Hearing Aids Make Use of Bluetooth Technology
The primary goal of hearing aids has always been to improve speech understanding. While this hasn’t changed, hearing aid manufacturers are now building Bluetooth technology into their most advanced hearing aid microchips to make speech from phones, televisions, and other devices more accessible to hearing aid users.
Made For iPhone (MFi) hearing aids, which rely on Bluetooth technology, first appeared on the market way back in 2014. The introduction of MFi ushered in a wireless revolution for hearing aid users, allowing – for the first time – a direct wireless connection between phone and hearing aid, and for many, the first clear mobile phone call with hearing loss.
Up until recently MFi has been the only option for hearing aid users wanting built-in Bluetooth technology. This meant no Bluetooth for Android users, and no direct connectivity to non-Apple devices. MFi hearing aids have also never offered true hands-free calling; having the mobile phone close by when speaking, or carrying a remote-microphone accessory, has been required.
Fortunately, there are now more options on the market, and with the release of the “Made For All” Phonak Audéo B-Direct late last year, Android users and hands-free callers with hearing loss have had their prayers answered. Here are the top three innovations that Phonak Audéo B-Direct has introduced to the market:
1. Hearing aids can now directly connect to any Bluetooth-enabled phone.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, director of business development and veterans affairs at Phonak, previous generations of hearing aids could only directly connect to an iPhone, which greatly limited people’s options.
“Pew Research Center found only 33 percent of American smartphone owners used an iPhone while a whopping 66 percent used the Android operating system,” said Thompson. “Another study showed 38 percent of all Americans over age 65 still use a classic flip phone. Until now, there has never been a Bluetooth hearing aid that was truly made for all devices and allowed universal connectivity — including the ability to directly connect to an iPhone, an Android device or even a classic flip phone that is Bluetooth-ready.”
2. Bluetooth hearing aids now offer truly hands-free calls.
Built-in microphones on Audéo B-Direct hearing aids feature automatic voice pickup, allowing people to have two-way conversations through their hearing aids. Thompson stated this is the first time this has ever been done with hearing aids.
“This is indeed the first time a hearing aid wearer can have a true hands-free conversation without having to touch the phone at all,” she said. “This is especially convenient in the car, where your phone may be in a pocket or purse, or if you need to have a conversation while leaving your phone on the table or countertop, for example if you’re cooking.”
3. Hearing aids stream wireless stereo sound directly from your TV.
According to research firm Statista, Americans spend an average of 4.5 hours per day watching TV. And if you have or live with someone who has hearing loss, you probably know that sometimes the volume of the TV can become an issue.
“With a card-sized TV Connector, hearing aid wearers simply plug the device into the back of the TV,” added Thompson. “The ‘plug and play’ TV Connector instantly pairs with the hearing aids, allowing viewers to stream high-fidelity TV-sound in stereo at their preferred volume level, independent of other viewers. Wearers have reported a markedly better experience in understanding dialogue, especially when the person on TV is talking fast.”
Phonak’s TV Connector is also useful for those looking for a portable audio streaming solution. The USB-powered device can stream audio from laptops, MP3 players, and any other device with a headphone jack. Optical audio output is also supported.
Bluetooth Meets the World of Hearing Aids
While device-agnostic Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls are nothing new in the world of consumer electronics, these are true innovations for the world of hearing aids. And Audéo B-Direct is still very much a hearing aid. Unlike traditional Bluetooth earpieces, the Audéo B-Direct delivers the customizable amplification for Bluetooth audio streams (tailored to the wearer’s unique hearing profile), and runs on Phonak’s AutoSense OS™ platform, which delivers better speech understanding for one-on-one and group conversations, in a variety of listening environments.
To find a licensed hearing professional who has been trained to fit the Audéo B-Direct hearing aids, visit Phonak’s website.