufficiently flexible to fold around at least a part of the leading portion when inserting the leading portion in the ear canal. The folded wing eases the insertion, removal and/or passage of the leading portion in the ear canal.

[26] To allow the leading portion to pass through the isthmus of a user's ear canal the combined dimensions of the leading portion and leading resilient wing folded around the leading portion are preferably less than the minimum dimensions of the isthmus. For example, the combined width of the leading portion and thickness of the folded leading wing is less than approximately 4mm. The combined height of the leading portion and thickness of the folded leading wing is less than approximately 6mm.

[27] Additionally or alternatively, the earpiece may comprise a resilient wing extending from the trailing portion of the elongate earpiece. The trailing resilient wing may be configured to flex and fold around at least a part of the trailing portion when inserting the trailing portion in the ear canal. The folded wing eases the insertion, removal and/or passage of the trailing portion in the ear canal.

[28] The resilient wing extending from the trailing portion may act as a stop to help prevent the trailing portion pass through the isthmus. To form the stop, the combined dimensions of the trailing portion and thickness of the trailing resilient wing folded around the leading portion are preferably greater than the maximum dimensions of the isthmus. For example, the combined width of the trailing portion and thickness of the folded trailing wing is greater than approximately 7mm. The combined height of the trailing portion and thickness of the folded trailing wing is greater than approximately 10mm. By providing a wing stop, the risk of incorrectly fitting of the earpiece is minimised and earpiece contact with the tympanic membrane is restricted.

[29] The leading and/or trailing resilient wings are preferably sufficiently resilient to apply a biasing force on the ear canal wall that helps to maintain the position of the earpiece in the ear canal. [30] The elongate earpiece may comprise a trailing skirt extending at least partway around the circumference of the trailing portion. The trailing skirt may be configured to form a stop so as to help prevent the trailing portion pass through the isthmus. To form the stop, the diameter of the trailing skirt is preferably greater than the maximum dimensions of the isthmus. For example, the diameter of the trailing skirt is greater than approximately 7mm. Due to the skirt stop, the risks of fitting the earpiece too deeply in the ear canal and damage to the tympanic membrane are avoided.

[31] Alternatively or additionally, the elongate earpiece may comprise a leading skirt extending at least partway around the circumference of the leading portion.

[32] The trailing and/or leading skirt may be resilient to bias the skirt against the ear canal wall and so help maintain the position of earpiece in the ear canal.

[33] The trailing and/or leading skirt may extend in a trailing direction from the respective portion. The trailing and/or leading skirt may have a frusto-conical shape, with a narrower leading end and a wider trailing end. As a result, the biasing effect of the skirt is optimised. Also, due to its configuration, the skirt is able to provide sound isolation to minimise loss of any sound produced by the earpiece.

[34] The trailing and/or leading skirt may comprise a split to allow the skirt diameter to vary in accordance with the ear canal geometry.

[35] A second aspect of the invention relates to an earphone comprising an earpiece according to the first aspect of the invention.

[36] The earphone may further comprise a module mountable behind a user's ear and a connection interconnecting the earpiece and module. The module is preferably configured to house further operational apparatus. The operational apparatus in the module may comprise a power source, data receiving and/or transmitting means, controller and further sensors. The operational apparatus in the module and earpiece are electrically coupled via the connection.

[37] A third aspect of the invention relates to an earphone system comprising a first and a second earphone according to the second invention, wherein the earpieces, and optionally the modules, of the first and second earphones have reflectional symmetry to one another. Such a system provides a first earphone configured to conform to the geometry of a user's right ear and a second earphone configured to conform to the user's left ear. [38] The first and second earphones may have a master-slave configuration, wherein the first earphone comprises master operational apparatus and the second earphone comprises slave operational apparatus.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS [39] Figure 1 depicts the anatomy of an ear; [40] Figure 2 is a top view of an ear canal;

[41] Figure 3 is a perspective view of a first embodiment of an earpiece according to a first aspect of the present invention with an elongate shaped body;

[42] Figure 4 is a top view of the first embodiment of the earpiece fitted in the ear canal of a user;

[43] Figure 5a is a side view of a second embodiment of an earpiece according to the first aspect of the present invention with an elongate shaped body and leading wing;

[44] Figure 5b is a front end view of the second embodiment of the earpiece prior to fitting in an ear canal;

[45] Figure 6 is a side view of a third embodiment of an earpiece according to the first aspect of the present invention with an elongate shaped body, leading wing and trailing wing;

[46] Figure 7a is a side view of a fourth embodiment of an earpiece according to the first aspect of the present invention with an elongate shaped body, a leading wing and two trailing skirts;

[47] Figure 7b is a rear end view of the fourth embodiment of earpiece;

[48] Figure 8a is an schematic showing operational apparatus housed in the fourth embodiment of the earpiece;

[49] Figures 8b and 8c are perspective views of the fourth embodiment of the earpiece showing ports for the microphone and heart monitor;

[50] Figure 9a is a perspective view of a fifth embodiment of the earpiece according to the first aspect of the present invention with a V-shaped body;

[51] Figure 9b is a top view of the fifth embodiment of the earpiece; [52] Figure 10 is a perspective view of a first embodiment of an earphone according to a second aspect of the present invention;

[53] Figure 11 is an internal view of the module of the first embodiment of the earphone;

[54] Figure 12 is first embodiment of an earphone system according to a third aspect of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENT(S)

[55] A first aspect of the present invention relates to an earpiece for an earphone that is configured to be discretely fitted in the ear canal. Preferably, the earpiece is configured to be wholly located in the ear canal.

[56] Figure 3 depicts a first embodiment of an earpiece in its most simple form. The earpiece Ei has an elongate body. The elongate body comprises a first portion 100 and a second portion 101 interconnected by a resilient bridge 102. The first portion 100, resilient bridge 102 and second portion 101 are arranged sequentially along the length of the elongate earpiece body. The first portion extends in a leading direction from the bridge and can otherwise be referred to as a "leading portion".

[57] The second portion extends in a trailing direction from the bridge and can otherwise be referred to as a "trailing portion".

[58] The earpiece body comprises a soft elastomeric material. The body is preferably encapsulated in an antimicrobial silver-ion treated silicon coating to provide waterproofing and biocompatibility.

[59] The leading portion 100 and trailing portion 101 have a generally cuboid or ellipsoid shape. The leading portion 100 and trailing portion 101 are configured to house operational apparatus of the earpiece in one or more internal cavities (not shown). The operational apparatus in the leading portion 100 and trailing portion 101 may be electrically connected by cables extending via a through hole in the bridge 102.

[60] The bridge 102 has sufficient flexibility to allow the earpiece to adapt to the geometry of the ear canal and be fully fitted into the ear canal. The bridge is flexible to allow for relative movement between the leading portion and trailing portion. The bridge may be flexible to allow for lateral movement between the leading portion and trailing portion. The bridge may be flexible to allow for vertical movement between the leading portion and trailing portion. Preferably, the bridge is flexible to allow for relative movement in any direction. As shown in Figure 4, the bridge is able to flex so that the leading portion can travel around the first ear canal bend 11, through the isthmus 13 and be situated inwardly of the isthmus, adjacent to the tympanic membrane 7, whilst the trailing portion is situated outwardly of the isthmus 13.

[61] Due to the bridge, the earpiece is able to conform to the contours of substantially any ear canal and so it has a universal fit. Also, the earpiece is able to conform to the ear canal as it progresses along the ear canal and so prior casting of the earpiece is avoided and comfort is optimised.

[62] The bridge has sufficient resilience to bias at least a part of the leading portion and trailing portion against opposing ear canal walls and thereby help retain the earpiece in the ear canal. In Figure 4, the bridge biases at least a part of the leading portion against an anterior wall 15 of the ear canal and biases at least a part of the trailing portion against a posterior wall 16 of the ear canal. The resilient bridge is able to at least substantially return to its original configuration when the earpiece is removed from the ear canal.

[63] In this particular embodiment, the earpiece is configured so as not to seal the ear canal when it is fitted. As a result, ambient sound waves A are able to travel through a gap space between the earpiece and ear canal wall to the tympanic membrane 7. Thus, the wear-time of the earpiece is extended because the user is still able to hear ambient noise even when the earpiece is fitted in the ear canal.

[64] To improve the insertion, removal and guiding of the earpiece through the ear canal, the leading portion may comprise an inclining or reclining leading face with curved edges.

[65] The earpiece may comprise one or more wings extending from the leading portion and/or the trailing portion.

[66] In the second embodiment depicted in Figures 5a and 5b, an earpiece E 2 comprises a leading portion 100, resilient bridge 102 and trailing portion 101 arranged sequentially in an elongate body as with the first embodiment and also a leading wing 103 extending from the leading portion 100. The wing extends in a generally tangential direction from a side edge of the leading portion.

[67] In a third embodiment depicted in Figure 6, an earpiece E 3 comprises a leading portion 100, a resilient bridge 102 and a trailing portion 101 arranged sequentially in an elongate body as with the first embodiment, a leading wing 103 extending in a generally tangential direction from a side edge of the leading portion 100 and a trailing wing 104 extending in the same generally tangential direction from a corresponding side edge of the trailing portion. Alternatively, the trailing wing may have mirror symmetry to the leading wing and extend in an opposing tangential direction from an opposing side edge of the trailing portion.

[68] The leading wing and trailing wing have sufficient flexibility to flex and fold around at least part of the circumference of the respective portions when the leading portion and trailing portion are located in the ear canal. The contact area between the wings and ear canal wall distributes pressure so as to ease the insertion/removal of the wing into the ear canal and help guide the earpiece through the ear canal.

[69] A leading edge of the leading wing preferably has a sweeping configuration to further aid the insertion, removal or passage of the leading portion into the ear canal.

[70] The combined dimensions of the leading portion and leading wing when folded around the leading portion may be less than minimum dimensions of the isthmus. For example, the combined width of the leading portion and thickness of the folded leading wing is less than approximately 4mm. The combined height of the leading portion and thickness of the folded leading wing is less than approximately 6mm. As a result, the leading portion and folded leading wing are small enough to pass through the isthmus and closer to the tympanic membrane as the earpiece is fitted in the ear canal.

[71] The combined dimensions of the trailing portion and trailing wing when folded around the trailing portion may be greater than maximum dimensions of the isthmus. For example, the combined width of the trailing portion and thickness of the folded trailing wing is greater than approximately 7mm. The combined height of the trailing wing and thickness of the folded trailing wing is greater than approximately 10mm. As a result, the trailing portion and folded trailing wing are too large to pass through the isthmus and form a stop for the earpiece.

[72] To help retain the earpiece in the ear canal, the leading wing and/or trailing wing have sufficient resilience to provide a biasing effect on the canal wall.

[73] Preferably, the leading wing and/or trailing wing are configured so as not to seal the ear canal. Hence, the user is still able to hear ambient noise even when the earpiece is fitted in the ear canal. [74] The earpiece may comprise at least one trailing skirt configured to extend at least substantially around the circumference of the trailing portion.

[75] Additionally or alternatively, the earpiece may comprise at least one leading skirt configured to extend at least substantially around the circumference of the leading portion.

[76] Preferably, the trailing skirt and/or leading skirt is resilient to provide a biasing effect to help retain the earpiece in position within the ear canal.

[77] The trailing skirt and/or leading skirt may also provide a sound isolating effect to help prevent ambient noise from reaching the tympanic membrane.

[78] In a fourth embodiment depicted in Figures 7a to 8c an earpiece E4 comprises a leading portion 100, resilient bridge 102 and trailing portion 101 arranged sequentially in an elongate body as with the first embodiment, a leading wing 103 extending tangentially from the leading portion 100 and two trailing skirts 105 fully encircling the trailing portion 101. The trailing skirts have a frusto-conical shape, widening in the trailing direction.

[79] Each trailing skirt comprises a split 106 so as to allow the skirt to vary in diameter. Due to the splits, each trailing skirt may overlap and narrow or expand and widen depending on the profile of the ear canal as shown in Figure 7b. As a result, the biasing effect and sound isolating effect of the skirts is optimised.

[80] The minimum diameter of the trailing skirt is greater than the dimensions of the isthmus so as to form a stop that prevents the trailing portion from passing through the isthmus.

[81] As shown in Figures 8a, both the leading portion 100 and trailing portion 101 have an internal cavity 108, 109 in which operational apparatus of the earpiece can be housed. The bridge 102 comprises a through hole 110 to allow cabling to extend to the operational apparatus in the leading portion.

[82] The operational apparatus of the earpiece depends on the desired function of the earphone. The operational apparatus may comprise any suitable means for sound production, communication, recordal, physiological sensing and/or environmental monitoring.

[83] As shown in Figures 8a to 8c, the fourth embodiment of the earpiece E4 comprises a speaker 11 1 (e.g. a balanced armature driver) and associated outlet port 11 la to project sound towards the tympanic membrane, a thermometer 112 to detect user temperature from the tympanic membrane or ear canal wall, a MEMS microphone 113 and associated inlet port 113a to detect ambient noise as part of a noise cancelling solution and a photoplethysmograph (PPG) heart rate monitor 114 and associated sensing ports 114a to detect a user heart rate. Power and electronic signals are transmitted to the operational apparatus of the earpiece via cables 115. The cables extend to the earpiece via connector C.

[84] To provide sound enhancement and/or counter the leakage of low frequency sound in the ear canal (frequencies approximately < 300Hz), the earpiece E4 may comprise a piezoelectric actuator (not shown) to directly vibrate the middle ear so as to provide low frequency augmentation. The piezoelectric actuator may extend longitudinally in the leading portion and/or trailing portion such that it lies adjacent to the ear canal wall when the earpiece is fitted in the ear canal. As a result, the actuator may easily vibrate the ear canal wall and use a bone conduction effect to directly stimulate the middle ear at low frequencies.

[85] Figures 9a and 9b depict a fifth embodiment of the earpiece E 5 where the first portion 1000, and second portion 1001 and resilient bridge 1002 are arranged to form a generally V- shaped body with a leading end and trailing end. The earpiece is configured to conform and be fully locatable in a user's ear canal. The leading end of the V-shaped body is configured to be positioned inwardly of the ear canal isthmus adjacent the tympanic membrane. The trailing end of the V-shaped body is configured to be positioned outwardly of the isthmus within the ear canal.

[86] The V-shaped body comprises a soft elastomeric material. The body is preferably encapsulated in an antimicrobial silver-ion treated coating to provide waterproofing and biocompatibility.

[87] As can be seen in Figures 9a and 9b, the resilient bridge 1002 forms the vertex at the leading end of the body, interconnecting the first portion and second portion. The first portion and second portion extend in a trailing direction from opposing ends of the resilient bridge with an acute angle Θ therebetween. In this embodiment, the original acute angle Θ is approximately 45° prior to earpiece use.

[88] The bridge has sufficient flexibility to allow for flexing movement between the first portion and second portion so that the earpiece can modify its V-shaped profile according to the ear canal geometry. The bridge allows for lateral relative movement between the first portion and second portion to vary the acute angle Θ. Depending on the ear canal geometry, the first portion and second portion can be forced closer together to reduce the acute angle Θ and expand further apart to increase the acute angle Θ. In this embodiment, the bridge is configured to allow the first and second portions close to a minimum acute angle Θ of approximately 0° and open to a maximum acute angle Θ of approximately 45°.

[89] Due to the bridge, the angle between the first and second portions can vary so that the earpiece is able to conform to any ear canal geometry and so it has a universal fit. Also, the configuration of the earpiece is able to adapt as it is fitted in the ear canal and so prior casting of the ear piece is not required. A user may initially compress the first portion and second portion together when inserting the earpiece into the ear canal. After the user releases the first and second portion the bridge will flex to vary the angled position of the first portion and second portion according to ear canal geometry. In the embodiment, the bridge also has sufficient resilience to bias the trailing ends of the first portion and second portion against opposing ear canal walls when located in the ear canal.

[90] Operational apparatus is housed within internal cavities of the first and second portions of the earpiece. As with the elongate embodiments of the earpiece, the operational apparatus may comprise any suitable apparatus depending on the desired function of the earphone. In the embodiment shown in Figures 9a and 9b, the V-shaped earpiece comprises a speaker 1111 (e.g. a balanced armature driver) and associated outlet ports (not shown) housed towards the leading end of the second portion 1001. The outlet ports are arranged on the inside surface of the second portion 1001 to project sound towards the tympanic membrane and protect them from fluid within the ear canal. A thermometer 1112 (not shown) is housed in the first portion 1000 to detect user temperature from the tympanic membrane or canal wall. A MEMS ambient noise microphone 1113 and PPG heart rate monitor 1114, together with associated sensing ports 1114a are arranged towards the trailing end of the second portion 1001. A first low frequency piezoelectric actuator (not shown) extends longitudinally and substantially along the length of the first portion 1000. A second low frequency piezoelectric actuator (not shown) also extends longitudinally and substantially along the length of the second portion 1001. When the earpiece is fitted in a user's ear canal, the actuators are arranged adjacent to the ear canal wall so that they can directly vibrate the ear canal to augment low frequency sound signals (approximately <300Hz) and thereby provide sound enhancement and/or offset low frequency leakage in the ear canal. Power and electronic signals are transmitted to the operational apparatus via cables extending to the earpiece through connector C. The bridge comprises a through hole (not shown) to allow cables extend to the operational apparatus in the first portion. [91] To aid the insertion, removal, passage and retention of the earpiece in the ear canal, the earpiece depicted in Figures 9a and 9b comprises a first resilient wing 1003 extending in a generally tangential direction from an upper edge at the trailing end of the first portion 1000 and a second resilient wing 1004 extending in a generally tangential direction from a lower edge at the trailing end of the second portion 1001. The wings have mirror symmetry. The wings have sufficient flexibility to fold around at least part of the circumference of the respective portions when the earpiece is located in the ear canal. The contact area between the wings and the ear canal walls helps to distribute pressure. The combined dimensions of the portions and folded wings is greater than the dimensions of the isthmus and so they form a stop at the trailing end of the earpiece. The wings have sufficient resilience to provide an additional biasing effect on the ear canal walls.

[92] The earpiece depicted in Figures 9a and 9b is configured to form a gap space between the V-shaped body and ear canal walls when it is fully located in a user's ear canal. As a result, a user is able to hear ambient noise when the earpiece speaker is not in use. However, the earpiece may additionally include a skirt extending around the first and second portions to bias against the ear canal wall and provide sound isolation. The skirt may have any of the features of the skirts as described previously with the elongate earpiece embodiments. The skirt may comprise a split to allow the diameter of the skirt to vary.

[93] A second aspect of the invention relates to an earphone comprising the earpiece. As shown in Figures 10 and 1 1, an embodiment of the earphone comprises the fifth embodiment of an earpiece E 5 , a module M mountable behind the ear of a user and a connector C electrically connecting the earpiece and module.

[94] In the embodiment depicted in Figures 10 and 11, the module comprises a body 50 configured to conform to the rear portion of a user's ear. The body comprises a shell defining an interior cavity 51 for housing operational apparatus.

[95] The operational apparatus housed in the module depends on the function of the earphone. Generally, the operational apparatus comprises a power supply, data receiving and/or transmission means using any suitable wired or wireless communications protocol, controller and further sensors. In the embodiment depicted in Figure 11, the operational apparatus housed in the module comprises a rechargeable battery 52 to provide power, a microprocessor 53 to control the operation of the earphone, a first antenna 54 to wirelessly receive and transmit data, such as music, conversation etc, via Bluetooth communication protocol, an inertial sensor 55 to determine a user's head orientation and motion, and a gesture sensor 56 to allow the user to activate the earphone.

[96] The inertial sensor may comprise an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer to detect a user's head orientation and motion.

[97] The module may comprise a second antenna to allow for wireless data receiving and/or transmission between other earphones.

[98] The connector C for interconnecting the module and the earpiece may comprise a semirigid tube through which power and signal cables may extend from the operational apparatus in the module and operational apparatus in the earpiece.

[99] A third aspect of the invention may comprise an earphone system comprising a first earphone for the right ear MR, CR, E 5 R and second earphone for the left ear ML, CL, E 5 L as shown in Figure 12. The pair of earphones preferably have mirror symmetry so that they conform to the right ear and left ear of a user. The pair of earphones may have a master-slave configuration. As a result, the function of the master-slave earphones may be different. For example, the module of the master earphone may have a first antenna to receive and transmit external data from/to an external device via a communications protocol such as Bluetooth. The module of the master earphone may also have a second antenna to control data transfer between the master and slave earphones via a communications protocol such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, PurePath. The earpieces of the earphones may sense different physiological factors of a user and/or environmental factors.

[100] Throughout the description and claims of this specification, the words "comprise" and "contain" and variations of the word, for example "comprising" and "comprises", means "including, but not limited to", and it is not intended to (and does not) exclude other moieties, components, integers or steps.

[101] Throughout the description and claims of this specification, the singular encompasses the plural unless the context otherwise requires. In particular, where the indefinite article is used, the specification is to be understood as contemplating plurality as well as singularity, unless the context requires otherwise.

[102] Features, integers, characteristics or compounds described in conjunction with a particular aspect, embodiment or example of the invention are to be understood as be applicable to any other aspect, embodiment or example described herein unless incompatible therewith.