Phillips Re-enters The Hearing Aid Market With Hearlink Hearing Aids Range

In the last few days, it has been announced that Phillips is re-entering the hearing aid market with the launch of a new hearing aid range called Hearlink. The range has been introduced in collaboration with Demant (the owners of the Oticon, Bernafon and Sonic hearing aid brands). This isn’t the first time that Phillips has had their name on hearing aids. Quite a long time ago Phillips hearing aids were renowned for quality and reliability. However, they decided to leave the business, what has brought them back, why now and what have they got to offer? Let’s talk Phillips Hearlink hearing aids.

Phillips Hearlink hearing aid rnge

Phillips is collaborating with Demant and for the moment, Demant is providing the hardware involved. Anyone familiar with Oticon, Bernafon or indeed Sonic will recognise the hearing aid models and accessories that Phillips are offering. The audiological strategies inside the hearing aids are pretty similar to Bernafon core strategies, at least for the moment. That may change as Phillips gears up their own research and design team. Let’s look at the announcement and then look at the range available. 

Copenhagen, Denmark, April 10th, 2019 – Demant is pleased to announce the introduction of Philips branded hearing aids to the global hearing aid market. A new player, the Philips brand is entering the hearing healthcare market with a complete range of premium hearing aids, accessories, and applications to best serve hearing aid users. These Philips Hearing Solutions will quickly become a trusted brand with hearing care providers and users, as it has great potential around the world to present unique opportunities for hearing care professionals in an ever-evolving market.

“Based on a shared vision of improving the lives of people through innovative healthcare this new cooperation will not only change the way we see hearing healthcare, but also widen the definition of hearing healthcare, supporting healthier lifestyles and active aging,” says Spencer Ramsey, Senior Director, Brand Licensing, Philips. “Combining Demant’s world-leading hearing aid technology with Philips’ global brand presence in healthcare, the cooperation will enrich the hearing healthcare experience”.

“The Philips hearing aids will provide users with an innovative, future-proof hearing solution,” says Søren Nielsen, CEO & President, Demant. “We live in an age where user engagement and digital services are shaping the future of healthcare technology. More and more people are conscious of taking control of their own personal healthcare and are using electronic devices to do so. In this light, Philips Hearing Solutions offers new and exciting premium solutions alongside Philips’ healthcare ecosytem, which will attract interest and generate significant benefits to users, ultimately supporting our valued customer base of hearing care professionals.”

The new premium Philips hearing aids, named Philips HearLink, are now available for trained and educated hearing care professionals in selected countries across the globe: Philips HearLink will enable users to listen better so that they can better connect with the people they care for. Users will also benefit from connectivity between their hearing aids and the devices they use in their everyday life, such as smartphones and televisions. The look and feel of the Philips HearLink hearing aids caters to today’s baby boomer generation with design and usability developed for this expanding market.

“With this partnership, we take connected hearing healthcare to the next level and offer new and exciting solutions within integrated healthcare services to the benefit of both professionals and people suffering from a hearing loss. Health, caring and innovation are cornerstones in the vision of both Demant and Philips, which makes the partnership a great match for the future. Furthermore, it will strengthen and add value to both companies’ ambition to improve people’s lives,” Søren Nielsen concludes.

Phillips’ Healthcare Ecosystem

To be honest, the only part of that statement that caught my eye was the mention of the healthcare suite that Phillips provides. The rest is just the typical blurb of any press release. The Phillips’ healthcare ecosystem is a wide-ranging cloud-based tool for healthcare.  Phillips says “HealthSuite digital platform offers both a native cloud-based infrastructure and the core services needed to develop and run a new generation of connected healthcare applications.”

In the context of both the brand, the hearing devices and the market aspirations, what could that mean moving forward? I think there are many possibilities, for instance, leveraging a smartphone the system could be used to undertake a deep analysis of sound situations and changes made by users, ala Widex Machine Learning. The system could also be used to allow deeper manipulation of the function of hearing aids and background data analysis of those manipulations.

Hell, the system could be used for self-fitting and fine-tuning moving forward while allowing deep analysis of those protocols If combined with other health data from other Phillips health suit apps it could lead to better understanding of patterns in relation to hearing and wider health. I have said it before, we are only limited by our imagination here, or at least the imagination of the designers.

The Strategy

As per the announcement, the new Hearlink range will be available in only a few global markets initially with the UK and USA being two of them. I think that the use of the brand Phillips can help with consumer awareness for the wider market. The theory is that no consumer recognises the brand of the hearing aids they wear. I don’t believe that is the case any longer, in fact, this site and others have worked diligently to ensure that is no longer true over many years. Having said that, Phonak, Oticon or Widex are not exactly household names.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see what Phillips do with the brand and what channels they will decide to use. While Demant has become involved with them in order that the wider consumer recognition strategy can be used. Phillips probably has its own plans in relation to channels. I rather think Demant will find it an interesting ride. For the moment and with the Hearlink range it seems you will need to go to a hearing care professional to try them out. The question is though, will that remain the case? That will be an interesting one.

The Hearlink Range

The range is made up of seven hearing aid models at five different technology levels or price points. The devices are three receiver in canal devices, the miniRITE, the miniRITE-T, the miniRITE-TR. One behind the ear device the BTE PP and finally three custom in the ear hearing aids, the IIC, the CIC and the ITC.

The technology levels are named as follows:

  • Hearlink 9010 (premium range
  • Hearlink 7010
  • Hearlink 5010
  • Hearlink 3000
  • Hearlink 2000

In a later article, I will give you a full rundown of the hearing aids and their features.

Hearing Aid Accessories

The accessories for the devices are exactly as you would expect if you are familiar with Oticon or Bernafon. There are a multi-functional remote mic streamer, a TV streamer and a small remote control. Again, when I am covering the hearing aids I will also detail the accessories.

Interesting times ahead I think, it will be fascinating to see what Phillips decides to do over the next couple of years. 

Self-fitting Hearing Aids / OTC / DIY – How Close are We?

Geoff wrote the other week about Sonova purchasing Blamey & Saunders, which brings up the conversation about buying hearing aids online or over-the-counter, without the need for hearing care professionals to fit them for you.

I wrote about the disruption in the hearing industry and the future of hearing aid sales many years ago, that article is not dated but I bet it must be fives years ago at least, and to be honest, I am surprised that in 2019 we are not further forward with self-fitting options. I would have expected that by now we would be able to either go into a high-street electronics store or browse online and buy a proper hearing aid, take it home and be able to accurately tune it to our own individual hearing loss.

Technology has moved on since I wrote that old article, all manufacturers now have Bluetooth-enabled devices that connect hearing aids directly to smartphones, which means your phone becomes a remote control for your aids that are currently used to change volume and programmers but could be improved to also walk you through setting up a brand new hearing aid.

So how close are we? Could it work for the masses?

An App on your phone could perform the various hearing tests that are required to accurately programme the hearing aid for your loss by playing sounds via the hearing aids, this would mimic the tests a hearing professional does on your first visit. This provides a baseline setting that should mean sounds are amplified to the point that you can hear speech. This is the real meat of self-fitting, if this is done right the rest of the process will fall into place.

Earwax is a problem, people may think they have a hearing loss but actually just have a lot of wax, so they don’t even need an aid.

Another problem is that there will be people with a hearing loss so bad that it requires a custom earpiece to be made that is moulded to their ear to avoid feedback, as the sound amplification needed is so powerful. I”m in this bracket, I would not be able to wear an off-the-shelf hearing aid, I’d need something custom made.

Having said, the majority of people will have a hearing loss that falls into the range that does not need a custom earpiece and they would be able to purchase an aid with a one-size-fits-all rubber ear piece.

A further problem would be the time needed for someone to get used to a new hearing aid, this is not a problem specifically for self-fitting purchases as many hearing practices find that many people return their aids quickly, upset that they aren’t hearing as well as they wanted because they have not taken the time to retrain their ears and brains to comprehend the new sounds they are experiencing. People want instant success, plug-and-play but it is often not going to be like that, not because of the hearing aid, but because of your brain – for this reason, there will be returned hearing aids, bad reviews, and upset customers.

Tele-audiology is now a thing, meaning you can talk to a hearing professional via a Skype-like video service and have them help you with your hearing aid issues without having to visit their clinic, so that would solve the majority of issues people would have with their new purchase.

So all of the technology pieces are now in place to make this a reality for a large percentage of those with hearing loss. Blamey & SaundersAudicusHearing Direct, and others are already in the game. One of the large hearing aid manufactures should be ideally placed to start selling direct to customers via the high street and the Web, the technology is no longer the barrier.

Why do we even want to buy hearing aids over the counter and self-fit them?

For me, moving towards a self-fitting model and using a professional for advice and support where needed is not about getting rid of the professional audiologist/dispenser because they are bad in some way or even because self-fitting is better. It’s not about getting rid of the professional for the sake of it, or just because we can. The real benefit to doing this is making it quicker and easier for people to get a real fully-functioning hearing aid and to get major benefits from it, without having to book an appointment, travel across town and so on. But even more than that, having hearing aids for sale in every electronics store normalizes them, they become just another consumer electronic item that someone might pick up with their new TV – hearing aids stop being a medical device for people with medical deficiencies and become a lifestyle accessory that people are happy to wear, even want to wear.

Currently, only a tiny percentage of the people who need a hearing aid actually wear one, the barrier to wearing is too high for them, maybe that’s because of the price, the hassle or the stigma of needing a medical device – self-fitting can fix all of these issues and sky-rocket the number of people hearing better.

Some Interesting Hearing Aid Patents in March

HHTM do a great article each month on hearing aid related patents that are filed in the US. In their latest hearing aid patent article, a few things from a few established manufacturers caught my eye. Not the least of which was a system to check if a receiver is full of wax, the possible return of spectacle hearing aids and finally a new firmware system that will allow hearing aid functionality upgrades in the clinic. Let’s talk about hearing device patents.

Linx Resound Quattro rechargeable hearing aids

Upgrade Your Hearing Aids Anytime in Clinic

Resound has filed a patent for an upgradeable hearing aid and the system to upgrade the firmware. The patent makes it clear that upgrades will be applied by third parties in person. So I guess that means in the offices of hearing care professionals.

Unitron already uses a system like this and I mused about a year or two ago that I felt many of the hearing aid manufacturers would probably move toward this as the consumer market changed. Well, it looks like Resound is certainly thinking about the benefits of the system to users moving forward. Of course, just because they are working on the invention, doesn’t mean it will ever see the light of day. 

But, if it does, it will mean that you can more happily pick a level of Resound technology that you think will meet your needs. And if it doesn’t, you can then pay for a simple upgrade of the devices to a higher level of technology. 

Spectacle Hearing Aids Making a Comeback?

Resound again with this one, they have filed a patent for spectacle hearing aids. I may well be wrong but I don’t think they have ever produced spectacle hearing aids before? Anyway, these aren’t exactly the spec aids of the past. Spectacle hearing aids used to be popular enough, most of them were originally bone conduction devices (they conducted sound through the bone of the skull rather than through the ear), but there was some air conduction (just traditional tube into the ear canal to transfer sound) devices as well. 

Some people absolutely loved the bone conduction spec aids, especially if they had a conductive hearing loss (problem with the middle ear usually, but can be ear canal). But, they were a bit of a pain for the professional to be honest. In order for them to work well, the bone conductor pad on the spec frames needed to be held tight to the head. 

Over time, the arm of the frames would loosen and would have to be re-bent. That problem became more frequent the older the spec aids got. The air conduction devices didn’t have the same problems but they could break down often. The real issue when they were sent for repair was that not only was the user now without their hearing aids, they were also without their glasses!

Anyway, as I said before I went wandering off on a tangent, these aren’t the spec aids of the past. Resound has filed a patent for a device that wirelessly transmits processed sound to a receiver device in the ear. Basically, they have separated the function of traditional hearing aids and leveraged wireless transmission to offer something really interesting. 

The spectacle frames will contain most of the business end of the hearing aid, it will have directional microphones and a binaural digital signal processing system. It will also have a wireless audio transmitter. That transmitter will be used to send audio wirelessly to separate receiver devices in the ear canals. Almost like wearing glasses and very small invisible hearing aids, but they work as a system. 

It makes sense in some ways, it means the device that goes in your ear can be small. The fact that most of the business end is in the glasses means that you can use a big battery to power the system and you get the added benefit of huge antennas for the wireless radios. Again, just because they patent it doesn’t mean it will ever exist, but I think this would be a fascinating one, not sure how popular it would be though. 

Self Check System For Wax or Moisture in the Receiver

Widex has filed a patent for a new system that will allow the hearing aids to check if there is a mechanical blockage (ear wax, debris or moisture) in the receiver sound tube. It will allow users to check what is going on with their hearing aids if the sound begins to deaden or stop altogether. It will mean a simple check will tell them if they need to change the wax guard. Alternatively, I would imagine it will also tell them if they need to go to the hearing care professional. 

I bemoaned the fact that Widex hadn’t made their self-check system available on their Made For iPhone enabled Beyond or their new Evoke Fusion 2 devices. Their existing self-check system runs on the fitting software and it enacts a little sub-routine on the hearing aids that throws up any problems. This patent represents a new development though, however, it seems they are determined to make this available to the user. 

Touch Interface

Phonak has registered a patent for a touch interface system to control a hearing aid. Interesting move, and one that makes sense. Many people who are used to hearable devices or wireless earbuds are used to using tap systems to control them. They are easy, tend to be simple to remember and are especially useful if you are on the move. 

Own Voice Handling

It appears that Starkey is interested in a system that will allow them to recognise and control the perception of the user’s own voice. I am surprised other manufacturers aren’t interested in this feature. I was honestly astounded by the feature in the Signia Nx platform and it makes a lot of sense if we can use it to close off the ear canal. Anyway, it looks like Starkey may well be introducing it in the future. 

There were plenty of other very interesting patents, looks like there are a few companies very interested in hearable type devices. If you are interested, follow the link at the beginning of the article to the HHTM article and you can click from there into each individual patent. Like us on Facebook or subscribe to the newsletter to keep up to date with our latest burblings. 

Blamey And Saunders Purchased by Sonova

Interesting Purchase, But What Could it Mean For Consumers?

In a really interesting turn of events, I found out that Sonova purchased the Australian hearing aid business Blamey And Saunders. Blamey And Saunders are a business that we have discussed here a few times. They sell their own brand hearing aids online in Australia and they are one of the few online hearing aid sellers that we would be happy to support. They have designed and manufactured both their own hearing aids and the underlying logistics to support a direct online sale. There have been persistent rumours that they were finding it difficult to reach profitability, mainly because of the economy of scales and the fact that their manufacturing was undertaken in Australia. So why is the purchase important to Consumers and what might it mean moving forward?

Blamey And Saunders Hearing Aids

A Blended Model

Blamey And Saunders quickly realised that not everyone is confident enough to buy a hearing aid online. It quickly became obvious that to maximise sales and take care of customers they needed to look at a blended model of online sales and physical locations for offline sales and service. They launched their blended model a couple of years ago but haven’t expanded past three physical locations in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. They do however offer a limited travelling clinic service across some areas in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. 

Economies of Scale

The Sonova purchase will mean that there should be an instant change to the economy of scale issue. It should mean that the business should more easily reach profitability. The might of Sonova should also mean that the business may see more penetration into the Australian market, maybe widening it’s physical footprint and possibly even looking further afield for new markets.

Why Might it Matter to You?

Yes, I can hear it from here, hey fat lad, why would I care? Well, that’s an interesting one, to be honest with you. The purchase of Blamey And Saunders is more than just the purchase of that company, it is the purchase of a whole new delivery channel and the experience that is inherent within the business. It gives them an in-depth insight into how a DTC (Direct To Consumer) model works in an online manner. It also gives them a clear experience of how a blended (both online and offline) model works.

Buying Hearing Aids is Going to Change

How you buy hearing aids is without a doubt going to change within the next five years. How it will change is not set though. Over The Counter, (OTC) hearing aids can be expected within the next year or so. If the big hearing aid brands become involved with that, we will probably see some sort of blended model offer. You can buy your OTC device online or at a shop knowing that there may be further services such as in-depth hearing testing, upgrades of devices and ongoing care available at hearing aid outlets.

That model may well lead to a situation where we may see all hearing aids being sold directly to the consumer with the option of physical locations to offer service and care. The purchase of Blamey And Saunders allows Sonova to understand the possibilities of this model implicitly. For many consumers, online delivery with blended options is attractive.

How attractive is the question though? New users or prospects tend to think very differently to existing users. New users have no terms of reference or experience, that forms their view of price, product and service. Experienced users, on the other hand, have experience and that changes the equation for them.

Price Versus Service

While price is always an issue, it is easier to understand when value for money enters the equation. The problem within the audiology profession has always been their lack of focus on the value for money that they provide. A blended model where device purchase is separated from ongoing service means that the value of the service is clear to the consumer.

The key with these business model changes is that they give you, the consumer, choice. I think that for many years, that has been a real bugbear for consumers. They feel the current model is rigid and doesn’t necessarily provide choice. I think the real question for me is how many of you would like to be able to buy a hearing aid online, knowing that you can engage with a physical service location if need be for an added fee?

6-12 May Is Deaf Awareness Week – Here’s How to Celebrate It

It’s Deaf Awareness Week from the 6th to the 12th May 2019, here’s what I want you to do during this time, this is your challenge:

Every day, from the 6th to the 12th, tell one person about your hearing loss.

This could be a positive mention, “Even though I wear hearing aids I heard everything you just said perfectly”, or, “Thanks for repeating yourself, I heard you clearly”.

Or something more negative, “I’ve had a rough day, I couldn’t hear what the train announcer was saying and didn’t know which platform I should be on”.

The point is this: get into the habit of telling people about your hearing issues, just drop it into a conversation where you can, you don’t need to bore someone to death with it but just bring it up, get it into the open.

Why?

Well, of course, there are benefits for you: the more people around you who know about your hearing loss the easier our life becomes. But I’m thinking of the bigger picture and during Deaf Awareness Week I think it is your duty to tell the world about your hearing loss so that more people become aware of it, become more accepting of it, know how to deal with it and, eventually, it becomes a non-issue like sight problems and wearing glasses.

Let’s help all those people struggling to accept their hearing loss, the people hiding their hearing aids, those laughing when they didn’t hear and hoping for the best. Each and everyone one of us can do our little bit to make hearing loss an everyday issue that is widely accepted and understood. I think it’s up to us, the people with hearing loss, the hearing aid wearers, to show the world it’s totally fine, something we deal with while we go about our day and not something we shy away from or are embarrassed about.

Attitudes towards hearing aids have already shifted a lot in the last 20 years, sleeker/smaller/cooler aids have helped with that and manufacturers are also starting to market them as everyday accessories and not medical devices as such, all that helps. If we treat our own hearing problems as one-of-those-things, don’t show any embarrassment and don’t apologize for it we can make hearing aids as cool and accepted as glasses.

Try it, you’ll probably quickly notice your own attitude to your hearing loss changing, you’ll soon realize that people don’t judge you for not hearing and are perfectly understanding of it. You’ll ditch your own negative views about your hearing problems, so you’ll be more happy to tell people when you can’t hear, making your life easier.

It’s a win for you and a win for everyone else.

What Are The Pros and Cons of Micro-Suction Ear Wax Removal?

Following on from the recent question we had “Is Micro-Suction Ear Wax Removal Safe”, I decided to do a deeper article on the pros and cons of the procedure. In general, micro-suction ear wax removal is a safe procedure, however, like all medical procedures, there can be unintended problems. So let’s take a look at the process and what you really need to know.

Micro-suction ear wax removal

Why is micro-suction so popular?

Micro-suction as a tool for ear wax removal has been around for a very long time. Generally, most ENT departments used micro-suction to remove ear wax from the ear canals of people with perforations or large cavities after mastoid operations. The reason was simple, removal of ear wax using water could be dangerous for these people.

Hearing care professionals began to provide ear wax removal as a service several years ago in the UK because it was becoming more difficult to have a GP ( General Practitioner, Medical Doctor) provide the service. GPs are under pressure and ear wax removal takes time.

Initially most UK and Irish based hearing care professionals provided ear wax removal with irrigation. However, a few micro-suction courses were set up and as people became certified, more and more professionals offered it. It seems to have taken off in the minds of consumers and most have heard about it and will request it. 

What are the pros of micro-suction?

Unlike ear syringing or even the safer ear irrigation, there is no water used, which means less mess generally. When undertaking micro-suction, the canal and the ear wax is being directly viewed with a microscope or a set of loupes (microscopic glasses) whilst it is being removed. This makes the procedure much quicker, safer and comfortable for the patient. The pros of this type of ear wax removal include:

  • No water used, so no mess
  • A clear view of the ear canal while the work is being done which makes it safer
  • Completely safe for people with perforations of the eardrum
  • Completely safe for people with large mastoid cavities from surgical work

Although micro-suction can be undertaken without the use of cerumenolytics (ear wax removal drops or sprays), it really appears that it is a good idea to use them for a few days before you have the procedure. All the evidence and my own personal experience appears to show that it will make the procedure far easier for you. On that point, always try to buy a cerumenolytic that comes in a spray bottle. It just makes it easier for you to apply and be confident that it will coat the ear wax and be absorbed. 

What are the cons of micro-suction?

As with all medical procedures, there can be problems, generally though, problems are rare. The risks are as follows:

  • Possible damage to or infection of the skin of the ear canal or the eardrum
  • Possible perforation of the eardrum
  • The procedure is noisy and may cause a temporary shift in your hearing thresholds
  • The procedure may start or aggravate any existing tinnitus
  • The procedure may cause temporary dizziness or discomfort

Let’s take a look at them individually, first up, damage to the ear canal and perforation of the eardrum. Generally speaking, there are two ways that damage to the ear canal or eardrum can happen. The first is if you move suddenly and the canula jabs into you. We take exceptional care to ensure that we brace our hand while the cannula is anywhere near your ear canal. The bracing is designed to ensure that if you move suddenly, we maintain control of the cannula and it is pulled out of your ear canal. With that in mind, there shouldn’t be a problem, however, it could happen.

Blood in the ear after cleaning

Sometimes if we remove a very dry piece of wax off the ear canal it can take a small piece of skin with it. When this happens you will feel a bit of a pinch and there will be a graze left in the ear canal. After the initial pinch, there shouldn’t be any more discomfort. There may well be some bleeding, but there shouldn’t be a huge amount. There shouldn’t be a large amount of blood in the ear canal after an event like this. Generally, if this happens the hearing care professional will use a spray of oil to coat the ear canal and protect the graze. There is a chance that the graze can become infected but it seems to be exceptionally rare.

As I said, the procedure is a noisy one, it’s actually not the noise of the machine as such, it is in fact, the noise of the suction in the ear canal. If you are exposed to noise for a period of time, you may suffer a temporary shift in your ability to hear. It seems from the limited studies that this is rare, but, that’s not to say it could not happen.If it does, it should be temporary and will go away within a day or two.

The noise is also the culprit when it comes to tinnitus. Think about when you walked out of a disco or a really loud concert and you heard ringing in your ears. The same thing can happen with the noise caused by micro-suction. Again, it should be temporary and should fade within a few days. If you have existing tinnitus, micro-suction could make it worse. Again, it should be temporary, but if your tinnitus causes you real problems, well then perhaps micro-suction isn’t for you.

If micro-suction is done for long enough, the procedure can cool the temperature in your ear canal. That will make you dizzy. Generally, the hearing care professional will try to keep the amount of time the canula is in your ear to a minimum. Again, this is a rare event, but it can happen.

How dangerous is micro-suction ear wax removal really?

Recently we have received a few questions about the safety of micro-suction for ear wax removal. I think this is because the procedure is so prevalent. To respond to the questions I did some research into medical studies undertaken around micro-suction ear wax removal. Unfortunately, there are very few in existence.

In the study Aural microsuction for wax impaction: survey of efficacy and patient perception a study that was undertaken with 159 patients. It was found that although a few people suffered from some pain and or vertigo, “Aural microsuction is well tolerated. Side effects are mild, and the prior use of cerumenolytics appears to further reduce their severity”. That is really the only live study involving Patients I could find.

One of the things that some people have mentioned is the onset of tinnitus and even the onset of permanent hearing loss where there was none before as a result of micro-suction ear wax removal. There is very little evidence out there that supports the claims.

I don’t doubt the veracity of the people who make those claims, but looking at the studies and searching the journals and internet they are exceptionally rare events. So rare in fact that there is no mentions in medical journals. In general, ear wax removal by micro-suction is a safe procedure, however, as I said, with any medical procedure, there are things that may go wrong.

An Interview With Achin Bhowmik PHD, Chief Technology Officer of Starkey

At the recent Livio AI launch I had a chance to speak to Achin Bhowmik PHD, who is the Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Engineering in Starkey. He is at least partially responsible for the dramatic new focus of the Livio AI hearing aids and their widening function. You can listen to the podcast below. I warn you, the audio isn’t great but it was recorded on the move.

If you like what you see, share it so others can benefit

Livio AI Hearing Aid Launched in London

Welcome To The Revolution

I really hate trite marketing tag lines, then one comes along that’s quite true. Like the famous “Layers of Sound” incident with Resound and their Quattro (actually perfect description for their sound) “Welcome To The Revolution” is exceptionally fitting for the Livio AI. Because that is what it represents, a true revolution in functionality in hearing aids. For the first time ever we have a hearing aid with built-in sensors, health tracking, fall detection and it translates 27 languages in real time. That’s pretty revolutionary.

Starkey Livio AI hearing aids

A hearing aid with hearable functionality

I attended the launch of the new Livio AI hearing aid on the 20th of March in London. The device has been a long time coming and the outline of the functionality has excited a lot of people, me included. I believe the device represents a huge move forward within hearing aids. While I have heard a few people say that the wider functionality is just ancillary, I don’t agree. I think the features are core to the devices and the users that they are designed for. Let’s talk about the devices. 

The Sound is Core

I have heard it said several times that sound quality is the true core focus of hearing aids, and that, of course, is true. Up to recently, Starkey really wasn’t famous for sound quality, although that changed slightly with the launch of the Muse. Starkey says that the Livio AI represents their very best sound quality yet and they have introduced some new sound processing features to drive that.

Binaural Communication

Starkey is using binaural communication between two Livio AI hearing aids to produce a more natural sound, preserve the natural sound cues and to drive a better experience in noisy situations. That communication also allows them to preserve inter-aural level differences which will allow you to better localise sound. That in itself should help you to separate speech and noise a little better in noisy situations. I had a brief listen to them through headphones and they sounded pretty good. It wasn’t a true experience by any means, but with the limited, slightly artificial setup, they sounded okay.

Spatial Speech Enhancement

Starkey says that the new system will deliver a 10% reduction in cognitive effort in noisy environments and a pretty astonishing 80% reduction of noise. That was a little unclear and we didn’t have an opportunity to ask questions. As more info becomes available I will update the article to explain what the figures meant.

Transient Noise Reduction

They have introduced a new system to handle transient or impact noises. The system identifies and reduces those noises quickly which means a slamming door or dropped cutlery on a tile floor will not be as irritating.

Bluetooth Hearing Aids

The Starkey Livio AI hearing aids are Bluetooth hearing aids, audio streaming and streaming of phone calls is limited to the iPhone at present. There was no mention of any plans to deliver Made For Android functionality. I am also unsure of how much of the functionality will work with Android phones. I would take it as said that if you want to get the very best out of these aids you need to be packing an iPhone. 

The Features

We have touched on the features before here on Know, but let’s refresh your memory with a rundown:

  • Translation in 27 languages
  • Amazon® Alexa connectivity
  • Rechargeable option
  • Fall Detection and Alerts
  • Heart Rate Measurement
  • Voice-to-text Transcription
  • Natural user interface with tap control
  • Self Check for hearing performance
  • Thrive Virtual Assistant, built on Google Assistant

I think each of these features is probably worth an article of it’s own, but let’s run through them and why I think they make complete sense. Translation in 27 languages seems perhaps a little strange, but when you consider that older adults are exceptionally likely to travel it starts to make sense. Starkey says that one of the core beliefs they have is that they enable communication, with live translation of different languages, they are doing that.

Health Monitoring

The Livio AI offers relatively decent health monitoring opportunities, while it monitors activity and now heart rate, it also monitors socialisation and how much time is spent engaging with people. The Thrive App uses all of this to give it’s scores.

Thrive app and Livio AI hearing aids

The health monitoring element of the Livio AI is offered via the Thrive App. It offers two measurements that both deliver the possibility of a score of 100 points. It focuses on a Body score and a Brain score. The body score is calculated through a combination of activity, steps and overall movement. This information is tracked daily and accessed easily in the Thrive app. As I said, a daily score of 100 points is possible.

Cognitive Health

Starkey says that because of the important connection between cognitive health and hearing health, Livio AI measures the brain benefits of wearing hearing aids. I still think that’s marketing fluff, however, I have said before, I do believe there is some validity to what they are doing. The metrics used to measure the Brain score include hours of daily use, social engagement and the tracking of active listening. Again the daily score of 100 points is possible.

Does it really give you a score based on cognitive health? No, it doesn’t, however, it gives you a clear idea about some of the things that we know promote good cognitive health and I think that is a good thing.

Gamified Health

The idea of the Thrive Health Score is gamification of health, basically, in the same way, the Fitbit or any other healthable does. Your daily scores act as a dare to do better and a beratement that you haven’t. As we get older, it is important that we exercise, whether that be focused exercise like gym work or running, or unfocused exercise like nice long walks.

Because there is a huge link between hearing loss and a lot of other co-morbidities like heart disease or diabetes. Enabling health tracking in a hearing aid makes perfect sense, I mean you wear them all day, so they are the ideal device to monitor activity.

Fall Detection & Alerts

Starkey is leveraging the sensors in the Livio AI to detect falls and they have set up a system in the Thrive App that allows an alert to go out to up to three different designated contacts. I honestly think that this is a stroke of genius, I have said for many years that hearing aids could be the ideal platform for the monitoring of activity and health of older people, ensuring that they can lead independent lives for longer. This system represents a big part of that concept.

When you hear the figures (from National Council On Aging) relating to falls for older people it really begins to put the benefit of this feature in perspective:

  • Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall
  • Every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall
  • $67.7 Billion in projected costs from fall by 2020
Starkey Falls Graphic

Older people fall down with alarming regularity and injure themselves, some of them die. The horrible thing is that some who die may have lived if help was quick enough to get to them. That’s a hard pill to swallow, and I would imagine it would lead to great torture for a family. The fall detection and alert system mean that if a Livio AI user falls, their loved ones should know about it instantaneously. I think that represents huge peace of mind.

The Self Check

I am telling you, these people are reading my email, I bemoaned the fact several years ago that many hearing aids could be forced to do a self-check of function. I asked why on earth this hadn’t been made available to users in the day of Bluetooth connected hearing aids. Starkey was obviously thinking the same thing, they offer a self-check in the Thrive app which will run a subroutine to check your hearing aids. It’s a handy tool that allows you to be sure if you need to see your professional or the receiver is just blocked with wax.

Thrive Personal Assistant

Now you are talking, I always wanted my hearing aids to be my personal assistant, mainly because I have a shocking memory for daily life. Appointments, there was an appointment? Emails, oh yes I kind of remember now ish. Yes, that pretty much sums me up, so I live for the day that I have a personal assistant to just manage that. Because my hearing aids are in my ears all day, it makes sense for them to be the primary point of contact for that stuff.

The Thrive Personal Assistant isn’t quite there yet, but after talking to Achin Bhowmik, who is the Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Engineering for Starkey, I can see that it may well be in the future. You activate the Thrive Personal Assistant with a tap on the hearing aids and then simply speak your query. At present, the Thrive Personal Assistant handles queries in two ways.

The AI in the app decides if your query is hearing aid related or a wider general query. If it is hearing aid related such as how do I turn the volume up, the query is handled locally within the app. If it is a wider query, like why is the sky blue?, the app passes it on to Google to answer.

That makes perfect sense, Google, Amazon and Apple have spent ridiculous amounts of money on Artificial Intelligence, why the hell does Starkey need to re-invent the wheel? I had a really interesting conversation with Achin Bhowmik, I even managed not to bow from the waist and give it the old Wayne’s World we’re not worthy! He had some pretty fascinating things to say about the future of machine learning and AI in hearing aids and some more interesting things to say about new features that will be coming sooner rather than later. I shall cover that conversation in another article and probably a podcast.

The Features of The Future

While the presentation on the day was about existing features, Starkey also gave us a glimpse of future features they expected to introduce.

Future features for Starkey Livio AI hearing aids

While the slide covered pretty much everything that was said, including the expanded function for the Personal Assistant that I was hoping for, it didn’t mention something that was mentioned by Bill Austin during his closing address. He mentioned a facial recognition system which would help with voice prompts. If they are going to introduce something like that well then they are going to have to put cameras on the aids. Now that would be fascinating.

Like I said at the start, I heard some people say that these features or abilities aren’t core, I beg to differ. I think they are as core to the design of modern hearing aids as Bluetooth radios are. Moving forward, consumers will expect this type of functionality because it makes sense. Another thing I heard was, well all of these things have been around for a while and Starkey are just taking advantage of them. My reply was yup, they had the foresight and design thinking to do just that.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent anything, he just took lot’s of existing technology and features and re-packaged them. The point is that he was the man with the vision to do so, just as Starkey have had the vision to do this. I am no big fan of Starkey, no more than I am a big fan of any particular hearing aid brand, but you have to recognise revolutionary thinking when you see it. Welcome to the revolution, and if the sound quality lives up to the claims, it will be a revolution.

Let’s Take a Look at The Opn S Range

The Oticon Drive event included the launch of the Opn S platform to the UK market. The Opn S is being rolled out to other markets globally right now and I would expect them to be available to most Independent hearing professionals right now more or less globally. Here is a rundown of the models and the pricing we expect. 

Opn S Performance presentation

Source: Demant A/S financial presentation

The Highlights

So let’s take a quick look at the highlights of the new Opn S platform:

  • Velox S: They say it is a new level of processing power which offers faster automatics, new highly sensitive detectors, and increased memory. They say it is powerful enough to analyse 56,000 additional times per second than the Opn.
  • OpenSound Booster: They say it offers even more help in everyday noisy situations to those who need it most when they need it.
  • OpenSound Optimizer: They say prevents feedback to deliver optimal gain, providing more open fittings and no feedback. 
  • New miniRITE-R: They say a new lithium-ion powered rechargeable hearing aid offering the best OpenSound Experience, audio streaming and enough power to last the day.

Three Levels Of Tech

The new Opn S will be available in three levels of technology with a sliding level of features similar in nature to the original Opn platform. The Opn S 1 will be the premium range of devices followed by the mid-range Opn S 2 and the lower mid-range Opn S 3. As they have done with the Siya, I believe in the future they will deliver a different version of the Opn S as the budget range models. 

Made For iPhone

All of the models in the Opn S platform are Bluetooth enabled hearing aids.

Powerful Enough For Every Hearing Loss

The beautiful MiniRITE devices can use four different receiver power levels meaning that they offer a discreet option for every hearing loss

Oticon Opn new fitting range

The Models

Oticon

Opn S miniRITE

The Opn S miniRITE hearing aid model is a very discrete wireless slimline ‘Mini-Receiver-In-Ear (miniRITE)’ hearing aid using a 312 battery. Powerful fully featured and offering amazing discretion. 

Oticon Opn S miniRITE Prices

We would expect the Oticon Opn S miniRITE range to be sold at prices from £1200.00 to £2200.00 in the UK depending on the Practice and location. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from €1400.00 to €3000.00 in Ireland. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from $1500.00 to $3200.00 in the USA.

Oticon Opn S MiniRITE

Oticon

Opn S miniRITE-R

wireless slimline Rechargeable ‘Mini-Receiver-In-Ear (miniRITE)’ hearing aid using a new lithium-ion rechargeable battery which offers 16 hours of use with five hours of streaming. The battery pack is easily replaceable in the clinic. The device also has a telecoil.

Oticon Opn S miniRITE-R Prices

We would expect the Oticon Opn S miniRITE-R range to be sold at prices from £1200.00 to £2200.00 in the UK depending on the Practice and location. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from €1400.00 to €3000.00 in Ireland. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from $1500.00 to $3200.00 in the USA.

Oticon Opn S MiniRITE Rechargeable

Oticon

Opn S miniRITE-T

The sleek and discreet wireless MiniRITE-T features a telecoil and double pushbutton for easy volume and program control. It is powered by a 312 battery

Oticon Opn S miniRITE-T Prices

We would expect the Oticon Opn S miniRITE-T range to be sold at prices from £1200.00 to £2200.00 in the UK depending on the Practice and location. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from €1400.00 to €3000.00 in Ireland. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from $1500.00 to $3200.00 in the USA.

Oticon Opn S MiniRITE-T

Oticon

Opn S BTE13 PP

The powerful and compact BTE13 PP fits hearing losses up to 105 dB SPL to benefit people with severe-to-profound hearing loss. The plus power solution features a telecoil, a tactile double pushbutton for easy volume and program control and a two-colour LED indicator to monitor hearing aid status for both users and caregivers.

Oticon Opn S BTE13 PP Prices

We would expect the Oticon Opn S BTE13 PP range to be sold at prices from £1200.00 to £2200.00 in the UK depending on the Practice and location. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from €1400.00 to €3000.00 in Ireland. We would expect the range to be sold at prices from $1500.00 to $3200.00 in the USA.

Oticon Opn S BTE 13-PP

Meet The Bose Hearing Aid

Hearing Tracker broke a story on the new Bose hearing aids a couple of days ago, they look remarkably similar to their Hearphones. It looks like the new hearing aid will be similar to the Wear and Hear devices we have discussed already. The Bose hearing aid device represents the first of a completely new category of hearing aids. According to the FDA, the Bose self-fitting hearing aid is intended to amplify sound for individuals 18 years of age or older with perceived mild to moderate hearing impairment. The device will be adjusted by the user to meet the user’s hearing needs. The devices are intended for direct-to-consumer sale and no pre-programming or hearing test is necessary. What struck me was the similarity in design and concept to the BeHear devices I reviewed in the article”My Latest Experiences With The BeHear Now from Wear&Hear.” Let’s talk about the Bose Hearing Aids. “My Latest Experiences With The BeHear Now from Wear&Hear.”

Bose Hearing Aids FDA Fiiing

Typical Bluetooth Headphones

Be-Hear Headset Close Up

Like the BeHear Now (which you can see here) , the new Bose Hearing Aid looks like any typical Bluetooth headset in design. In fact, it looks exactly like the popular Bose Hearphones with a flexible neckband which houses all of the electronics and cables for the right and left earbuds.

The Bose Hearing Aid has two microphones in each earbud that can be used in omnidirectional or directional modes to help with speech in noise. They say that they offer active noise reduction using “feedback and feedforward control loops” to give better speech understanding in noise. The devices will also offer typical Bluetooth audio streaming from smartphones for both music and phone calls.

Self-fitting with a smartphone app

Exactly like the BeHear Now and the IQBuds Boost from NuHeara, the Bose Hearing aids will be self-programmed through a smartphone app which will be available for both iPhones and Android smartphones. As with the BeHear Now, the app can be used to change the settings on the devices but there is also a set of buttons that can also be used to adjust both the “World Volume” and the directional mode.

Hearing Aid Features

The Bose Hearing Aid boasts a set of features that you would typically expect from a hearing aid. The signal processing includes 12-channel wide dynamic range compression amplification. The noise reduction feature is continuously active and they say it reduces environmental noise and the perception of the user’s own voice.

Additional features reported include:

  • Feedback cancellation
  • Steady-state noise reduction
  • Directionality (three modes controllable by the user)
  • Impulse noise control
  • Left/Right balance
  • Bluetooth-compliant 2.4 GHz wireless radio for streaming audio, telephony, and control
  • Microphone array to help clarify voices on phone calls
  • Volume-optimized audio equalization (selectable high-frequency boost when listening to streamed content)
  • Voice prompts
  • Battery life of approximately 10 hours
  • NFC pairing for compatible Android devices

Again, the features list is not unlike that of either the BeHear Now or the IQBuds Boost. The only real question is, when will the Bose devices be ready? The other question for me is when will the BeHear Now and IQBuds Boost be added to this category? Because looking at the design and the clinical studies that support this new category of devices, it seems to me that both the BeHear Now and the IQBuds Boost fit the brief.