Phonak Audeo B-Direct Hearing Aid: A User's Review
It is no secret that the latest hype and buzz word in the amplification industry is direct connectivity. With so many to choose from, as a hearing aid user myself, and an audiologist, it is confusing even for me. The newest manufacturer to throw their hat into the connectivity ring is Phonak. In true Swiss fashion they were late to the game, but they did come with a twist.
Most direct connectivity amplification systems (notice I do not use the term hearing aids here, as I have said before hearing aids are part of an amplification system an are a therapeutic device) only work if you have drank the Apple Kool-Aid and have an iPhone. I'll whole heartedly admit, that is the reason I returned to the Apple family from my beloved Android device. I wanted direct connectivity, plain and simple. I didn't want to wear something around my neck, or have a bridge device that allowed me to stream phone calls and music. Now here comes Phonak with their Phonak Audeo B-Direct hearing aid, it has the capability of pairing with ANY mobile device with Bluetooth 4.2 technology. Say WHAT?!?! But like with everything in the tech world, this comes at a cost, and in my opinion a pretty hefty one that isn't related to the monitary value.
To achieve this Phonak utilized their Belong technology platform and developed their Sword™ 2.4 GHz chip. Now from a user standpoint this sounds really exciting because the Belong platform is awesome. The regular Audeo B hearing aids have great speech in noise capabilities and Sound Recover 2 is this side of magical. This new marriage allows the user to stream their phone calls and walk away from their phone, because the hearing aid uses the microphones in the aid to pick up your voice and you can answer/end calls from the hearing aids onboard button. The downside is that you can only do this to one ear. But wait, if you had a bluetooth headset you'd only go to one ear, right? Well yes, in 2009. Today people are used to their wireless headphones that can do the same thing in stereo. We know from an audiological standpoint that binaural summation (use of both ears amplified) has a very positive effect on the outcome of speech intelligibility for those with hearing loss. In less nerd terms, if you use two ears and you have hearing loss, you'll hear better. Yes, you can pair it to your beloved Android, Jitterbug or old Nokia that you just refuse to give up. That is super cool actually. But that my friends is where the cool factor ends. I will admit, the sound quality while on a call is fantastic, and the connectivity of the phone call is beautiful. I did experience fewer dropped calls and the answering/ending of calls on the ear was nice, but I personally really needed that call in two ears.
I love to listen to music through my aids. It helps with my tinnitus on days where my masking and hearing aid just won't do the trick. Now come the downsides to these hearing aids. You can't stream directly. Nope, not at all. You again have to have a third party bridge device in the form of a hockey puck looking thing, or the trusty neck loop. All of the lovely binaural hearing features that Phonak has built it's very existance on and that the regular Belong platform excells at, yup all that's gone too. And you remember that trusy telecoil that works well in theaters, churches, movie theaters, schools etc. Yeah, that's gone too. I'm pretty sure the Hearing Loss Association of America is going to have a field day with this one. Yes, its old technology, but its good technology, and I am a firm believer that everyone with hearing aids should have a t-coil.