Oticon’s ConnectLine communication devices have made it easier for users of hearing aids to listen to their Apple iPods and personal MP3 players, their TVs, and their Bluetooth mobile phones for a while now. But with yesterday’s introduction of the Oticon ConnectLine personal microphone, you’ll finally be able to hear your dinner companion as well, even in a noisy restaurant.
The new wireless Oticon ConnectLine Microphone clips to your conversation partner’s lapel and picks up his or her voice while filtering out unwanted background sounds. It transmits the audio directly to the ConnectLine Streamer, which you wear on a loop around your neck, and the streamer transmits the unadulterated audio signals directly into your Oticon Agil hearing aids. It can also be adjusted to transmit at frequencies most compatible with the listener’s hearing-loss profile and hearing aids.
Ever since the big hearing aid makers began incorporating communication receivers directly into hearing aids, there’s been a not-so-quiet revolution in people’s ability to connect to more of the sounds of the modern world. But strangely enough, it’s taken some time for the major manufacturers to come up with workable assistive-listening solutions for the most common complaint of hearing-aid wearers–comprehension of speech in noisy surroundings. The ConnectLine Microphone is one approach to the speech-in-noise problem that is small and easy enough to actually be useful in the real world. When you add to the Oticon ConnectLine solutions for your TV, phone and personal listening system, you end up with a complete, end-to-end listening and comprehension system.
Rigging your conversation partner with a microphone and transmitter is not a new idea. But earlier solutions required the conversation partner to wear a microphone hooked up to a sizable transmitter, and the hearing aid wearer had to hang a receiver around their neck with a neckloop that transmitted the audio to the hearing aid’s telecoils. I tried several of those solutions, but there was always a snag somewhere along the line–either the transmission rig was too bulky for me to bother asking my partner to use it, or the neckloop didn’t communicate well enough with my T-coils. It was an exercise in frustration, and I gave up on them.
The small, lightweight ConnectLine Microphone gets the equation right on the transmission end by integrating the transmitter into the microphone and sending wireless signals to the ConnectLine Streamer. Then having the body-worn Streamer transmit directly into the Oticon hearing aids (from up to 0.5 meters), rather than depending on a less-than-reliable neckloop-plus-telecoil combination, gets the equation right on the receiving end. It’s not an all-purpose solution to the problem of understanding speech in noise–it would be impossible to dole out microphones to the shifting cast of characters in multiple cocktail-party conversation circles, for instance. And as a pricey add-on to a set of high-end hearing aids that can set you back as much as $3,000 each, the ConnectLine peripherals don’t come cheap.
But they do point to a future of better hearing connectivity and listening comprehension. Like Oticon, leading manufacturers including Starkey Laboratories, Phonak, ReSound, Siemens and Widex have introduced their own wireless connectivity components for their premium hearing aids. We can look forward to seeing more solutions from all of them, like the Oticon ConnectLine Microphone, that complete the end-to-end connection for hearing-aid users in search of better comprehension and a better listening/hearing experience.