I recently got a new pair of hearing aids, and I’m as excited as if I’d just bought a new sports car. One of the reasons I’m so happy is that I was able to take ownership of the process for the first time by getting them from America Hears, Inc., which sells and supports hearing-aid consumers directly over the internet. I still love my audiologist, but I’m always looking for something new, and America Hears not only offered a new product but also an entirely new way of getting hearing assistance. I ordered exactly what I wanted, got a set of aids in the mail programmed to my audiogram, and then I was able to make adjustments using software they gave me for my PC with the help of the America Hears audiologist at the other end of the phone. Because the company manufactures and sells direct to consumers, their hearing aids are much less expensive than other premium brands. My expectation was that I’d get a serviceable product, but without the bells and whistles of my high-end Widex hearing aids. However, I was stunned when America Hears sent me full-function, premium digital products that provided me with a much better hearing experience in every way.
Here’s the short story, though I will write more about it in future posts. To get an America Hears hearing aid, all you have to do is fax the company a copy of a recent audiogram. They build a fully digital product, and their staff audiologists program it exactly to your specifications. They ship it to you along with software and a simple programmer you can use with your PC to adjust your hearing aids further. Because they sell and support direct without any middlemen, they are very affordable, charging only $995 per hearing aid. That’s less than half what other makers of premium-brand hearing aids charge. They charge the same price for any of their models, which range from new open-fit speaker-in-the-ear products to traditional behind-the-ear models to numerous in-the-ear designs.
Unlike low-cost mail-order resellers, America Hears manufactures its own premium digital hearing aids and supports its customers with its own staff of audiologists. So when you see an ad and call their 800 number or email them, you get a response from a trained audiologist, not a salesperson. They immediately engage you in a lengthy discussion about your hearing needs and help you choose a design that should work for you. You don’t have to worry they are guiding you to a more expensive model, because all their hearing aids are priced at the same $995. Then they build the hearing aid using top-quality digital chips and sound processing software from Dynamic Hearing in Australia. They ship it to you with the programming kit that includes software for your PC. Then they continue to support you over the phone, helping you learn to use the software yourself and downloading adjustments you may need after getting used to the new hearing aids. They also offer a 60-day money-back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied.
I had thought I couldn’t wear in-the-ear aids any more because of my severe hearing loss. When I had a mild loss I wore completely in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids and was pretty happy with them, though they were a little uncomfortable and feedback was always a problem. So I’d take them out for a “rest” after a few hours of wear. But when I suffered a sudden severe loss in 2002, I moved to behind-the-ear (BTE) aids. These were more powerful but more comfortable because I got a good fit with soft earmolds, and though feedback was still a bit of a problem with my bad left ear where I needed a lot of amplification, I wore them all day long.
America Hears, though, fit me with with in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids. They are not completely in the canal, but they are not the huge full-size ITEs that I’ve always found cosmetically unappealing. When I put them in, the fit was very good. More important, there was an immediate improvement in my hearing over my previous hearing aids. I could hear speech better in noise, the directional microphones seemed to be more finely tuned, so background noises were less prominent, and noise suppression at high volume was much better so I no longer had to turn them off to avoid hearing damage when at a ball game or walking on the noisy streets of New York City. And feedback simply wasn’t a problem. The feedback cancellation algorithms in their software must be awesome.
All in all, the hearing experience has been amazing–premium quality digital sound and a much better hearing experience from a product priced at less than half my previous brand, and a third the price of the most expensive premium brands. Once I put them in, I didn’t take them out. I wear them 18 hours a day.
To get these benefits you have to do some of the work yourself, learning how to use the programmer and working over the phone with the America Hears audiologists. But I’ve found that to be a benefit, as I can get adjustments any time I want with downloads from America Hears, or even by using the programming software myself to make slight adjustments, rather than waiting until I can get an appointment with my audiologist, getting to the office, etc. So once you get comfortable plugging your hearing aids into the programming software and working out your issues over the phone with your America Hears audiologist, you get the same benefits as you did in the past with a lot less logistical hassle.
I’ve got a lot more to write about America Hears hearing aids. One, I made my own earmold impressions using a kit they sent me. I got an excellent fit and want to write a separate post about the experience using “the blue goop” that you pour in your ear to take the impression. (It was a lot easier than I thought it would be!) Two, I want to write about the programming software they send you, which as far as I can tell is as full-featured as the software your audiologist uses. Three, I want to write about their business model, which not only depends on selling and supporting their customers over the internet, but also utilizes standard chips and software available from leading vendors who specialize in those products, much as the personal computer industry was able to continue lowering costs by standardizing on Intel chips and Microsoft operating software.
Full disclosure: since I started wearing the America Hears hearing aids, I have started doing some consulting work for the company, whcih I intend to continue. I’m doing it through my “day job” as principal of Aquarius Advisers LLC. America Hears will also sponsor ads on my site, once I set up display ads in addition to the Google ads I’m running. So I will be writing more about America Hears in addition to all the other topics on coping, issues and technology that I’ve always written about. I’d love to hear from other America Hears customers who have been through the process.