The next stage of hearing devices: artificial intelligence, machine learning and sensor technology
- Published on 13 November 2018
The 8,000 attendees from 83 countries were spoilt for choice at the 2018 EUHA Congress. In the auditorium were 30 lectures, workshops and roundtables to participate in. Spread across 15,000 sqm of exhibition hall were 142 companies who had travelled from 19 countries to showcase their latest innovations and ideas.
The congress organisation is divided in two: the lecture programme and workshops organised by the EUHA and the trade show organised by the German Hearing Aid Industry Association, BVHI (Bundesverband der Hörgeräteindustrie). For 2018, there were 142 exhibitors from 19 countries, with 55% coming from Germany and 45 % from abroad. 8,000 audiologists and industry representatives took time to explore the 15,000 sqm of innovations across hearing care. It was noticeable this year, the growing number of hearing aid manufacturers from China, Korea and Japan who had taken significant exhibition spaces and the rise (again) of 3D printing equipment suppliers. This year, the beginning of the next stage in the digitisation process was on show; with artificial intelligence, sensor technology and machine learning finding their way into the latest hearing aids. Let’s look round some of the larger exhibitors.
Audio Service gets delegates in the mood
The Mood Li-Ion G5 was the star of the show for Audio Service. Offering full connectivity with simultaneous binaural data processing combined with lithium-ion technology, Audio Service say the Mood Li-Ion G5 is unique and defines a new technical standard. It adjusts itself binaurally to every hearing situation with intelligent algorithms and, for example, ensures the best mood by ensuring that the wearer’s own voice is perceived pleasantly. The Mood Li-Ion G5 is available in 3 technology levels: 16, 12 and 8 and connects wirelessly to a smartphone, TV, or HiFi device. The Mood products include the Occlumatic feature which makes an important contribution to improving hearing comfort. Through a learning process, the device recognises the wearer's own voice and modulates it so that it sounds familiar and natural. Due to this feature, Audio Service believe Mood has a much higher spontaneous acceptance during the acclimation process, especially in initial fitting.
The G5 AudioLink technology wirelessly connects the left and right hearing system, permanently synchronizing the hearing information. MotionSense allows the G5 hearing systems to evaluate the motion sensor of the smartphone from an audiological point of view. Finally, SpatialSpot allows the system to focus on what the wearer wants to hear in any given situation. Improvements in the input dynamics further ensure that signals are transmitted distortion-free. The Ida BT offers the G5 technology in an in-the-ear hearing system. With its smartphone connectivity, the Ida BT allows the discrete remote control of individual features, but the acoustic use of numerous apps via Direct Audio Streaming. “With the innovative RIC Mood Li-Ion G5 and the Ida BT G5 custom model, we not only offer individual and unrestricted listening pleasure. With the new G5 technology, we also facilitate the use of numerous features that are essentially implemented through smartphone apps,” says Thomas Mettang, Managing Director of AS Audio Service GmbH.
Beltone, a GN Group brand
This was the first EUHA showing for the Beltone Amaze product range. The Amaze features a new processor chip platform for improved sound quality, connectivity and battery life. This chip is 100% faster with its processing, has 100% more memory, a 35% increase in frequency bandwidth and 20% reduced power consumption compared to previous Beltone devices. Anders Hedegaard, GN Hearing CEO said, “This is a new product that is bringing our connectivity to a completely new level.” Beltone Amaze is available in two Receiver-In-the-Ear models (RIE). One is a standard size 13 product and the other has an integrated lithium-ion rechargeable battery which is based on the Beltone RIE 63 model. The rechargeable RIE offers 24 hours of use when streaming 50 percent of the time and 30 hours of use without streaming. Beltone say the rechargeable solution is so easy and intuitive that 9 out of 10 users will start using the system without instructions. The Beltone Amaze products offer an extended bandwidth which lets users experience a new level of sound quality when streaming music or phone calls directly from Apple devices or through Beltone wireless accessories. Finally, users can access the Beltone HearMax™ app, which allows users to adjust the hearing instrument settings through their smartphones.
Bernafon broaden product offering
Sitting in the William Demant Group of companies, Bernafon shares some synergies with its sister companies, but has retained its distinctiveness in strategies and features for its hearing devices. The Swiss manufacturer uses Dynamic Environment Control System (DECS™) in the Zerena product range which was extended in time for this year’s EUHA. The four main features of DECS are: Continuous Environment Detection; Dynamic Noise Management; Dynamic Amplification Control and Dynamic Speech Processing. Previously available in technology levels 9|7|5, Bernafon has added entry-level categories 3 and 1 to the Zerena range. These entry-level products offer two of the four DECs features − Continuous Environment Detection and Dynamic Noise Management – which allow the devices to continuously analyse the sound environment for changes. The Zerena 3|1 use dual-radio chip technology with Bluetooth 2.4 GHz connectivity and NFMI.
To complement the existing Zerena BTEs, RITEs and miniRITEs, Bernafon has also made available custom instrument styles from IIC to ITE across all five technology points. The IIC and CIC are more powerful than previous offerings due to new speaker options and the ITC and ITEs can be used like stereo headphones when used with the SoundClip-A. The SoundClip-A accessory facilitates streaming and “made for all phones” hands-free phone conversations to both ears. It is compatible with Android, iPhone and other 2.4 GHz standard Bluetooth audio devices. Søren Nielsen, President & CEO of William Demant Holding, highlighted the size and sleekness of design of the new Bernafon custom instruments, particularly in the IIC and CIC which he says has been made possible due to “The new sleek faceplate design; an embedded amplifier; smaller microphones and a flatter battery door for size 10.”
Wave of publicity for Microson
The Spanish brand is making a wave in the European market with a presence at the EUHA that is growing year-on-year. Microson is the only Spanish hearing device manufacturer; it currently exports 30% of its hearing instruments to more than 30 countries but is ambitious to extend its presence in Europe and the Middle East as part of its expansion plan. For EUHA 2018, they unveiled the new M4 Open product, which Microson believe is the smallest hearing aid in its category that incorporates a noise reducer for a more natural sound and less echo. Among the list of features, M4 also offers the possibility of tinnitus management with a white noise generator.
The company also showed its nanoproof system which protects the hearing devices internally and externally with a material that is midway between a solid and a liquid. Microson say they are the first hearing aid brand to use plasma as a coating material.
Oticon launch their smallest-ever product
Søren Nielsen, President and CEO of William Demant, was keen to emphasise the work that Oticon have undertaken to launch Oticon Opn custom, which included making IICs from all the kick-outs in the US that they have not been able to make in the past, “A lot of work has gone into shrinking things. The IICs and CICs are the smallest that we have ever made. We are absolutely convinced this is a major step forward in the ability to make an IIC. That, combined with the benefits of the Opn Sound Navigator, has already brought us very positive feedback: this very small, very discreet device offers a very high-tech package. We are convinced we have a very strong product concept and that will drive growth.” The company is confident that they can make an IIC that is invisible for eight out of ten users. The full range of custom products from IIC to fully-featured full shells brings the Oticon Opn technology to the markets were custom is still important. One such market is the Veterans Association in America, where Oticon hope to gain market share. Ole Asboe Jørgensen, President of the Oticon brand, said “Our world renowned Opn hearing aid remains a highlight as it continues to help hearing care professionals offer hearing aid users significant life changing benefits. The introduction of our new custom hearing aids will help hearing aid professionals to meet more diverse needs and preferences of hearing aid users. We hope that by providing reluctant users with more choice of hearing style, we can help encourage even more people to take the first steps towards tackling their hearing loss.”Oticon also launched new products in the essential segment. Nielsen said, “It is a full line up IIC to Power BTE, so a complete offering from the very beginning. It is a very strong product concept based on the Velox platform with 2.4GHz technology available and full Made-for-iPhone compatibility. It offers the Opn Sound System and the best we can do with directionality and more classical noise management. Compared to competitor products it is a very strong offering; utilising the speed of the processor, the number of frequency channels, the ability to do directionality in a high number of channels is a major step up. It has a broad range of features, which a few years back you would have considered a premium hearing aid.”
Talking about the latest feature in the Oticon On app – HearingFitness – Søren Nielsen said, “We see a lot of interest in this. The whole trend of having biometric data is coming around to our industry and this is a first clear attempt from our side to step in and learn.” HearingFitness allows users to take greater ownership of their hearing instrument whilst providing Oticon with data to shape future hearing aid development.
Whilst a new partnership has started for Oticon, with Philips, another is coming to an end. The joint venture with Sennheiser will end in 2020, with the companies separating and taking care of their respective parts of the business. The Gaming and Enterprise Solutions (CC&O) segments will evolve as an independent business as part of the William Demant Group. The Mobile Music segment will be part of the Sennheiser Consumer business. Whilst there was no more information on the Philips partnership, Nielsen did say that Oticon will look “to introduce a product in the future that will cater for a more connected world as part of the Philips world of connected healthcare.”
The busiest stand award goes to Phonak
Whilst the exhibition hall of the EUHA was extremely well attended and most exhibition booths had huge numbers of visitors, the Phonak exhibition space was packed from the moment the show opened on Wednesday. The day before, the Swiss manufacturer held a European launch event which welcomed the latest Phonak innovation – Marvel. This launch, combined with a coordinated PR campaign across social media, bloggers and previews to journalists, ensured a buzz about the new products.
Thomas Lang, Senior Vice President of Phonak Marketing, explained the excitement, “Customers realise this is a big moment in history, not only of Phonak but in the history of hearing care. It’s a product that combines everything in one.” Phonak are calling the product ‘revolutionary’ as the product has universal Bluetooth and is the “world’s first to fully support direct streaming from Android, iPhone and billions of other devices.” Lang explains, “We are the only manufacturer that offers not only Made-for-iPhone but also made for Android connectivity. So, we are made for all. It even goes beyond Android as we use the classic Bluetooth protocol that is built into billions of consumer electronic devices around the world. This is a big step forward. Previous we streamed to one ear, now we stream to both ears, phone calls, skype calls, music, whatever you want.” This universal connectivity is one of four pillars that Phonak Marvel is built on: audiology, connectivity, rechargeability and smart apps/eSolutions.
Thomas Lang explained the thinking behind the strapline: ‘Love at first sound’. “Connectivity is important, but the audiology features are our art. This is why people love our products. We have significantly improved the first fit. That first moment of truth when the hearing aid is turned on for the first time, we really looked at that moment to see what could make people happier. The whole pre-calculation in the software has been significantly improved. We have done benchmark testing and we have seen that we are outperforming the current leader in that area significantly. That first moment of truth is very important.”
Improvements have been made to AutoSense OS 3.0 which now includes streamed media in its classification process. The enhanced operating system also includes Binaural VoiceStream Technology. The four-microphone technology has been also proven to significantly improve speech understanding by 60% in noisy places while simultaneously reducing the amount of effort by 19%. Lang was keen for people to visit phonakpro.com/evidence for all the study work that has been published about Phonak Marvel.
Talking about eSolutions, Lang said, “Once you have the connection between your hearing aid and your phone that opens up the world to new opportunities. We have launched a set of new apps. One of them allows the hearing care professional to provide follow up remotely, so the consumer doesn’t have to go back to the clinic or the practice. This is the myPhonak app.” Lang also talked about the mycall-to-text app which provides a live transcription of phone calls in more than 80 languages.
With rechargeability, Phonak have innovated further by making the hearing instruments switch on automatically then they are removed from the charger, there are integrated LED lights to show where the product is in the charging cycle and a new mini charger for usability.
The Marvel product is running five protocols – classic Bluetooth, low energy Bluetooth, Binaural VoiceStream, AirStream and the RogerDirect protocol (available Autumn 2019). Lang said, “The protocol adds the intelligence. We have seen that for different applications we need different protocols. We need to manage these protocols so that they work seamlessly with each other…That seamless operation is technically complex.” Lang sums up the overall goal in the development of Phonak Marvel as, “A product where people do not have to compromise anymore.”
ReSound are “proud and bold” with their latest product
For the Danish manufacturer, EUHA was all about the ReSound LiNX Quatro. This is ReSound’s 6th generation of 2.4GHz wireless technology and the new chip platform enables 100% faster processing, 100% additional memory, 35% increase in frequency bandwidth and the highest input dynamic range.
Anders Hedegaard, CEO of the GN Hearing, spoke to AWN about the new ReSound LiNX Quatro and why the company class it as premium plus. He explained, “When we started out doing our market research it was clear for us that this product is unique. It offers us a suite of benefits over and beyond what is on the market today. Either you hide that or you are proud, and you get bold around it. We decided the latter. We are proud and bold about it as we think this is a product that goes over and beyond what you have in the market place today.” He continued, “This is a new product that is bringing our connectivity to a completely new level. We have included a new chipset that gives brilliant sound quality - we call it Layers of Sound, so you get a depth of sound, a spatial sense of the sound that is unprecedented … and then at the same time it is a product that is a very advanced rechargeable solution.”
Laurel Christensen, Chief Audiology Officer, explained the chipset in more detail and what this means for wearers. “Users need sound quality first. We have a new chipset hat really enables us to do a whole lot more signal processing than we’ve done before. Of interest to the end user would be the increased dynamic range, the top end is 116dB. It will improve music sound quality, even speech-in-noise sound quality, because nothing is going to be distorted.” She continued, “We’ve extended the bandwidth to 9.5KHz, making a huge difference in sound quality as you are adding a lot of high frequencies that we didn’t have before. It allows for better spatial perception because a lot of the cues for localising sound around you are in those high frequencies.”
Developing such a product is not without challenges. Hedegaard said, “It has always been so with 2.4GHz technology that it is a challenge to get the full vibrant sound quality, but with the new processing power in the chipset we are really getting a product that offers much more detail, we talk about a clear, fuller, richer sound. That takes us time. And then combine it with the rechargeable function. We have a rechargeable product now with 30 hours battery time. Here we have brought forward a product that has a very long-range battery life which we think will be highly appreciated.”
The ReSound LiNX Quatro is available in two models −the rechargeable Receiver in the Ear model and replaceable battery RIE − two technology levels, with four receiver options/power levels and fourteen colour choices.
Anders Hedegaard was in buoyant mood following his investors presentation at the EUHA congress, “We have been on a growth track for the last eight years and we are on the eighth consecutive year of growth over and above the market. I have to say that the last 12 months and the last eight years have been very good at GN.” Looking forward, he said, “We want to grow further, but based on innovation. We know that at the end of the day what matters is that we can bring better hearing aids that mimic the natural hearing – that is what it is all about. That can only happen if we invest heavily in R&D and we are doing that. We spend more than 8% on research and development, so we have loads of new innovative products and projects in the pipeline. Our DNA is true innovation.”
Signia go for style and substance
There were three product launches featured on the Signia exhibition stand this year. Most of the space was given to the Styletto products. Launched across all markets in September, Sivantos believe they have a game-changer with the Signia Styletto. The new form factor – a SLIM RIC − combines a new, sleek design, portable rechargeability and high-tech hearing into stylish hearwear.
Sivantos believe that previous attempts by companies to change the hearing aid design failed because features were sacrificed to create the desired style. They are confident that Styletto will prove successful as it has substance as well as style. Inside the newly designed case are the latest advancements of the already-proven Signia Nx platform in terms of energy efficiency, rechargeable Li-ion batteries and Own Voice Processing (OVP) for a natural sounding own voice. Andrew Rhodes, Head of Product Marketing for the Sivantos Global team, explained how the team looked to other consumer products for inspiration. “We use a protective bonded manufacturing method. Instead of using screws, pins and an internal skeleton, everything is clipped together and bonded internally. You can see we don’t have pins or screws. It is still highly robust achieving IP68.” A rethink was also needed to break away from the traditional design that uses a round cell battery. The answer was a pin cell battery, which offers so many more design options. Then the high-performance chip and wireless system was built around the pin cell design. Another interesting design choice is the three brushed metal colour combinations of dark granite/silver, cosmic blue/rose gold and snow white/rose gold. Rhodes said, “Almost every other hearing aid has 10 or 14 colours. We said we will do three that are associated with consumer electronics. We chose colours that people like to wear. People always say we need loads of colours, but we don’t. People are comfortable with Styletto; colour matching it to a wearable is a cool thing to do.”
Styletto’s slim portable charging case enables four days of user autonomy, free from plugs or cables for completely convenient handling on the move. The product automatically switches on as it is removed from the charging case and switches off when dropped back in.
Styletto is available in three performance levels of 7, 5 and 3 and incorporates the Signia Nx, low-power chip design and the ultra HD e2e, delivering an energy efficient wireless link and true binaural processing. Own Voice Processing is a recent addition to the Nx products. The sound path of the wearer’s own voice can now be detected, and a separate processing strategy can be applied.
Rhodes was eager to talk about the “wow” factor when the hearing device is held by the user. He believes the different look and feel of the product could help break down some barriers for the mild to moderate hearing loss group who do not want a hearing instrument, possibly because of the stigma they perceive. “Specsavers in the UK have done their own creative campaign based on Styletto. It is the first time they have done that. They see that this is something cool and something that can be used to engage with our customers.” In a Sivantos consumer study, 80% of people preferred the new Styletto when compared to conventional hearing aids.
Also on display were the new Signia in-the-ear hearing aids with Bluetooth connectivity. The Signia Insio Nx ITC and ITE devices combine discretion with direct streaming of TV audio, music and phone calls. Tiny antennas were developed and integrated in the faceplates for the Bluetooth communication and stereo sound quality when streaming. Phone calls can be heard in both ears. Finally, Signia Motion Charge&Go Nx is now available and combines inductive rechargeability, Own Voice Processing (OVP™), Bluetooth connectivity and TeleCare in one device.
Sonic celebrates 20 years
The US-based hearing aid brand Sonic is celebrating 20 years this year. Whilst America remains its primary market, Sonic products are now sold in more than 25 other countries. Originally a standalone company, Sonic has been part of William Demant Holdings for the last 18 years and is a sister brand to Oticon and Bernafon. New from Sonic at the EUHA congress is the Enchant custom styles and essential performance levels.
New Enchant40 and Enchant20 join Enchant100, Enchant80 and Enchant60 for a total of five performance levels from Premium to Entry-level, in three BTE and four custom styles that accommodate mild to severe losses.
The Enchant custom models offer versatility and a personalised hearing experience with four styles, five performance levels and a robust set of features. Designed with a focus on size to create a first-rate fit, Enchant custom models use a variety of venting, amplifier and battery configurations to build the smallest possible instruments to satisfy individual preferences for style, comfort and gain. Feature options include four receiver sizes, wireless communication with 2.4GHz and Near Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI) technology and dexterity enhancements for easier handling. The four styles – IIC, CIC, ITC, and ITE HS/FS – are available in the five performance levels from Premium to Entry-level (100 – 20) to accommodate mild to severe losses.
German preview of Starkey Livio AI
Whilst the latest innovation from Starkey has been launched in America, Europe and rest of the world will not launch the product until Spring 2019. Audiology Worldnews have been asked to just give a sneak peek of the product being described by Dave Fabry as “the differentiating technology in the industry right now.” Fabry, who is Chief Innovations Officer for the American manufacturer, explained further, “We’re moving hearing aids from our tradition of over 52 years of single purpose devices that are designed to amplify sound for the individual and moving them to multifunction, multipurpose. In 2014 we were among the first to launch Made-for-iPhone technology, which began the process of moving from a single purpose to a connected device. Now I think the transition is from connected to multipurpose, multifunction.”
Livio AI is being promoted as the “world’s first hearing aid with integrated sensors and artificial intelligence.” Fabry reminded us that “Brandon [Sawalich] and Achin [Bhowmik], at the Expo in January, announced that we would have a product this year that would have embedded sensors, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence and, nine months later, it’s here. Anyone that underestimates what we can do, can look to that.” Being reminded of this, Brandon Sawalich, President of Starkey, said, “There’s nothing like throwing down the gauntlet and saying publicly what we are going to do!”
Whilst the Livio AI hearing aid tracks brain and body health, does simultaneous language translation and has advanced environmental detection, Sawalich says, “First and foremost, Livio AI is the best performing and best sounding hearing aid we have ever made.” Fabry adds to this, “The one thing I would stress is first and foremost we are a hearing aid company. We will never depart from that goal to ensure that every hearing aid we produce is better than the previous generation. This we can say, from the alpha studies, is our best hearing aid ever in terms of sound quality and accessories. We did head to head comparisons in a blinded study.”
Whilst the focus of the Starkey stand was the preview of Livio AI, as the product doesn’t launch until March 2019, the Starkey team were highlighting the benefits of the current iQ products, with i1000 and i1200 recently launched in the German market. Dave Fabry also presented several talks in the main auditorium and on the exhibition booth about TeleAudiology and TeleHealth. There was also a meet-and-greet session at the end of day one for Bill Austin and members of the executive team to speak with audiologists from across Europe.
Fabry, who has normal hearing but has been wearing Livio AIs for four months now, spoke about how he sees attitudes changing. “There are multiple ways to address the stigma associated with hearing aids. Compared to my mum − she was more stigmatised by hearing loss and the use of hearing aids − I wear mine every day and I wear red because I want people to notice them. I am much less stigmatised, but my expectations for the performance are much higher. I want them to do more. But I don’t really care if someone sees that I am wearing hearing aids.
“We will always focus on the 30% of people who have a hearing loss and wear a hearing aid, but we are also looking at the other 70% to ask how do we get their attention, how do we make hearing aids cool. How do we get them to think about hearing gain instead of hearing loss? For me, we have beaten people over the head with the threat of what happens if you don’t wear hearing aids instead of focusing on what are the positive aspects of getting hearing aids for the body and brain – Hear better, Live better. Let’s look at all the positive things that come about from choosing to wear hearing aids.”
Unitron: “the time has come for FLEX”
Lilika Beck, the Vice President of Global Marketing for Unitron, took some time off the Unitron booth to talk to Audio Infos about the focus for Unitron at the EUHA 2018 congress. With a lot of attention on Over-The-Counter products and changing consumer demands, Beck was keen to talk about FLEX, the Unitron software-powered ecosystem. “We think the time has come for FLEX. FLEX is basically an ecosystem of technology designed to support the experience the consumer has when making the decision to get hearing aids.” It has been a slow-burner for this new way of approaching hearing instruments as it changes the way hearing care professionals sell to their customers. Martin Grieder, Group Vice President, Hearing Instrument Marketing for Sonova, believes that “FLEX was five years ahead of its time” when it first launched.
Whilst some were quick to embrace the concept, it has taken others a bit longer. For Beck that picture is now changing. She said, “The market’s changing faster than we maybe originally anticipated in some regions such as the US with OTC emerging the consumers are changing a lot faster and the clinics are actually reaching out to manufacturers about the way they have traditionally fit hearing aids or attracted consumers to their clinics is not as effective anymore.” The FLEX experience changes the patient journey; the consumer doesn’t have to decide there and then at the first appointment. Instead they can gain real-world experience of wearing devices, collecting data on the acoustic environments they spend time in. Beck explains in more detail, “The really important part about that whole experience is when they come back in for the second appointment and they are ready to make a decision about the hearing aid and the technology level. They have their subjective data from their experience and the objective data from the hearing aids. We think that is a new and disruptive journey, but it really allows us to deliver a much more personalised, evidence-based recommendation. That’s the main focus and continues to be for us.”
The Canadian manufacturer is looking to push this concept further over the next couple of years with the possibility of a true subscription model and even looking at patients ‘building’ their own product: “The consumer can choose which automatic programme they want to bundle together, to make their own hearing aid. Things like that are really consumer-orientated, really flexible,” Beck said.
“We’ve also launched a new super power product on our Tempus platform. It’s a very important category; in every clinic you see severe-to-profound patients who rely on us and the technology.” Max super power is available with three preset options in the software – three starting points from where a consumer can start their hearing journey. Each preset provides a different combination of sound processing, directionality and gain, with the fitting based on a patient’s preferences and experiences. Max is available in three models: a super power with 13 battery (Max SP); an ultra power with a 675 battery (Max UP) and a super model with rechargeable battery (Max SP R). And then there are five technology levels offering differing feature sets.
Widex machine learning capabilities
Widex were chosen as one of the companies to present their latest products to the assembled German press. About 50 journalists heard about Widex EVOKE from Peter Schaade, Manging Director of Widex Germany. He introduced TV host Tanja Bütler who spoke about her experience with the new technology from the Danish manufacturer. Bütler explained how she has been wearing hearing instruments for ten years now and was recently fitted with Widex EVOKE. She always has her smartphone connected to make adjustments if they are needed. For example, in noisy environments such as a train station she can find the right fitting for the situation. They are so comfortable, she often forgets she is wearing the hearing aids.
Widex EVOKE was launched earlier this year as the first hearing aid to feature advanced machine learning technology in real time. The product gives the wearer the ability to employ real-time machine learning, with intuitive new controls that guide users to their desired hearing experience. They no longer need to remember the listening environments they didn’t like or issues with the settings, to tell their audiologist at their follow up appoint. Widex EVOKE has new SoundSense Technology, so they can just tell the hearing aid what sounds they prefer by choosing between sound suggestions provided by their smartphone EVOKE app. The powerful processor then uses this data to deliver even better real-life sound, based on the user’s personal preferences when they need it, in real time. The wearer is given a series of A or B choices to decide which settings they prefer. Andrew Arnold, Widex Group Communications Manager, explains, “It goes through a series of choices and it learns what you like and the sort of sounds that you like.” He was also quick to emphasise that, “The first fitting happens with the audiologist as it always has done. We are not trying to get rid of the audiologist, that couldn’t be further from the truth. What we are trying to do is give them a better tool. This avoids a situation where you are having trouble understanding speech but you cannot return to your audiologist for another two weeks later to explain the issue, then the audiologist has to guess their way through your description.”
In the six months since its launch Widex Evoke is providing new insights into how users are taking control of their sound environment. The SoundSense Learning app has been gathering anonymous data such as how often volume is changed, which sound presets are used and how many custom settings have been created. The company say that by collating and analysing the anonymous data, the products will continue to become even smarter over time.
Launched in September, the new Widex TV PLAY has already won a Red Dot design award for its sleek, futuristic design. TV PLAY streams directly to the hearing instruments and is fast and easy to set up.
It’s been a good year for Widex. For 2017/18 they posted a record-high turnover for the fourth year in a row following the successful completion of their IMPACT strategy. The next five-year plan has been launched and is called Widex Wave which will see the company aim to double their size in the that time frame through the cornerstones of Upgrade and Innovate. Upgrade is about perfecting what they already do and Innovate will invest resources to accelerate its product launches. To this end, a new function has been created – Global Innovation – with a new Senior Vice President (Richard Bundsgaard) responsible for this team. One of the next innovations from come from the Danish manufacturer will be their fuel cell which we can expect to see in the first quarter of 2019.
Missing from the tradeshow
Whilst they may not have attended the EUHA congress, the Bose company name was not far from many people’s lips during the three-day event. They even got a mention in the Congress opening ceremony. Bankers and Investment analysts were keen to talk about them in the investor meetings held by William Demant Holding and the GN Group, with differing, sometimes challenging opinions and conversations. The main hearing aid manufacturers were all very much of the same opinion, thinking the original press release from the FDA was a little misleading or did not give enough information. A subsequent follow up communication has stated that the Bose product will actually be a class ll medical device, hearing aid. All the major manufacturers emphasised the role of the hearing aid audiologist in the fitting of hearing devices when speaking to our correspondent. Anders Hedegaard, CEO of GN Hearing, said, “Bose is a strong brand and Bose might be able to increase more awareness around hearing loss to the benefit of the true hearing manufacturers and the industry. I still believe that hearing care professionals like audiologists and dispensers are needed out there and they will still play a very important role. They are certainly part of our strategy.” Andrew Arnold from Widex had a similar attitude, “As a company that prides itself on serving the independents we think, for some, an OTC would be a solution, but our core customers add value by giving a proper fitting. So that is something we would still continue focusing on.” At the William Demant investor meeting there was a robust debate about the potential benefit to the industry of OTC and self-fitting products. Søren Nielsen said he is still “absolutely convinced that people do absolutely nothing [about their hearing] until someone makes them.” He continued, “Even in markets where products are free, penetration is still not really high.”Photos: EUHA/Photo Rechnitz, V.A.