GNResound has made big news with an iPhone-controlled hearing aid. I’m a huge technology buff and an early adopter. I was excited to have the chance to see this in person. The short version of my impression is mixed. I think the idea is very forward thinking and has potential. I don’t think the technology is quite ready for primetime, though.
Using the new technology allows your iPhone to operate as a remote control for your hearing aid. You always have a volume control right there on your person. In actual use, this is not as great as it sounds. Most hearing aids have the controls accessible through buttons on the hearing aids themselves. Instead of fishing out your IPhone, turning it on, entering the security code, opening the hearing aid app and then making a volume adjustment, you could simply push a button on the hearing aid. Also, any volume adjustment you make through your iPhone takes approximately one second to activate in the hearing aid. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up fast when conversation is flowing.
The most exciting thing about the iPhone app for these hearing aids was the chance to use the iPhone as a microphone you can place at the far end of a conference table or near a lecturer. This allows you to overcome the problems of trying to hear talkers at a distance. Again, it’s a great idea that suffers in practice. When using the iPhone as a supplemental microphone, there’s a long delay to send the voice to the hearing aids. The delay is about a third of a second. Anything longer that a fiftieth of a second tends to be noticeable and degrades speech understanding. In use, this is heard as a very noticeable echo and is very disorienting. Fortunately, GNResound makes a much better separate remote microphone that sounds great, but the iPhone version is just not up to the task.
On the whole, I like the sound of the new generation of GNResound hearing devices. The sound quality is crisp and clear. They are comfortable to wear and look relatively good. I think the hearing aids can stand on their own merit quite well. I do think the iPhone integration will get much better in time, too. Right now though, I would not make my decision to buy a particular hearing aid based on the apps available on your smartphone. Make the decision on how the hearing aids sound by themselves. If the smartphone app is useful to you, it’s just the icing on the cake.
Want to hear more? We have demonstrators of the GNResound hearing devices and many others that you can listen to at our Portland, Oregon clinic. If you live in the area and would like to experience this technology, call us at (503) 232-1845 for a hearing evaluation and hearing device consultation.