This report is not about the numbers, or the obvious functional equivalence afforded by the fact that the two instruments being compared, must meet similar consumer expectations. But rather, what happens when two of the industry's leading engineering, and programming teams compete using the same basic objectives to produce different equipment and accessories designed to accomplish similar tasks.
First, to explain to any who read this comparison beyond it’s initial recipients; I am male, sixty years old, with a severe, noise induced, high frequency hearing loss, accompanied by constant tinnitus. I have dispensed hearing aids for almost thirty years, and worn hearing instruments for the past eighteen years. I have the type of loss that is typical of Boomers exposed to noise, in that if we are in a quiet environment, we could carry on an unaided conversation with no indication that I suffered any degree of loss at all. Yet, that same conversation in even a moderately noisy environment, presents serious challenges, and creates great difficulty in my understanding even elevated conversation, due to the upward spread of masking.
Next: Points of Comparison; this report will discuss six general areas, as follows:
- Effectiveness, clarity and ‘naturalness’ regarding hearing, and understanding conversation in various noise environments.
- Overall comfort and features.
- Overall Ease of use.
- Ease of programming and programming flexibility.
- Ease of maintenance and servicing.
- Accessories, dongles, and dealer’s bling.
To be honest, it is really hard to find much difference between the Clear 440, and Moxi 20. I’ve worn both in a wide variety of sound environments, and find their performance in noise nothing short of amazing. Often times in noisy restaurant, or social situations, with a high background noise component, I find my Love, who’s hearing tests normal, asking me, “What did they say?” and unbelievably, I know the answer. In almost thirty years of dispensing, I’ve never heard anything this good in noise. The auto location, speech in noise algorithms in both these instruments are superb.
The natural quality of sound afforded to music, and my own voice are great. There simply was not enough difference in either of these instruments regarding sound quality over a wide range of environments to pick one over the other. Both, handle sudden impact sounds ‘naturally’. Both, have superb switching algorithms that move between environments without notice.
With either the Unitron Moxi 20, or Widex Clear 440 I simply heard better, everywhere, in a clear and natural way. They are both excellent in this category, and I honestly don’t know if I could tell the difference, if I were blindfolded, and had someone else put them on for me. They are just that close, and both, absolutely great when it comes to the primary objective of hearing clearly and naturally in all sound environments.
Overall comfort and features
The overall comfort afforded either Moxi, or Clear, is again a toss up. Both feature ergonomic easy to use and change receiver tips and concha locks. Both have multiple program features that compare favorably. However, as a tinnitus sufferer I found the fractal tone program feature they call “Zen” to be something that sets Widex apart, and above the rest of the crowd regarding cool features.
The ‘Zen’ program plays non-repetitive fractal tones, of various ‘colors’, that are adjustable in both tempo, and pitch, allowing for the creation of custom relaxation programs, that can be overlain, at any volume level, over the main program, or by themselves. The effect is one of stimulating the deep limbic patterns within the central nervous system, altering brain waves in a most pleasant, and relaxing way.
Playing my ‘Sand’ ‘Zen’ program tones at a low level helps to induce a sense of calm, even in chaotic noisy places. When played at a slightly higher volume in a quiet environment, the system can very well be used to help reach a meditative, or contemplative state that is most pleasant, relaxing, and refreshing.
If, all other factors were equal, including price, and I were picking one system over the other based on features, the Clear 440 gets the nod here. The ‘Zen’ fractal tone program, adds real market value to the Widex line. This is a feature that should be available on all high end hearing instruments, and Sonova/Unitron would do well to either license the technology from Widex, or offer their own.
Overall ease of use
From a day to day usage, changing the battery, putting them on and wearing them standpoint, there simply is no real difference between the Clear and Moxi. Both simply involve putting the battery in, slipping the receiver down into the canal, the instruments over the pinna and the concha lock tucked into the concha. I found them functionally equivalent in their ease of use.
However, there are some subtle but useful differences in the Moxi soft tips that are used on the receivers, and allow for venting, and contact differences between patients. First, Unitron offers a wider variety of tips, second, all of their tips have a built in debris shield that affords useful deflection of wax and debris while inserting and removing the receivers from the ear canal. The Widex tips offer no such shielding, and are more susceptible to the accumulation of wax when going through the insertion process. Also, while they both use exactly the same wax guards to protect their receivers, expect to change the Widex ones much more often, due to their direct exposure, rather than the shielded, and slightly recessed protection afforded by the Unitron Moxi soft tips.
From an everyday maintenance, and service standpoint, there is a slight edge here on the Unitron Moxi side, with a wider variety of ear tips, of better design, that afford easier cleaning and less replacement of protective disposable filters.
Ease of programming and programming flexibility
Ease of programming goes to Widex with their easy to follow ‘Sensogram’ In Situ audiometric system used for every initial programming setup. This program makes clear Widex’s stance regarding the accuracy, and importance of using In Situ audiometric measurements in the fitting process. And, they make it easy to do.
Ease of making fitting adjustments goes to Unitron, with a much easier to ‘break out’ interface that allows for more precise, and accurate adjustments of specific program parameters. While Widex makes it easy to initially program, Unitron makes it easier to make adjustments, should they be needed, and Unitron’s interface is easier to expand levels, should you be looking for more handles than just gain in three. It’s not that those handles aren’t there in the Widex programming interface, it’s just that Unitron makes them easier, and more intuitive to find.
From a programming instrument/interface standpoint, Unitron’s iCube Bluetooth interface, beats Widex’s clunky USB wired head yoke hands down, and Widex’s extra USB cord just isn’t something I welcome tripping over. So, Unitron gets the nod on programming/instrument interface as well.
Overall, while Widex’s initial programming screen wins ease of use. Unitron wins out on ease of making adjustments, as well as, ease and elegance of programming connection with their iCube. Widex’s Yoke, with it’s USB/Mini USB cord presents another tripping hazard, and is larger to store, taking up more space when not in use, and in my multi-line practice, space, trip risks and bulky are not what I’m looking for in my lab.
So Unitron gets the thumbs up overall in the programming area. But, both need to get rid of the Yoke, or neck loop entirely, and get to the point of the programming device talking directly with the hearing instruments without wires, or neck worn devices of any sort.
Ease of Maintenance, and Service
While both Unitron and Widex systems are receiver in the canal, Widex has taken modularization to a whole new level.
The Widex system is broken down into five sections from the processor at ear level, to the length of wire, to the receiver size, and power to the slip on silicone, or snap on custom mold system. The wire and receivers are separate, with their receivers being shipped in little foam cells, and requiring assembly to the appropriate sized wire using a special tool.
This allows Widex to service their products with fewer components overall, that take up a lot less space, but requires a special tool for accurate assembly, and dissassembly, as needed for service, or receiver replacement.
The Unitron receiver system on the other hand is pre-assembled and packaged in a little box labeled by wire length and receiver power. Each box comes with extra retention pins, an assortment of soft tips, and easy to follow, illustrated instructions. Changing a receiver system on a Sonova RIC, is as simple as reading the number, pushing the retention pin out, pulling the old receiver out, putting the replacement in, pushing the retention pin back in place, and putting the appropriate tip on.
As mentioned earlier, the Unitron soft tip system has a shielded nose, that offers a degree of deflection and protection from scraping debris, and wax into the receiver when inserting the instruments, and as this part passes along the outer third of the ear canal where stimulation often results in excretion of cerumen, shielding can make a huge difference in maintenance load.
The very insertion process itself can add significant debris load in some patients, including myself, and I found myself changing the wax filter on the Widex RIC twice as often, or more, than on the Unitron Moxi’s. Even though both plugged up equally, and required attention, more often than not, simply removing and cleaning the soft tip of the Moxi returned it to service, where each clog with the Widex required replacement of the wax guard, a chargeable expendable, that can add up over time.
Ease of maintenance and service go to Unitron. For though Widex has a very elegant, and functional system, it requires more maintenance, expendables, and a more specialized set of tools to work on. Widex could take some lessons from Unitron in ease of use, and maintenance regarding the receiver systems for their RICs.
Accessories, Dongles and Dealer Bling
When it comes to cuteness and size of the dongle, Unitron’s iDirect and Smartlink remote control come out on top. If, you are looking for a remote, without wireless communications, Unitron has the most intuitive and easy to use. For Bluetooth connectivity, their iDirect operates easily and the signal is clear and without delay.
For ease of use, the slightly larger Widex MDex and TVDex dongle and TV remote get the nod. Widex’s MDex, Bluetooth dongle has a two by two inch color LCD screen as well as nine program keys, plus a locking and on/off switch. The on screen display gives visual cues, that are reinforced with voice descriptions in the hearing instruments verbally explaining what program, or function you are in, as well as showing it graphically on the LCD.
The MDex stores your last six cell phone calls, and has a select, and redial function that are really useful, especially if you wear your Droid in a protective holster on your belt, like I do. I can see who’s calling from the Dex, answer, or not, or even hold and redial, all without actually removing my phone.
You can easily switch programs, or raise, or lower the volume on any feature, or program using the MDex, even including changing to a rear focus microphone configuration, when you want to pick up conversations behind you, such as in the car.
While my dislike of any extra accessory is a matter of record, from a functionality, ease of use and ergonomic standpoint, the MDex offers the most of any on the market. Though, I found the system a bit fussy regarding distance from the instruments. Any movement was apt to cause my music, or phone conversation to occasionally have one side, or the other interrupted, based on the placement of the dongle, relative to the ear in question.
The TVDex, offers an easy to use TV interface, but again, placement of the controller/transceiver relative to the ear is important, and a bit fussy with the Widex system, and not an issue encountered with the neck worn, Unitron system.
Lastly to Dealer/Dispenser bling, office displays, support material, and customer give aways; Widex is head and shoulders above Unitron, with everything from Classy, etched Lucite counter displays for their brochures, to magnifying, illuminated readers, to squishy stress ears, to classy leather bound, three fold make up table mirrors, to heavy duty luggage straps, Widex’s Bling blows Unitron’s away, to the point of trying to think about any Unitron Bling, beyond their basic delivery package. Even with Sona, we got a blow up Beach Ball, a shopping bag, and a ball point pen. But, I can’t even remember anything that Unitron has, or is doing that helps me market, or hand the customer who walks in a little goody with their name on it.
So when it comes to dispenser Bling, Widex is King.
Conclusions and Recomendations:
- From an instrument, and it’s ability to function in multiple environments I can’t tell the difference between the Unitron Moxi 20 and the Widex Clear 440. Both are incredible instruments. Both serve to enhance hearing, and understanding of speech in every environment I tested them in.
- Overall comfort of wearing is functionally equivalent. Features wise, the Widex Zen program features set, ads a level of user value not found in the Unitron Moxi. If, you have tinnitus, you’ll like the Clear, over the Moxi. Otherwise the features are pretty much equivalent with nothing else standing out, one over the other.
- Overall ease of use is a toss up. Though, the Moxi tip system makes them easier to maintain and clean on a day to day basis, giving Unitron an edge on serviceability, and maintenance. And, changing a receiver on the Moxi system takes less than a quarter of the time needed to accomplish the same goal on the Widex system. In a busy practice those time differences add up, and cost money.
- Ease of initial programming tends to Widex, from their screen interface standpoint, but overall, goes to Unitron, with their slick little iCube, vs ‘the Yoke’ provided by Widex, and Unitron makes it much easier to dig deeper ‘under the hood’ for more precise fitting adjustments.
- Ease of maintenance, and service tips to Unitron. Better selection of tips, fewer parts, less tools, less use of expendable wax guards.
- Dongles, accessories and most definitely dispenser Bling, go to Widex.
Both represent the best our industry has to offer with both company’s and products being absolutely top shelf.
The decision to recommend one, over the other would be based entirely upon what the particular patient in question was looking to accomplish.
Unitron gets the overall nod for serviceability and quality of phone signal.
Widex would get it for the available features, with the additional functionality, and ease of use of it’s MDex Bluetooth dongle.
As with many decisions, even the difficult ones, it’s great to have two such incredibly high quality instruments to chose from. So, ultimately it would come down to which company was giving the most bang, for their feature’s buck to the consumer, and what the consumer was looking to accomplish, regarding their hearing, and communications goals.
Both are excellent products that consumers can expect years of faithful service from in all sorts of environments.