- Published on 03 December 2013
It is autumn, time for the International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians EUHA to take place in Germany. The 58th edition was organized from 16 to 18 October at the Nürnberg Congress Center (NCC).
"Any skill requires diligence, effort and hard work before one has grasped and learnt it." EUHA president Martin Blecker appropriately quotes Nuremberg’s famous son Albrecht Dürer in his foreword to the booklet for the EUHA’s 58th International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians. For whom would this remark be more fitting than for hearing aid acousticians? Blecker proceeds: “At the congress, we will work on ourselves. Together we will advance new findings, connect information, draw new conclusions. This is how the provision of hearing aids is promoted – for our customers’ benefit.” The congress and trade show offers a great opportunity to meet relations and new people in a concentration of space and time, to share insights, see product innovations and attend lectures by recognized specialists.
Red tape and satisfied customers
Changes in health insurance and reimbursement systems were the talk of the town at EUHA. Norway, Switzerland and Holland had their system changed and now it’s Germany’s turn. Other countries also expect changes in the near future. One can have innovative technologies, one can be proud of one’s dedication, knowledge and craftmanship, but red tape and regulations are always around the corner to spoil things. Luckily, there is still another factor on the happy side of the equation: satisfied customers. “Many of us greatly enjoy achieving better and better results, facilitating better hearing”, Blecker concludes. Let’s cherish this joy!
This being said, it can still be hard work. Innovations to hearing aids and accessories don’t necessarily make the life of hearing aid acousticians easier. Hans Peter Bursig, managing director of the German Association of the Hearing Instruments Industry: “Innovative technologies are providing better and better solutions to improve speech intelligibility, even in difficult situations. The integration of accessories that are important in the users’ day to day life is also becoming more and more easy. (..) As a result, the fitting process is becoming ever more complex. (..) Hearing aid acousticians need to have skills and knowledge in order to fit complex new solutions to the customer’s individual needs. The EUHA congress has an important role to play in order to disseminate innovation.”
But what is the reward for the skills and knowledge needed for complex fitting? Bursig: “Research and development by industry need to be funded, just like the time and effort that hearing aid acousticians spend on the complex process of fitting innovative hearing aids. German health insurance companies expect all these aspects to be provided for all insurance holders without private co-payments. This cannot be done.”
The tour of the stands
The German company shows two new families of hearing aids at EUHA, the Libra and the Miro. But maybe even a bigger innovation is the new software platform designed for the fitting of those two new families and also the existing ones, like the Vico family of hearing aids. Product Manager Frederik Eichhorn: “We offer a complete portfolio of hearing aids, from BTE’s to RITE’s. Our whole portfolio benefits from the new fitting software audifit 5. It was tested by hearing care professionals from KIND Hearing, market leader in hearing aid despensing in Germany. It offers new design and new workflow. And most importantly: it is very intuitive and easy to work with.”
Integrated in audifit 5 is the feature demonstration tool MySound!, which offers a quick and easy access to sound simulation in the fitting studio, supported by a second screen and five speakers. Eichhorn: “Hearing aids get more and more features, which in the end complicate the fitting process. Against this background, audifit 5 enables the acoustician to realize a faster fitting process together with the customer.”
Audio Service introduces three new BTE models. They all include the G2 state-of-the-art technology. The small housed XS 312 battery hearing instrument is meant for mild to moderate hearing loss. The DUO and P are using the 13 battery and feature programmable operationals. The DUO 6 G2 rocker switch can be used for volume control, programme change or sound balance. In a binaural fitting one hearing aid can be used for instance for volume control and the other for programme change performing at both ears using the wireless functionality. “We are also proud to present the 12th generation of our semimodular ITEs”, says R&D manager Ing. Michael Bulk. “In our Ida, we have placed two microphones into the all-in-one module to offer excellent directionality and spatial orientation. An integrated rocker switch offers a new dimension of user comfort. Ideally combined with wireless technology.”
Service’s head of Marketing Almut Niederfeld: “Audio Services’ main focus is the German market. The new reimbursement regulations in Germany will mean some changes in the market. We think that in-the-ear products will meet increased interest thanks to their cosmetic advantages. Also the export sales is of importance to Audio Service. In particular export customers need a full range of products and support. Audio Service as partner of choice can fulfill this task.
Interview with Thomas Mettang, CEO at Audio Service
Apart from Resound and Interton, Beltone also shares one of the most interesting innovations on this year’s EUHA. It is the possibility of 2.4 GHz wireless sound streaming directly from iPhone to hearing aids. Sales manager Arthur Schuurmans of GN Hearing Benelux BV: “Customers nowadays expect more from their hearing aids. Their requirements have become broader. With our new range of products, we can answer to this call. Beltone Prime is another innovation to answer the end user’s requirements: a high-class, invisible, Instant- Fit In-the-Ear solution.” His colleague, product manager Mark Bakkum, comments on another side of the coin: “Unfortunately, the present reimbursement system in Holland does not favour the innovative state-of-the-art in this respect. This is a restriction to the consumer, who often has to look outside the system if he wants to get the newest developments.”
“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the rules, at least in the Dutch market. Based on a Television program about the system, many Dutch customers now have the perception that hearing aids have become expensive, whereas within the system they can often be cheaper for them than before, but without freedom of choice! The system defines a very strict, but not yet proven relation between care demand and hearing aid features. Unfortunately the customer cannot choose to upgrade by paying surplus costs by himself – up to now. Health insurance companies pressed for this, out of fear that many customers would go for top range hearing aids. In practice this is hardly the case. In Germany upgrading will probably remain an option. In other countries, like Belgium, there is also rumour about a new prescription and reimbursement system. It is a European phenomenon. In itself, there is nothing against ‘functional claim´, as the Dutch system is called. What other countries can learn from the experience, is that flexibility remains necessary; too much rigidity leads to attenuation of care and hearing aid choice. This does not leave enough room for the acoustician to provide the service that a hearing aid, as a semifinished product, deserves.”
Bernafon unveiled to audiologists the new Carista 5 and 3 products at EUHA. The Audio Efficiency technology, first launched in the Acriva products, has now cascaded to the two mid-range hearing families of the Carista 5 and 3. “A lot of the features from our high-end segment [Acriva], are to be found in Carista 5 and 3, like wireless connectivity and binaural coordination, also our Adaptive Feedback Canceller Plus and Adaptive Noise Reduction Plus,” explained Stephan Geist, Audiology and Marketing for Bernafon. The Swiss manufacturer believes that users will be able to count on improved speech understanding, enhanced listening comfort and greater opportunities for individualization. “We are especially excited to bring wireless connectivity to our mid-range instruments with Carista”, said Giuseppe Romaniello, Carista Product Manager. “A direct input from the TV, mobile phone, GPS, etc., with less background noise, can really make listening much easier and more comfortable. And, in this price category, it’s a great feature.” The Carista product is available in four BTE variations and six ITEs, as well as in five colours and a variety of acoustic options. For Eric Spahr, CEO and President of Bernafon, the recent adjustments to the German market ensured that this year’s EUHA congress was stimulating, “It is interesting to discuss with our German customers the change in the market situation. It creates some interesting discussions and we are looking forward to the three days at this event!”
Interview with Erich Spahr, CEO and President of Bernafon International
Coselgi shows the new Melodia series of hearing aids without wire. The Melodia is especially developed and marketed to provide an optimized combination of price and quality and offers interaural communication and wireless programming in five models: RIC, mini BTE, BTE, CIC and ITE. These can be chosen with 3, 5, 10 or 15 channels. They come with dedicated remote controls, designed for their intuitive operability.
This year, under new management, ExSilent has embraced a fresh strategy. Managing Director Caroline Ammerlaan explains: “We grow rapidly in Asia. Apart from that, we mainly aim at independent audiologists and dispensers in the US, Germany and the Netherlands. As the only manufacturer without retail, we offer them products and market approaches which stand out in a consolidating market. By directly addressing end customers with the unique appealing value of ExSilents products and marketing, we aim to drive consumers to our professional network of audiologists and dispensers. We aim at consumers from 50 to 65 who start needing hearing support. With the new slogan ‘Smartest hearing solution in the world’ we focus on style, invisibility and customer appeal. New in this approach are pop up stores, rented for two weeks to inform the general public in what hearing amplification can do for them.
ExSilent is also well aware of the fact that many people are not yet ready to visit an audiologist or dispenser; many feel it may be appropriate to use hearing assistance only in specific situations. Therefore the company now introduces a pre set, over-the-counter ‘personal sound amplifier’. It combines a low amplification level with affordability to boost early use, before the 30 dB hearing loss level has been attained. The ITE Qleaf Lite and the BTE Ytango Lite thus lower the barrier and give people insight in what hearing amplification can do. When the amplification is in time to low for customers and they decide to buy a hearing aid of the ExSilent Qleaf or Ytango serie, they get a refund. “This is the main basis for the newly introduced acceptation approach”, says Chief Technology Officer Erik Altena. “Unlike BTEs and RICs, our Microphone and Receiver in the Canal (MaRiC) places all technology where it belongs: in the earshell. This puts an end to amongst others wind noise problems.”
Hansaton is the pioneer in rechargeable hearing aids. “Our fourth generation still serves a niche market, but it grows and will become mainstream”, says Hansaton’s Export Manager Rainer Kerschek. “Surely it is the future. We can now offer 13 size rechargeable batteries, but in time the smaller 312 will also become available.” Hansaton uses Siemens hardware for its XearA platform, with its own audiological software. ‘Conversation Lift’ and ‘Sound Restore’ automatically present optimized hearing conditions to the user. The hearing system analyzes, identifies and classifies hearing situations. Conversation Lift works together with the directional microphone and speech beam system to retrieve speech from disruptive background noise, for instance of other voices. It lifts speech by at least 20 dB. On top of this, noise reduction reduces stationary noise up to 24 dB and voice detection reduces interference noise up to 24 dB. The combined result is, according to Hansaton, an enormous improvement in comprehension of speech with background noise.
Another focus of family-owned Hansaton are the tinnitus products. Kerschek: “These are in a completely different, purely medical market. Tinnitus treatment requires made to measure solutions of noise enrichment, pure noise and models with or without hearing aid function. They are provided in close relationship with ENT-doctors, audiologists, psychologists and speech therapists. We do a lot of international seminars and lectures in our Hamburg Training Center.”
Like the other brands in the GN ReSound group, ReSound and Beltone, Interton also uses 2.4 GHz wireless technology. Interton applies it for communication between the hearing aid and wireless accessories such as remote control, TV streamer, mini microphone and phones clip. Unlike its sister companies ReSound and Beltone it hasn’t got the sound streaming solution directly from iPhone to hearing aids yet. What it does have, is the micro RIE as the smallest hearing aid in the world, making use of the tiny 10A size battery. The micro RIE is not fitted for the 2.4 GHz wireless technology, but has a surprising amount of technologies in its small housing. It is available in Interton’s Cosmo6 15 channels and Crisp3 8 channels specifications. In Cosmo the customer enjoys personalized hearing with Environmental Gain Tuner and Personal Noise Reduction.
At this year’s EUHA, Oticon featured its new mid-range hearing solution family Oticon Nera and new Oticon Sensei, Oticon’s most value-packed paediatric hearing solution so far. In addition to presenting Oticon’s latest product innovations, president Søren Nielsen also made a statement of a more general nature: “If you look at the big picture of hearing aid development, we’ve seen enormous enhancements for hearing in noisy situations. In the future, we can expect even further improvements in this important area. Our goal is to allow people to perform in more difficult listening situations with reduced listening effort so they can stay active throughout the day.”
“Oticon’s focus is to deliver hearing solutions, support and counselling tools that allow hearing professionals to put their clients at the centre of a uniquely personalised hearing experience. When recommending a hearing solution, it is not a question of age or level of activity. It always makes sense to experience the difference premium hearing aids can make and to invest in the very best hearing solution.” This is a difficult message in a market challenged with reimbursement issues, and considering the present trend in several countries, where sales primarily rely on out-dated low-priced, low-feature models. Nielsen stated: “Both the manufacturer and the hearing care professional have a task to explain that good hearing contributes to, for instance, maintaining a social life and remaining active. Evidence is growing that good rehabilitation of hearing can help to prevent dementia. We argue that optimal hearing care is in the consumer’s best interest. And we are hopeful that we can convince politicians of this too, eventually.”
Interview with Torben Lindø and Horst Warncke, Oticon
Phonak shows the evolution of its catalogue based on the Quest platform. “We are proud to present such a complete series of solutions based on the same platform after so little time”, said Sonova Vice President of Marketing, Maarten Barmentlo. “Phonak has renewed its complete portfolio in one year. The Quest technology is now available in five performance levels and our solutions offer the best adapted answer to any hearing need and for any hearing situation.” The Phonak Baseo Q and Tao Q models are added to the Quest portfolio for cost-conscious clients. Baseo Q is a range of three basic BTE models in three power levels. With four fitting channels and direct audio input connections, all models are also water and dust resistant. The economy-levels BTEs include features such as WhistleBlock, NoiseBlock, fixed directional microphones, data logging and end-of-battery life and program beeps. Tao Q is an ITE portfolio in three styles and up to four power levels.
Especially with severe-to-profound consumers in mind, the Phonak wireless accessories have been expanded with the introduction of the Roger Clip-on Mic and the Roger Pen, which Barmentlo described as, “A beautiful solution. A microphone that looks like a pen, but is packed with technology that automatically switches modes to pick up the relevant signals.” As well as fully automated microphone settings, the Roger Pen has Bluetooth cell phone connectivity. In addition, the Phonak DECT cordless phone was launched. The DECT phone transmits the conversation simultaneously to both hearing aids, maximizing speech understanding significantly compared to using a standard home phone. Utilising more than 40 years’ experience in paediatrics, Phonak has launched Sky Q, a product portfolio for children of all ages. Three BTEs and a RIC model are available in three performance levels which are based on the Quest platform, offering the benefits of Binaural VoiceStream Technology™ for children and the non-linear frequency compression algorithm SoundRecover. As well as being water resistant, dust tight and tamperproof, the products come in a range of 17 ‘Mix & Match’ housing and ear hook colours. Enhanced fitting capabilities are possible through the Junior mode in the Phonak Target fitting software.
Interview with Maarten Barmentlo, Group Vice President Phonak
British manufacturer Puretone had a preview launch of their new Mino range of instant fit products for Tinnitus, Hearing and CENS® noise protection for shooters. Gerry Allchorne, General Manager of Puretone concluded: “All in all it was very successful, and we look forward to exhibiting at next year’s EUHA Congress in Hanover.”
ReSound introduced an innovation at EUHA that really caught the attention: the ReSound LINX, the world’s first hearing aid made for iPhone. Laurel Christensen Ph.D, Chief Audiology Officer and Vice President of ReSound: “Music, movie soundtracks, phone calls, any sound can directly be streamed from the iPhone to the LINX. This is the future of hearing aids. The use of reasonably priced wireless accessories will grow as well. This goes especially for small separate directional microphones, providing the best possible listening experience in noisy environments to the customer. These microphones provide a really good alternative to FM devices which are generally too costly for the consumer market.” The LINX uses 2.4 GHz for streaming. Christensen comments: “Most other brands use near field magnetic induction for wireless technology and need intermediary devices around the neck to realize the sound streaming functionality to the hearing aid. With the LINX, the very small hearing aid itself is enough. For the future, we also foresee devices for the Android platform”.
The direct connection to the smartphone is not the only quality of the LINX, Christensen ensures: “In independent research, its sound quality came out on top. What’s more, it deploys new frequency compression with improved sound quality, for customers with regions in the cochlea which are essentially not functioning. The sound processing leads to replacement of ‘lost’ frequencies to the frequency areas that can still hear.” When asked for market trends in Europe, Christensen immediately mentions the changing reimbursement rules in various countries. “But how these new rules will ultimately affect the industry is still being determined.”
Interview with Gian Carlo Sciuchetti, Head of Global Marketing GN ReSound
Based on the latest generation micon chip, Siemens launches a new Nitro, the hearing aid for people with severe hearing loss. The BTE version is nearly onethird smaller than its predecessor and thanks to a substantially slimmer design and security features the instrument is also well suited for babies’ ears. All models that have wireless connectivity will synchronize sound settings. The Siemens binaural technology, which was developed in cooperation with research scientists at Oldenburg University, has received the German Future Prize from the German President. The Nitro series will amplify up to 140dB SPL and is also equipped with a special tinnitus feature. tinnitus feature. Powered by micon with Soundability™, available in two micon performance levels, features at a glance include: 7mi, 3 mi, wireless connectivity with e2e™ wireless 2.0, direct audio input with audio shoe (optional), built-in Telecoil, AutoPhone and tinnitus-noiser option. The new Nitro ITEs are available in various designs. Just like the BTEs, they have a distinctly improved performance and additional automatic settings for a variety of noise and sound situations. The ITEs are available immediately; the BTEs will be available from January 2014.
Other novelties from Siemens are the baseline families Sirion (BTE and ITE) and Orion. The Sirion has an automatic directional microphone and latest generation feedback manager and is water and dust protected. The Orion features the e2e-wireless technology for automatic control of the hearing aids in a binaural set. Other possible functions are a tinnitus-noiser and frequency compression for more natural sound. The Unity 3 is a new mobile, modular fitting system for PC. All measurements are carried out for both ears simultaneously. Unity 3 will be available in early 2014.
Sonic goes through a period of fast growth, says Director International Sales Marcel Vennik. “We were excited to provide conference delegates with the opportunity to hear the simple, easy-to-use Sonic technologies available in our products.” The brand showcased the new Charm, a family of mid-level hearing solutions. Charm delivers the features consumers value most, according to Sonic: Speech Priority Noise Reduction, Adaptive Feedback Canceller and sophisticated Speech Variable Processing (SVP) and remains affordable.
Phil Lyons, Vice President International Operations said, “We are excited to be here at the EUHA conference launching our 3 Series custom product line. 3 Series with BluWave technology offers full audio streaming in stereo, from BTE to CIC. The 3 Series family welcomes new members such as the new ITE 3 Series wireless using the new platform BluWave 3.0. Starkey states that the 3 Series custom line is their smallest, smartest and most reliable custom wireless solution, available in three custom styles (CIC, ITC and ITE). Models include the i20, i30, i70, i90 and i110. The new platform offers enhanced sound processing algorithms aimed at offering a natural and comfortable listening experience. Roger Lewin, Managing Director of Starkey UK, said “Our current wireless products offer the most advanced Starkey technology. Our 3 Series Standard Products have been very well received due to their excellent sound quality, easy to use controls and their cosmetic appeal and we have recently added our 3 Series custom to provide a well-rounded product family.
The ‘Genius Bar’ on the booth was showing the latest Inspire software as well as the new product portfolio. The ‘Wireless Bar’ area enabled audiologists to listen and experience the SurfLink Mobile, Starkey’s all-in-one device for media streaming and phone conversations. The new 3 Series custom products are compatible with the wireless accessories. Finally in the ‘Tinnitus Bar’ featured the Xino Tinnitus hearing aid that tackles the subjective nature of tinnitus in a nearly invisible RIC 10 device. Xino Tinnitus uses the patent-pending Multiflex Tinnitus Technology to create a patient-preferred sound stimulus designed to deliver the one thing every sufferer wants: relief. During EUHA, Starkey announced a technology partnership with silver-zinc battery producer ZPower. Utilizing silver-zinc rechargeable technology that originated in aerospace and military applications, Starkey Hearing Technologies and ZPower have been working together for the past four years on development and field-testing of a rechargeable battery that can be used for a revolutionary recharge system. Furthermore, vice president of international operations Phil Lyons promises remarkable novelties for the second Hearing Innovation Expo in Las Vegas for January 2014. 3,500 audiologists from across the globe have already reserved their places.
Interview with Phil Lyons, Starkey Vice President of International Operations
“Our main message at this show is about the next generation of natural hearing, which is the introduction of Moxi2 and Quantum2, our RIC, standard BTE and custom product lines,” said Bruce Brown, Vice President of Marketing for Unitron. Quantum2 offers BTE and ITE products and Moxi2 provides three RITE models. Available at four technology levels, the Moxi2 and Quantum2 product families incorporate signature technologies that deliver the ease of listening and clarity of speech necessary to create a best first fit experience and overall increased patient satisfaction. A key Unitron feature, SmartFocus2 has been enhanced and offers a new level of speech intelligibility in noise and limits the distracting noises that impact more than 90 per cent of a patient’s hearing experience. Unitron’s Automatic Adaptation Manager is designed to keep new wearers more satisfied by starting them at their preferred listeninglistening levels, then transitioning them to the amplification they need, gradually, comfortably and automatically. Moxi2 and Quantum2 product families introduce fresh new styles. The Moxi2 family includes a choice of three receiver-in-canal (RIC) styles, including the Moxi2 Kiss and the new robust Moxi2 Dura, while the Quantum2 family offers a complete selection of performance BTEs and ITEs, including a new BTE. Andre de Goeij, Director, Product Manager with Unitron said: “With Quantum2 and Moxi2 we have new form factors, new styles but they are also available with our Flex programme. Flex is our business solution that we introduced last year that gives audiologists a good opportunity to select the right instrument for the patient and fit within the first appointment. It’s really changing behaviour and has been a practice builder for the audiologists.”
For Bruce Brown and the Unitron team, EUHA is more than a German congress: “EUHA is an international show for us and we treat it as one of the two world stages to bring the new products about Unitron; this is where the news is released.” With this in mind the Unitron booth was designed for conversations: “There’s lots of meeting areas, rather than just drop in for a few minutes and leave, we encourage people to stay for 15 minutes to one hour if they like. Part of that is to get some collaboration going on for people interested in Unitron and between nationalities.” Despite the many changes that are happening in a variety of markets right now, Brown is optimistic about the next twelve months for Unitron: “It will be a year with some questions because of the changes. Overall, we are optimistic about the kind of year we are having so far and how the industry is shaping up for the year ahead.”
Interview with André de Goeij and Bruce Brown, Unitron
“Our primary focus still lies on the Dream portfolio, launched earlier this year. It is available in all form factors and performance levels. We are happy with the extremely good reception it got by both acousticians and clients”, Vice President Marketing Søren Ernstsen opens. “It is not just a product launch, but offers a similar leap ahead as the Senso did, which marked the change to digitalization. It is a similarly big improvement. The sound quality and the way the Dream automatically adapts to and deals with noisy situations are reflected by the favorable uptake.”
Further improvement of sound quality and speech intelligibility still remains Widex’ primary focus. Compared to the Dream, the new wireless CROS solution, is a minor, but important innovation. Ernstsen: “It uses Widex Link technology to transfer the signal of any wireless Widex product to the other ear with minimal battery consumption. Sensible interaction with accessories is a useful supplement to the core function of the hearing aid. Offering this fits our ambition to be a full line supplier. The message is: whatever hearing problem the client has, Widex offers a solution.” Ernstsen qualifies the European hearing aid market as stable, except for the declining Dutch market. “Certain countries reconsider the reimbursement system, but it is impossible to predict the impact of that before requirements have become clear. We need to follow policy closely. In the end, all parties involved have the same interest: providing the best hearing solution to the hearing impaired by maintaning a high service level. But whatever direction developments might take, we will always try to deliver the best products. At the end of the day, it’s quality and service that counts. And as service by acousticians to a large extent defines quality, we try to support them as good as we can.”
Interview with Kay Buchhauser, Head of Sales, Marketing and Audiology, Widex
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