CNN Report On Widex Manufacturing Shows How 3-D Printing Is Revolutionizing Invisible Hearing Aids

Widex scored a PR coup today with a CNN report on its advanced manufacturing technology used for its in-the-ear hearing aids.

The on-air report (right) shows how Widex’s proprietary CAMISHA process — Computer Aided Manufacturing of Individual Shells for Hearing Aids — produces the tiny invisible in-the-canal (IIC) shells for its mind and Menu hearing aid models.

3D-print technologies are revolutionizing the world of manufacturing, dramatically reducing the time and cost of producing custom products to extremely demanding specifications. The Widex CAMISHA 3D-print manufacturing technology works from a digital scan of a patient’s ear mold impression to automatically produce a plastic shell for the tiny hearing aid. If you scroll to the 1:30 mark in the CNN video, you will get a rare glimpse of 3D printing at work.

Click here ro read more from CNN about the Widex CAMISHA 3D-print manufacturing technology.

Oticon Enters Invisible Hearing Aid Market With Intiga-I For First-Time Users

Oticon Intiga-I Hearing Aid
Intiga-I Hearing Aid is Oticon's Entry In The Hot Invisible Hearing Aid Market

Oticon has jumped into the hot market for “invisible” hearing aids–tiny devices that sit deep within the ear canal–with its new Intiga-I model for first-time users.

The Intiga-I hearing aid has a nanocoated wax protection system and a T- cap microphone protection system that will enable the device to withstand the moist environment of the deep ear canal. And it features Oticon’s high-end SpeechGuard sound processing technology as well as the company’s Rise 2 amplifier which conserves battery power.

The Oticon Intiga-I joins other major brands’ entries into the popular market for small invisible hearing aids aimed at first-time users, including the Starkey AMP, promoted as the first hearing aid “for people who aren’t ready for a hearing aid.” [Read more…]

Phonak Shrinks Lyric Invisible Hearing Aid And Improves Fit To Increase The Number Who Can Use It

Lyric Hearing Aid
The Lyric Hearing Aid Is Completely Invisible

Phonak announced it has shrunk its Lyric invisible hearing aids and improved the fit to make it accessible to 50 percent more consumers. The Lyric hearing aids meet the needs of people with mild to moderate hearing loss who are looking for a completely invisible hearing solution.

Placed deeply within the ear canal by an audiologist, the Lyric hearing aid is worn day and night for up to four months, when its battery expires and is replaced by the audiologist. The new size makes it easier to fit a larger number of consumers.

“I like to compare Lyric to the contact lens: just wear it and forget about it,” Phonak CEO Lukas Braunschweiler said in a news release. The Lyric hearing aids are sold on a subscription basis, with upgrades and service bundled into the subscription price.

Starkey Laboratories Research Shows ‘Invisibility’ Is One Of Top Five Factors In Consumers’ Hearing Aid Choice

Hearing Aid Purchase Criteria
Chart 1: Invisibility Is A Key Factor In Hearing Aid Purchase Decision (Click On Chart For Enlarged Version)

According to new market research, “invisibility” is one of the top five factors customers consider when buying a hearing aid, according to a presentation by a senior Starkey Laboratories executive yesterday at the 2012 Starkey Hearing Innovations Expo in Las Vegas. The research (Chart 1) reveals that consumers are less interested in what brand of hearing aid they are buying than other factors such as: 1) price; 2) sound quality; 3) form factor; 4) visibility/invisibility; and 5) customer service.

More than most other major global hearing aid manufacturers, Starkey Labs has focused development and marketing resources on the invisible hearing aid market over the past two years. Now the presentation by Dennis Van Vliet, Au.D., Starkey’s Senior Director of Professional Relations, explains why: the prized Baby Boomer market segment is far more receptive to “invisible” high-tech solutions than the previous generation of hearing aid users. In addition to the cosmetic appeal of a hearing aid no one knows you are wearing, today’s techno-savvy Boomers, who are attracted to high-tech gadgetry in general, are fascinated by the tiny new hearing systems that can pack more power and performance into a tiny package that sits deep within your ear canal than the huge behind-the-ear models that were the norm only a few years ago.

Hearing Aid Buyer Profiles
Chart 2: Baby Boomers Are More Receptive To High Tech Hearing Solutions Than The Previous Generation (Click On Chart For Larger Version)

I’m not at the conference but received a copy of the presentation, which is packed with interesting new information, including a fascinating comparison (Chart 2) between consumers above 65 years old, who are generally averse to technology and less interested in fashion and an active lifestyle, versus Baby-Boom generation consumers aged 41 to 64 who are overwhelmingly interested in new tech solutions that fit in with an active lifestyle. My take on the data is that the Boomers are not put off by the “stigma” of being seen wearing hearing aids so much as attracted to slick new well-designed products that combine superior form with high-tech function.

Starkey’s “invisible” product line now includes the entry-level AMP hearing aids and its high-performance Soundlens products, both of which sit deep within the ear canal. Starkey’s Xino product family is a on open-fit, behind-the-ear, receiver in the canal (RIC) product that is so tiny it is also marketed in the “invisible” category. Starkey has marketed the AMP system aggressively as a first-time solution for users who would not otherwise want to wear hearing aids.

I’ve gotten comments on my previous posts about Starkey’s invisible hearing aid marketing campaigns from readers who say the company is playing into stereotypes about hearing aids as something to be ashamed of and something to hide from others. I’m sure there are plenty of consumers out there worried about the lingering stigma of having to use hearing aids, but I think something else is going on in the market as well. I like to think tech-savvy Baby-Boom consumers are attracted more to the positive aspects of well-designed hearing products that push the limits of miniaturization and performance than to the fact that they are afraid of being seen wearing hearing aids.

Hearing-Aid Industry Unbound: Ten Trends To Follow In 2012 That Could Help Drive Double-Digit Growth

Every January, I jot down ten trends I plan to watch that will provide insights about how, why and when innovative technologies and new business ventures might unleash growth in the hearing-aid industry. In 2011, the global hearing-aid industry experienced something on the order of two percent growth. That’s a disappointing performance in a year when millions of Baby-Boom-generation adults in America alone had already lost so much of their hearing that they should have been racing to buy their first set of hearing aids. Why didn’t the market boom materialize in 2011, and will 2012 be any different? [Read more…]

Miracle-Ear Mirage Is The Latest Entrant In The Burgeoning Market For Invisible Hearing Aids

Miracle-Ear Mirage Invisible Hearing Aids
A Miracle-Ear Mirage Invisible Hearing Aid Is Slightly Larger Than A Coffee Bean

With its introduction this week of a very small digital hearing aid that sits deep enough within the ear canal to disappear from sight, Miracle-Ear is the latest entrant in the burgeoning market for “invisible hearing aids.” The Miracle-Ear Mirage is a digital hearing aid with many of the advanced features customers expect in full-featured digital aids, including feedback cancellation and digital noise reduction, programmable settings, intelligent peak smoothing, and “SoundBoost” volume control.

Miracle-Ear hearing aids have been on the market since 1948, when Ken Dahlberg, a World War II aviator turned electronic inventor, started manufacturing the first in-the-ear hearing aid, which he called “The Miracle Ear.” Since then the company has not been known as an innovator in digital hearing aids, but with the backing of corporate parent Amplifon, it has maintained a strong presence in retail channels including an exclusive relationship with Sears Hearing Aid Centers.

Today the entire line of Miracle-Ear hearing aids extends from entry level devices to the high-end ME-1 hearing aids with advanced noise reductdion, speech enhancement, Bluetooth compatible connectivity, optional remote control, multiple listening programs, and other features.

Other invisible hearing aids include the SoundLens and other branded solutions from Starkey Laboratories, Lyric Hearing’s extended-wear invisible hearing aids, ExSilent’s QLeaf invisible hearing aids, and ReSound’s Alera Remote Microphone hearing aid.

ExSilent AirTAP Technology Makes It Easy To Switch Program Settings On New QLeaf Pro Invisible Hearing Aid

ExSilent introduced the QLeaf Pro invisible hearing aid featuring new AirTAP technology that makes it simple to switch between four program settings optimized for different listening environments.

The young independent hearing aid manufacturer based in the Netherlands made a splash in 2009 when it introduced ExSilent Q invisible hearing aid, which sits deep within the ear canal and features a soft modular tip that doesn’t require a custom ear mold fitting. It went on to introduce the QLeaf hearing aid in 2010, which was smaller and came with a more powerful digital platform featuring either four or eight channels and eight or 12 bands for more robust sound processing.

Now the QLeaf Pro has a solution for one of the toughest design challenges for makers of digital hearing aids that sit so deep within the ear canal to be virtually invisible: how to change program settings without having to remove the hearing aid and manually push a button or reset a switch. Some manufacturers have a magnetic wand that you can wave near your ear that triggers a magnetic switch, and others have remote control devices you can carry in your pocket. The AirTAP technology eliminates the need for an extra device by responding directly to the pressure change when you simply tap your ear gently with your finger, also eliminating the need for a switch or button on the device. [Read more…]

Why Lantos Technologies’ Search For The Perfect Earmold Is A Game-Changer For The Hearing Aid And High-End Audio Industries

Lantos Technologies
Lantos Technologies' Digital Ear Canal Scanner Eliminates The Need For Manual Earmold Impressions

Lantos Technologies, a Cambridge, Massachusetts startup company working with patented technology developed at MIT, is on a quest for the perfect ear mold fitting.

With $1.6 million in venture capital funding, the company is developing a unique scanner that will create an exact digital image of the inner ear, enabling ear mold manufacturers to produce hearing-aid shells, earphones, and other in-ear devices that provide a perfect custom fit for the wearer.

If Lantos is successful, its product could be a game-changer not only for the hearing-aid industry, but also for makers of a broad array of high-end audio electronics and hearing protection equipment. Perfect-fitting earmolds enabled by the Lantos scanner could pave the way for entirely new consumer products that are currently impractical to bring to bring to market, because the cost of ensuring an accurate fit for every user would be prohibitive.

Audiologists and hearing-aid customers put up with the necessary evil of taking ear mold impressions for hearing aids and other select products only when they must, because there is currently no alternative. Getting a good ear mold is a messy process that involves injecting soft silicone putty into your ear down to within millimeters of your ear drum, leaving it there for several minutes until it starts to dry and harden, and then pulling it out and sending it to an ear mold manufacturer. All the while you keep your fingers crossed, hoping the impression doesn’t have so many flaws that you have to perform the procedure all over again. [Read more…]