Apple Hearing Aid? Not So Fast…

Speculation started several weeks ago at Apple’s WWDC that the new API’s in iOS 6 would create some kind of linkage between the iPhone and hearing aids. This speculation was ramped up by this July 19th AppleInsider article revealing two key patent applications from January 2011. This article will examine these patent applications individually; and later we’ll provide our own SWAG (Silly Wild-Assed Guess) to add fuel to the fire.

First, a bit of history…

Users of hearing aids received their first big break in 1947 when the late Sam Lybarger, the Father of the Modern Hearing Aid, accidentally developed the telephone coil:¹ For the first time, deaf and hard-of-hearing people could hold the phone receiver over their (hot!) vacuum tube-powered hearing aid, switch on the T-coil, and through inductive magnetic coupling the baseband audio was picked up, amplified, and then transmitted to the button earphones… And it worked. However, two things conspired to break telephone compatibility: First, in the early 1960’s as the market shifted away from body aids and into transistorized behind-the-ear (BTE) instruments, the Electrical Engineers at the European hearing aid manufacturers seemed to have forgotten Maxwell’s Equations, namely that that the induced EMF in the telecoil magnetic pickup is proportional to (œ) the scalar dot product of the flux line vectors, which are oriented on the axis of the two coils, i.e. the EMF v, the vectors A & B, the absolute value of the vector magnitudes |A| & |B|, and the angle θ between A & B:

v  œ A • B = |A| * |B| * cosine (θ)

As a brief reminder from high school trig, cos (0°) = 1 & cos (90°) = 0

Cosine function as it applies to the scalar dot product of the angle between the axes of a hearing aid telecoil and the voice coil of a telephone receiver or room induction "hearing" loop

Cosine function as it applies to the scalar dot product of the angle between the axes of a hearing aid telecoil and the voice coil of a telephone receiver or room induction “hearing” loop
Click to enlarge

[Note: The actual value of electromotive force v  is a pretty complex calculation using Maxwell’s Equations; but the important thing to note is the constituent relationship between the induced telecoil audio signal and the axes of the coil orientations.]

Although like a squirrel stumbling upon a nut, this vertical alignment of the hearing aid telecoil in fact works with horizontal room induction “hearing” loops on the floor or in the ceiling, in fact it broke telephone compatibility — Nice going, guys.

The second factor that conspired against hearing aid telecoil efficacy was that back in the late 1970’s, the Bell System and their Western Electric telephone manufacturing subsidiary came out with a new, lower cost receiver that was more efficient — In fact, it was a bit too efficient, as it did a better job of confining the magnetic flux to the voice coil — magnet gap area… And hence weakening by over 10dB the induced voltage in the hearing aid telecoil, which was already weakened to almost zero by the vertical alignment by the European BTE manufacturers. In fact, some American ITE manufacturers — notably Starkey, Telex, and Argosy — had Engineers who understood Maxwell’s Equations, and used either pancake coils glued to the faceplate, or long thin telecoils on a ferrite core stuffed down into the canal portion of the shell.

From A Look at the Telecoil — Its Development and Potential, by David A. Preves, the longtime Chief Engineer at Starkey Labs

After a huge outcry, a powerful consumer movement was started In Washington, D.C. by a lobbyist named David Saks and his organization — OUT  (Organization for Use of the Telephone) — to ensure that persons with hearing loss would be able to use their hearing aids with the telephone.

In 1982, the federal government passed the Telecommunications for the Disabled Act which required that telephones be labeled as to their hearing aid compatibility. The resulting legislation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) brought engineers from hearing aid companies and telephone companies together for the first time to work on the compatibility problem of telephones and hearing aids. The outcome of these meetings in the early 1980s was a new measurement standard for determining whether a particular telephone was compatible for coupling with hearing aids via induction pickup. A telephone that produced the proper amount of magnetic leakage In the proper direction, as specified in the standard, could be labelled and sold as “Hearing-Aid Compatible.” The law specified that coin-operated telephones in public places like airports were required to be hearing aid compatible. These hearing aid-compatible telephones were identified by a blue grommet at the junction of the cord and the telephone handset.

This consumer-driven movement on behalf of people with hearing loss went much further In 1989 when all telephones with cords sold in the United States were required to be hearing-aid-compatible, and in 1991, when all cordless telephones sold in the United States were required to be hearing aid compatible.

TIA-1083 Logo Fast forward to 2007, and the Telecommunications Industry Association had introduced the TIA-1083 logo program for mass-produced phones: Just go to your local WalMart or Target and look for a box with this logo:

 

 

Moving on to mobile phone connectivity…

Getting a mobile phone to work directly with hearing aids has been a recurring nightmare, and more so on the AT&T, T-Mobile (Deutche Telekom), and European 2G & 3G GSM networks, and somewhat less so on the North American Sprint and Verizon CDMA networks. As it turns out, although the mobile phones work in the UHF portion of the radio spectrum, they “burst” their data differently, with GSM bursting at several hundred packets per second — Right smack in the audio range. This causes two distinct problems: First, with older hearing aids, one would hear a terrible screeching sound whether the microphone or telephone pickup coil was used. This was caused by inadequate shielding, and more importantly a lack of RF bypass around the semiconductor junctions: What would happen is that this strong RF signal would be rectified by the p-n semiconductor junctions, with the burst envelopes in the audio range being demodulated just like an AM signal would be… And then amplified to full power and faithfully reproduced loudly screeched by the output amplifier stage straight into the user’s ears. For much more on this mechanism, please see Update 3 below.

About a decade ago, mobile phones started to incorporate IEEE 802.15.4 “Bluetooth” wireless Personal Area Network (PAN) connectivity both for synching to a user’s desktop PC, and for connecting to the ubiquitous headset (the ones that look like the wearer has a cockroach on their ear). You’ll notice that we spell out “IEEE 802.15.4” instead of using the more generic “Bluetooth” for two distinct reasons:

• To emphasize that, in general, the IEEE 802.15 family is similar to TCP/IP in general, and moreso to IEEE 802.11 “WiFi” in that it is a two-way protocol, i.e. that the transmitting station sends a packet of data along with error correcting codes and a checksum, and then the receiving station decodes the packet, verifies and corrects what errors it can, and then transmit back an ACK(nowledgement) signal. If the sending station does not receive an ACK, then it will send the packet again. This presents issues with power consumption and up to 150 mSec latency, which will be discussed below;

• To separate out the commonly used 802.15.4 Personal Area Network (PAN) standard that we all know from the still-evolving 802.15.6 Body Area Network (BAN) standard that we believe Apple may be implementing in iOS 6.

Let’s look at how “Bluetooth” is currently implemented with hearing aids for connectivity, and the significant drawbacks.

First and foremost, we need to understand that any digital reception in a hearing aid is going to consume extra power — And lots of it, due to the decoding operation. Add to this the 802.15.4 overhead of transmitting ACK signalling, even occasionally in A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Protocol), and it makes for a real issue. Austin-based Audiotoniq has mostly sidestepped this with their hearing aids by using a Li-ION cell; but in fact their hearing aid wireless communications protocol is only really for phone use and not continuous streaming (though they have a clever workaround for it).

Most every other manufacturer uses a “Bluetooth streamer,” which acts as a “relay station” communicating via 802.15.4 to the phone or other Bluetooth -equipped device, and then using a second transmitter to broadcast a proprietary Hearing Instrument Body Area Network (HI-BAN) signal to the hearing aids. There are three basic ways this is accomplished, and it’s important to understand the distinction, as it is key in understanding what we speculate Apple will be doing:

• Widex and Phonak use a 28 meter (10.6 mHz) “near field” digital signal.² Phonak and Widex also use 10.6 mHz for ear-to-ear communication between the instruments for binaural coordination of directional microphone beam steering, compression to maintain binaural localization, and also program shift. Widex also uses it for binaural “Phone Plus” operation and Phonak for CROS and BiCROS communications; and both manufacturers also use it for wireless programming;

• Starkey uses a 33 cm (900 mHz) UHF digital signal for streaming and ear-to-ear communications; however they also have direct-to-instrument broadcasting through their SurfLink Media transmitter, i.e. unlike the Widex TV-Dex media transmitter, no additional relay is used. However, Starkey also just released their SurfLink Mobile device, which can be used as a Bluetooth relay, and also as a remote mic up to 20 feet away — But it’s on backorder until at least fall 2012 due to unanticipated demand;

• GN ReSound uses a variation of a 2.4 gHz 802.15.4 signal — An “unofficial” 802.15.6 HI-BAN — for direct, low (under 10 mSec) latency, direct-to-instrument broadcasting from various Unite accessories to their Alera series hearing aids, as well as for remote control and wireless programming (with inter-ear coordination available 4Q2012). It is this style of direct-to-hearing aid broadcasting that we believe Apple will be implementing in software in iOS 6, by essentially “hacking” the 802.15.4 Bluetooth stack and turning it into a de facto 802.15.6 HI-BAN stack for low latency broadcasting.³

 If this direct-to-instrument 802.15.6 2.4 gHz digital broadcasting standard is indeed brought out by Apple forcing the Big Six hearing aid manufacturers as well as chipmakers such as Intricon, ON Semi and others to agree on a single standard, we at The Hearing Blog cannot overstate the significance of this to those of us in the hearing impaired community, as well as to hearing care professionals and sound reinforcement engineers.

Here are just several reasons why this will vastly improve the life of us in the hearing impaired community — And not just those who use an iPhone with hearing aids:

• This will elegantly solve the issue of people needing to carry or even wear a Bluetooth streamer relay to use their mobile phones, wirelessly bringing the audio into both ears;

• This will allow for all hearing aid users to have a very effective and inexpensive alternative to FM assistive devices (ALD’s), as what ReSound is now doing with their very good Unite Mini Mic will be duplicated by other HA manufacturers. We cannot understate both the efficacy and cost aspects of this approach, especially with pediatric hearing aid (and eventually CI) users, as current 72 mHz, 168 mHz (H band) and 216 mHz (N band) analog narrowband FM (6F3 NBFM) systems are plagued with interference, as well as high current drain for headworn devices, messy and unreliable direct audio input (DAI) cables, and troublesome neckloops which are subject to head movement drop-outs and electromagnetic interference;

• This will open the door for hearing aid and sound reinforcement manufacturers to use inexpensive, off-the-shelf chips for direct-to-hearing aid room-sized broadcasting from entertainment devices such as TV’s, stereos, and game consoles;

• Most excitingly, at least for this writer, is this will enable inexpensive wide area direct-to-instrument broadcasting in large venues such as airports, lecture halls, theaters, arenas, and mass transit using an open source standard. What’s exciting about this is that there is already in place mass-produced high power data transmission chips that can easily be adapted via firmware to implement 802.15.6 broadcasting, and in fact there’s a good probability you’ve received this very page via IEEE 802.11 WiFi — That’s right: The technology to deliver the broadcast signal to a wide area is already being mass produced, and all it will take is a firmware update and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) to turn a $39 WiFi-enabled Linksys router into a transmitter that covers up to several hundred yards.

• Once in place, gone will be the close call we are currently on the edge of experiencing with obsolete technology “lock-in” of baseband induction “hearing loops,” which are being forced upon those of us in the hearing impaired community by those with no technical background such HLAA’s  David Myers and Brenda Battat; and worse by Juliette Sterkens and Janice Schacter, who don’t even have to “eat their own dog food” because they don’t have hearing losses themselves. The problems with magnetic flux line alignment causing orientation problems with telephones (which is, umm, why it’s called a “telecoil”) has been documented above; while the very real problem of electromagnetic interference (EMI) that cannot be filtered out (because of the very nature of the baseband beast) is well documented, and is plainly evident to those who either are forced to use it or have an actual knowledge of electromagnetic and communication engineering.

We already know that Apple is in close consultation with the Big Six hearing aid manufacturers: Given their current state of haphazard connecting Apple (and hence other) mobile phones to their hearing aids, this is the most likely initial part of the roadmap ahead. This brings us to…

But just what about those two patents breathlessly cited in the AppleInsider article?

Glad you asked! Let’s look at them individually at first and then together, in the context of the S.W.A.G. we just laid out.
• Remotely updating a hearing aid profile, United States Patent Application 20120183165 (PDF here)
• Social network for sharing a hearing aid setting, United States Patent Application 20120183164 (PDF here)

Although at first blush these patents look sexy, let’s look at them individually:

Remotely updating a hearing aid program (or for that matter, cochlear implant MAP) is something that has already been done by America Hears (and their partner Australia Hears, now Blamey & Saunders) for over a decade, and what Audiotoniq is using through mobile handsets. In fact, there is a possibility that Apple’s patent application for this function is invalid, as it represents prior art and is henceforth not patentable.

Sharing hearing aid settings through GPS-based “Foursquare” social networking is indeed a possibility; however there are significant HIPAA (privacy) issues in play. However, this would still involve communications between the iPhone and hearing aids… Via 802.15.6, as described above.

UPDATE 1: Near-Field Communications will .NOT. be supported on the iPhone 5

We originally penned this article eight weeks ago; but held off because of the near-field communications (NFC) wild card Apple could have played. Unlike the software changes outlined above in iOS 6, NFC requires an additional hardware chip. What we didn’t know until the iPhone 5 release two days ago, the “Made for Apple” hearing aids will also work on the iPhone 4s — Which would have made it obvious that it did not involve the NFC protocol.

For more on what NFC is and why Apple did not include it, please see iPhone 5 NFC snub explained by Apple in c|net UK.

 UPDATE 2: The T-coil goes further back… all the way to 1936

After publishing this article, we received this rather interesting note from our good friend Dr Neil Bauman, who in addition to moderating the very good Hearing Loss Help website, is also curator of the Hearing Aid Museum — You may have seen his collection in the Expo Hall at the 2011 HLAA Convention in DC:

T-coils had been around and used in hearing aids for more than a decade by 1947. The first hearing aid with a t-coil was likely the Tel-Audio hearing aid of 1936. It was made by the National Electrical Research and Mfg. Co. of Washington, DC. Then in 1938 Multitone of England came out with their VPM model with a built-in t-coil–becoming probably the first wearable hearing aid in the world with a t-coil. (The Tel-Audio was a table top hearing aid and had an external t-coil). In 1940 Sowter reported on electromagnetic induction with hearing aids. So by the time Lybarger came along, this was not new technology at all. He certainly didn’t invent the t-coil. It is true, however, that RadioEar’s Phonemaster hearing aid was the first American-made wearable hearing aid with a t-coil.

UPDATE 3: Knowles Application Note AN-3 on cordless phone interference of hearing aids

The good people at Knowles published Application Note AN3, which is a comprehensive eight page guide on identifying and reducing interference from wireless phones using the time division multiplex access (TDMA) architecture, of which GSM is a particularly egregious offender.

 

References & Footnotes:

1) A Look at the Telecoil — Its Development and Potential by David A. Preves

2) This use of 10.6 mHz presents a problem for Phonak’s Advanced Bionics division’s CI’s, as their Clarion II and HiRes 90k implants also use a very weak 10.6 mHz Correction: 10.7 mHz signal for the reverse updates to monitor implant integrity and telemetry, the interference of it causing a loss-of-lock and instantaneous shutdown of the implant circuit. This means that “bimodal” (CI + HA) users cannot avail themselves of the iCom or other wireless 10.6mHz technology. In June 2013 conversations with AB and Phonak RF Engineers, this 100 kHz error we made (i.e. use of 10.7 vs 10.6 mHz for reverse telemetry and the implications with the streamer thereof) has been addressed to our satisfaction. We regret not correcting the record presented here for six months, until by happenstance we discovered it during a site upgrade. [DLS 1/1/2014]

3) There is also the possibility that Apple has plans for using the 802.15.6 standard for a more general body-area network for connecting other medical devices such as pulse monitors, blood glucose monitors, and other things; but the FDA Device Branch will have the final say~

 

Comment problems:

It’s been brought to our attention from several of our readers that they were having their comments rejected by the Akismet plug-in for WordPress as spam. This is unacceptable to us; and we are soliciting suggestions for a replacement. Unfortunately, we have to use something to screen for spam, as we were receiving over 100 spam comments per day at its’ peak. In the interim, to save retyping, we recommend selecting & copying all of your text to the clipboard: If your comment is accidentally rejected, simply paste it into an e-mail message, put “Rejected Comment” in the subject line, and send it to us at Dan@Snip.Net and we’ll manually post it for you~

← Made For Apple Cochlear Implants: The Dominos Are Falling… Some upcoming posts in The Hearing Blog →

About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

15 Comments

  1. Neil Bauman
    September 15, 2012 at 4:57 am

    “Users of hearing aids received their first big break in 1947 when the late Sam Lybarger, the Father of the Modern Hearing Aid, accidentally developed the telephone coil”

    This above statement is just not true. T-coils had been around and used in hearing aids for more than a decade by 1947. The first hearing aid with a t-coil was likely the Tel-Audio hearing aid of 1936. It was made by the National Electrical Research and Mfg. Co. of Washington, DC. Then in 1938 Multitone of England came out with their VPM model with a built-in t-coil–becoming probably the first wearable hearing aid in the world with a t-coil. (The Tel-Audio was a table top hearing aid and had an external t-coil.) In 1940 Sowter reported on electromagnetic induction with hearing aids.

    So by the time Lybarger came along, this was not new technology at all. He certainly didn’t invent the t-coil. It is true, however, that RadioEar’s Phonemaster hearing aid was the first American-made wearable hearing aid with a t-coil. So let’s get our history of t-coils straight.

    Regards

    Neil Bauman, Curator
    The Hearing Aid Museum


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 15, 2012 at 6:08 am

      Neil, I’ll put a footnote in the article to reflect what you’re saying, and also forward it on to Dave.

      Do you have any photos of the Tel-Audio &/or VPM hearing aids?


  2. Bill Droogendyk
    September 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Dan, for the record, David Myers has quite a significant and long standing hearing loss.

    Bill


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 17, 2012 at 8:37 am

      In re comment #4
      Bill, please re-read the pertinent sentence:

      …by those with no technical background such HLAA’s David Myers and Brenda Battat; and worse by Juliette Sterkens and Janice Schacter, who don’t even have to “eat their own dog food” because they don’t have hearing losses themselves.

      By The Way, you can’t loop a cruise ship or a taxicab…


  3. LC
    September 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    “… or connecting to the ubiquitous headset (the ones that look like the wearer has a cockroach on their ear)”. LOL great now I’m only ever going to see a cockroach when someone is wearing one. Thanks 😛

    And now that I’ve finished the article, this sounds awesome! I love having things standardized! And although new to the HOH scene, it nonetheless amazes me that the world is still so stuck on T-coils. It would be like someone today using a cell phone from the 1980’s, let’s get with the times ppl! I’ve never even owned a home phone, I’ve only had a mobile since moving out on my own. Although I’m curious about power consumption with all of these new tricks. Hopefully it’s not too bad of a drain, but some companies have rechargeable batteries now too which is nice. I hate the environmental waste of all those little batteries.


  4. ano nym
    September 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    2 comments:
    I think the European manufacturers understood Maxwell just fine… In certain european countries, however, the telecoil is required to be vertically oriented in order to pick up the signal in churches and other large venues… As opposed to telephone use. This is where the telecoil has had its focus in Europe.

    Secondly, you seem to forget the very obvious downside to 2.4 GHz vs. 3-10 MHz range in HA’s… Power consumption ! Try measuring current draw while streaming from an Oticon or Widex HA and compare it to GN or Starkey. But be warned, the results will likely dampen your optimism.


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 17, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Comment #5 is an interesting one, coming from someone in Denmark at Oticon or Widex (I’ll wager it’s Widex). Let’s start out by debunking the first comment:

      I think the European manufacturers understood Maxwell just fine… In certain european countries, however, the telecoil is required to be vertically oriented in order to pick up the signal in churches and other large venues… As opposed to telephone use. This is where the telecoil has had its focus in Europe.

      We think you have it backwards: Vertically oriented T-coils started to pop up in European BTE’s in the late 60’s — early 70’s, while premises looping did not start until the mid-80’s. What’s more — And this is something you gloss over — this breaks telephone compatibility. Ask any hearing aid dispenser who was “in the trenches” in the 1980’s & 90’s what the single biggest complaint was, and they would tell you it would be using the telephone… And this was one factor that explained the popularity of the ITE form factor: All grandma had to do was hold the phone up to her ear as she always did & she could hear. Contrast this to the BTE’s of the day, where grandma had to hold the handset at a crazy cocked angle. [But, as I stated in the article, TIA-1083 nicely addresses the European BTE design error.]

      Now, it’s time to address the second comment:

      Secondly, you seem to forget the very obvious downside to 2.4 GHz vs. 3-10 MHz range in HA’s… Power consumption! Try measuring current draw while streaming from an Oticon or Widex HA and compare it to GN or Starkey. But be warned, the results will likely dampen your optimism.

      In fact, as you can see from this previous article, in fact we do measure battery drain; and in fact although not posted yet we have drain readings on the Widex Clear Fusion 440 and ReSound Alera 987 in various modes. However, much of the difference in battery drain is actually due to Starkey and GN ReSound using field programmable gate array (FPGA) architecture, trading off speed to market for battery drain over the long lead times for application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design and fabrication.

      However, you overlook the one significant factor that prevents the use of the HF band for mobile handset — hearing aid communications: This would require the handset makers to add a separate chip just for dealing with the small percentage of Americans (8.5 million out of 311 million) who wear hearing aids. In the brutally competitive mobile handset market, this just ain’t gonna happen. [That being said, I really like the idea of the Widex Phone-Dex, and wish they had a 1A2 version for the US market.]

      UPDATE: On Further Review, Apple couldn’t even be prodded into adding hardware support for NFC (see Update 2 in the article) — What makes you think they would add dedicated hardware support just for hearing aids?!


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

      The anonymous Danish gentleman who commented in #4 above should review the Bluetooth Core Specification v4.0 with Hallmark Feature, which is the Bluetooth low energy technology: This enables devices (like Bluetooth-enabled watches) to run on a coin-cell battery for over a year.


  5. Julie Brooks
    September 25, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Hi Dan, I have had some hearing loss for many years (I am now 46 years old). I saw an advert recently to take part in a free one week trial of hearing aids (I need them in both ears). I am in Australia & know absolutely nothing about hearing aids…although I am familiar with the huge price to buy them! Any way the ones I had fitted this morning (25/09/2012) are Starkey XiNO 90. I can’t believe how brilliantly I can hear – especially at work where I am on the phones all day most days.

    Anyway I started looking online for hearing aids that I could use with my iPhone4 – to make & receive calls as well as listening to music or live streaming radio. I have come across the Starkey Wi series which sound interesting. I also came across your blog – which was just as well because I was wondering whether it would would with Apple iThingies…seeing as they are so “special” and only work with their own technology (most annoying!).

    I guess my question is: can you recommend, at this point, any brand/model of hearing aid that I may purchase & that would allow me to access my iPhone & maybe are not redundant in a short period of time?

    I’m also wondering if you have any other suggestions about legit websites I can look at that will give me a review of hearing aids?

    Your assistance would be very much appreciated.

    Many thanks,

    Julie


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 25, 2012 at 12:07 am

      @Julie, your comment just arrived at midnight here in Philadelphia; so I’ll reply here in the morning. In the mean time, feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook — Just click here.


  6. Brandon McBride
    October 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Julie,

    Knowing Apple, they’ll want you to use other iProducts. I’m not satisfied with them because of the limitations they place on their consumers. It’s quite unfortunate.


  7. Kris
    October 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Hello Dan,

    I’m glad I came across your blog as I find it incredibly informative and technical. I’ve worn BTE since birth (it seems) and have a profound hearing loss; I would not be able to work in places like Antarctica, Alaska, or an ambulance (as an EMT) without hearing aids. Currently, I’m testing the Starkey 3 Series (i110 RIC 13 with power custom molds) and a mobile Surflink device. However, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the unreliability of the device and have been looking for other options.

    Can you suggest any other solutions? Most importantly, I’m looking for a way to overcome background noise while using a digital portable radio with hearing aids in the public sector. (Though I’ll likely resort to manual switching with a T-Coil setup.)

    Thanks,
    Kris


    • Dan Schwartz
      October 6, 2012 at 11:00 pm

      Hi Kris!
      Right now, I’m wearing the ReSound Alera 987, and I really like it, as the Unite wireless accessories work very well — Especially the Mini Mic (“spouse mic”), which is great for clubs, and for when I’m performing patient speech testing. If it’s powerful enough for you, give it a try; or the new Verso 987 (which will be a few hundred bucks more). However, the Alera and Verso do have one flaw: When receiving digital audio transmissions, the battery drain jumps to about 5mA, with audio peaks past 10mA (and you’ll have lots of peaks to reach your profound hearing loss).

      The solution to the issue of battery drain for heavy use is something you probably haven’t used since grade school: Direct audio input cables & boots, and the Alera & Verso have them (but your hearing aid professional has to order them).

      A good alternative to the ReSound Alera & Verso, especially if they aren’t quite powerful enough for you, is the Widex Super 440, which has the same chipset as the Clear 440 & Clear Fusion 440; but powered with a beefier #675 cell. In addition, their DEX series wireless accessories (M-Dex streamer & remote control and TV-Dex TV & stereo transmitter) work well~


  8. Elizabeth
    June 18, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    So cut to eight months later and where do we stand with regards to wireless hearing aid connectivity to cell phones, Droids, and iPhones??? Well, not much farther 😐

    After being in this industry for a few years and seeing the lag time between huge multimillion dollar manufacturers like Starkey, Phonak, Siemens, Oticon, etc., (which are sometimes owned by even larger conglomerates) it seems that our industry likes to take it’s sweet time to get things done. Just like many products, if the manufacturers lay out technology in multiple stages rather than leaps and bounds (compare the cell phone world before and after the iPhone was released, how long did it take companies to start producing similar technologies to stay competitive) they can have a little more control over their growth margins, which is how they like it.

    I guarantee that if a company developed wireless technology that was much better or further along than currently available, it wouldn’t be long before all of the companies had something similar (that’s called keeping up with competition and/or prioritizing).

    The question now remains, who’s going to be our metaphorical “Super Man” or “Wonder Woman” in the dawn of the wireless hearing aid?!

    Come on innovative people, show us how it’s done!


    • Dan Schwartz
      June 19, 2013 at 9:30 am

      Elizabeth, you’re ignoring Moore’s Law in your comment: Many of the feaures in today’s hearing aids would have been available 15 years ago, if one was prepared to wear a bodyworn processor with a BTE wired into it, much as the Nicolet Phoenix from 1988 and AVR Sonovation TranSonic from 1992.

      Another related pair of issues is battery drain vs architecture. There are two causes in the “Made for iPhone” programs the Big Six have, and are being addressed in various ways: FPGA vs ASIC, and digital audio reception.

      Although field programmable gate array (FPGA) architecture provides for a faster time to release, the price is higher battery drain. On The Other Hand, application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) are more battery efficient; however it took Widex 3 years to get the Clear out the door, as everything must be first tested on simulators with extremely expensive software before tape-out, as any mistakes cannot be corrected with flash upgrades (like the way you upgrade your router).

      The second problem is one of signal reception: Radios are analog devices, and the on-die components don’t scale down like logic gates. This problem will be solved with the all-digital “Moore’s Law” Radio, which will become a reality once 14 nanometer (actually will probably be 15-16nM due to problems) chips are in production.

      Keep in mind that hearing aids (and cochlear implants) are “premier” products, and get the technology early: In fact, the very first device that used transistors was the Sonotone hearing aid in 1952.

      ~Dan Schwartz,
      Editor


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