Info: 2235 Executive Circle, 540-9333
In business: 55 years
Number of employees: 211
If you have a hearing aid with a custom earpiece, chances are good the earpiece is made in Colorado Springs.
Fighter pilots with the U.S. Air Force use ear products made here.
Babies born deaf are fitted with custom earpieces from Colorado Springs.
Westone, The In-Ear Experts, makes and ships around 2,000 custom earpieces every day at its factory in southern Colorado Springs. The custom earpieces are ordered through audiologists and other physicians for use with hearing aids.
The consumer electronics division of Westone also makes specialized earpieces with tiny speakers in them for the professional music industry, said Westone CEO Jason Lockwood. They are inside the ear canal, not like typical earphones that are placed outside the ear.
Westone also makes earphones for people who enjoy pure sound. Annual sales are between $30 million and $50 million, Lockwood said.
Westone invented a way for professional musicians to better hear during their concerts and to cut out extraneous noise.
The earphones are custom-fit to the musician, and they have several speakers in each piece. The speakers are connected to the mixing board so the artist hears only the sound he or she wants to, without the feedback.
Westone’s Karl Cartwright worked with monitor engineer Jerry Harvey to develop the first onstage in-ear monitor. They solved the problem of two competing audio sources fighting for each other, said Lockwood, referring to the band’s music and the crowd noise.
“We make custom monitors for Tim McGraw and Peter Frampton,” said Lockwood. “We have a number of artists who swear by Westone. With an acoustical seal, you can isolate the sound and get a very pure representation of the artist’s voice.”
The earphone monitors replaced the wedge speakers musicians had onstage.
Sales of professional items total around $50,000 a year.
The company also sells high-end earphones to the public through audio stores and online.
“Karl has the ‘golden ear,’ ” Lockwood said. “People love the retail product because they love the sound — the sound is fundamentally different.”
The company also makes custom ear molds for hearing aids. Audiologist Christy Maré is the director for the Health Safety division. This division makes ear plugs that muffle certain sounds, but enable the wearer to still hear other people.
For example, the hunter’s earplug will absorb the blast of a gun, just inches from the ear, but enable the hunter to listen for rustling leaves and the presence of big game, Maré said. In an industrial setting, it protects the eardrum, but enables the person to communicate with others on the job, Lockwood said.
“Tear-jerker moments,” Maré said, involve fittings “where the child is hearing for the first time. It’s the best thing ever.”
A doctor of audiology, Maré worked 17 years as an audiologist before working for Westone.
Jamie Daily oversees manufacturing at the four Westone Laboratories. Production moves from the mail room with incoming orders to creating the molds of the earpieces. After the molds are made, the earpieces are poured with silicone, many with custom colors. The entire process involves multiple custom stages involving drilling, grinding, waxing, installation of sound boards, tubing and more.
Children will often want their team’s colors, and younger children often order sparkled earpieces. Older customers will order the “disapp-ear,” the color and finish that will blend in with the ear’s color.
Each piece is created custom for the ear patient.
“Ears are like fingerprints,” Daily said. “There’s no two the same.”
The earpieces are reviewed by many quality control personnel, Daily said.
“We’re very big on quality. We want to make it once,” Daily said. “What burns me is when we got all the details right, but it’s the wrong ear.”
Westone makes the earpieces for all 460 Costco locations. Seventy to 80 percent of people who have a hearing aid will get a custom earpiece, Daily said.
More than 55 years ago, Ron Morgan sold earpieces from Beltone, but he noticed they didn’t fit well in the ear canals of his customers. They weren’t providing good amplification. Morgan, a resident of Divide, began making earpieces in his kitchen in his home.
“Finally, his wife got tired of him making stuff in their kitchen, so she kicked him out of the kitchen, and he moved down to the Springs,” Maré said. “And he perfected the art of it.”
The Morgans had five sons, and Morgan groomed his son Randy to run the company.
“Randy developed it to a new level,” Maré said. “Randy was also a very wonderful CEO; he fully understood his market and his product.”
He was also a charismatic and magnanimous person, Maré said.
But he died suddenly in 2006, greatly jarring the company, she added.
“Randy and Ron built this company into somewhat of an icon in the industry,” Maré said.
The Morgan children sold the business two years ago to CID Capital, a private equity firm headquartered in Indianapolis.