When Kenneth E. Smith, PhD, tried LiNX, ReSound's made-for-iPhone (MFi) hearing aid, he immediately noticed the sound quality, especially in noisy environments, he said.
“I am the world's biggest skeptic, but I found LiNX to be virtually transparent,” said Dr. Smith, vice president and director of operations at the Hearing Center of Castro Valley in Castro Valley and Fremont, CA, and a member of The Hearing Journal Editorial Advisory Board.
“The sound is so natural that I forget I have them on, and the ergonomics are extremely comfortable.”
The Hearing Center of Castro Valley started participating in the limited release of LiNX last December.
Six of Dr. Smith's patients now use the product. One patient who vowed never to buy an iPhone rushed to purchase one after trying LiNX, Dr. Smith said.
In general, the association with Apple should drive a lot of interest in the product, he added.
Resound launched LiNX in global markets on February 24. Although prices will vary from region to region, estimates range from about $2,500 to about $3,500, depending on the version.
LiNX 9 is more suitable for users who often move in challenging listening environments, and LiNX 7 is more suitable for users who move in mostly moderate listening environments, according to ReSound.
The wireless hearing aid can stream high-quality stereo sound from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch without an additional remote control, accessory, or pendant.
“This way, all users need is their iPhones and their hearing aids, and that's it,” said David Citron III, PhD, founder and director of the South Shore Hearing Center in South Weymouth, MA. The device's small size will appeal to individuals who are sensitive to the cosmetic aspects of hearing aids, he added.
So far, a handful of patients seen at his practice have started using LiNX, he said, adding that one of these patients had struggled with adjusting the settings on a previous device and was about to give up on hearing aids before trying LiNX.
Dr. Citron originally thought the product would appeal only to a subset of patients, such as young urban professionals, but now he says that “there wouldn't be any reason why any patient wouldn't be a good candidate.” According to ReSound, the device will work for 90 percent of hearing loss cases.
Despite the positive assessments of the device, there are some potential downsides.
“To take full advantage of all the advanced features, it will require a more savvy user, so individuals with cognitive impairment or those who aren't technologically inclined might not be able to fully utilize all the advanced features,” said Timothy Steele, PhD, president and owner of Associated Audiologists, which has multiple locations in Kansas.
“Another challenge in the clinic is that fitting the devices and educating users about the features takes additional time, which requires some adjustment in the fitting process and adds to the overall cost.”
LiNX is also available as Beltone First. Beltone and ReSound are both owned and operated by GN ReSound.
‘BELLS AND WHISTLES’
The ReSound Smart App enables users to set preferred volume levels, as well as treble and bass settings, and to use geotagging to assign and adjust to the acoustics of frequently visited places, such as home, work, and favorite restaurants.
“Anyone who wears a hearing aid or has a hearing impairment wants to be able to go through life just like someone with normal hearing,” said Laurel Christensen, PhD, chief audiology officer of ReSound.
“A hearing aid like this adds more environments where you're going to be able to hear.”
The ReSound Smart App includes a Find My Hearing Aid function to help users locate their hearing aids if misplaced. This feature will greatly benefit patients with dementia, Dr. Citron said.
There has been a high level of enthusiasm among prospective users of LiNX, said Cynthia Ellison, AuD, an audiologist and owner of Franklin Hearing Center in Franklin, TN.
Despite the waiting list for the device at her practice, some patients balked at the price or were not interested in the “bells and whistles,” she said.
“In my practice, I find that many people initially reject the idea of connectivity only to ask for those features after they have worn their aids for a few months.
“They may feel more comfortable with their hearing aids and then start to think about the applications, or they may have spoken with a friend who is using connectivity successfully.”
As a result, Dr. Ellison sometimes doesn't even discuss these features with patients until they have gotten used to their hearing aids, she said.
Having attended a LiNX training course in San Francisco in February, Dr. Ellison recommends that hearing healthcare professionals become familiar with all features of the hearing aid before discussing it with patients and take a detailed case history to learn as much as possible about patients’ lifestyles.
“Only then will you, as a professional, be able to help them select a system that will truly meet their needs,” she said.
It's critical to receive proper training before fitting the devices, Dr. Steele agreed.
“I would also recommend that providers who fit the product have wireless capabilities in their clinic and help patients connect and utilize this technology with their Apple devices,” he added.
Based on the reactions of audiologists at the training course Dr. Ellison attended, she anticipates that hearing healthcare professionals will feel excitement over hearing aids starting to have a “cool vibe,” she said.
“I am certain we will be seeing most hearing aid manufacturers incorporate many of the LiNX connectivity features into their products in the very near future.”
MORE PRODUCT LAUNCHES
In fact, more products have now joined the market.
On March 10, Oticon announced that later in the month it would launch its made-for-iPhone connectivity device for hearing instruments, which enables users to hold hands-free phone conversations on their iPhone. The Oticon Connect-Line App allows users to control program choice, volume, and input source through their iPhones.
“All of our wireless hearing instruments are compatible with the new MFi connectivity solution, which includes instruments launched since 2007,” said Soren Nielsen, president of Oticon A/S, in a news release.
The Oticon and ReSound devices are different in that the former is an accessory that works with hearing instruments and the latter is a hearing aid itself.
Starkey Hearing Technologies’ made-for-iPhone hearing aid, Halo, was announced March 17 and became available March 31. The device connects with the TruLink Hearing Control app, which is available as a free download in the App Store.
“Halo brings what people love about Starkey hearing aids to anyone who suffers from hearing loss,” said Dave Fabry, PhD, Starkey's vice president of audiology and professional services.
“Halo delivers new standards of performance and personalization, while providing convenient control and connectivity to iOS devices.”
More information and photos of the made-for-iPhone devices are available in the Manufacturers News column on page 44.
At the time of reporting, details for the Oticon and Starkey devices were more limited compared with the ReSound product, which was launched earlier. The Hearing Journal will continue to provide analysis and perspective on the just-released products as hearing healthcare professionals gain experience with them.
Made-for-iPhone technology is a positive step for the industry, Dr. Steele noted.
“I think it might even help hearing technology break through old stigmas,” he said.