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First-of-its-Kind Survey Tracks Consumer Acceptance of Hearing Aid Brands, Features and Product Innovations

Internet and iPhone connectivity may be the sizzle in today’s hearing aid market, but sound quality is still the steak. That’s one of many takeaways from a groundbreaking audiologist survey conducted this fall by Hearing Tracker and UBS Evidence Lab, the research arm of global investment banking giant UBS AG.

The first-of-its-kind survey polled more than 360 audiologists on the brands and features hearing aid patients are asking for. The responses indicate that investments by major hearing aid brands in new high-performance sound processing technologies are paying off in more sales to consumers with hearing loss.

Better Sound Quality Still the Holy Grail

When asked what they considered the single-most important feature of a hearing aid, 56% of the audiologists responded with “sound quality,” followed by “reliability” (17%), “value for money” (12%), “service” (6%), “ease of use” (4%) and “ease of fit” (2%). Only 1% of respondents rated “connectivity” as the most important attribute for consumers they are fitting with hearing aids.

Hearing aid features

Major Brands Get Top Marks for Customer Satisfaction

The top hearing-aid manufacturers generally got high marks from audiologists. Among the “Big Six” (the small group of manufacturers that control more than 80% of global hearing aid markets), William Demant Holding Group’s Oticon brand earned highest marks for current customer satisfaction, sales momentum and overall popularity:

  • Patient Satisfaction: A whopping 86% responded that patients were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with Oticon hearing aids, followed by Sonova Group’s Phonak brand (82%) and GN Group’s ReSound brand (81%).
  • Sales Momentum: More than half (57%) said they expect sales of Oticon hearing aids to be “somewhat” or “significantly” higher over the past three months, with Phonak (46%) and ReSound (40%) following.
  • Popularity: Oticon also won the current patient popularity parade, with 61% of respondents saying the brand’s popularity was “somewhat” or “definitely going up,” followed by ReSound (54%) and Phonak (51%).

There was a strong indication that new products play a role in determining brand popularity. Among the Big Six, Oticon had the most recent “next-generation” product introduction, giving it a boost in brand momentum.

Oticon Hits a Home Run with New Opn Hearing Aids

Oticon may have benefitted especially from the emphasis audiologists placed on sound quality. When it introduced its new Opn hearing aid architecture early this year, Oticon delivered next-generation new sound processing software on an entirely new high-performance chipset. It heavily promoted its measured improvements in patients’ comprehension of speech in noise.

Video: Oticon People First


Before Opn, some observers had said Oticon needed to catch up to the competition but now, according to a number of open comments from respondents, Oticon has snuck into the lead:

“The Oticon OPN hearing aid has turned things around. People can now handle group conversations which was extremely difficult before.” – Survey respondent

The Opn launch was the latest move in a technology “leapfrog” game that the industry leaders have played since the dawn of digital hearing aids. The new Opn product came a year or more after Phonak, ReSound, Signia, Starkey and other industry leaders had introduced their own new products and technology platforms.

“The computing power in this (Opn) chip amazing, and I think it’s one step closer to potentially solving the age old issue of listening in background noise.” – Survey respondent

Because digital signal processing chips deliver higher performance and lower costs every year, the latest product often has the greatest technology. Oticon this year was able to take advantage of the most recent advances in signal processing chips. Its competitors, on the other hand, had introduced their next-generation sound-processing platforms based on prior years’ technologies.

Audiologists Stock “Big-Six” Brands

Given the high levels of satisfaction with the current generation of hearing aids, it’s no surprise that audiologists reported stocking brands from Big Six manufacturers—Sonova Group, William Demant Holdings, GN Group, Starkey Hearing Technologies, Widex, and Sivantos (formerly Siemens Hearing).

Global market share leader Sonova Group earned the top spot among audiologists, with 78% reporting they stock Sonova’s Phonak hearing aids:

Brands stocked

Connectivity Matters, Too

While survey respondents did not make connectivity an attribute of critical importance to current hearing aid patients, they did say it was the most exciting technological improvement the industry has seen recently.

When asked “What is the most exciting recent hearing aid innovation in recent years?” more than half the open written responses mentioned “Made for iPhone hearing aids”, “Bluetooth connectivity,” “direct connection to smartphones,” “wireless technology,” and numerous other connectivity features.

LiNX2

Photo: Resound

It would have been interesting to see results of a similar survey two years ago when ReSound introduced the first Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. The new product made a big splash in the media. Then when ReSound’s parent company GN Store Nord reported its financial results, it said the new iPhone connectivity feature had driven the company to significant market share gains and strong profitability. It would not have been surprising if a survey done at that time ranked “connectivity” much higher as an important attribute, with ReSound benefitting from higher “brand momentum” scores.

More Survey Results Coming

This initial review of the topline results from our Hearing Tracker/UBS Survey indicates strong demand for new high-quality hearing-aid solutions based on new technologies. They indicate satisfaction among audiologists with the leading hearing aid brands, especially with recent improvements in sound processing quality.

Hearing Tracker will provide additional insights as we dive deeper into the results of our survey, and we are planning future collaborations with UBS Evidence Lab to deliver more useful information about hearing aid features and patient benefits.

Update 2017

Better late than never! Here is a more complete set of survey results, including both the first and second quarterly results from UBS and Hearing Tracker’s Audiologist Survey. The second survey was administered in min-December 2016. Round three will be launched in mid-March 2017 (coming soon)!

Survey Background

The first Hearing Tracker/UBS Survey was conducted in September-October, 2016. Responses were gathered from over 360 audiologists, in a variety of work settings. The survey was designed and administered by the UBS Evidence Lab, and promoted by HearingTracker.com, primarily to its professional member directory. The second survey was conducted in mid-December 2017, and the next quarterly survey is due in mid-March 2017.

About UBS Evidence Lab

The UBS Evidence Lab is the largest, most experienced primary research team in sell-side research. In order to uncover new evidence that is not yet fully reflected in the market price, UBS research analysts often collaborate with the UBS Evidence Lab team on quantitative market research, digital footprint analysis, and data science and statistical modeling.

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  • Steven Kopischke

    When I purchased my Starkey hearing aids a couple of years ago, I thought that “Made for iPhone” was going to be very important. It turns out I rarely use any of the features available through my iPhone.

    • When you think about it, there is a lot of time, money and energy invested by the labs, the practitioners and the patients for these features. Our practice offers them all, but don’t use them nearly as often as one might think, also. Frankly, our goal is to pair devices with patients that they can put on in the morning and take off at the end of the day while having to do as little during the day with them as possible. Set it and forget it.

      • Steven Kopischke

        Michael – “Set it and forget it” captures it perfectly.

        I met with my audiologist today (one of my Starkey’s had to be returned for repair/replacement) and told her that I really feel like a cyborg when I am wearing my hearing aids. They have become so much a part of me that I don’t think of them as external devices so much as I consider them “my hearing.” I know that’s my goal with them – I want them to be largely invisible to me and the world around me. I just want to hear better.

    • blue bill

      Maybe you need to upgrade to a newer model. Hearing my phone calls directly through my hearing aids is the best feature for me.

      • fili46buster

        I too love the phone streaming and also the TV transmitter that allows me to hear announcers in a noisy stadium and other television audio directly through my “made for iPhone” instruments. The music streaming is less impressive (no bass to speak of, and Bluetooth issues). When Oticon’s cutting-edge technology for speech in noise comes to hearing aids I can afford I’ll be very interested. Until then, I’d rather have the connectivity.

      • Steven Kopischke

        I’m sure you don’t mean that I continue to spend multiple thousands of dollars searching for nice-to-have features. The demographics indicate I should have at least another five years of wear on these hearing aids.

        I didn’t say the iPhone features weren’t useful, but they’re not useful for me. I have a number of Bluetooth devices connected to my phone. I have a high-end headset for phone calls and external speakers for music. The audio fidelity from the hearing aids is subpar.

        If I walk away from my desk with my hearing aids connected to my phone, I get a blast of music in my head when I return.

        My hearing aids improve my hearing greatly, but the iPhone features are not features I need or use.

  • egirevS

    The 4:th most important on that list is “Service”.
    Oticon´s service is really bad (im talking about the big company Oticon, not the audiologists)

    • For clarification, the full option for service was “Relationship with manufacturer (service)”

      • blue bill

        This message shows that the “Service ” in the study refers to the audiologist and not the consumer. When will the consumer study be done?

  • blue bill

    Of the 360 audiologists who participated, I wonder how many of them sold just Oticon; how many sold just Phonak; how many sold just Resound and how many sold all 3 brands? If only 360 audiologists participated, this is a tiny study. Who paid for this study? Could it be that an important factor in choosing a hearing aid for the patient depended upon what hearing aid the audiologist was selling? I think that more information has to be supplied about exactly how this study was done. The article seems to be a great advertisement for Oticon. Tell me where I am wrong.

    • This is actually one of the largest studies of its kind, and in fact the only study of its kind. Many of these questions have never been asked before. The study was paid for by UBS, with zero outside influence from hearing aid companies. It was a joint effort with our independent organization, Hearing Tracker, Inc. The goal of the study was to generate information for UBS member investors, to help guide their hearing industry related investment decisions. Oticon did well in this study because audiologists have a positive attitude about their products at the moment. I was personally involved in the design and distribution of this survey and can assure you there was no bias.

      • blue bill

        The size of the study is meaningless if it was not conducted using impartial scientific methods. Since you were involved in the study, you should be able to answer all the questions I pose in my message. Please take each one separately and give me your answer. Does UBS invest in all the hearing aid companies or just Oticon? I thank you for your response.

      • Martin

        The real question is, how many of the dispensing offices are owned or under contract with one of the brands? Too many offices present themselves as “multi-branded” when in reality they are owned or under contract to sell one brand. Their responses are biased by their contractual responsibilities. Research has already proven that most hearing aid wearers can not tell the difference in sound between the most expensive brands and the more affordable brands. It all comes down to how good the audiologist is at properly fitting and programming the hearing aid.

    • Dr. Harriet Jacobster

      Blue Bill…I was actually one of the audiologists that took part in this survey. I can tell you personally that I fit ALL those brands and these results are pretty much in line with what I myself responded. Now, granted I cannot attest for others, and you are right that we all have our biases when it comes to dispensing hearing aids. But then again, we dispense the aids we do BECAUSE of the way they perform. So if more audiologist dispense Oticon, it’s is because it performs better than the rest. Again, this is JMHO.

    • McKenzie Bernice

      I’m an audiologist, and I thought the exact same thing.

      I also wondered, how many of these audiologist worked in clinics that are owned (directly or indirectly) by Oticon. Resound, Phonak etc… I did participate in this study, but I have the same questions you do. Maybe they will include that information next time.

      I am lucky enough to be in private practice, so I can do what I believe is best for my patient.

  • blue bill

    I just clicked on the highlighted ‘Opn hearing aid.’ It is just more of the same audiologic jargon seen in all ads for hearing aids. New Oticon hearing aids are compared to their previous models and found to be superior,…..of course. Why don’t they compare their hearing aids to those of Phonak, Resound and all the others and give us those results? It seems to me that every hearing aid can be electronically tested (removing the human element from the equation) and each hearing aid can be scientifically evaluated against all the others. Now THAT would be a ground breaking study! Phony, so called, “studies” by the hearing industry seem to just obfuscate the true qualities of each individual hearing aid and just keep the consumer in the dark. Where am I wrong?

    • It’s actually really hard to compare hearing aids to each other on a technical basis. You can run tests to see which do better for speech understanding (etc) in a lab setting, but the gold standard is of course delivering real world performance in real world listening conditions (noisy restaurants, etc). This type of study is notoriously hard to design and run because such conditions are almost impossible to replicate, and there are also subject variables like alertness etc, that can change from moment to moment. Most audiologists, including myself, have come to accept that there is really no viable way to compare one hearing aid to another in any meaningful way. That is why studies like this are important. Getting a feel about products from the professionals that fit them is extremely valuable for industry watchers as well as consumers trying to get some guidance on which brands might be worth consideration.

      • Aïda Regel Poulsen

        Yes, this is very hard to compare..
        Still… cars are compared and described as to comfortability.. so we shall get there eventually.
        Now it has been described that sound quality is first priority for all.. and THAT is important.. but sound quality may mean one thing to you and another thing to me…
        I too work as a hearing consultant for school children and I have a hearing loss myself. Many of the children I meet have not had the volume control activated, because then they might fiddle with it..
        But they are meant to fiddle and in HAs there can be limits set as to how much they adjust the volume up and down..
        It should also be separated between the ears ..
        I myself value very much directional hearing .. if I state this it will be understood that I like this feature in a set of hearing aids.. but that one thing I like my own ears to sort out for me..
        Stability in sound (no drop outs or sudden squeaks) (drop outs mainly in connection with ALS)..
        To use the picture of the cars again… we will be told that the seat is adjustable in I don’t know how many ways.. steering wheel as well..

        And then… some years back I participated in a test of 10 different HAs where my own set was among the 10.
        My own came in as a clear no 1… and why was that?
        All HAs had been adjusted and tuned after my audiogram.. but my own set had been fitted personally with an audiologist communicating with me during fitting and adjusting..
        The more we users are involved, the closer we get…
        And we may have different needs according to type of HL, everyday activity and more… we need these groups described so that we know how to identify with other persons need of a certain brand and model of a HA.

        It is a LONG process… but nevertheless worth the effort to get it done 🙂

  • Kennetyh Wong

    Is Earlens’s hearing aid too new a product for inclusion in the comparative study? On Earlens website, this is a description of its product, which sounds impressive and could be a suitable hearing aid for those with severe hearing loss.

    “Other hearing aids use a small speaker to amplify sounds. The Earlens Hearing Aid uses light and a small lens placed on your eardrum to directly activate your natural hearing system. The result is rich, complete sound that the vast majority of people find makes it easier to understand people in noisy environments and participate in group situations.”

    I have emailed Earlens for more information on its hearing device and also asked a price but so far it has not responded.

  • Matt Neal

    can i use some of this information in a print ad?

    • Please reference our website and UBS in any ad material. Thank you.

  • lostarts

    There’s a company that currently has the capacity for users to adjust hearing aids themselves, and I’d really like to see this become a more widely-available feature.

    My audiologist went out of her way to make sure that what I heard was so different than natural hearing that what I could hear, I couldn’t understand, and she adjusted one of my aids so that I couldn’t hear ANYTHING with it.

    I know she could have done better because I bought an aid from Amazon that only had a slight adjustment possible, and it was ten times better than what my audiologist gave me.

    Being able to adjust my own aid would make things so much better.