​Hearing ​Aid Institute

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Ultimate Hearing Aid Guide. ​



​Phonak is one of the leading European hearing aid manufacturers, and are famed for their wireless devices. Based in Switzerland, the company is a subsidiary of the Sonova Group, which itself has a long history in creating audiological devices. As for Phonak, they have been refining their hearing aids for over 70 years, making them one of the most experienced manufacturers in the world.

The company was formed in 1950 under the name Phonak Alpina, but they really got going in the 1960s, with the introduction of products like the Visaton Super - a set of eyeglasses with a hearing aid incorporated into the frame. The Phonette soon followed, and was even more innovative, being the world's very first BTE hearing aid, and was followed in turn by the Super-Front PP-C in 1978, which offered cutting edge amplification and sound quality.

After that, Phonak began to expand its operations across the globe, and they also continued their research and development efforts. The 1990s saw innovations like the Phonica - Phonak's pioneering ITE device, as well as industry-leading directional systems like AudioZoom. Seeing the drift towards wireless technology, Phonak also concentrated on integrating FM, then BlueTooth receivers into their hearing aids, establishing a deserved reputation among music lovers for the quality of their streaming devices.

​These days, Phonak's reseach efforts continue to bear fruit, with smaller devices than ever, which are able to connect to more external devices, from computers and phones, to TVs and mp3 players. They have also become leaders in speech enhancement, thanks to systems like Roger, which wirelessly beams speech from conversation partners straight to hearing aid speakers.

The ethos of the modern day company is all about liberating people to experience life to the full. In practice, this means making their devices convenient, user-friendly, and technologically advanced, and you can see all three aspects in leading Phonak models like the Bolero, Virto, and Audeo.

When you browse these products, you'll notice that Phonak labels their brands with a "B" or a "V". The "B" means that the model you are browsing comes from the latest generation. The "V" means that it's one generation behind (which definitely doesn't mean that its obsolete). You may also see an "R" after the "B". This means that the model is rechargeable, making it extra convenient.

Additionally, you'll find that Phonak's major models come in a variety of classes, including Essential, Standard, Advanced, and Premium. Even at the Essential level, the features included are pretty comprehensive, including 8 audio channels, and compact designs. Standard designs come with 12 channels, and greater streaming capabilities. Advanced models feature special settings for listening to music, can suppress wind noise effectively, and have more tools to enhance speech. Finally, Premium Phonak hearing aids come with Bluetooth streaming, and up to 20 programmable channels. So, there's quite a lot of difference, and it's important to research the available features when making a selection.

The most popular Phonak model is probably Bolero, a sleek BTE device with relatively affordable entry-level prices, although the Audeo and Virto are extremely popular as well. If you have specific needs, though, it might be useful to check out Phonak's more specialist products, including the Sky (which is adapted for children), the Naida (which is designed for those suffering from profound hearing loss), and the CROS B device, which is intended for those with differential hearing loss.

Whatever device you choose, Phonak tend to maintain very high production quality, and their highest level devices are as sophisticated as those offered by competitors like Signia or ReSound.

These days, Sivantos hearing aids are well known for their innovative digital technology. They tend to be based around a platform called Primax, which manages a host of cutting edge features. For instance, a piece of software called SpeechMaster allows users to zero in on particular sources of speech or other noises, such as airport announcements or lunch partners. Primax also enables users to precisely calibrate the balance of their hearing aids, while a feature called Soundability delivers crisp sound quality.

All of these Primax features can be hooked up to a device called EasyTek, which also comes from the Sivantos design team. Designed to be worn around the user's neck, EasyTek connects up with TV transmitters, computers, audio streaming devices, and telephones. It is also compatible with a tool called VoiceLink, which can be held by conversation partners, amplifying their voices and making their speech easier to hear.

Sivantos manufactures a wide range of devices, making it important to choose one which meets your individual needs. Their collection includes BTE, RIC, and ITE models, and each product comes in three different power settings, letting you pick one which meets your specific auditory needs and your budget.

Ace is probably the most popular model of Sivantos hearing aid, although the extra-small Signia Silk is a popular premium model. The Ace is also very small and virtually invisible as it sits behind the ear. Resilient and easy to connect to smartphones via the touchControl app, they are among the most advanced hearing aids around. However, they are far from the only option in the Signia collection. There's the Carat, with its RIC design and long battery life, and the Pure, which does away with batteries completely.

It's also worth noting that Sivantos have come up with a totally new collection called NX. These next generation hearing aids are adapted to allow users to hear their own voice in crystal clarity, without distortion - something that currently none of the other brand can offer.

Sivantos is generally seen as a premium brand, with a strong focus on technology and product quality, and their prices reflect this fact. However, as you'll see when you browse their collection, prices vary between models and power settings, and affordable Sivantos hearing aids are available.

If you are willing to pay a slightly higher price, Sivantos delivers plenty of benefits. For one thing, their devices tend to be extremely small and well-concealed. They are also well-connected to digital devices, and equipped to handle modern streaming needs. Tinnitus sufferes will appreciate their special features, and their rechargeable lithium-ion batteries or induction-based charging systems take convenience to another level. Finally, Sivantos also offers excellent BiCROS/CROS hearing aids for those with deafness in one ear, or differential hearing.

So, Siemens/Sivantos is a brand to check out if you appreciate technological sophistication, need easy charging, concealment, and reliability. But expect slightly higher prices, particularly for their high-end products.

As their name suggests, ITE hearing aids are worn inside the ear. To enable them to fit properly, they usually have to be custom-made for every individual, creating a molded unit that sits inside the ear without friction or the possibility of becoming dislodged.

In terms of appearance, ITE hearing aids are invisible from behind, unlike BTE (Behind-the-ear) models, and they can also be camouflaged by making the cases in colors which resemble the wearer's skin tone. This makes them a slightly less visible hearing aid option, although they will generally be visible from the side, no matter how their appearance is masked.

ITE heading aids come in a range of different styles, which vary by size and technology. Firstly, there are very small ITE devices, which may be referred to as IIC (Invisible-in-the-canal) or CIC (Completely-in-the-canal).  These tend to be more advanced devices, and have been engineered to be as small as possible. They are inserted deep into the wearer's ear canal, in theory collecting more powerful sound waves as they hit the pinna and penetrate the canal. However, because of their small size, these hearing aids tend to be relatively low-powered, and are associated mainly with moderate or low levels of hearing loss.

IIC and CIC hearing aids are also generally more suited to younger users with greater manual dexterity, as they can be harder to access when battery changes or cleaning are required. And manufacturers generally recommend removing these devices on a daily basis, so users need to be able to access them without any problems. Thanks to their comparatively inconspicuous design, they are popular among people who have mild auditory problems and don't want their hearing aid to be visible.

The second type of ITE hearing aids are called ITC (In-the-canal) devices, and are positioned much closer to the opening of the ear canal. In fact, they tend to rest on the inner part of the outer ear bowl, making them more visible, but often more comfortable and esy to access. ITC devices are also usually larger than IIC or CIC versions, which makes them easier to manipulate and maintain, and also gives them longer battery lives, which some users will find appealing.

With a bit of extra size, ITC hearing aids are often able to accommodate additional features compared with those of inner ear varieties, such as better detection of sound based on direction, and dials to control features like volume or noise cancellation. At the same time, the extra power they can mobilize also makes ITC hearing aids a more common suggestion for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.

There are also intermediate hearing aids which bridge the gap between the various ITE designs. They will tend to be smaller than ITE/ITC models, but still have some elements showing from the outside. And they boast greater power levels than IIC/CIC hearing aids, making them more suitable for those with moderate or severe hearing loss.

Whichever model of ITE hearing aid users go for, these devices always include the microphone inside the hearing aid unit, unlike with RIC devices, where the two are separated. Which one is the better option to go for? That depends on the needs of the user and their personal tastes. The great advantage of ITE hearing aids is that they are shaped to suit the dimensions of every individual ear, as well as their hard-to-see fit. So, they will typically be comfortable to wear, and suitable for image-conscious wearers (although more powerful ITE models are far from invisible when in place).

On the negative side, ITE hearing aids often fail to deliver the most powerful performance levels, making them slightly less appropriate for those with a greater degree of hearing loss. Being worn inside the ear, they are also associated with moisture damage and "occlusion", which is the sensation of the wearer's ears feeling "clogged up". These problems can be mitigated by looking after ITE hearing aids diligently, but they are still an issue for some users, and are worth bearing in mind when making a selection.
Hearing aids have delivered huge benefits to individuals afflicted by hearing loss in the past 50 years, and they continue to develop at a rapid rate. For those who are new to the world of hearing aids, it sometimes comes as a surprise to find out how varied their internal and external features can be.

Because choosing the correct hearing aid makes a huge difference to how well it performs, it's essential to learn more about what these devices do (and what they don't). This guide will introduce major varieties such as BTE, RIC, ITE, CROS, and BiCROS devices, and help you find the ideal hearing aid for your specific needs.

Others Manufacturers

If we break it down, hearing aids are quite simple devices. All they need to do is take noises from the outside world, receive them, amplify them, and then send them to a speaker which conveys them into the ear of the wearer. At this simple level, hearing aids are just a very specific, technologically advanced form of speaker - but there's much more to the technology behind them than that, as we'll see.

For one thing, there is the microphone. This tiny component has to be sensitive enough to pick up music, conversation, and ambient sounds and have the resolution to do so as close to the human ear as it's possible to be. But modern hearing aid microphones need to do more than this. They are also often "directional", which means they can pick up the source of noises, and focus their collection efforts in that direction, improving the quality of the resulting signal. Directional systems usually involve two or more microphones which are both placed inside the hearing aid. By triangulating the distance between them and the strength of external noises, the hearing aid can calculate where sounds are coming from and point the "null" part of the microphone directly towards it. This reduces white noise and interference, blanking out other people's chatter and ambient sounds.

After sounds have been received by the microphone, the hearing aid then turns them into a signal to be amplified, and there are two broad ways of doing so. Firstly, there are analogous hearing aids which convert vibrations from sound into electrical impulses, which in turn pass through an amplifier to make them suitable for transmission. The second type are digital hearing aids, which convert sound into binary data. Both types are still widely available, but digital designs are becoming dominant due to their superior adaptability and ability to work with directional microphone systems.

The third key element of a hearing aid unit is the speaker, which as we'll see can be placed in a variety of different positions. In all cases, they work by delivering amplified sounds to the cochlea, which covered in cilia - a kind of hair which turns sound into nervous impulses, which in turn are interpreted by the brain. In many cases, deafness results from the decay of these cilia, and hearing aids can help compensate for that process.

Aside from those core components of hearing aids, it's also worth noting that advanced versions have many more components. Some have active noise cancellation to reduce unwanted ambient noise. Others feature Bluetooth receivers which can stream audio from mobile phones, mp3 players, computers, or TVs. Many also include "telecoils", which can pick up specific audio feeds such as museum tours or academic lectures. The majority have processing units which store preset programs, and manage all of the various features.

Finally, and very importantly, all have batteries to supply power to their various components. These batteries come in various sizes, and deliver varying amounts of power. That's why you'll find that most hearing aids have various price points, which correspond to weak, medium, and strong models. In advanced hearing aids, batteries can be recharged, but many still require manual changes.

So plenty of innovation and technology goes inside the average hearing aid. The same level of engineering applies to the external aspect of hearing aids as well. For instance, their cases come in a range of different shapes which are adapted to the shape of the human ear. Designers need to balance comfort, ergonomics, the need to fit in internal components, and cosmetic factors – not an easy challenge.

If the hearing aid involves the use of an “earmold” (which contains the speaker), then this has to be precisely molded to suit the shape of the wearer's ear. This is essential for a couple of reasons. Firstly, an ill-fitting earmold is uncomfortable, but it's also dysfunctional. If the seal between the earmold and the ear's concha bowl is imperfect, the hearing aid's acoustic properties will be compromised. But there are some exceptions. In cases where hearing loss is not too severe, earmolds do not need to be airtight, and can be sculpted to look as unobtrusive as possible.

Now we've looked at the interior and exterior aspects of hearing aid design, let's move on to discuss the different hearing aid varieties the market has to offer.

If you have any other questions about the process of buying hearing aids, you can contact me at williamanderson@hearingaidinstitute.com.

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