A recent press release from Phonak caught my attention, apparently, they have been working in collaboration with Advanced Bionics on a new wireless microphone system. The system sounds intriguing and the advancement in speech understanding in noise delivered seems pretty impressive. Let’s take a look at what it is all about.
Hearing in Noise
Despite the fact that hearing aids have got better at doing what they should, hearing in noisy situations is still a challenge. Handling noisy situations has always been the focus of hearing aid research, and in fairness, hearing aids have become much better at it. For some people though, it is still and always will be a problem, and in some situations, it can be a problem for many.
New Technology Nine Years in The Making
Phonak formed a special task force in 2009 which involved digital signal processing engineers from Phonak and Advanced Bionics. Their task has been to work on the best adaptation and innovation in microphones for noisy environments. They have come up with an advance in microphone technology that Phonak have labelled MultiBeam Technology.
The core of the new technology is the use of sound information from six separate angles. It uses the multiple microphones in six directions, which allows a 360 degree understanding of the sound surroundings. It uses this information to calculate and compare speech in the overall signal. They say that the direction with the best signal-to-noise ratio will be automatically selected.
The new technology was tested at the University of Texas in Dallas. The test involved a group of 10 patients with hearing aids who were tested in a situation which resembled a noisy restaurant or very noisy meeting with three conversation partners.
61% improvement in Speech Understanding
It was found that speech understanding improved by up to 61% in this group conversation in 75 dBA of noise compared to using hearing aids alone. That is quite an amazing increase in performance and could make the difference between enjoyment of an event and irritation at the inability to hear.
In the press release, Professor Linda Thibodeau, from the University of Texas in Dallas who led the research was quoted as saying: “The Multibeam Technology will allow persons with hearing challenges who have resigned from attending social functions, family gatherings and business meetings to experience significant improvements in speech recognition. This could ultimately lead to improved quality of life as they confidently reconnect with others using discreet, convenient and highly versatile technology.”
You can expect the technology to begin to turn up in remote microphones that will connect wirelessly to Phonak hearing aids and Advanced Bionics cochlear implant processors. The technology is a big step forward and may well help many people to live life the way they want to.
Update Feb 11: I had a member of Phonak onto me today and he corrected one element of the story, they are working hard now on making this technology available in future solutions, but these will be universally compatible, so not only to Phonak hearing aids, but to many hearing aids of virtually all brands (provided they have a DAI or T-coil, or streamer with DAI or T-coil).
I think this is pretty fantastic, it means no matter what brand hearing aid you have, if you can get access to a telecoil receiver either on the hearing aid or one of their streamers, or you can use direct audio input shoes with either, you will be able to experience the benefits of this really interesting new tech.