Three of the world’s biggest hearing aid manufacturers are all claiming market share increases in a global industry that has rebounded from last year’s slowdown but that still is only seeing single-digit growth in units sold and, because of lower prices, even slower growth in overall revenue.
- Sonova Holding AG, the world’s biggest hearing aid maker and parent of the Phonak and Unitron brands, reported organic growth of nine percent in the first half of its fiscal year compared to the previous year.
- GN Store Nord said revenue from its ReSound hearing aid business grew 13 percent in the company’s third fiscal quarter.
- And the William Demant Holding Group, parent of the Oticon, Bernafon and Sonic hearing aid brands, reported an organic growth rate in its third fiscal quarter “that exceeds the market growth rate.”
All three reported strong profitability and bright prospects for continued market share gains through the end of the 2013 fiscal year.
With three of the hearing aid industry’s dominant “Big 6″ suppliers reporting such strong gains (the others are closely held and don’t report financial results), it’s clear that the six manufacturers with a combined share of more than 80 percent of the global market are continuing to consolidate their control of the industry.
However, the Big 6 — which also include Starkey Hearing, Siemens Hearing Instruments, and Widex — appear to be taking a bigger slice of a pie which, while it’s not shrinking, is hardly enjoying the kind of robust growth that’s been expected of the hearing industry for years. Read more
‘Killer App’ For Hearing Aids: Has Ohio State Solved The ‘Cocktail Party’ Challenge Of Isolating/Enhancing Speech In Noise?
Here’s something I’ve been waiting for — a sound processing algorithm promising to isolate speech in noise and, once and for all, solve the “cocktail party” problem for hearing aid wearers.
A team of researchers at Ohio State University has developed a new algorithm that identifies speech-based sound waves in noisy environments and eliminates other noise, and they claim to be delivering dramatic results in tests with hearing-aid users.
The results include improvements in speech comprehension in noise by test subjects who scored only 25 percent without the new algorithm but up to 85 percent with it.
If the results hold up and the algorithm can be successfully integrated into the DSP-based sound processing systems of high-end hearing aids, the team led by Ohio State Professors Eric Healy and DeLiang “Leon” Wang may have solved the biggest problem people with hearing loss face — understanding what other people say in noisy environments. Read more
VitaSound Reaches Consumer Market With High-End Hearing Aid Technology In A New Personal Sound Amplifier
VitaSound Audio Inc., the Canadian hearing aid company known for its sophisticated Neuro-Compensator sound processing software, is taking its high-end technologies into the consumer market with a new personal sound amplifier. The new VitaSound Personal Audio Enhancer (PAE-300) is a multifunction amplifier that conditions and clarifies environmental sound as well as TV, phone and MP3 audio signals.
The product is the first personal sound amplification product (PSAP) I’ve seen that you can use in both a conversation mode — with a microphone that picks up a speaker’s voice and processing software that dampens background noise — and in TV or telephone listening mode, where the software enhances and clarifies the audio to make listening and comprehension easier. And it’s sold at a price, between $200 and $300-plus on the web, that’s competitive with other quality PSAPs and high-end TV audio-streaming products.
The product is interesting enough in its own right (for a more complete description, see our writeup on Hearing Products News). But even more significant to me is what it says about the new directions more hearing aid technology developers and manufacturers should go as they try to find new growth markets beyond the relatively small niche of hearing-aid users dealing with moderate-to-severe hearing loss. Read more
Splitting Hairs: FDA Still Struggling To Explain The Difference Between Hearing Aids And Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is continuing to split hairs as it attempts to draw a clear distinction between hearing aids, which are Class I medical devices subject to government regulatory oversight, and personal sound amplification products (PSAPs), which are not. While its recent draft guidance document updating its 2009 Regulatory Requirements has more emphatic wording, it continues to draw the same inadequate distinction between the two types of devices. Unfortunately, the new guidance as currently drafted seems destined only to exacerbate the simmering conflict between hearing aid makers and PSAP marketers.
In 2009, the FDA said the difference was in the intended use of each product. It said because hearing aid makers market their products as a way to alleviate a medical problem — hearing loss — they should be subject to government regulations. But as long as PSAP makers only market their products for recreational uses such as ”hunting (listening for prey), bird watching, listening to lectures with a distant speaker, and listening to soft sounds that would be difficult for normal hearing individuals to hear,” they are not selling medical devices and need not be regulated.
In other words, if the PSAP is not sold as a way to correct hearing loss, it’s not a medical device subject to regulatory oversight.
But PSAPs use the same technologies as hearing aids, they look like hearing aids, and they amplify environmental sound like hearing aids. And the new FDA document does little to resolve the question that’s bothering everyone: “If it quacks and has a bill, wings, white feathers and webbed feet, isn’t it a duck?” Read more
Sonova Holding AG announced that its Advanced Bionics (AB) cochlear implant subsidiary signed agreements settling the majority of current liability claims related to product malfunctions, eliminating much the uncertainty surrounding the financial impact outstanding civil suits would have on its financial results over the coming year.
Among the claims was a highly publicized verdict awarding $7.2 million to to the family of Breanna Sadler of Louisville, Kentucky, who claimed that a malfunctioning cochlear implant had sent the seven-year-old girl into convulsions after moisture seeped into the device. Advanced Bionics had recalled many of the devices that hadn’t been implanted following its discovery of a defective component that allowed the moisture seepage. But post-implant failures have prompted other additional lawsuits that the company announced it settled out of court this week.
AB had appealed the size of the judgment in the Breanna Sadler case, where the jury awarded $6.25 million in punitive damages in addition to $994,000 in compensatory damages. AB said in its announcement that the settlement resolves the litigation in that case and others but that the parties agreed not to reveal details or the amount of the settlement.s
ReSound LiNX Hearing Aid Pushes The Performance Envelope With More Processing Power And Communication Bandwidth
GN ReSound’s new LiNX hearing aid isn’t just the world’s first “Made for iPhone Hearing Aid.” It’s also a high-tech system that pushes the performance envelope by fitting more processing power and communication power into its smallest receiver-in-the-ear hearing aid.
LiNX is the latest shoe to drop in a steady progression of technology-driven product introductions from the Denmark company that started in 2010 with the ReSound Alera platform. Alera debuted the sophisticated ReSound Surround Sound digital signal processing software while setting new standards for wireless connectivity to voice and audio sources.
In 2012 ReSound progressed to more power and functionality with the ReSound Verso family, which introduced direct ear-to-ear communication between its hearing aids, enabling automated balancing of directional sound as listening environments changed.
Linx takes two more significant steps forward. Read more
Sonova Group’s acquisition of the Advanced Bionics cochlear implant business is starting to pay off. The recent integration of technologies developed by Sonova’s Phonak hearing aid subsidiary into a new cochlear implant sound processor from Advanced Bionics foreshadows even more interesting products and features to come.
The only question raised by this first-ever cross-fertilization of hearing aid and cochlear implant technologies is why someone hasn’t done it sooner.
In May, Advanced Bionics announced commercial release of its Naída CI Q70 Sound Processor in Europe and Canada, with U.S. market introduction pending expected regulatory approvals there. In addition to a first for the industry — combining a hearing-aid’s sound processor technology with a cochlear implant’s sound processing system — it provides the added benefit of integration with Phonak’s extensive line of wireless peripheral technologies.
Naída, a name borrowed from Phonak’s hearing-aid product line, is a major step in the evolution of hearing technology because it breaks down the previously quite-separate silos built by the hearing aid companies and world’s three the cochlear implant companies. And while the level of integration already in Naída CI is impressive, a look at Sonova Group’s July 2013 investor presentation indicates there’s a lot more to come. Read more
MDHearingAid has raised the performance bar in the market for affordable hearing aids sold over the internet by introducing a model integrating telecoils to make it easier to use the hearing aids with a phone.
The MDHearingAid Air, at $349.99 per hearing aid, is the first entry-level internet hearing aid to provide t-coil functionality. And for a limited time, the company is making an introductory offer of two Air hearing aid for $599, a combined saving of more than $100.
It’s important news for the hearing aid industry. Like a lot of markets where early established players invested a lot of money developing expensive new technologies, young competitors in the hearing aid business are now entering with less expensive entry-level products that they constantly improve by adding new features at lower costs. The result is more competition and technology-driven disruption of an industry where growth had leveled off and innovation at the entry level of the market had stalled. Read more