- Published on 12 November 2015
The 60th International Congress of Hearing Aid Acousticians took place from October 14 to 16, 2015. The event was held at the well-known Nuremberg exhibition centre. 25 presentations, 6 workshops, and a total of 133 exhibitors at a massive trade show attracted large numbers of visitors to this major event for the hearing aids sector, not only for Germany and Europe. Here’s an overview.
Widex presents “Unique”
The Widex stand drew a lot of attention on the Wednesday afternoon. Wherever you looked, staff from the Danish manufacturer were deep in discussion. The visitors were clearly curious. With the slogan “100% You”, Widex was presenting “Unique” – its new generation of devices in the premium class. The backbone of the “world’s first autonomous intelligent hearing system” is the new energy-efficient Universal chip platform made up of a high-performance processor and a generous memory, equipped with a hearing situation database. The performance ability of the chip platform offers new possibilities in signal processing, controls, and determining the hearing situation. “The decisive innovation here is the Unique Universal Program with Sound Class Technology,” explains Birgit Ramin, Audiology Science Manager at Widex. The Sound Class Technology matches the entry signal with over 100 saved sound templates from the Unique hearing situation database. After identifying the hearing environment, the program automatically adjusts all system features for the perfect balance between audibility and hearing comfort.
The technical capacities of the new chip platform also enable real-time analysis of incoming sound. Unique thus creates authenticity in sound production that, according to Widex data, has won users over particularly in lively situations. Another central part of Unique is a high-resolution 18 bit A/D converter. With 108dB of true linear entry dynamics, the converter covers the entire sound range linearly and distortionfree. With WindEx, the new Widex highlight provides an innovative feature that not only removes the sound of wind, but also accentuates the speech portion of the signal in a targeted way. According to Widex, the signalto- noise ratio is improved by up to 8.4dB and thus leads to improved speech understanding of around 60%. Unique will be available from November in 110, 220, 330, and 440 performance levels.
The manufacturer also brought new innovations in the accessories area: COM-App and COM-Dex are the latest important connectivity tools. The functional highlight is the app that lets the user adjust their individual daily form. “We know that natural variations, caused for instance by tiredness or stress, influence hearing so much that even with perfectly adjusted hearing systems, users hear speech in the evening in louder environments less well than in the morning,” says Birgit Ramin. The company also presented COM-Dex, a mobile wireless hands-free communication device that connects hearing systems with the world of multimedia and that scores particularly well through its good power management.
GN ReSound and Cochlear announce collaboration
Again this year, Thursday seemed to be the busiest congress day. Lines began to form at the welcome desks at the entrance to the congress centre. But despite the crowds, the atmosphere was relaxed. A nod here, a hello there, and a little small talk for good measure.
At the ReSound stand, one could find Managing Director Joachim Gast and Dieter Fricke, Director of Audiology at GN Hearing GmbH, welcoming visitors. “We are very pleased to offer a full portfolio of innovative audiology solutions – above all our smart hearing devices,” says Joachim Gast. “Particularly with ReSound LiNX², the second generation of the world’s first Made for iPhone hearing aid, we wanted to set new standards, in audiology, connectivity and apps, as well as design.”
The technological core is the newest version of Surround Sound by ReSound. “The new Spatial Sense feature opens up clearly improved sound localization,” says Dieter Fricke. “Even in complex hearing settings and with high noise levels, reliable speech understanding is achieved. The human ear has been reproduced in detail.” ReSound LiNX² is the first complete hearing aid family for direct connection with an iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, as well as the Apple Watch. For the first time, there is direct hearing aid control with a Samsung Galaxy. Now, the Made for iPhone connection is also available for custom-made ITE hearing devices. There is also, for the first time, a Made for iPhone hearing aid in the middle price bracket. A Tinnitus Sound Generator (TSG) is also integrated. In early September, the system was granted the UX Design Award at the IFA trade show for consumer electronics.
Another example of a smart hearing system that integrates Made for iPhone functionality was presented: the Super Power Hearing Aid ReSound ENZO, and the ReSound Up Smart system for children. The ReSound Smart App is currently being enhanced with functions for speech focus and noise reduction, a wind filter, and tinnitus functionality. The ReSound Relief App also offers additional options for tinnitus relief. Another novel product is ReSound Enya. “The comfortable RIE, BTE, and ITE systems, offered in three attractive price bands, are suitable for both mild-to-moderate and for severe hearing loss,” says Dieter Fricke. “ReSound Enya offers reliable speech understanding in noise, with comfortable hearing, excellent sound quality and ear-to-ear interlinking based on 2.4 GHz wireless technology. The system sets high standards for hearing aid interlinking in an attractive price bracket.”
The buzz on Thursday mainly revolved around the announcement that GN ReSound and Cochlear are soon to join forces for smart hearing. The joint aim is to develop and market bimodal hearing solutions. “Since 2011, the parties have been working together successfully on the development of technologies and products,” adds Joachim Gast. “As part of the alliance, this joint work will be expanded considerably. Most users of cochlear implants have a bimodal solution. In the future, they will benefit from the world’s smartest bimodal hearing solutions.”
EUHA corridors: Relationship between hearing aid and smartphone becomes more and more intimate
The EUHA congress featured among other things the new ReSound LiNX², the second generation of the first ‘made for iPhone‘ hearing aid. Thus the official manufacturer‘s news already focused on smartphone connectivity. The buzz-news in the corridors, however, was already about a much further reaching relationship between hearing aid and smartphone. A glimpse of this was the presence of a number of Samsung employees and colleagues from various other Far East electronics companies.
Now that the wireless connection of smartphone to all kinds of sound equipment, mainly via Bluetooth, is common practice, entirely new concepts for hearing aids come into view. It might well be that the hearing aid as an integrated device will be a thing of the past quite shortly. A hearing aid could well become a combination of various modules. The processor will be the smartphone‘s and is updated with every new smartphone the user acquires. Via, for instance, Bluetooth, the smartphone is connected to a device in or behind the ear, featuring the microphones and speakers of the system. An essential module will of course be the software: an app using the smartphone‘s calculation power. This module can also be updated regularly and separately and might even be available on subscription. Some barriers still have to be overcome, such as the continuous connection between smartphone and ear-device, which requires a more energy-efficient wireless protocol than currently available. But the trend towards energy-efficiency is ongoing.
Such a modular approach would make the devices both smaller and cheaper, as it would come without a processor of its own. It cannot be ruled out that such a revolution in hard and software would coincide with new opportunities for self-fitting and self-programming. Developments in that direction could be observed at the EUHA. The contours of a new approach can be observed, but how they work out in practice remains to be seen. Does the ‘hearing aid as an app‘ mean that smartphone manufacturers will acquire hearing aid manufacturers? Will the large hearing aid manufacturers commit themselves (exclusively) to the various operating systems for smartphones? Whatever way the wind blows, hearing aid dispensers will be wise to consider what a development in this direction might mean to them.
Baha 5: Mfi technology also at Cochlear
At the Cochlear stand, Frederec Lau, Marketing Manager for Cochlear Germany, provided current trade show highlights for the group. The focus was firstly on the bone conduction hearing system Baha 5. “Cochlear Baha 5 is a ground-breaking solution for people with conductive hearing loss,” says Lau. “It is the first bone-anchored system with two alternative connection options – Baha Connect and Baha Attract. And it is the system with the smallest sound processor at this time. With Baha 5, we are very proud to offer the first bone-anchored hearing system with Made for iPhone technology. For the first time, the system offers the possibility of receiving speech, music, and other sounds, directly from an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch without any accessories. With our Baha 5 Smart App, the user can easily adjust their hearing experience on the display of the mobile device.”
The other highlight at Cochlear was the Cochlear Wireless accessory, which can be used for both Baha 5 and for the cochlear implant system Nucleus 6. “Nucleus 6 has proved to be a great success,” says Frederec Lau. “It is the CI system with the most intelligent, fully automated signal processing system. Nucleus 6 adjusts entirely automatically to any new hearing environment and thus provides corresponding optimal results in speech understanding and hearing experience.”
The Cochlear Wireless accessory offers users of Baha 5 and Nucleus 6 wireless freedom and better hearing in many day-to-day and challenging situations. The accessory has three products. The Cochlear Wireless Mini Microphone helps to understand speech even at a distance, and to make it clearer in background noise. With the Cochlear Phone clip, cell phone calls have better quality and hearing comfort, and you don’t need to take the smart phone out the pocket. And with the Cochlear Audio Transmitter, one can enjoy TV programs with optimized volume. Through video simulations, visitors had the opportunity to experience the benefits of the accessory for themselves.
Bernafon presents a “revolutionary new fitting concept”
There was also major interest around the Bernafon stand at this year’s event. With a “revolutionary new fitting concept”, the manufacturer created much anticipation in the run-up to the congress. Now people wanted to know more.
Carsten Braun, Head of Audiology at Bernafon in Berlin tells us what’s so important about the new concept, known as BeFlex. “BeFlex is the technological implementation of our idea for parallel hearing aid fitting”. Braun told us what lies behind this concept. “With BeFlex, Bernafon gives hearing aid wearers for the first time the possibility of comparing up to three hearing aid classes simultaneously in one test system for a single hearing situation”. The manufacturer is pursuing what it started back in 2014 with “dual fitting”. “BeFlex has now made it technologically possible to include up to three hearing aids from our current product family that operate entirely independently on a single platform,” explains Braun. Using a keystroke or remote control, the client can toggle between the device classes in the individual hearing situation and work out which technology level best meets their needs. The client can then return to the hearing aid specialist who will assess which performance class was preferred. “To do this, we have multiple analysis models, for instance Data Logging”, says Carsten Braun. A hearing diary has been added in which the user can record and assess their experiences with each device class in different situations. Once the user has chosen a performance class, the hearing aid specialist can then order a new device in the selected model and colour. Once it arrives, the specialist can use the transfer function to easily transpose data from the BeFlex fitting session to the new device.
BeFlex is a special test device that is also recognisable as such. Furthermore, the hearing aid specialist can limit the test phase to between two and six weeks. Once the test phase is completed, BeFlex can be programmed not to restart, with no further action required on the part of the specialist.
The basic settings chosen by the specialist in BeFlex are automatically synchronized with the uploaded per formance classes on the test device. “Once amplification, frequency response, and dynamics have been set so that the client has good speech understanding, this is simultaneously implemented for the other two device classes,” says Carsten Braun. “Speech understanding in quiet is identical in all three performance classes. This is due to the fact that we work with channel-free signal processing in all performance classes. Therefore, the parallel concept of BeFlex is only possible with Bernafon.” The underlying audible differences between the performance classes are therefore to be found in the comfort settings. And this is precisely the perceptible and transparent added value of higher device classes for clients. “This creates trust because clients can decide for themselves what benefits each technology brings.”
In addition, Bernafon presented Nevara 1, a new product line in the entry-level segment that works on the manufacturer’s new chip platform and is already fitted with many features of Audio EfficiencyTM technology. With AFC Plus and ANR Plus, Nevara 1 for instance works with the same feedback canceller and the same background-noise reducer as in the Saphira line.
There is also a new Power device. “About 25% of all fittings involve the Power area. Of these, about 10%- 15% are WHO 4 cases. The Power BTE was developed for the very interesting remaining amount of high-grade fittings (WHO 3). It has output power up to 138 dB and is available in all performance classes, and despite its high capacity, it is comparatively small.”
Unitron presents cutting-edge technology and client-oriented design
Unitron also had something new to present this year at their stand, located in Hall 4a, Stand B 09. Unitron President Jan Metzdorff and Jochen Meuser, Managing Director Unitron Germany, and their team were very pleased to present the new Stride Design and the new North Platform to the professional audience. “We have cutting-edge products on the market. Given the great look of our devices, we appeal to clients in terms of ergonomics, functionality, and appearance. In addition, our unique automatic 7 program system and clientoriented design at Unitron help accentuate our leading technologies,” says Jochen Meuser.
The Stride range is a new moisture-proof BTE line, with Stride P and the robust Stride P Dura, as well as the new ITE range that was explicitly developed to overcome client barriers. New and attractive wireless models complete the Moxi product line with the North Platform launched in June, a combination of SoundNav, Sound Conductor and SpeechZone 2 and that, according to the company, has “absolutely natural sound” and “the best possible speech intelligibility”. While SoundNav guarantees exact classification of seven different acoustic environments, Sound Conductor and SpeechZone 2 together help to offer optimal speech understanding. Music is binaurally synchronized as a separate environment.
The new volume control and push button that in terms of touch resembles an i-phone button, as well as the plasma coating and new microphone opening, round off the new offer. The Flex program has also been developed and upgraded with Log It All. This “unique data logging solution” from Unitron captures the entire hearing experience of clients and allows hearing aid specialists to show clients their individual hearing context visually and to recommend the optimal technology level taking into account the person’s life style. With Log It All, Unitron provides suppliers with an instrument for differentiation that should enable them to conduct a consultation based on actual needs and objective data. Since the partnership with hearing acousticians is fundamental for Unitron to remain successful on the market over time, Meuser says, “It is important to win the trust of clients. We can only do this if we put the focus on the services offered by hearing aid specialists. This is because we believe that any optimal service to clients serves word-of-mouth marketing.”
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