IRIS, a newly launched app, enhances the quality of audio content to create an immersive experience. Belinda Craigie speaks to founder Jacobi Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe about IRIS’s impressive roster of investors and partnership with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.

What was the starting point for developing IRIS? 

IRIS is the meeting of minds between myself and lead inventor Don Estes around five years ago. IRIS is the culmination of a shared passion for music and mental wellbeing, and really harnesses Don’s experience in using sensory stimuli to heal and improve human performance. The IRIS mission is to change the way the world engages with all forms of audio, reversing the decline in audio quality we have witnessed in our digital age, while simultaneously improving human performance through mental wellbeing.

What inspired the name of the brand? 

The name IRIS was inspired by the way our technology creates a new way to see sound in the listener’s mind. In addition to this, my closest friend Rob Stewart, the famous ocean activist, died in 2017 and his initials R.S. became the ‘R’ and the ‘S’ in IRIS.

How has your previous professional experience informed the work you do now? 

I set up my first business at 17 years old and have pulled experience from every success and failure since then to build IRIS. My knowledge of the music industry is really honed by lived experience having run and owned businesses in different capacities, including owning record label and events business, Housekeeping Records, and building live music venue and studio, Tape London.

Can you explain the technology behind IRIS and, in particular, the proprietary algorithm? 

IRIS’s patented technology stimulates the brain while making digital audio sound more full, present and immersive. This needs no remastering or new formats, merely IRIS’s proprietary algorithm to transport you inside the heightened audio experience. It’s as if you are in a live concert hall with the artist, feeling the music and emotionally reacting. The unique algorithm works by separating and presenting sound wave timing (phase) relationships to our opposite ears, which is similar to the way we listen to live music.

IRIS - APP interface
The IRIS App interface allows the user to play music from popular streaming services with enhanced quality
What does ‘active listening’ allude to? 

Ultimately ‘Active Listening’ is the process of stimulating the brain in the listening experience. During the digital age, we have become increasingly passive in the listening experience as audio is compromised by its size, which means it lacks partial information and then is overly engineered in an attempt to recreate the missing components. When IRIS is switched on, the brain is activated as it must sew everything together into a finished ensemble. While half of this active listening process takes place in the algorithm, half takes place in the listener’s brain, allowing the listener full participation and immersion in the sound.

Who is the IRIS customer and how do you communicate with them?

IRIS’s mission is to enable the world to listen well, so our users are those who consume audio; be that music, podcasts, audiobooks or wellness and meditation soundscapes – which is essentially everyone! We interact directly with our users through the IRIS app, but also via our social channels, and soon we will launch headphones. We also work with partners, like Red Bull Racing, which provides users with listening content or hardware, which is another stream that underpins IRIS.

How did your partnership with Red Bull Racing arise? 

We were keen to take our research looking at the relationship between audio and human performance to the next level, and partnering with Red Bull Racing is a natural fit as they also possess an aspiration to innovate with cutting-edge technology. Aston Martin Red Bull Racing drivers operate at the peak of human precision, and the benefits of IRIS technology are crucial in fighting for that marginal difference between winning and losing. This is even more heightened by the fact that the drivers heavily rely on practising in virtual stimulation, so audio clarity is imperative. We all intuitively know the emotive power of music, but at IRIS we want to understand the nuances of optimising sound for human performance so we couldn’t dream of a better partner than Red Bull Racing. We’re also working with (research institute) Mount Sinai and Goldsmiths to understand the neurological impact of our technology as part of this journey.

What about some of the high-profile investors in IRIS – how did they get involved? 

One of the unique elements of the IRIS story is the calibre of backers the business has attracted, each adding a vast amount of strategic value. Investors include Mansour Ojjeh (President and CEO of TAG Group), Roger Taylor (Queen), Concord (largest independent record label in the world), Russ De Leon (founder of Party Poker), and Charles Dunston (Carphone Warehouse, Dixons).

Aside from disrupting the music industry, are there any other areas you hope to expand into? 

Beyond the music industry, we’re also focused on EdTech/Podcasts and wellness. We are early on in our research around the neurologic benefits but have already seen signs of increased levels of engagement and the active listening process could be transformative in supporting information retention when consuming audio content.

IRIS Headphones
IRIS headphones are designed to significantly improve the user audio experience
What is your ultimate goal for IRIS? 

We want IRIS to be at the heart of all the audio you consume. We want to create a world where listening to audio improves your daily mental wellness, as well as being a heightened listening experience unlike any other. We know there’s an appetite to consume content audibly given the giant shift from video to audio with podcasts, wellness apps like Headspace and audio personal assistants with Google, Amazon etc. So, we want ‘Listening Well’ to be just as ingrained and accessible as other wellness steps we practice today.

Can you share what’s in the pipeline for IRIS? 

We will be launching IRIS Headphones, which we truly believe is the perfect listening experience. The drastically improved audio quality through the app is the ultimate teaser for what the headphones will be able to do, so we are excited to bring these to the market. Alongside this, you can expect curated content on the IRIS app as well as exciting collaborations that will be utilising the technology in new and varied ways.