It's the party time of year, and a lot of aging baby boomers are wandering around wondering what people are saying, and missing much of the fun. That's because of the 35 million Americans who have hearing loss, only 10 million wear hearing aids, or hearables, as I like to call them. Some don't wear them because they are an unwelcome reminder of the aging process; for others, they are simply too expensive.
This is a shame, because for techno-savvy boomers, hearables open up worlds far beyond just hearing. I've noted in previous posts that because of my hearables' connection to my iPhone, I can talk to Siri, and Google Maps lets me walk, cycle and drive without even thinking about where I'm going. They even make watching video better. They give me super powers. I noted in an earlier post that "as hearing aids, these devices have changed my life by letting me hear the immediate world around me; as hearables, they are wiring me directly into a much larger world."
But another reason that boomers should consider them now is that they just keep getting better and better every year. Right now I'm testing the latest ReSound LiNX 3D, and they are yet another big step forward.
For one thing, they keep firing that shrink ray gun, making them ever smaller and lighter. The wonderful Starkey Halo 2 units that I was wearing before had bigger batteries, since the Bluetooth connection takes a lot of power; I felt like Alfred E. Neuman when I put them on. The LiNX 3D come in two flavors — big battery or small. I'm trying the small 312 battery version, and they still go for days.
They also sound really natural, so natural that you really don't sense that you're wearing hearing aids. Voices, in particularly, come through incredibly clearly. Digby Cook of Hearing Loss Journal, who is also trying them out, writes more technically:
Overall, the LiNX 3Ds do a good job eliminating background sound. The central idea is to focus on human voices and mute as much as possible any extraneous sounds. That’s the so-called signal-to-noise ratio or speech-to-noise ratio. The more you can eliminate noise and isolate speech, the better the ratio and of course, it becomes easier to understand what people are saying, especially in noisy environments. It’s a difficult trick to do and the LiNX 3Ds are by no means perfect but they come closer than any hearing aids I have tried.
This is absolutely true, the LiNX 3Ds know how to pick out voices and mute down background noise; you can hear it happen when you enter a room.
It's all about connectivity
My favorite feature of all the hearables I've tried is the connectivity to my iPhone, and the sound quality of music and video on the LiNX 3Ds is the best yet. Compared to regular headphones they have always been a little light on the bass, but the new app has a bass boost button and (finally!) a graphic equalizer. Having a volume control on your head makes everything sound better; you just turn off the hearing aid function and you're in your own little sound bubble.
But the biggest deal for connectivity in the LiNX 3Ds is the ability to have changes made to the settings without having to go into the audiologist office; I found I was getting a lot of feedback in small rooms and sent a message from my iPhone; a few hours later I was told to restart and voila, a new setting and no feedback. As the OTC (over the counter) and internet sales market opens up, this will become very important.
Hearing aid companies are really just getting started with connectivity; soon they might connect to everything around you. Dave Fabry, ReSound GN’s VP of Global Medical Affairs, tells Digby Cook that soon,
“You walk into a lecture hall, a cinema or a live theatre and receive a message asking if you want to “pair” with the venue’s sound system. That would allow you to put a lecturer’s mike, the movie’s soundtrack or the actors’ voices directly into your hearing aids.”
These Resound LiNX 3D hearables are the best I've ever tried, but I say that every time I get to test the latest devices. They just keep getting better. All the companies know that the market is about to explode as the giant baby boomer cohort finally faces reality, and that they all want something more than just a hearing aid. The LiNX 3D certainly deliver that. But the main message I want to deliver is that I have now tried Oticon, Starkey and Resound, and they all deliver life-changing products that aging boomers are crazy not to try.
I still remember when I walked out of the audiologist office with my first pair of Oticons that didn't have all the fancy Bluetooth connectivity and heard the crunch of the snow underfoot and the birds, so many birds! All of this connectivity is wonderful, but just being able to hear really well is even better. I also remember a few weeks ago when I went to a conference and forgot to put them on and could barely get through the presentations, even while sitting in the front row.
I love the connectivity, I love being wired into my iPhone and the internet. But if Nick Hunn, who first used the word "hearables" is right, we're entering the era of the Internet of Voice, with Alexa and Siri and Cortana and HomePod. An Internet of Voice means an Internet of Hearing; if you want to be part of it, better get checked out for Hearables right now. And remember, connecting to the Internet is wonderful, but connecting to people is even more important.