Posted by - Hearing Aids.

History of Bluetooth Hearing Aids

This may come as a surprise to many of you, but Bluetooth hearing aids have been around for almost a decade. The world’s first bluetooth enabled hearing aid was introduced by Starkey Hearing Technologies in July of 2005. The device, known as “ELI,” was capable of connecting to Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones (and other Bluetooth audio devices) a full two years before the first-generation iPhone.

The world’s first bluetooth enabled hearing aid was introduced by Starkey Hearing Technologies in July of 2005. The device, known as “ELI,” was capable of connecting to Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones (and other Bluetooth audio devices) a full two years before the first-generation iPhone.

If you’ve been paying any attention over the past few months, you may have noticed a lot of press for the world’s first “made for iPhone” hearing aids. But, hang on. The ELI was capable of streaming audio from the iPhone years ago.

Flash forward to 2014

Starkey is in the game again. In April, they released the Starkey Halo, one of the world’s first “made for iPhone” hearing aids; with no intermediary devices necessary. Taking advantage of Bluetooth low energy, and a “proprietary high quality audio streaming protocol” developed by Apple, the Halo is able to stream audio from iPhone 4S and up, and many other Apple devices. Note: If you don’t own or plan to purchase one of the later iPhone models, the more affordable iPod Touch is a good alternative (as long as it is running iOS 7 or later). At last count there were seven hearing aids (from seven different companies) released with the new made for iPhone technology. For this post, I want to focus on two of the most popular hearing aids available, the Resond LiNX and (you guessed it) Starkey Halo. While many blog posts have discussed the two devices, there has been little in the way of comprehensive comparison. I hope this will serve as the definitive comparison guide. Begin LiNX versus Halo.

What’s all the fuss about?

The ELI, like many of its successors, wasn’t  actually a hearing aid at all. As Apple Insider correctly points out, now is the first time hearing aids have been able to connect directly to the iPhone, without the need for some type of intermediary device, or “streamer.” The ELI, was just that; an intermediary device that collected sound from a Bluetooth-enabled phone and sent it to the hearing aids. If you take a close look at the image above, you can see a boxy device attached to the bottom of the hearing aid. That is the ELI. Note: The ELI was able to send sound to the user’s hearing aid by way of Direct Audio Input (DAI) or telecoil induction, two much older, less sophisticated technologies. So, why did hearing aid companies opt to connect hearing aids to phones through these cumbersome intermediary devices? Was it just a ploy to upsell customers with extra gadgets? The reason this approach was taken is simple. It was the only technologically feasible option at the time. Until very recently, Bluetooth radios were large and power-hungry. If hearing aid companies had produced real Bluetooth hearing aids in the mid 2000s they would have been huge, and would have required AA batteries – not an easy sell. But over time, Bluetooth radios have become smaller, and require less power than ever. The lofty goal of real Bluetooth hearing aids has now become a reality.

Resound LiNX Versus Starkey Halo

If vanity is a concern, then you should know that the Resond LiNX is significantly slimmer than the Starkey Halo.  This is mostly due to the fact that the LiNX takes a smaller 312 battery, which is half the thickness of the 13 battery that the Halo takes.  However, a bigger battery does mean longer battery life.  And with the amount of wireless processing going on, a bigger battery may be worth it.  Both manufactures have recommended extending the battery of the iPhone through purchasing a case with an extra battery in it (such as the Mophie).

Also, the Resound LiNX has an ear-level control in the form of a push button, whereas the Starkey Halo has no ear-level controls available on their product.  If you require the ability to control the volume on your hearing aid, even when your iPhone is dead, then you may want to consider the Resound product.

Lastly, Resound has just extended the range of styles that the LiNX come in.  You can get the LiNX in both a receiver-in-the-ear, as well as a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid styles.  Starkey Halo only comes in a receiver-in-the-ear style.  I am happy to announce that Resound just launched a special new super-power BTE version of LiNX called the Enzo.  I won’t go into the details of the Enzo on this post, but keep watching for further reviews.

Linx Versus Halo Size Comparison

App Features

Starkey dominates in this area.  As a hearing aid company, they have had more apps out for longer than any other manufacturer.  Starkey’s app for the Halo is named “TruLink,” and Resound’s app for the LiNX is named, “Resound Smart.”  Both apps have your basic volume control and program changing features.  However, Starkey’s interface for volume control weaves in an optional simultaneous tone control feature.  This unique screen that crosses volume and tone adjustments in one move of the finger is being branded by Starkey as the “SoundSpace.”  Granted, the volume control is limited to +/- 8dB, which is fairly conservative; however it is easy to save sound preferences from the SoundSpace into individualized programs, and even tag them to specific locations on the map.  Marking maps with sound preferences for automatic retrieval when within a few hundred feet of that location, is called “Geo-tagging.”  This is a hot new term in the hearing aid technology world, but both manufacturers do have this feature.

It should be noted that the Resound Smart App also has a bass-treble control, but it much more linear in design – like going into an equalizer on your favorite sound device, but only finding two channel to adjust.  The same can be said about the personal microphone feature from each manufacturer.

The personal microphone feature turns the iPhone into a microphone.  Anything coming through the iPhone microphone will be picked up and put directly through the hearing aids.  It’s like the Extendable Ears in Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix.  Starkey has the personal microphone feature build into their app.  You can even record and save recordings in this screen.  The Resound app does not have the personal microphone feature.  The rational for this is that it is built straight into the iPhone (although I wouldn’t have figured this out without being told).  Apple has built its own basic hearing aid control screen into all of its products under the accessibility settings tab. Any Made-for-Apple hearing aid can use this screen. To get there quickly, the short cut is to press the button on the iPhone three times, or “triple click.” Not only are hearing aid volume and manual programs accessible from this screen, but the “live listen,” feature turns the iPhone into a microphone that directly streams to the hearing aids. This personal microphone is an advantage, as the iPhone can then be strategically placed.

Both Starkey and Resound apps also has a fairly accurate hearing aid locator. If the hearing aid is not in the near vicinity, then the map will show you where it last had contact with the hearing aids; or where it was last in range of the hearing aids. Once near the hearing aids, then the visual equivalent to a metal detector will guide further searching to within a few feet.

Michelle Quinn , AuD

Michelle Quinn, Au.D.

Michelle Quinn, Au.D., is a member of both the American Academy of Audiology and the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association. She earned her Doctorate in Audiology from the University of Washington (UW) before starting her clinical career New Zealand. Dr Quinn has worked in both private practice and hospital settings; specializing in adult hearing aid care, with an emphasis on hearing aid technology. She currently works as a clinician for UW Medicine in Seattle.

Michelle can be reached at mquinn@uw.edu

Linx Versus Halo Feature Comparison Infographic

UPDATE:

The LiNX2 hearing aid family has been released. For more up-to-date product features for the LiNX, please see our new LiNX2 hearing aid page, and see our comments in the discussion below!

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