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Want Bluetooth hearing aids that work? Hello Phonak!

September 1, 2009

Here’s a response I just posted to hearingaidforums.com.  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!

Jeremy

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I feel like the music sounds better with you

August 31, 2009

Welcome to my first blog post.  One of the reasons I decided to start this blog was to express my passion for improving life through technology.  The seminal event from which this passion sprouted occurred many years ago when a medical technology dramatically improved my own life.  This experience deserves a blog entry of its own.  Today I wanted to write about a recent improvement in the way I experience the world through sound.

This summer I decided to try out hearing aids to assist with known hearing loss in the mid- to high-frequency range.  Although I’d known about the hearing loss since seeing my first test results over 5 years ago, I was unaware of the difference hearing aids could make in my daily life (and I still don’t know how long the hearing loss existed prior to these tests).  Following the advice I’d received previously from audiologists, I waited until I felt that my hearing was interfering with daily activities.

Here are some of major improvements I’ve noticed since I’ve started using hearing aids:

  • Sherry repeats herself much less often—especially in the car—greatly reducing our frustration with each other and improving our relationship.
  • I can understand others speaking at dinner despite persistent background noise.  I feel much more comfortable sitting normally rather than constantly leaning in towards the conversation.
  • The music sounds better!  Ever since learning that Sade wasn’t singing about a “Food Operator” in her 1984 single, Smooth Operator, I’ve been incorrectly—albeit creatively—guessing lyrics to my favorite music.

The experience is quite similar to when I first wore glasses, especially since the loss is primarily in the high frequency range (where the fine detail lives).  I’ve already become so accustomed to the hearing aids that when I remove them, it sounds like my head is in a big piece of Styrofoam!

Right now I’m demoing my 3rd pair of hearing aids, and am going in tomorrow to demo the fourth and final set.  Here’s a list of the models I’m trying:

  1. insound Lyric
  2. Starkey S RIC
  3. Oticon Epoq
  4. Phonak Exélia

In a future blog, I’ll write about the model I select and include a comparison with the other three.

Jeremy

(Didn’t get the reference in the title?  It’s a line from this song.)

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