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Want Bluetooth hearing aids that work? Hello Phonak!

September 1, 2009

Here’s a response I just posted to  Note that my comments only relate to Bluetooth functionality, which is clearly a lesser priority than performance of the hearing aid themselves.

I read this post last week while trying my first set of hearing aids with Bluetooth: the Oticon Epoq with the Streamer. I am also a techie and am highly confident in my ability to get something to work—if it’s designed correctly.

My frustrating experience with the Oticon Epoq’s included the following:

  • Poor outgoing audio quality on phone calls. Every caller complained.
  • Difficulty with reestablishing the music Bluetooth connection with my iPhone after disconnecting (for example, if I needed to talk with someone and wanted to stop the audio immediately). The most reliable (though not completely consistent) method required changing the audio source to Speaker and then changing it back to Streamer on the iPhone (3G with 3.0 OS).
  • Pressing the music button while listening to music behaved differently when the iPhone was locked. When locked, it did not pause the music player. While acceptable for music, it is very annoying to find where I left off when listening to news or an audio book.
  • No on/off switch on the Streamer. As a result, there was no way to stop the beeps in the hearing aids when the Streamer was low on battery. Ultimately, I had to move the Streamer out of range.
  • Unable to get a consistent connection with my MacBook Pro (OS X 10.5).

(I must’ve wasted 1-2 hours trying to get predictable and satisfactory behavior.)

I credit the quoted post above for influencing me to call my audiologist and ask to demo the Phonak Exélia with the iCom—and I’m so thankful!!!

  • Excellent outgoing audio quality on phone calls (as judged by the same callers)
  • Seamless integration with the iPod or other music players on the iPhone. What does this mean? Press iCom button once: player pauses and Bluetooth disconnects. Press button again: Bluetooth connects and play resumes. The connection/disconnection is very fast, and works even if the iPhone is locked.
  • Immediately connected to my MacBook Pro, with a perfect first test call through Skype.
  • As mentioned above, music plays in stereo!

My only complaint so far is that while the hearing aid volume can be adjusted when used with the phone, it cannot be adjusted when used with the music player. The volume is perfect for a quiet environment, but I suspect it will be inadequate for a noisy environment (such as on public transportation).

For full disclosure, one audiologist told me that between Oticon, Phonak, and Siemens, his patients seemed to be happiest with the Siemens Bluetooth functionality. Unfortunately that audiologist didn’t accept my insurance, and my current audiologist doesn’t carry Siemens. Fortunately I’m satisifed with the Phonak.

Oticon: Get some skilled Bluetooth engineers to design your next product (or at least test it with the iPhone).
Phonak: Thanks for getting it right and keeping it simple!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. john hood permalink
    October 8, 2009 10:42 am

    Oh, I’m amused. The grass on the other side of the fence always looks greener; I’m an iCom user that is thinking the Streamer is worth a try…

    I’m going around with an iCom and a shiny new iPhone 3GS just now. I can’t get calls to work reliably at all on the iPhone unless I have Settings, General, Acccessibility, “Mono Mode” configured On. How do you have your iPhone configured?

    And I can’t get Skype working on the iPhone, and I’d dearly like to. The app plays the silly little Skype noises through Bluetooth but drops back to the iPhone’s speaker or receiver for the call itself. Does this work for you?

    The lack of a separate volume control for audio input from the iCom is an ongoing problem, too. The iPhone doesn’t let one adjust volume on music playback via Bluetooth

    The iCom does work admirably with my Mac or my old Motorola L2 phone, though.

    • October 8, 2009 4:39 pm

      Apple may have changed the Bluetooth profiles on the iPhone 3GS. I’m using the 3G and the phone works just fine. There isn’t an “Accessibility” option, nor the ability to select the “Mono Mode” profile. It’s possible that the Streamer would work better for you with the 3GS; Oticon told my audiologist that it was the Bluetooth profile in the iPhone that caused the issues I encountered.

      You’re right, there is no volume control for audio input on the iCom, only for phone (biggest disappointment in my opinion).

      I haven’t tried it with Skype on the iPhone. If I do, I’ll post a follow-up comment.

  2. Tom Martin permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:47 am


    How did you get your MacBook Pro to pair with the iCom? My MacBook Pro cannot “see” the iCom when I use the Bluetooth Setup Assistant.

    • April 1, 2010 10:07 am

      I haven’t used it recently, though I don’t recall any issues with it not being visible to the Bluetooth setup assistant. I do recall having issues with it not working with certain Bluetooth profiles. Sorry I can’t be of further help.

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