28 Jun At Last: Closer To Real Hearing

Typically, I have always believed healthcare products are a minimum of five years behind consumer-based products. Recently I have been using the Signia Nx 13 with OVP (Own Voice Processing) hearing aids and they have changed my thinking on this. After 3 months of using them, I think they may be five years ahead of any consumer hearing technology available on the market today.

Three Revolutions in Hearing Aid Technology

I have been hard of hearing for most of my life, having suffered hearing loss during my early childhood. Like many folks in their 50s who have lived with hearing loss for a long time, we have witnessed and been subjected to the very slow advancements in hearing technology. The first two, form factor and sound quality, took a long time to come along. The third is currently underway.

Revolution 1: Form Factor.  The first problem technology solved for hearing aids was size. For years, hearing aids were uncomfortable to wear because they were so big. They literally would cause tremendous discomfort behind your ears. Then as hearing aids got better they got lighter, so comfort became achievable and you could wear your hearing aids for longer and longer periods of time. While hearing aids got smaller, they still just amplified everything. There was no ability to focus the hearing. This was solved by the next big revolution: digital sound processing.

Revolution 2: Sound Quality.  Digital sound processing was a monstrous breakthrough because instead of amplifying everything, hearing aids got good at focus, the ability to separate background noise, for example, from a conversation. As of late, coupling digital signal processors with more and more powerful processors has started to help us—and by “us” I mean people who need hearing aids—put programming in hearing aids. This allows us to do very similar things with our hearing that we’re able to do with our eyes, which is customize hearing to specific sound sources and to specific hearing-loss frequencies.

Another challenge for most hearing aid users prior to digital sound processing was listening to your own voice is amplified. While most people get used to ‘blocking’ out their own voice, amplification obscures other sounds that you might have missed. The Signia Own Voice Processing eliminates your own voice and allows these other sounds to come through more clearly. This was a massive change and Signia claims it improves the experience for 75% of dissatisfied hearing aid wearers.

Revolution 3: Connectivity and Integration: Over that last 10 years, the number of sources of sounds has changed dramatically. We used to be limited to people or technology that ‘broadcasted’ sound. Even TV or phones, still relied on speakers or ‘broadcast’ sound systems to get their content across. From iPhone to TVs, our modern gadgets can talk digitally straight to our hearing devices without the need for headphones or headsets. Yet this revolution has not been without friction. From incompatible Bluetooth devices to changing phone technologies, connecting has often been easier said than done.

Even though it is a standard, not all Bluetooth solutions or products work together easily. Often as a user of my other Bluetooth products, I have to go and tell my devices Bluetooth systems I want them connected to. This makes sense when one phone or one device is producing sound and one device relaying it to me but no some much when you have multiple devices producing sound. A huge step forward for me was Signia hearing aids’ tight integration with Apple MFi.

The original ‘Made for iPod’ platform was a licensing program for developers of hardware and software peripherals that work with Apple’s iPods. Today MFi is a full Apple Developer program covering licensing, hardware components, tools, documentation, technical support, and certification logos needed to create AirPlay audio accessories and electronic accessories that connect to iPod, iPhone, and iPad. This can now include hearing aids.

What Signia has done is combine these two technologies work together in a very different way than the previous generation hearing aids that I had, including traditional Bluetooth. I would say, this is the first medical product that I’ve ever used that actually leapfrogs the existing consumer electronic products.

Revolution 4 Is Now Here: Predictive Hearing

For the last few months, AirPods have been my go-to resource for getting the best understanding of digital sound. If I’m listening to a podcast of music, the best way for me to hear is through headphones. The trouble I have had with headphones is it’s very difficult to get the desired volume and the balance because my left ear has significantly more sound loss than my right ear. It’s impossible for any headphones to get the right balance without an amplifier.

One of the things that were really surprising to me about the Signia hearing aids is that they are the first product I have used that actually removes friction.

It was almost a magical experience.

If I pick up my iPad, and I’m ready to watch a YouTube video or a movie, it automatically says, “I’m grabbing control of your hearing aids.” It is almost completely autonomous. Here is a device made for the medical industry that actually shows us the way of what the next generation of iPods or iPhone should be.

With my last set of hearing aids, much of the experience was delivered through a necklace that managed the Bluetooth connections and an App on my iPhone. The necklace becomes a point of friction and the Bluetooth would intermittently connect and disconnect. Every time I got a message, the Bluetooth signal would be disrupted and have to reconnect. It was very disruptive during that process. With the MFi connection, it is just incredible. Rarely does it come on and come off. It’s a very, very seamless process.

A Fitting Experience

Even in the age of Amazon.com, most of traditional healthcare still does not understand the needs of the consumer. Most medical experiences require consumers to put aside hours of their time and organize themselves around the medical professional. If having hearing-loss is not enough of a handicap, many hear-aid companies double down on the misery with the experience of having your hearing aids fitted and tuned to your hearing. Even a slight adjustment requires me to go back to the audiologist, another time suck, even though the benefit is even more precise tuning.

The same cannot be said to be true with my experience of the Signia Nx 13s. For the Nx 13’s, the Audiologist can transmit a previously created profile for your hearing, wirelessly from their laptop to your aids. This dramatically reduces the fitting time down to closer to 20 minutes and eliminates the need for additional in-person visits.

I also wanted to make a quick reference to another experience I have had with the Signia Nx 13s. The size of modern hearing aids is a critical element of comfort and these are the most conformable hearing aids I have ever worn. I can tell you at least two dozen times, I have stepped into the shower with these hearing aids, not knowing that I had them on. Clearly, my showering has done no damage to them, so they are pretty waterproof. They’re sweat proof, waterproof, they’re pretty incredible.

Closer To Real Hearing

Today, I am closer than I’ve ever been to normal hearing and with the Signia Nx 13s, I may have found a digital hearing assistant that enables me to be better off than most. I get much better sound in the context of my situation without having to open or tune an app. When moving from a noisy environment to a quiet one or getting on my bicycle and biking 25 miles an hour, my digital assistant adjusts to my environment. I do not have to tell it. It just knows. I don’t have to tell it I’m on a train. I’m on the plane. It just knows. I don’t have to tell it I’m in a quiet place. It just knows. I don’t have to tell it I’m picking up my phone. It knows. I don’t have to tell it I’m picking up my iPad. It knows.

Having this layer of friction reduction, I think is just the biggest revelation and a lot of consumer electronic products should learn from this. What we want as consumers are absolutely frictionless experiences. With all the technology we have today, we should be able to predict, given if the person’s in the car if the person is on the bike or taking a run. It should be able to choose these modes for us. If that mode is not good enough, then we can go in and override it. I have found with these particular devices, that over 95 percent of the time to where it just seamlessly, you rarely, rarely have to override it.

Finally, I have found selecting the right ‘listening’ mode through a rocker-switch or through a smartphone application really useful. I have three modes to choose from: Universal, Conference Room and ‘11.’ Borrowing from This Is A Spinal Tap, ‘11’ is the about turning things up as much as you can. This combination makes the Nx 13’s adaptable to most situations I have at work.

Summary

A smart device should allow you to simplify your life and not add features so that you can have more choices, which adds complexity. I think when you look at modern cameras, they have got a million features, but they certainly do not take friction. You can do a lot of things that require a huge learning curve. If you take the modern laptops. They are beautiful and they’re simple, but it takes, it moves the complexity from the device to the user to find the right cables and the right thing to input your own card if you want to use a camera card.

The Signia Pure 13 NX is a tour de force in augmented listening. In some cases, I may be better off than people with normal hearing and as I life-long user of hearing aids, I never believed I would have it so good.