While they discussed the limited utility of such devices for correcting hearing loss, and did a great job of reviewing the current data, there was no mention of application driven signal processing, which is at the very heart of today’s state of the art gear. However, from a consumer standpoint, understanding the concept of application driven computer functions, is a most helpful tool in understanding how today’s digital hearing aids work.
Today’s digital hearing aids work basically the same way. In fact, the chip in today’s top of the line hearing aid chips are much more akin to that smartphone chip, than it is to the analog hearing aids of the past. Today’s top gear, in fact has as much, or more processing power than many of the top phones on the market today.
That’s why that from a consumer standpoint, understanding that all of today’s gear is built around an open platform architecture chip, of some sort, and is priced not according to the actual equipment architecture, but the application programs that are loaded onto that architecture.
This allows the manufactures to address, or load their gear in many different ways. Given how incredibly expensive it is to design and print the underlying chips in these little wonders all of the manufactures have to do this in order to economise.
None of the second and third tier hearing aid manufacturers print their own chips. They are simply too expensive. All purchase them on the aftermarket. Either from one of the ‘big six’ hearing aid manufacturers, or one of the handful of manufacturers who do nothing but print processor chips.
Now, let’s go back to the smartphone, or tablet analogy. Just like when you buy them, they come preloaded with their basic operating software, and a few basic applications. When you buy the entry level of any company’s particular series of hearing aid, it’s like buying that basic phone, or tablet. All of the basic utility of what you are buying it for is there. But, if you want it to do more, you’ve got to add more applications.
Adding, managing and deleting applications, on your smartphone, or tablet is a piece of cake. You’ve got nice big icons, instructions and a visual interface with a back button, and a recycle bin. Here is where the analogy splits for now.
While you can see and manipulate the applications on your phone, or tablet, you don’t have that cute interface, and touch screen, or keyboard on hearing aids for obvious reasons. Yet, like your smartphone, ipad, or computer, they are still applications driven.
Only, unless you’re in my lab, you never see the way the applications that control today’s hearing aids are loaded, modified and controlled.
You see, when it comes to keeping you in touch with what we call your near field, sound environment, we’ve got some pretty specific goals in mind, most often involving helping you to overcome a hearing loss, and understand speech better.
So very simply, the more basic the gear, the more basic the sound environment it will give optimum performance in.
Even good, old linear analog gear operates clearly, and may serve well in simple sound quiet environments with limited competing sounds. Yet this same gear begins to distort badly as the sound levels increase causing it to be ranked lowest in ability to deal with noise and complex environments.
Just like that smartphone, or tablet, it’s what we expect the gear to do beyond that basic phone calling, or quiet listening environment that we pay extra for, when we want more functionality.
Just like the functionality, and number of things your phone, or tablet can do, with each application added, so with each model price point increase with a hearing aid, more, and more complex sound signal processing capabilities are programmed in.
The chip may be the same, but the extra applications make it much, much smarter, and more useful.
Even the entry level gear of today, has more processing capability, and therefore better performance in those more complex, and noisy environments than the top of the line of only a couple of years ago.
The reason for this is simply the inexorable pressures of both competition, and Moore’s law.
Each successive chipset gets exponentially more robust, and capable of more and more operations per second. But, from an electronics, and hearing aid consumer’s standpoint it means that each successive chip set buys more, and more sound processing bang for our buck.
As an example, the hearing instruments that I wear evolved incredibly with the last chip release by Siemens/Rexton. Until last June, I’d been wearing the Unitron Moxi Pro, their 20 channel top of the line RIC product.
They were great instruments, with far superior noise processing and Bluetooth performance than the 16 channel ReSound Aleras that they replaced, that had been better than, well you get the idea, as I’ve been wearing hearing aids myself since 1994, I’ve personally experienced the evolution of both analog, and digital gear.
Anyway, when Ben Ditsch, my Rexton rep fit me with their Strata line back in June, the sound quality, and performance in noise again improved, remarkably. They were so quiet, the first thing I asked was, “Are they on?”
Rexton’s entire line had leapfrogged the competition.
With the introduction of their 2c twin core processor put Rexton’s entry level known as, the Strata 12. It is a full, 24 channel system, complete with bluetooth communications capability, and great noise management, and this at their entry level price point.
Yet, at entry level, Rexton’s Strata 12 has comparable performance to what had been industry the best in class, now available to consumers at half the price.
That’s what I’m talking about, when I talk about more bang, for the consumer’s buck.
But, let’s think beyond what’s currently available, and look down the road at what application driven hearing care, and where it might lead soon.
Right now, in order to program and control your hearing aids, you need some sort of intermediary device, or programing interface.
This is the gear that connects, or transmits and translates from the proprietary, ultra low drain radio protocols used in ear to ear, and near field transmission capabilities of today’s hearing aids into a protocol that can be read by the programing and controlling device. Today, our entire industry uses either direct wired, or a Bluetooth dongle, or wifi connection to accomplish this.
The problem is, that Bluetooth is a legacy protocol that is a real power hog. While today’s gear could easily be programmed with a direct bluetooth app, due to their secure continuous communications used in this protocol, the power consumption requirements would eat a 10a battery in about thirty minutes, and a standard 312 in about two hours.
While folks don’t complain too much about having to recharge their phone dongle every two, to four hours, I guarantee you, that if hearing aid battery life dropped to anywhere near that every hearing aid user would howl loudly, and rightly so.
Given this universal problem, the obvious answer is to eliminate the dongle, and write applications that directly communicate between smartphone, or tablet and the hearing instruments. Doing this would not only greatly open consumer utility, and control, it would run headlong into a very highly guarded delivery system that is all about maintaining control over consumers, not giving it too them.
That control is in the process of shifting from professional, to consumer. The future of hearing care may well involve consumers purchasing the same open platform RIC type instruments that we do as professionals, and then adding the applications that most suit their listening needs via their tablet, smart phone or laptop.
The potential is clearly already there. We already have applications driven hearing aid control and processing. Passing the control over applications, and programming, on to the consumer simply won’t happen until two things happen:
- The industry needs to figure out how to make that business model work, and
- Second the regulations regarding the distribution and dispensing of hearing aids will have to move from the current medical, gatekeeper model.
Unlike your tablet, or smartphone which are evolving and have evolve only over the past ten years or so. The Hearing aid industry has had over sixty years to evolve an entire industry entrenched, in delivering their gear in a highly controlled way. There are lots of stakeholders with everything they have, vested in doing it a certain way.
While the future may be bright for application based hearing care, the bulk of this will be kept from consumers, until they demand otherwise, and, what Scottish economist and writer Adam Smith called “The Invisible Hand” in his classic economic work, “The Wealth of Nations” and the market responds.
But, don’t despair if, you’ve got some of that older gear. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way it works.
We think so highly of some of the gear that our industry has fit in the past few years, that we use it all the time to help folks who don’t want, or can’t afford new hearing aids.
That means that whether you keep using your old hearing aids, or trade them in on new, they still have real value.
So, if you’ve got some older gear, and would like to find out what it’s worth, we’d like to hear from you.
We’ve got folks looking for good used gear, and yours may be worth much more than you think in trade.
Here is an offer, I hope you’ll find too good to pass up.
Bring your old hearing aids in and we’ll not only clean them up free, we’ll analyse how well they meet your hearing loss, using what is known as In Situ, probe microphone analysis, while you’re wearing them.
We’ll do this at no charge to you, because we both want to know how well your present gear is holding up, before we make you a fair offer to either buy them from you outright, or give you a trade allowance on new gear.
We don’t even care if your gear is still under warranty, that only means it still has more value. Bring them in. We’ll send them off and have them reconditioned by the manufacturer for you, while they are still under warranty, again, at no charge to you.
Here is where you reading this article really pays off.
Bring your old hearing aids in for repair, or reconditioning, and while they are out, we’ll arrange for your to wear some of the same great new Rexton gear that I wear, no charge.
Really, we will recondition, or repair your old gear, and set you up with a new set while they are out, so you can experience for yourself just how much better today’s gear is.
You’ll know what our specific trade offer is before you send your gear off, get your old gear brought up to factory specs, and wear the industry’s best of class at no charge to you. When your old gear comes back, you’ll have the option to either keep the new gear and take that big trade allowance, or get your gear back in like new condition.
The entire trial experience will cost you nothing, if your old gear is still under warranty, and only the cost of the manufacturer's repair/recondition if out of warranty.
Best of all, you’ll hear better regardless, just by coming in. It’s all just a part of being what we call Patient Centered & Results Oriented.