With a live gospel group from Harlem and multimedia presentations at a New York City news conference, GN ReSound yesterday initiated the global market rollout of the ReSound LiNX and Beltone First, the world’s first “Made for iPhone Hearing Aids.”
GN ReSound CEO Lars Viksmoen, who had announced the new product in Europe last October, unveiled more details on availability, pricing and features, positioning the new hearing aid as a premium-priced product supported by a raft of unique new capabilities:
- It is the first “Made for iPhone Hearing Aid,” providing seamless wireless connectivity and compatibility not only with Apple’s iPhone but also the iPod Touch and iPad Tablet.
- It is the only hearing aid delivering 2.4 GHz wireless audio communication from the phone directly to the hearing aids — the first to eliminate an intermediate streaming device.
- It is GN ReSound’s smallest wireless receiver-in-the-ear hearing aid, but with enough amplification and other functionality to address 90 precent of customers’ hearing-loss profiles.
- An iPhone app wirelessly sets volume levels, adjusts treble and bass settings, and changes the hearing-aid’s program settings; it also features “geo-tagging” to identify locations where certain programs will be most helpful.
- A unique “Find My Hearing Aid” application lets you use your iPhone to locate your hearing aids, just as it can locate your other Apple devices.
We reported earlier on the features and technology behind the new hearing aids when they were were announced in October, but the latest briefing furnished details an pricing, availability and user acceptance.
The company is currently shipping to its distribution channels worldwide. Like other hearing aid manufacturers, GN ReSound does not disclose a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) or the wholesale price charged to the audiologists and dispensers who sell its products. But one audiologist at the event told me users can expect to pay what’s become a standard price for a top-end premium-featured hearing aid — between $3,000 and $4,000 per hearing aid.
The hearing aids incorporate GN ReSound’s SmartRange platform combining a dual-core digital signal processing (DSP) chipset with next-generation 2.4 GHz wireless technology. Among other things, the SmartRange platform is the engine for “Surround Sound from ReSound” software that provides advanced signal processing, wireless ear-to-ear coordination between the hearing aids, and quality sound output from the hearing aids. The platform also features the company’s third-generation 2.4 GHz wireless technology, enabling direct transmission of audio into the hearing aids without requiring an intermediate streamer.
The hearing aid requires a 312-sized battery — a step larger than the number 10-sized batteries used in the smallest behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids — to accommodate higher power drain from wireless streaming while still delivering power for up to a week of use. The battery is neatly integrated into the small form factor of the processing unit, and because the receiver (speaker) is in the ear, a nearly invisible wire rather than a more visible air-conduction tube is all that’s required to attach the processor to the in-ear receiver.
The hearing aids lack an optional telecoil, which transmits audio directly into the hearing aids without re-amplification not only from a phone held to the ear but also from rooms equipped with hearing loops. However, the wireless streaming of audio directly into the hearing aids from the phone duplicates the t-coil’s function for the phone, at least.
Also, the wireless streaming currently works only with the iPhone, iPad and iPod, not with Android phones or other devices. When asked why, Viksmoen said Apple has been a leader in actively engaging the hearing aid companies on deep integration, and ReSound’s mantra has been “focus, focus, focus” on delivering the first Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. He said he expects Android and other phones eventually will enable hearing-aid integration as well.
LiNX in Action
Morten Hansen, GN ReSound’s Vice President of Partnerships and Connectivity, gave an impressive demonstration, streaming audio from his iPhone through a set of hearing aids connected to the speakers in the conference room. His iTunes copy of “Hotel California” by the Eagles played clearly, and iPhone SIRI’s familiar voice gave hands-free turn-by-turn directions to a nearby restaurant.
Those two applications alone would be enough to make any hearing aid user who has been frustrated at not being able to hear the audio coming from the phone’s speaker want to find out how much better the audio can be when it’s transmitted directly into the hearing aids. ReSound’s “Surround Sound” software processes audio transmitted from the phone in the same way that it conditions audio coming through the hearing aids’ microphones, providing high-fidelity quality for phone calls and other audio transmitted by the iPhone.
Hansen also demonstrated the “Find My Hearing Aid” application. A blue dot on the iPhone map shows the location of your hearing aids down to the street address. Then, two vertical thermometer-style bars on the iPhone screen, one for the left hearing aid and one for the right, indicate how close you are getting to them, with the red bars rising to the top of the screen the closer you get. It’s just like the “you’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder” game you used to play as a kid.
The event also featured two early users of the product — a customer with experience wearing other high-end hearing aids and an audiologist who evaluated the product for his patients.
The customer, Dick Loizeaux, said he first started using hearing aids when his hearing loss started causing trouble communicating both at work and home. But even after more than 10 years as a hearing-aid wearer, he still found them deficient much of the time, especially on the phone and when listening to the radio or GPS directions in the car.
“The times I needed the hearing aids the most, they helped the least,” Loizeaux said. But the new hearing aids solved most of his problems. “Now I can hear my car’s navigation system right in my ears.”
Dr. Ken Smith, an audiologist from the San Francisco Bay area, said that during his evaluation, the benefits of integration with the iPhone world of apps gradually became more compelling to him and his patients. “We started out thinking it was a niche product,” he said. “But now we’re going to be using it for everyone because it has so many applications.”
GN ReSound’s Chief Audiologist, Laurel Christensen, said the features of the new hearing aids were based on extensive research into current hearing-aid wearers’ frustrations with their hearing aids, which led to a focus on “quality-of-life” features, including sound quality, ability to comprehend speech in noise, adaptation to changing listening environments and more seamless communication.
By combining the SmartSound technology in the hearing aids with the connectivity made possible through the SmartRange wireless platform and providing access to the iPhone apps, the ReSound LiNX and Beltone First hearing aids come closer to meeting those quality of life requirements than any other hearing aids that came before, she said.
Technology Drives Growth Of GN ReSound
CEO Viksmoen said the market advantages GN ReSound currently enjoys from its advanced sound processing technology and its lead in 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity are driving the growth of the company.
As the fourth biggest global hearing aid manufacturer with revenue of more than $760 million (US), GN ReSound currently has an approximate 16 percent share of the world hearing aid market, Viksmoen said. But the company has reported market-share increases over the past year and expects its faster-than-market growth to continue.