The epic battle between hearing aids and Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) has leaped forward today with the release of the Soundhawk “Smart Listening System” today. FoxConn, the manufacturer of such products as the iPhone 5S, Kindle,Playstation 4Xbox One, and Wii U, has invested $5.5M into Soundhawk, and the news has gone viral. See the latest on: Gizmodo, CNET, Mashable, Engadget, The Verge, WSJ (as above), MarketWatch, Wired, and more.
The marketing message is strong and coordinated. Here are a few of the headlines splashed around today’s issue of Google News:
- Soundhawk’s earpiece lets you pick exactly what you want to hear
- Soundhawk Unveils the World’s First Smart Listening System
- A Sleek New Hearing Aid That Solves a Nagging Problem
- Soundhawk hearing amplifier is a ‘wearable with a purpose’
- Soundhawk’s Smart Listening System Aims to Make Hearing Aids Cool
- Soundhawk Launches App-Enabled Wearable to Enhance Hearing
- Meet Soundhawk: The Tiny Device That Gives You Bionic Hearing
- Soundhawk is a ‘smart hearing aid’ that cuts through annoying background noise to help you hear more clearly
One of the huge problems with the marketing above is that it is in direct violation of the FDA’s draft guidance on PSAPs:
PSAPs are intended to amplify environmental sound for non-hearing impaired consumers. They are intended to accentuate sounds in specific listening environments, rather than for everyday use in multiple listening situations. They are not intended to compensate for hearing impairment or to address listening situations that are typically associated with and indicative of hearing loss.
The other problem that I see with the headlines is that big promises are being made in the hearing department. Even sophisticated hearing aids, worn in both ears, struggle to consistently “pick exactly what you want to hear.” If the world’s best hearing technology cannot promise perfect hearing, I highly doubt that a PSAP, worn in one ear, could deliver. I think such big promises should be investigated carefully by consumers who wish to purchase the Soundhawk device.
The device, as depicted on Soundhawk’s website (as seen above), shows a device which vaguely resembles a bluetooth earpiece for general telephone use. In terms of appearance, it lacks the discretion of many of the hearing aids on the market today. The other issue I see for milder hearing losses is that the Soundhawk does not leave your ear canal open (Correction: The SoundHawk is shipped with 3 open ear tips and one closed ear tip), which may become uncomfortable after 8 hours of use (the products battery lifetime). Many of today’s hearing aids are “open-fitting,” which helps to alleviate pressure and moisture inside the ear, and generally leads to a higher degree of comfort. Typical hearing aid battery life is also between 5-14 days (depending on battery size), so this may be another decisive convenience factor. I think the Soundhawk is a great entry point for consumers with milder forms of hearing loss, who are looking to experience better hearing for shorter intervals. However, for consumers who want the best possible hearing, for the longest durations, and with the most comfort, I still think there is no beating traditional hearing aids.
Last modified: September 12, 2016