Arguably, the most significant development in hearing aid technology over the last few years, has been direct connectivity between hearing devices and mobile phones. Bluetooth has been a longstanding feature of hearing aids but has previously required a ‘middle man’ device worn on the user to connect the two technologies. With the development of direct connectivity, we have seen more varied opportunities for utilisation, as well as increased convenience and ‘fun’ for hearing aid users. Most importantly, we have seen substantial benefit from this technology for those previously struggling to hear on the phone!
Different Kind Of Bluetooth Hearing aid technologies
Bluetooth classic is the type of Bluetooth found in wireless headphones, wireless speakers etc. It is by far the best sounding and most flexible type of Bluetooth for wireless audio, but it has one big issue. Battery Drain.
Hearing aids and battery drain do not mix well. If you tried to use an off the shelf Bluetooth classic chip and run that off a hearing aid battery, you might be lucky to get 20 minutes of streaming, from what I’ve heard.
The solution to this problem was delivered by Apple in the form of the Made for iPhone (MFI) standard. This is a low power solution that can stream audio and data. The caveat is that it streams lower quality audio compared to Bluetooth Classic and only works on post 2014 iPhones and iPads.
Google is currently working with GN Resound to bring to light their low energy solution called ASHA (Audio Streaming for Hearing Aid). This is expected to become available in 2019 and will most likely only work on the latest Android handsets from Google, before it slowly rolls out to the rest of the brands and models.
Most recently Sonova, who makes Phonak (their premium brand) as well as Unitron, started releasing hearing aids with their SWORD (Sonova Wireless One Radio Digital) chip. This chip is able to use true Bluetooth Classic, but at much lower power. Version 2.0 of this chip can be found in the Audeo Direct and Moxi All models and allows phone streaming, from almost any Bluetooth phone to one ear only. Version 3.0 is now available in the Audeo Marvel range of devices. This updated version can stream in stereo, not only phone calls, but any audio from any Bluetooth 4.2 or higher source. This includes iPhone, Android, older flip phones, most smart phones, laptops, computers etc.
Things you can do with a Bluetooth hearing aid:
- Stream phone calls directly into your hearing aids.
- Stream music, movie soundtracks or podcasts directly in stereo (mono if you are only using one aid) into your hearing aids.
- Use your phone as a remote microphone for your hearing aids.
- Get your hearing aids adjusted remotely by your clinician via your recent version Smart Phone.
- With the use of a proprietary Bluetooth stereo transmitter, get your television audio in your hearing aids directly and in stereo if two aids are used.
- Use Bluetooth accessories, such as remote microphones to hear a person from across a room or across a table (no more than 10-15m away).
- Use smart apps on your compatible smart phone, to function as an artificial assistant, connect the aid to your smart home, get your phone calls transcribed to text in real time, invoke artificial learning and much more (Not all features available in all devices).
Below is a rundown on different hearing aid manufacturers and what their Bluetooth and direct connectivity technologies can offer you. It is important to know that many manufacturers offer their Bluetooth and direct connectivity features not just at a premium level, but in ALL levels of hearing aid technology except government level. Some styles such as the smaller Completely-In-The-Canal and Invisible-In-The-Canal hearing aids still don’t support Bluetooth, nor do any hearing aids running on the smallest, size 10 battery. This is likely due to the higher battery drain this feature has associated with it.
- The Oticon OPN range has been around for the past couple of years and are “Made For iPhone” (MFi) hearing aids, which directly streams your phone calls and other audio sources (podcasts, music, Netflix, Skype, etc.) from your iPhone or iPad through your hearing aids;
- OPN hearing aids are compatible with the Oticon ON iPhone app, which allows the user to make volume and program changes. You can also link this to ‘IFTTT’ (if this, then that) technology, which gets your different apps and technologies working together;
- Oticon recently released their custom range of In-The-Ear devices that now also have MFi technology;
- The OPN range is also available in a rechargeable version for its MiniRite style;
- Android users require the Oticon ConnectClip to link their Android mobile phone to the OPN hearing devices.
The new Essential level SIYA 1 and 2 ranges brings this technology into much more cost effective devices. So with Oticon, you can get Bluetooth in all ranges, except the free-to-client government ranges.
Oticon is soon to release their own remote assist feature, allowing users of these devices to request and receive adjustments without having to attend a clinic visit.
- The GN Resound LiNX 3D range was released a few months ago. The MFi technology allows for direct streaming of phone calls and other audio sources from your iPhone or iPad through your hearing aids;
- LiNX 3D hearing aids are compatible with the Resound Smart 3D iPhone app. This app is one of the most sophisticated hearing aid apps on the current market and allows volume and program changes, as well as a basic graphic equaliser and the ability to create ‘favourite’ programs. There is also a ‘find my hearing aid feature’ through GPS tracking and the ability to geotag different programs for different locations e.g. your favourite café or your weekly yoga class;
- The Resound Smart 3D app also offers ‘Resound Assist’ which is a feature that can be set up to allow your Audiologist to perform remote adjustments to fine tune your hearing aid settings without you needing to physically come into the clinic!
- The GN Resound LiNX 3D range encompasses all styles of devices i.e. Behind-The-Ear/Receiver-in-the-Canal and In-The-Ear/custom styles;
- The LiNX range does offers a rechargeable model only in its brand new LiNX Quattro hearing aid and the rest uses standard batteries only;
- Android users require the GN Resound Phone Clip+ to link their Android mobile phone to the LiNX hearing devices.
- ASHA should be coming in 2019 to allow connectivity between the Quattro range of hearing aids and compatible Android Phones
- Phonak tried to even the playing field for Android and other phone users with the release of their Phonak Audeo B-Direct devices. These devices can directly connect to basically any smart phone that has Bluetooth. However, audio streaming is only to one hearing aid (selected in the software by the client/audiologist) and only allows the streaming of phone calls, not other audio sources;
- One of the big drawcards for this model is that it is truly ‘handsfree’ i.e. you can answer a phone call via the hearing aid itself (by pressing a button on the back of the hearing aid) and a microphone in the hearing aid picks up your voice, which means you don’t have to physically touch your phone at all;
- Audeo B-Direct hearing aids are only available in the Receiver-in-the-Canal style and with a standard battery option.
Now there is a Marvellous new kid on the Block
The Phonak Audeo Marvel, based on the SWORD 3.0 chip was released in December 2018.
The Audeo M removes all the limitations of the Direct range of hearing aids and now allows phone call streaming to both ears as well as audio streaming from any BT 4.2 or higher source.
The Audeo M is also available even at the essential 30 level and has rechargeable options at all levels as well.
In September 2019, the Audeo M will receive a firmware (software) upgrade that will allow it to connect directly to ROGER remote microphones, for improved hearing in noise and over distance.
- Starkey was one of the first manufacturers to offer MFi technology. The MFi technology allows for direct streaming of all audio sources from your iPhone or iPad through your hearing aids;
- Starkey Halo 2 and Halo IQ hearing aids are compatible with the Starkey TruLink iPhone app, which allows the user to make volume and program changes, as well as geotag locations for specific programs and places;
- The Starkey TruLink app is now also available for select Android mobile phones;
- The Halo range is only available in the receiver-in-the-canal style, and does not currently offer a rechargeable option.
- Starkey are about to release their new ‘Livio IQ’ hearing device which takes direct connectivity to the next level by incorporating health and fitness tracking. Not only will these hearing aids directly stream audio sources from your iPhone to your hearing aids but they will also track your physical and cognitive health, and measure your communication and engagement throughout the day.
- The Widex Evoke range was released a couple of months ago and followed on from the Widex Beyond devices. The MFi technology allows for direct streaming of phone calls, music and other audio sources from your iOS device through your hearing aids;
- Evoke hearing aids are compatible with the Evoke iPhone app, which allows the user to make volume and program changes, use a basic graphic equaliser, geotag, create personal programs and use Widex’s latest development – ‘SoundSense Learn’.
- SoundSense Learn is a real-time based learning system, which allows users to fine tune their hearing device settings by listening to ‘A vs. B’ sound comparisons to create a more individualised listening experience;
- The Evoke range is only available in the Receiver-in-the-Canal style, which is also available in a rechargeable version for convenience;
- Android users can use the Widex app but direct streaming of audio sources is not possible and would require use of Widex’s ‘DEX’ devices.
- The Unitron Moxi All devices can directly connect to basically any smart phone that has Bluetooth. Like the Phonak Audeo B-Direct, audio streaming is only to one hearing aid (selected in the software by the client/audiologist) and only allows the streaming of phone calls, not other audio sources;
- Again, one of the big drawcards for this model is that it is truly ‘handsfree’ i.e. you can answer the phone call via the hearing aid itself by pressing a button on the back of the hearing aid and a microphone in the hearing aid picks up your voice, which means you don’t have to physically touch your phone at all;
- The Moxi All is available in both a standard battery version and a rechargeable version.
- We expect Unitron to release a Moxi model based on the SWORD 3.0 chip towards the middle of 2019.
- The Signia Nx range offers MFi technology for direct streaming of phone calls and other audio sources from your iOS device to many styles of hearing devices. Unfortunately, the size 10 battery styles such as the Silk Nx, Pure 10 NX and the Styletto, does not have Bluetooth connectivity.
- Signia Nx hearing aids are compatible with the ‘Signia myControl’ iPhone app, which allows the user to make volume and program changes, has ‘motion sensor data’ to ensure the best hearing quality while a user is moving, and tracks noise and voice activity;
- Android users can use the Signia app but direct streaming of audio sources is not possible and a Signia ‘Streamline Mic’ is required.
Evidently, iPhone users are the ‘winners’ at this point in time but we hope to see improved usage options for Android users in the near future. We expect to see more features surrounding health, fitness and communication tracking to become more prevalent as new releases emerge from manufacturers. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open!
Contact Value Hearing on 1300 586 104 to book in for a discussion with an Audiologist and find out which option would suit you and your hearing needs best!
If you’ve been shopping around for hearing aids and are perhaps feeling overwhelmed with the amount of options out there, then you may like to read our comprehensive Hearing Aid Buyers Guide eBook. It’s packed full of useful information and advice to make sure the hearing aids you choose will work well for you now and into the future, without costing a fortune.