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Phonak has recently launched their latest version of their Audeo Belong series and are calling it the Audeo B-Direct hearing aid. The new Audeo gives hearing aid users easier connectivity to their smartphones by allowing direct connection to Android phones.
The history of bluetooth compatibility in hearing aids
A few years ago, hearing aids could connect to smartphones via bluetooth for phone calls and streaming, but required the wearer to use a 'streamer' to connect the hearing aids to the phone. This was required because the hearing aids themselves were not actually bluetooth compatible because standard bluetooth used too much battery power for the small hearing aid batteries. So the manufacturers would use these streamers to collect the bluetooth signal and pass along to the hearing aid using Near Field Magnetic Induction (NMFI).
That all changed with Made-for-iPhone hearing aids
Starting with ReSound LiNX, hearing aid manufacturers began to introduce hearing aids that would stream directly to smartphones utilizing the newer Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) standard. Shortly after LiNX, Starkey introduced the Halo series, which had similar features and compatibility. The problem? All of these devices only allowed for direct streaming from iOS (Apple) phones. Android users, which make up the majority of smartphone users, were not able to take advantage of these new developments in technology. As of publication of this article, over 55% of smartphone users in the United States were using Android.
The new Audeo B-Direct
So now that Phonak has introduced this new product, how does it stack up against the competition? Let's take a look.
First, there is a lot to like about the B-Direct hearing aids. Let's take a look at that features.
- Direct connectivity to Android and iOS phones. Finally, Android users can connect directly to hearing aids, giving them a more convenient way to answer and take phone calls. They can even answer the phone without having to pick it up or take it out of their pocket.
- It includes SoundRecover2. SoundRecover is a form of frequency lowering technology that is extremely helpful for those with severe-to-profound hearing loss in the high frequencies (4kHz to 8kHz). Frequency lowering (aka frequency compression) allows these people to hear sounds they wouldn't hear with other technologies because it not only amplifies the sound, but also shifts the sound to a pitch that the wearer is more likely to hear.
- The available TV Connector. Folks with hearing loss often struggle with hearing the television clearly, sometimes even with their hearing aids. The TV Connector turns their hearing aids into a wireless headset for easier television listening.
- Similar features to the rest of the Belong series. The Audeo B-Direct hearing aid includes many of the features that other popular Audeo models have. This includes AutoSense, StereoZoom, WhistleBlock and TinnitusBalance. These features have made the Audeo platform a popular choice for those looking for hearing aids.
It's hard to complain when a manufacturer launches a feature that no one else has, but there are some disappointing aspects to the B Direct line.
- No rechargeability with the B-Direct series. While we commend Phonak for including the larger (and longer-lasting) size 13 battery in the Direct line, not having the rechargeable option is disappointing. There are probably a lot of hearing aid consumers that would have loved the option of combining direct connectivity with a rechargeble base.
- No binaural streaming with the phone. This is probably the most disappointing limitation of the new product. While other products require a streamer to send the phone signal to the hearing aids, they do allow for binaural listening of phone calls. This is very helpful for wearers, as hearing the conversation in both ears can make speech understanding much easier.
- No music streaming. Those who would like to direct-stream music from their smartphone into their hearing aids are out of luck with the B-Direct.
The Bottom Line
The new Audeo B-Direct hearing aids are a solid move in the right direction for hearing aid wearers. This is a huge win for hearing aid consumers, especially those also using the Android platform. While no hearing aid is perfect, we expect this to a popular product in the coming months.