- Published on Monday, 04 December 2017 17:15
A total of 135 companies from 21 different countries presented their product portfolios during the 62nd International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians held in Nuremberg from October 18 to 20. From small enterprises to the majors, from world-first innovations to tried and tested products – in a space of over 15,000 square meters, there was much to be discovered. Some of the discussions also gave insight into where the sector may be headed soon. A review of some of the highlights.
The European Union of Hearing Aid Acousticians (EUHA) described this year’s congress as the “blockbuster in the sector”, with some 8,300 participants from no less than 83 countries! This is a new record and makes the event the most important in the hearing aid sector worldwide. The industry uses the tradeshow as a huge showcase. And it is becoming clear that it’s not just about new and better products. It’s also about bringing their customers more tools and possibilities for the best possible service. The focus is not just on all the hearing system manufacturers offering battery technology solutions and further improvements in connectivity. The field of services and advice is also becoming more important in the industry. In this regard, the topic of over-the-counter devices was naturally on everyone’s lips.
Several innovations at Widex
Widex customers were greeted with more than a “super portfolio” at the company’s stand. The manufacturer presented many additional novelties: first in line, the rechargeable Beyond Z, that can be operated with a silver-zinc battery. “This is the first system with 2.4 GHz and extremely low energy”, says Peter David Schaade, CEO of Widex GmbH and Regional Vice-President Global Sales for Western Europe & South Africa at Widex A/S. A fully-charged battery lasts for over 20 hours, even if you use the phone or stream music for four or five hours. The high-power efficiency and corresponding long runtime are made possible by Widex Power Saver Plus Technology. For this development, Widex started an alliance with the American company ZPower. Their silver-zinc batteries are considered “absolutely safe”. And if the battery is flat and you don’t have a charging station, you can still insert a regular hearing aid battery. The charging station is provided with Beyond Z.
The second innovation at the Widex stand is the new Phone DEX powered by Gigaset. Until now, the product was developed under the company’s own management but for the second generation of its wireless landline, Widex decided to join forces with Gigaset. “This is high-level, cutting-edge technology,” Schaade explains. It is easy to operate: it has an answering machine, panoramic display, and an SOS button with which several numbers can be dialled automatically in an emergency. It also connects automatically with Widex hearing systems. If you want to make a call with Phone DEX, you just need to hold it near the hearing system for a few moments, and then you get the conversation automatically streamed to both ears. If needed, the room-off button can be used to mute any background noise. The third innovation at Widex is a tinnitus app. “You can find out about tinnitus in the app. There are relaxation exercises, zen and nature sounds, as well as various noise variants that can be used deliberately to be distracted from tinnitus,” Schaade explains. To hear them, all you need to do is plug earphones into a smartphone; hearing aids are not needed. “The app is very attractive”, he adds. One of the main aims of the app is clearly to guide the user to a hearing aid specialist to get advice and to have a hearing test. With these innovations, Widex once again underlined its core abilities as a manufacturer but also showed how it is further strengthening its customers: hearing aid specialists.
Audio Service enters the world of direct streaming and presents its new ITE shells
Audio Service presented an innovative solution: Sun 16 G5, a 13 RIC system. “We’ve now entered the world of direct streaming and are offering a multidimensional connected hearing system using Bluetooth low-energy technology,” explains Managing Director Thomas Mettang. The Sun 16 G5 is, therefore “made for iPhone”. Many of the new functionalities are, however, also compatible with Android smartphones through the Smart Direct app. The launch of a clip-on mic, which Audio Service will market early next year, will round off the usability for Android users. “Connectivity is not the only aspect we paid close attention to when developing our new hearing systems,” says Thomas Mettang. Equipped with the new fifth generation (G5) platform, it offers “innovative and of course also proven features, such as very good sound, to make Sun 16 G5 a comfortable high-tech device,” he adds. The company also presented a case with the new “Design Studies”. The case also contains an ITE shell made of olive wood. “Right now, titanium is very fashionable, so we’re kind of going against the flow,” Mettang explains. “Because we can create aesthetically highly attractive ITE shells from olive wood.” In addition, Audio Service announced, for the beginning of next year, that it will move the entry-level devices to the G4 platform. In the spring, the G5 portfolio will be expanded with more models.
New sets from Sennheiser
Family-owned company, Sennheiser, sees itself as one of the leading manufacturers of headphones, microphones and wireless transmission technology, and made the most of the EUHA Congress for the joint launch of two products from its audiology portfolio: Set 880 and Set 860. According to Irene Struber, portfolio manager for audio applications, both are further developments of the well-known under-the-chin models and offer “crystal clear, enhanced sound to users and thus uncomplicated and long-term TV enjoyment”. Both sets are to be distributed exclusively via specialised hearing aid stores. The sets operate with a transmitter that is connected to the TV and an under-the-chin headset that receives the signal from the transmitter via 2.4 GHz technology. “This means that you can move about freely,” says Irene Struber. The set’s range is about 70 meters. Alongside the digital port, there is also an analogue port and touch buttons on Set 880 make it easy to switch between the two signals. Set 880 has five hearing profiles, Set 860 has three. The profiles offer various frequency amplifications and reductions – a joint development by Sennheiser and Fraunhofer IDMT. Both sets are equipped with a speech intelligibility function. “This reduces background from the TV to enhance speech,” explains Irene Struber. At the congress, Sennheiser also presented Flex 5000, which is aimed at a younger target group due to its individualized possible uses.
Innovation from tradition at Dreve
Dreve Otoplastik GmbH presented its highlights for 2017 in a welcoming and informative atmosphere. As a manufacturer of earmoulds, Dreve has supported hearing systems for many years entirely digitally. The ordering platform, SmartOrder, plays an important role and has been enhanced with new functions. Hearing aid specialists can now, for example, call up the status of their orders online using the status function and find out precisely when the mould will reach the store. A further highlight was the Universal Otoplastik RIC unifit, which fits with many RIC hearing systems on the market. The extremely thin RIC Air Otoplastik made of VarioTherm® and FotoTec® has a wall thickness of under 1 mm and can be worn in the ear nearly invisibly. In addition, Dreve presented its full product portfolio of 3D materials for the digital manufacture of ear moulds, ITE shells and cast forms. An extensive offer of specially made ear protection earmoulds with various filter systems, as well as the OtoVita® care range for hearing systems round off the Dreve product portfolio.
New features for the Muse and Halo families from Starkey
The stand put together by Starkey Hearing Technologies was one of the most visited on all three congress days. Furthermore, much of the company’s top management travelled to the event from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, including President Brandon Sawalich, Chief Technology Officer Achin Bhowmik Ph.D., Senior Manager of Audiology Research Jason Galster Ph.D., and founder and CEO Bill Austin. The US manufacturer presented for its Muse product range a new category in the high-end entry-level segment. The range now covers five technology levels. Another innovation in the Muse family is a small 312 RIC. The Halo 2 range is also growing and is available in the small 312 RIC case in five technology levels. “The system connects directly to the iPhone or to Android devices”, explains Jason Galster. When talking purely about data, it’s “made for all”. Audio data, however, are only directly streamed with iOS devices. With the corresponding app, the smartphone serves readily as a remote control. The app has also been extended in terms of functionality, with “On-demand noise control”. “If you touch this button in the app, all noise-management features are activated with full power”, says Galster. The app can also be used by the end-user to fine tune the hearing system. And the settings can be saved. GeoTagging is also available via the app. In addition to these new products, Starkey also gave a preview of what is to come. The company’s Senior Manager of Audiology Research announced some new features for the Muse family that further improve spatial hearing – also for the CIC and IIC systems. To do this, an algorithm shifts valuable signals from the high levels between 8 and 10 KHz to the lower ones, where they again become audible to the user. “Until now, this was not available for CIC and IIC devices,” explains Galster. The new “iQ” systems by Starkey are expected to be available in Spring 2018.
In his speech on Thursday morning, Jason Galster did, however, not speak about Starkey products. “The search for specification through cognitive screening processes: MoCA vs. PNT” was the title on the program for the 11:00 AM lecture. Galster’s idea is to be able to better assess the end-client during the screening visit. “The cognitive abilities of our clients should govern our approach towards them,” he says. If he has a client who is cognitively strong, he would have a conversation like we have at the tradeshow. He would talk about technology and recommend accessories, taking the approach that the client is able to engage with this. When talking to people who are cognitively less strong, Galster would rather bring topics up slower and always be careful not to overload the person with content. “This is something all specialists can put into practice right away,” he says. “In addition, it would save on appointments and improve the client’s experience.” The ideal solution for this type of screening has, however, not yet been discovered. “Things need still to change in this area,” Jason Galster concludes. He sees potential in the MoCA (Montreal Cognitive Assessment) test. “There are a few points that can help us further,” he says. Those who would like to keep up-to-date on audiology topics can do so by looking at Jason Galster’s blog.
Egger in 3D partnerships
During EUHA 2017, Egger announced that a joint initiative was underway with two other 3D printer manufacturers. “The cooperation we developed alongside W2P with Asiga and MiiCraft was important. Under the evolupt brand, we offer 3D printers for any need. These are equipped with variably sized building platforms and belong to the latest generation of printers,” explains Andreas Schwer, Head of Hearing Protection and Earmould Distribution. This is, however, only one of three steps that has been devised for 3D printing. Another step is our cooperation with 3Shape, which Egger also entered in 2017. It enables the distribution of the new 3Shape Scanner A1 and A1+, as well as distribution of the 3Shape EarMold Designer, Shell Designer, Shell Manager and CAMbridge software. With the related materials for the manufacture of earmoulds, in-ear shells and casting moulds, the special light- and ultrasound devices, it is now possible for Egger to offer the full 3D printing process chain.
Bernafon present DECS
The Bernafon stand was put together this year as the “Bernafon Boutique Hotel”. For the Swiss manufacturer, the tradeshow is a great opportunity to present DECS technology, which was introduced this summer. In various specialist presentations, the different components were explained and the Zerena family was presented. “Client feedback was consistently positive,” says Carsten Braun, Head of Audiology at the company. The idea to completely do away with predefined environment classifications for Zerena seems to be paying off.
In the gallery, the ITE and earmould facility was also presented. “We are proud to be one of the few manufacturers to have their own production facility at our own site. This is something we now show clearly with our new ITE manufacture logo,” says Daniela Häußler, Head of Marketing.
Furthermore, Bernafon used the event as an opportunity to announce upcoming innovations. Around the end of the year, ZPower is expected, the battery solution for Zerena miniRITE. Alongside this innovation, we find SoundClip-A. “This rounds off our connectivity line and enables our clients to phone in stereo and to connect to all Bluetooth cell phones from BT protocol 2.1,” explains Carsten Braun. SoundClip-A also functions as a remote control, audio streamer and external microphone. And still, more surprises are planned for the year to come.
Unitron extend product offering
Sonova’s Canadian affiliate Unitron came to EUHA 2017 with many new offerings in its luggage. The company presented the Tempus platform launched in February, which was initially introduced only in the RIC and BTE areas. The platform should be able to recognise speech significantly more accurately and rapidly than Unitron’s previous platform North. The basis for this is a 50% more powerful chip, which is fitted with features such as SoundCore technology. Now Unitron has also equipped the ITE product line with the new platform. With the new ITE family Insera™ and the rechargeable BTE hearing system Stride™ M R, Unitron presented two further highlights. “We are continually expanding our product range, and design is an important part. We did, however, want to look more closely at battery technology. Because we have understood how important reliability and flexibility are to our clients. To reach these goals for our clients, we opted for silver-zinc technology,” says Jochen Meuser, Managing Director of Unitron Germany.
Another focus for the company this year was the Flex concept. “The Flex idea is constantly expanding. As a pioneer in the hearing aid sector with this technology, we have collected a lot of experience and of course, try to incorporate this into our concept because our aim is to further inspire our clients,” says Meuser.
Varta to list on stock exchange
On September 27, the battery manufacturer Varta based in Ellwangen (southern Germany) announced in a press release its intention to be listed on the Frankfurt stock exchange. Torsten Schmerer, General Manager for Retail at Varta Microbattery (picture below), felt that it was a good sign that the issuing of the new shares happened to take place on the Thursday of the EUHA Congress. “We are an integral part of the hearing sector. Entering the stock exchange is a historic moment for us and we’re proud of this next step. This is also basically confirmation of the hard work we’ve done over the last 15 years and has proved to us that the path we’re taking is the right one.” The final quoted price of each share is Euros 17.50, at the upper end of the offer range. At its first listing, the share price for Varta AG jumped sharply to over Euros 20. Varta estimates the gross revenue from market entry at around Euros 150 million. This sum is intended primarily for expansion of Varta AG’s production capacities.
“We are where you would expect to find us in all business segments. Whether in the healthcare business unit, the power one range for the hearing aid industry, the entertainment branch, or in the power and energy area – we know how to offer future-proof solutions. Our mission now is to meet expectations in the future,” Schmerer explains.
The innovations at the EUHA Congress are clearly pointing in this direction. For example, the company has been certified in line with the medical standard ISO 13485 and presented an improved product feature called ERS for energy retention system. ERS guarantees to the end user that the batteries will provide the known maximum performance even after a long storage period. The company also announced a new generation for 2018 at the highest performance level.
In small lithium-ion storage, there is to Varta’s knowledge no more extensive and powerful range. These batteries are marketed under the name power one Li ion battery with the quality label power one inside – Made in Germany.
ZPower: here for everyone
California-based ZPower has made a name for itself as a supplier of battery solutions for hearing aids. Five of the six major hearing system manufacturers are customers of ZPower. All of them currently rely on the rechargeable silver-zinc batteries, made in USA, at least for one of the brands. At the US company’s stand, Prof. Barry Freeman, Vice-President of Business Development, was available to talk about ZPower.
The fact that we’re talking about these batteries in the hearing aids sector is thanks to the wife of ZPower founder Ross E. Dueber, PhD. As an audiologist, she directed him to the possibility of using the silver-zinc batteries if they could be miniaturised, Freeman tells us. At the same time, the company worked on increasing the lifespan of the batteries.
Today, most manufacturers work with ZPower, integrate their systems into their hearing aids, offer jointly developed charging stations, and use the energy management system built into the battery charger. The basis of silver-zinc’s high capacity was, in fact, the ability to store energy. Even when the charge gets lower, the voltage remains constant until the end, Freeman explains. Another advantage is that silver-zinc batteries are not flammable. “And the cells are completely recyclable and are therefore a green energy source,” he adds.
Another plus for the silver-zinc combination is that the cells can be designed very small. “Right now, we are still focused on the 312 size because this is the most widely used one”, says Barry Freeman. But soon, ZPower will present the 13 size. The team is also working on a further increase in storage capacity, which could make the ZPower solutions attractive for cochlear implant manufacturers. Even greater improvement of the charging algorithms is also in the works.
From the company’s perspective, ZPower is a conventional supplier that does not want to commit to a single manufacturer as a client, much like the microphone manufacturer Knowles. “We’re here for everyone and we have a few excellent partnerships,” says Freeman.
ReSound offer comprehensive hearing aid portfolio
Smart hearing aids “Made for all” was the central theme of ReSound’s congress presence. Alongside the top system ReSound LiNX 3D, the company presented the new super power hearing aid ENZO 3D. Both systems have a new 3D orientation that records the propagation of sound not only horizontally but also vertically for the first time. As substantiated by current user testing, this enables highly comfortable speech understanding. The perception of surrounding noise was also improved.
“Made for all” also applies to LiNX 3D and ENZO 3D in terms of connectivity. Whether phone calls, music, navigation announcements, news, etc. For almost any smartphone, audio streaming is possible, for iOS mobile phones even without an accessory. With the new ReSound Smart 3D app, both hearing aids can be easily controlled via a touchscreen on the mobile device – with iPhone, iPad and iPod touch and many Android smartphones without any accessory.
Another novelty is the optional cloud-based online service, with which hearing aid specialists can broaden their customer support.
Furthermore, ReSound presented a comprehensive hearing aid portfolio for all hearing needs, for all ages, in all price segments, and at all technology levels. This included the children’s hearing aid Up Smart, along with the product range Enya, Vea and Lex. Likewise, the ReSound Wireless accessory that can be used from the entry-level segment.
ReSound also communicated on its successful strategic partnership with Cochlear Ltd. And on the highly popular “Hearing Experience Tour”, visitors could experience the initial results of the ReSound cooperation projects on hearing aid connectivity with Miele & Co. and Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s railway company – as well as hearing with 3D orientation and the new app including online service.
World debuts at Signia
Signia made the most of the tradeshow to present several world débuts. Audio Infos spoke to Sivantos GmbH President Christian Honsig, and with the Head of Audiology and Training for Germany, Sascha Haag. During the interview, Honsig described the innovations that Signia presented at EUHA 2017.
“Our new platform Signia Nx – Nx stands for “natural experience”. We are offering the world’s first solution for the natural perception of one’s own voice. Until now, this topic had not been worked on in audiology. Here, we made a major breakthrough from a technological and particularly an audiological point of view. Signia Nx is the first chip platform to process one’s own voice separately from other voices and ambient noise. This is made possible partially via the patented world-first innovation Own Voice Processing. In addition, we have a new, innovative antenna technology, which is also patented. Our latest hearing systems include a laser-edge Bluetooth antenna in the module frame.
“The new chip is characterized by ultra mini 40 nanometer technology – 40% smaller than the industry standard. With its 75 million transistors, it has 3.5 times more than its predecessor platform primax. And a superfast 500 MIPS processing speed, 60% more than primax. In addition, we expanded our dynamic range. It now has a maximum of 113 dB. Incidentally, our company built the chip itself. And, of course, we also have a new product portfolio.
“The focus of TeleCare is the service that the hearing aid professional can offer clients through flexible, direct communication channels. The specialist can react more rapidly to challenges. This also goes along with high client retention. And TeleCare is an excellent tool for this, with chat, phone and video call functions.”
Interview with Thomas Lang, Senior Vice-President Phonak Marketing
Thomas Lang explained how the Swiss manufacturer’s plan from the outset was to create a “Made for All” system and not just catch up with competitors.
“We had some rather intense discussions about whether we would join the “Made for iPhone” trend or if we wanted to have a solution that was not just on offer to 10% of the end-users. And we decided to stay true to our vision whereby all people with hearing loss should be able to benefit from our hearing solutions. So, we chose the tough path and focused on a solution that would work with all telephones. This meant that we needed to develop a unique chip, the so-called “Sword” chip that would be used for the first time in Audéo B-Direct devices. That took a little longer, but we now have this solution that is the only one that works with almost all phones, and not just with iOS devices by Apple.”
Lang also spoke about the other innovations Phonak presented at EUHA 2017, which included biometric calibration…
“This is our second innovation. We now have our ITE family on the Belong platform – this is the Virto B family. One characteristic of this family is biometric calibration. What this involves is that we do not just use the ear impression of the client to personalize the device physically. We also try to personalize the device acoustically. This means that we can co-simulate the acoustic conditions of each ear and program into the chip. This gives us even better directionality in noise.”
Finally, when asked when we can expect the next innovation from Phonak, Thomas Lang said, “Of course, we can’t say anything too specific. But we can tell you that we will launch something innovative every six months. That’s our rhythm – always before the US and the EUHA congresses.”
Oticon: “We are making good progress”
Ole Asboe Jørgensen, President of the Oticon Brand Global, and Torben Lindø, Managing Director of the German Oticon affiliate answered questions about product innovation at Oticon and Oticon Medical, and about forthcoming developments.
Torben Lindø said, “The EUHA event is an excellent opportunity once a year to get an overall picture and to compare the various manufacturers. Oticon also had many innovations to present this year. Early in the year, the new price categories for Opn 2 and 3 took centre stage, in June we had the BTEs and the systems with T-coils in new models for Opn, in September we added another chapter with the battery solution, and now we are presenting ConnectClip. Every three months, we have something new.
The small ConnectClip turns an Oticon Opn hearing system into a wireless stereo headset and is a real all-rounder. The client can use ConnectClip to make calls hands-free and in stereo with all modern smartphones. Android users can now also transfer any audio signal, e.g. music or videos, from their smartphone wirelessly and in stereo to their hearing system. In addition, ConnectClip can be used as an external microphone, e.g. for speeches, and also functions as a remote control for volume regulation and for program switching.”
Ole Asboe Jørgensen spoke about the importance of Oticon Medical: “It’s a good fit strategically and there are real perspectives for positive further development. I would also add that the brand name Oticon is very strong in the clinics and is clearly associated with quality.”
Quizzed about possible future developments with hearing aids recognising brain waves, Jørgensen said, “We can’t give any details about that. What we can say, however, is that for future developments, we are following the concept of BrainHearing technology. We do not see ourselves as only compensating hearing loss. We are developing technologies that will enable the brain to understand as well as possible, despite hearing loss, and with low listening effort. Ultimately, this may result in us not only helping to improve hearing abilities but also making the sense of hearing and the brain fitter. To do this, we must, of course, be in a position to measure what is happening in the brain. And who knows where that might lead…”Photos: Innocentia, EUHA Rechtnitz