Posted by - PSAPs.

We recently attended the HLAA convention in Austin, and met a number of exhibitors there. We had a few moments to stop chat with Kevin Daniels (Vice President, Sales and Marketing) from Sound World Solutions, who generously offered to send us one of their “CS50 Personal Sound Amplifiers” to play around with.

First lets introduce the CS50, and talk about the specs. Here is the the product description from Sound Worlds website:

It’s not a hearing aid. It may look like an ordinary Bluetooth mobile telephone headset, but don’t let the sleek, hi-tech design fool you. The CS50 is also a personal sound amplifier and is completely customizable to help you hear everything happening around you with crystal clarity. In addition to three preset amplification profiles, you can use your iPhone (4s, 5) or Android smartphone or computer to personalize the device with our free Customizer App. And best of all, the CS50 is surprisingly affordable.”

CS50 Personal Sound Amplifier

CS50 Personal Sound Amplifier

As we alluded to in a previous blog post, there is a very fuzzy line between PSAP and hearing aid, with the FDA working on formal distinctions.  While the official claim needs to be “not a hearing aid,” the marketing for such products is often geared toward hearing better, as can be seen in the following video:

[Video removed by publisher]

At the end of the day, PSAPs are picking up sound and amplifying it. Let’s take a closer look at some of the specs for the CS50.

Input

Omnidirectional & Directional (Hypercardioid)

Gain

25 dB SPL, depending on preset selection

Volume Range

-12 dB SPL to +12 dB SPL

Equalizer (3 Bands)

-12 dB SPL to +12 dB SPL

Max Output

112 dB SPL

Signal Processing

Digital 16 channel dynamic compression, noise reduction, output compression, feedback cancellation

Frequency Response (Amplifier Mode)

200Hz – 8000Hz

Total Harmonic     Distortion (THD)

≤ 1%

Equivalent Input Noise

26 dB SPL

Battery Type

Rechargeable Lithium Ion

Battery Life

Up to 15 hours

The max output for the CS50 is quoted at 112 dB SPL, which is actually comparable to some of the low powered hearing aids on the market. Gain (or amplification) is on the lower end, with less amplification power than most low powered hearing aids.  The frequency response, while poor compared to even a cheap set of earbuds (20Hz-20,000Hz), is pretty standard in the world of hearing aids (with some exceptions).  The CS50 also offers a directional microphone system, and 16 channels of noise reduction, feedback cancellation, and compression. Not too shabby considering the price tag of $350.

So what were our impressions of the CS50. First let’s see what the kit includes. We received a relatively small package, and opened it to find the CS50’s packaging inside. We took all the components out and placed them on the desk. As you can see we found 2 rechargeable batteries, the device itself, and five eartips. We also found a battery charging docking station that fits two batteries and a the necessary implements for plugging it in. We also found a quick start guide, and more comprehensive user guide, along with a tiny, ultra quick fast guide.

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The Package

The Device, Batteries, and Eartips

The Device, Batteries, and Eartips

The Charger

The Charger

We connected one of the batteries with the unit, and saw a green light confirming that the unit was powered on. We then placed one of the eartips on the unit. The setup was incredibly easy, but I do have a background working with hearing aids.

Manuals

Manuals

Device + Battery

Device + Battery

Placing the Eartip

Placing the Eartip

After downloading the app from the Play Store (for my Android phone) I was able to do the Bluetooth pairing without any problem. From there the app asked me to do a sort of hearing check, and press a button when I “heard a tone.” This took about a minute, and then I saw the second screen. Presumably the app set the volume to 0dB because I was able to hear all the tones at a soft level.

The Initial Test

The Initial Test

Control Screen

Control Screen

Music Mode

Music Mode

While I do not have a hearing loss, I could certainly get a sense for the additional volume coming through the CS50. That night, I tried the device at home. While I have no trouble hearing my wife (most of the time), I could hear extra volume and sharpness in her voice. I imagine this could be helpful for a person listening to quiet voices in a meeting, etc. However, it was hard for me to test it out without having a problematic hearing situation in the first place.

As far as the app was concerned, I found the functionality to be fairly basic when compared to the TruLink app (made for Starkey Halo hearing aids). However, it’s still great to have a little bit of control with a budget device. I was a little disappointed by the lack of bass and treble control for music mode, but I found putting a larger eartip on the device improved the sound quality greatly (by holding more of the bass in my ear).  I was also able to watch video on my phone using the CS50, which could come in handy during downtime. Overall, I find it difficult listening to music or dialogue with only one ear, but the added Bluetooth streaming functionality is a plus.

In summary, the CS50 seems to be a reliable budget device for consumers seeking a little boost in volume and clarity. Such a device might be considered in cases where hearing is normal (but improvements are sought), or as a starting point for those with milder forms of hearing loss, who are unable or unwilling to invest in full audiological care. Just remember, even if you do decide to purchase the CS50, or another PSAP device for potential hearing improvement, you should not forego an initial checkup with an audiologist. It is important to to establish the cause of your hearing loss, in order to rule out potentially harmful medical conditions.

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