When Phonak unveiled the first true Bluetooth® hearing aids back in 2018, I said they knocked it out of the park. Now, with Phonak Virto™ M Black, which is available in the U.S. beginning this week, Phonak is bringing the same Bluetooth connectivity to a new small custom-fit form factor, designed to look like a next-generation hearable. The sleek, compact design leans into the popularity of smart wireless earbuds, positioning Virto M Black as an answer to the age-old stigma associated with hearing aids.
Since its successful product introduction at CES in January, I’ve taken a closer look at the product and its features. The big story here is that Phonak is delivering an excellent hearing solution—not just for tech-savvy baby boomers—but also for younger hearing aid users who want the latest hearing enhancements and connectivity in a contemporary earbud-style form factor.
While Virto M Black looks a lot like a Bluetooth earbud you might pick up at Best Buy for a few hundred dollars, it’s actually a high-end programmable medical device. And, it will cost you a few thousand dollars after a hands-on fitting by a local hearing health professional.
But the new hearing aids offer industry-leading hearing enhancement, flexible Bluetooth connectivity, all-day battery life, and a multifunction smartphone app that facilitates on-the-go sound adjustments. It’s a winning combination that should make them well worth the added cost for those who need serious help with their hearing.
Virto M Black provides music streaming, hands-free calling, noise reduction, audio controls, and other features you might expect from a high-end wireless earbud. At the same time, it delivers individualized amplification and sound processing, customized to your unique hearing loss needs. And compatibility with Phonak wireless remote mic and TV audio streaming accessories makes it even easier for people with hearing loss to understand speech in challenging listening environments.
“Most hearables still only provide one-way consumption of streamed audio content,” says Ditlev Friis, Business Unit Director, Phonak Specialty Business. “But Virto M Black’s advanced sound processing technology, combined with smartphone connectivity, facilitates two-way communication with friends and loved ones.”
How does Phonak ensure the Virto M Black will fit comfortably in your ear? It turns out, this is quite the involved process. First, your hearing healthcare provider must create a physical mold of your ear (earmold).
This mold is then analyzed by Phonak to create a “Biometric Calibration” of 1,600 data points from your unique ear impression. The calibration enables placement of the directional microphones and Bluetooth radio receiver in optimal locations within the hearing aid shell to provide the best possible performance. Phonak uses 3D printing to create the base components, which are assembled and finished by hand before shipment to the patient.
With the Virto M Black earbuds, Phonak is attacking the stigma associated with hearing aids head-on. They are large enough to be noticed and don’t even try to meet the old standard of “invisibility.” Instead, they look like a slimmed-down version of the wireless sport earbuds worn by young, active people at the gym, at the office, or when running around town.
“Virto M Black was designed to blur the lines between a hearing aid and a hearable,” says Friis. “Our aim is to help people seek treatment sooner, thanks to the stylish design and innovative hearing aid technology. And because it meets the needs of even severe hearing losses, it provides a long-term solution for people with progressive hearing loss.”
In a survey, Phonak asked more than 600 consumers to compare the Virto M Black hearing aids with other traditional in-the-ear hearing aids. A majority said they would choose Virto M Black. And the highest number of positive responses were in the 18-to-56-year-old age range. The company says the more appealing design addresses the stigma associated with hearing aids, one of the reasons people delay treatment for an average of seven years after first noticing a hearing loss.
Virto M Black is the first custom-made hearing aid to integrate Phonak Marvel technology, including universal Bluetooth streaming, hands-free phone calls, and a personalized hearing experience via the myPhonak app. It is the first custom-made hearing aid that directly streams from both iOS®, Android™, or virtually any other Bluetooth®-enabled audio device. And its microprocessor chip runs five wireless protocols at the same time including Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth LE, Binaural VoiceStream Technology™, Airstream Technology™ and Phonak Roger technology, providing comprehensive wireless connectivity.
With Virto M Black, hearing aid wearers can answer, end, or reject a phone call with the push of a button while keeping their phone in their pocket, purse, or on a nearby table. On-board microphones allow wearers to use their devices as wireless headsets, resulting in truly hands-free conversations. And when paired with a Roger accessory, Phonak says Virto M Black wearers can experience up to 10-times better-than-normal hearing in noisy situations and over distance by streaming the Roger signal directly into both ears.
Phonak’s decision to have the Virto M Black use disposable 312-size hearing aid batteries might seem to run counter to consumers’ growing preference for rechargeable hearing aids. But from a practicality standpoint, it may prove to be a winning design decision.
Phonak has helped lead the industry in developing and delivering lithium-ion rechargeable batteries integrated into hearing aids. But the small size of rechargeable batteries means they need to be charged overnight, daily. And daily battery life can be negatively impacted if you do a lot of audio streaming, make a lot of phone calls, or work in a noisy environment that prompts constant program adjustments by your sound processing software.
Phonak says the Virto M Black’s 312-size batteries, on the other hand, deliver from five to seven days of continuous service, depending on your amount of audio streaming. The disposable batteries can be easily removed and replaced by popping open the door on the outside of the hearing aid.
Phonak is betting there are enough hearing aid consumers who want to be part of the hearables revolution to make Virto Black a big success. And if early response to the product is any indication—especially from the multiple glowing hands-on reviews from consumer tech blogs and videos—it’s a very good bet. For instance:
|Phonak Virto M M-Titanium||Phonak Virto M M-312|
|IP Rating (Liquid)||8|
|IP Rating (Solid)||6|
Push Button Options
Push Button Options
Model details listed above may be incomplete or inaccurate. For full specifications please refer to product specifications published by the original equipment manufacturer. To suggest a correction to the details listed, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Phonak Virto M M30||Phonak Virto M M50||Phonak Virto M M70||Phonak Virto M M90|
Maximum additional programs, in addition to AutoSense OS
|Real Ear Sound|
|User Preference Tuning|
Technology specifications listed above may be incomplete or inaccurate. For full specifications please refer to product specifications published by the original equipment manufacturer. To suggest a correction to the details listed, please email email@example.com.
Hearing aid reviews are fundamentally different from reviews for most other consumer electronic products. The reason is because individual factors, like degree of hearing loss, have a profound effect one's success and overall satisfaction with the product. When purchasing a hearing aid, you'll need to consider more than just your hearing outcome ... Continue readingWrite a Review
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Hearing Tracker uses a ten-question survey to assess consumer feedback on hearing aids. The percentage bars below reflect the average ratings provided per question, averaged across all hearing aids belonging to this family of devices.
Note: Original answers provided in star rating format.
I need the in-ear style because I wear glasses, masks and have a funny ear, which make over the ear too frustrating.
As far a comfort and convenience I'm very happy with my choice. I can wear these for hours and not notice them. They sort of become like glasses, if you wear those. They are a godsent and it's also nice when they come off.
What most people have an adjustment to is that having it in your ear plugs your earhole and you sound funny to yourself. They have a largish air tunnel through the hearing-aid which helps. I adjusted to that pretty easily, three weeks and I didn't notice it anymore. I end up speaking softer around my friends and they'd ask me to repeat myself. That found a natural balance as well.
Batteries last about three days for me. I have mine on from 8am to sometime in the evening. I'm frequently streaming podcasts or music during the day as well. 312 batteries make great presents ;)
It will only pair with two devices at a time as it's Bluetooth 4.2, but I sure do enjoy having the world's best ear buds. I love podcasts in particular. When bluetooth is one you'll get a funny pause in your hearing quality as the bluetooth cuts in on your phone. That's the one knock I have perhaps?
At the end of the day I really like not having to ask people to repeat themselves or have the TV on 11.
We'll see what they are like on the motorcycle shortly, another reason to not have the over-the-ear style while dealing with a helmet.
I think my fit is a problem. One ear especially feels plugged. It often feels like being underwater. When I chew or swallow my hearing seems blocked. I like not having the bit hanging over my ear which gets tangled in my hair, masks etc. I have the Virto M90 - 10NWO
Buyer beware. The door breaks off every three weeks. It's as delicate as a potato chip and is useless. I have a busy schedule and now I have to visit the hearing aid clinic regularly for the repair. Also, wasting brand new batteries because they get stuck in the aid with no door to remove it. Do not buy this hearing aid.
Have a lot of issues and been back to the audiologist 3 times.
After a few hours they work out of the ear.
When I talk it sounds like I am in a tunnel
they have been sent away and refuted but I still have the same issues.
I really like the Virto M90 hearing aids since they fit well in my ears but I am not confident that I am using and "servicing" them effectively/efficiently to make an accurate/valid assessment. Is there any literature available that I can obtain in an effort to use them effectively and THEN make a more :valid" assessment ?
I have the Phonak Virto M90-312, my average wear time is 13 hours per day. They are very comfortable to wear and to adjust your comfort and clarity sound levels through the myphonak app on my iPhone/iPad. Very satisfied with the capability of receiving phone calls directly to my hearing aids, streaming music and podcasts. Downside is battery life of 4 days only but that is do to my streaming of music/podcasts/SiriusXM.
I received these from my VA and I can not use them , They need paired up with my phone and they keep loosing the pair up , Sound seems very artificial to me , Tiny and echo sounds , I will be taking Them back and Hoping the Starkey new Tech is better .
I have the Virto M90, ITE (In the ear hearing aids)very comfortable to wear because it is a custom ear mold. I can take my phone calls through my aids without having to remove my iphone from my pocket, stream music and listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I wear glasses and usually wear a ball cap most of the time so you don’t have the rustling sounds that I had with my old BTE. With the app you have the capability to make adjustments for comfort, clarity and background noise. My average wearing time per day is 12.5 hours per day (the app provides you the statistics). Since I have to wear hearing aids I want comfort and the feel that I am not wearing anything.
The hearing seems much better than my previous set of hearing aids. I was wearing the Ks7's from Costco before, but they never really sounded "full" ... maybe because of the open ear tips? My audiologist added small vents on these virtos which I guess means I can hear more of the low end tones. It definitely helps with the volume and fullness, but one downside is I can hear myself loudly when I speak, and I'm trying to adjust to that. I do also feel more blocked up than I did with the previous set. But, it's worth it for me to hear better.
Getting the custom molds done was pretty interesting. They used an ear scanner, so I didn't have to do the putty in my ear. That's why I stayed away from customs in the past. Somehow I am worried about the putty getting stuck, even though the audiologist said that never happens.
Anyway, I'm happy with the small size, and love that you can't really see these. The main trade off for me there was the smaller model didn't have Bluetooth. The phone seems to work fine though, so I'm not missing too much.
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