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In August 2021, Starkey introduced their latest flagship hearing aid family, Evolv AI. Evolv AI is offered in a full range of styles including a new wireless capable completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid and is available in 4 different technology levels. Both rechargeable and standard battery options are available for custom products as well as Behind-the-Ear (BTE) products.
Five of the eleven new form factors released with Evolv AI.
According to the company, Starkey’s goal with Evolv AI was to provide an “always on and always automatic” hearing instrument that emphasizes both hearing health as well as overall wellness. The devices are said to perform 55 million automatic adjustments per hour.
The concept of hearing aids being part of an overall wellness approach was first introduced in 2018 with Starkey’s Livio AI hearing aids. The rationale behind this approach was based on current and ongoing research into the impact of hearing loss on general health. For example, one study suggested that even a mild hearing loss can triple the risk of a fall in older adults. Hearing loss is also correlated with social withdrawal, depression and cognitive decline. As such, the Evolv AI not only helps to treat hearing loss but provides additional tools to meet individual goals for activity and social interaction.
Evolv AI, like its predecessor, incorporates motion sensors which can track your hearing aid usage and physical movement and can also help detect falls and even alert your selected contacts to a fall. There are also numerous other features built-in to the product itself or incorporated into its smart phone app such as available language translation and remote hearing care.
Edge mode provides a real-time, temporary adjustment to your hearing aid’s settings based upon your current listening environment. This is a robust change to such settings as noise reduction and gain in addition to modifications of other controls with the intent of improving clarity and comfort. The “optimized” setting remains until you change memories or restart the hearing aid. According to the company, wearers often prefer this setting in challenging environments.
Thrive Hearing Control is the name of the Starkey smart phone app and provides a wide array of controls as well as information about your hearing aids and usage. It is compatible with both Apple and Android products. Typical app controls such program change, volume changes, an equalizer are all included. However, numerous additional features are also available including a hearing aid self-check, TeleHear and “Find my Hearing Aids”.
Keeping with the wellness approach to hearing loss, one of the primary features of the app is to provide you with information regarding both your engagement and activity . The app will display an overall wellness score which is a combination of your engagement and activity scores. The maximum score for each day is 200. Your engagement score is based upon your daily hourly use, your interaction time (conversational speech) and the types of environments you are in. For example, if you are in more challenging listening environments throughout the day versus only quiet environments, your score will be higher.
A Wellness Score is provided via the Thrive App.
Your activity score is based upon steps taken, exercise and standing minutes throughout the day with each of these goals allowing for editing within the app. For example, the default goal is to take 10,000 steps a day but this can be adjusted to suit your needs. While these features don’t have to be utilized, some may find them useful in setting overall health goals.
Utilizing the motion sensors within the hearing aids, the hearing aids can send alerts via text to your chosen contacts (up to 3) when a fall is detected. The text will alert your contact about the fall as well as provide a GPS location. This can be configured to occur automatically or you can choose to send the alerts manually via the Thrive app. The fall alerts can be cancelled by you within a 60 or 90 second time window depending on how the feature is configured. The company claims that the new product has significant improvements to increase the accuracy of the fall detection feature. Obviously, this can be a peace-of-mind feature for both you and loved ones if you suffer from imbalance.
TelehHear is Starkey’s remote fitting support imbedded within the Thrive app and is available within all 4 technology levels. A cloud account is required to utilize this feature and also serves as a cloud-based backup of your hearing aid settings. TeleHear allows you to request an appointment with your hearing healthcare professional (HHP) who will can then send you a code for a remote video programming session. This feature may be particularly useful to you if you have difficulty getting to/from appointments, live a distance from your provider or prefer to receive services from the comfort of your home.
Via the Thrive app, you can use a digital assistant to set reminders, change programs or find your phone. In addition, if your phone is connected to the internet, you can also ask questions and search for an answer—this works much like other virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa. Note, a cloud account has to be created through your Starkey account in order for Thrive Assistant to work.
Reminders are available within the Thrive app and can be used for whatever you like such as medication reminders, appointment reminders, etc. The reminders can be visual on the app and/or audible reminders streamed from your smartphone to your hearing aids. Much like any calendar reminder, you can set to have them repeat daily, weekly, monthly or annually.
Cusom-fit wireless options available from Starkey and with the introduction Evolv AI a CIC wireless hearing aid is now also available. Previously, wireless custom products were only available in canal and ITE sizes. Starkey has a reputation for building excellent custom shells and it will be interesting to see if they can build a true CIC wireless product. That is, wireless CICs are available from other manufacturers but end up being bigger than a non-wireless CIC product in order to accommodate the additional technology. The pull string on the CIC serves the dual purpose as a removal line as well as an antenna for the wireless signal. Since this is a new product, experience will tell us how durable this design proves to be.
Tap Control is an additional wearer control that utilizes a simple double tap with your fingers. It can be used to access Edge Mode in the highest level of technology and start/stop/pause streaming in all of the technology levels. This control is configured within the Thrive app and/or by your HCP. The tap control is also used to signal to the hearing aid to listen for a voice command (Thrive Assistant). This is a convenience feature that some may find useful.
This feature was also available in the Livio AI and continues to be available only in the highest technology tier. You can select your language and the language of another speaker for a translation of speech heard by the app. For example, you speak into the phone and the app will translate what you have said and display it on the app in the chosen 2nd language. Then, the other person responds into the phone and the app will then translate their speech back to your native language. However, an internet connection is required for this feature to work. Currently, approximately 27 different languages are available.
Starkey is one of the limited number of companies to offer rechargeable custom hearing instruments. While not available in every style, this is still a nice convenience factor, especially for those who prefer a custom instrument but wish not to contend with battery changes. This is especially important for those with vision or dexterity issues. However, the charger design may prove difficult for some especially for the custom devices where the contact points must be precisely aligned.
Starkey offers multiple accessories depending on your requirements. These include a Mini Remote Mic and standard Remote Mic+ both of which can be useful for improved hearing in restaurants, lecture halls, etc. A table mic is also available and can again help improve listening in noisy environments and may be useful to those who are often in meetings where hearing is difficult. The table mic also acts as a TV streamer. There’s also a basic remote which allows for simple volume and program changes and can also mute/unmute the hearing aids.
Evolv AI provides some additional features or improvements over Livio AI, including:
The Evolv AI is Starkey’s latest product development and an extension of technology first seen in 2018 with the introduction of their Livio AI product. There appear to be some improvements in certain technology aspects such as the speed of calculations that are used to align a wide array of automatic features. There’s also the introduction of a wireless CIC and the continuation of some features down to all levels of technology.
Evolv AI is a very sophisticated hearing aid that also bridges the gap between an assistive hearing device and a wellness tracking device (although it’s not a true fitness tracker). However, all of this technology likely comes at a high-cost point and while having the “cool” factor may be nice to have, it also may not be practical for many people. However, if you consider yourself tech savvy and like having access to a wide array of features then you should consider this hearing aid. As always, discuss your options with your hearing healthcare provider to determine what product suits your hearing loss and lifestyle needs.