Getting Real: An Interview with Oticon President Gary Rosenblum about Oticon Real Hearing Aids
At Oticon, innovation is Real. On February 23rd, the company launched its new Oticon Real™ miniRITE and miniBTE hearing aids, powered by the new Polaris R™ chip platform. Oticon Real, which picks up from where Oticon More™ left off, is designed to give hearing aid users a full spectrum of sounds in different environments while protecting against sudden disruptive signals and wind noise.
But there’s quite a bit more to the story. HearingTracker thought it would be a good idea to get an insider’s viewpoint about the new hearing aids. So, we turned to Oticon’s U.S. President Gary Rosenblum.
Oticon U.S. President Gary Rosenblum.
Rosenblum has been at the helm of Oticon U.S. since October 2016 and has quickly become an industry leader, lending his unique experiences and knowledge about general healthcare in presentations, seminars, articles, and serving as the current Chairman of the Hearing Industries Association (HIA). Before joining Oticon, he led various commercial functions for Johnson & Johnson, including channel development for J&J’s Diabetes Care franchise. Gary holds an MBA in Marketing & Business Strategy from Cornell and earned his undergraduate degree from Washington University in St Louis.
We caught up with him at his office at Oticon headquarters in Somerset, NJ.
HearingTracker: Hi Gary, thanks for your time this morning. I know you're very busy with the new product launch.
Rosenblum: Thanks Karl. It’s always a pleasure, and it’s an exciting time for Oticon.
HearingTracker: Oticon More, which was released only 2 years ago, has been a very successful hearing aid. Now, on More’s heels comes its successor, Oticon Real. Can you tell us what excites you most about this new product?
Rosenblum: Well, actually, I think you’ve alluded to a big part of my answer. Because, in truth, Oticon Real builds upon all of our previous technology, going back more than 10 years ago to when Oticon introduced the BrainHearing™ concept to the industry. Soon after introducing BrainHearing, Oticon launched Oticon Opn™, the inflection point where we moved away from traditional directionality and focused on the open soundscape and 360-degree hearing. From there, we introduced Opn S™ [in 2019] on the Velox S™ platform, which used our OpenSound Optimizer™ to increase speech-in-noise capabilities and sound quality while significantly reducing feedback.
HearingTracker Audiologist Matthew Allsop provides a preview of the new Oticon Real hearing aids. Closed captions are available on this video. If you are using a mobile phone, please enable captions clicking on the gear icon.
In 2021, Oticon More and the Polaris™ platform introduced many new features, but how I like to think about it is that More provided patients access to a much more natural sound experience by utilizing our onboard Deep Neural Network (DNN) technology. Oticon More uses DNN and what is learned from 12 million sound exposures to accentuate the important sounds and diminish the less important ones. What it comes down to is processing speech in noise more like how it's processed by the human brain—based on extensive experiential learning.
Now, with Oticon Real, we’ve gone one step further. Anyone who has ever worn hearing aids knows that just touching the devices, or having a cap, or scarf, or even your glasses or a facemask rub against the aid can cause annoying disruptions. The same applies to wind noise. There are also thousands of sudden sounds that occur on a daily basis that can cause annoyance for hearing aid users. Anything from loud sounds like noises from pots and pans in the kitchen that can cause discomfort, to softer sounds like typing on a keyboard or hearing someone walking in high heels that can be distracting. With Real, we’ve now created a new technology that diminishes these types of listening annoyances and improves on our overall mission to improve sound quality—which has resulted in the best hearing aid in the industry.
The Oticon Real hearing aid.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Oticon Real than that, but what I’d emphasize is that it’s built on industry-leading, extraordinary technology. In terms of sound quality and hearing-in-noise capabilities, I believe the Opn and Opn S technology we introduced 4-7 years ago can still go head-to-head with the best hearing aids on the market today. Every time Oticon launches a product, we make sure that 8 out of 10 patients believe it’s a marked improvement over our existing technology. So, we’ve added significant benefits with each product launch and we continue to do so with Oticon Real.
HearingTracker: Can you tell us more about the new Polaris R platform that powers Oticon Real?
Rosenblum: So, Karl, you know I’m a marketing guy [MBA in marketing from Cornell and previous leadership positions at Johnson & Johnson Diabetes Care, Abbott Labs and Pfizer]. That means I tend to think about products from the standpoint of: 1) What's the premise or key insight; 2) What’s the promise or key benefit, and 3) What's the proof or reasons to believe? So, for the premise and insights, there are about 7 out of 10 hearing aid users who are bothered by the annoying and disturbing sounds we’ve talked about throughout the day. And about 9 out of 10 hearing care professionals know this is true but have been working with hearing aids that don’t give them enough of a solution to resolve this problem to the satisfaction of the patient.
The annoying sounds associated with wind noise and handling of the hearing aids are designed to be significantly diminished by the advanced processing in Oticon Real.
Regarding the promise or key product benefit, we’ve all talked about attenuating wind and sudden loud sounds before; however, Oticon is the world's first taking on handling not just wind noise but sudden loud sounds, as well as sudden soft sounds. It's a much broader approach with some real solutions that will enhance sound quality and customer satisfaction. Again, a lot of this builds on and adds to the DNN and BrainHearing technology.
And, for the reasons to believe, we conduct research to demonstrate real patient benefits. The Wind & Handling Stabilizer of Oticon More has been shown to reduce these annoying sounds without diminishing clarity. And when it comes to handling sudden sounds, whether loud or soft, Oticon More is proven to increase speech clarity and decrease listening effort.
HearingTracker: With all of the research on how hearing loss might affect cognition and/or risk for dementia, many of your competitors are also moving toward audiological approaches that enhance brain processing. How do you feel about that?
Rosenblum: Oticon has been focused on the BrainHearing concept since about 2010. You probably know that Dr. Douglas Beck and I wrote an article1 several years ago that pointed out you don't hear with your ears; you hear with your brain. So, creating new technology that provides the brain what it needs is always something Oticon will be working on. That's our core effort.
Oticon's BrainHearing processing supports the way the brain makes sense of sound so you can listen with less effort. The technology is designed to give access to the details in sound for a more natural communication experience, helping people understand more of what is said rather than just hear more sounds.
Is it a surprise that our competition is starting to go in that direction, too? No. Frankly, it is surprising that it has taken this long given how important this challenge is for people with hearing loss. But we have a big advantage in having a research facility at Eriksholm in Denmark dedicated to the cognitive science of hearing. And we have over a decade worth of technology to build from that is all based on the BrainHearing concept.
Ultimately, the proof is in the product. When you think about some of the important core attributes of a hearing aid, it often comes down to how well it performs in a noisy listening environment. It’s about how fatigued the user feels at the end of the day after trying to comprehend speech in challenging situations. It’s sound quality, listening clarity, and speech understanding, which has so much to do with brain hearing and the technology we’ve developed. It all boils down to overall experience, benefit, and value for the user.
What is the listening benefit you're experiencing as a patient? Have we solved your challenges? That's the real proof. This is where we are focused.
HearingTracker: Switching gears to the overall hearing aid market, I know you’ve always been a proponent of the medical model as the “gold standard” for hearing care. How do you see over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids progressing and integrating with traditional hearing healthcare?
While we don’t believe OTC will revolutionize the industry, we believe it will broaden access to hearing health. I’m hopeful that the hype about OTC ultimately convinces more people to get their hearing checked and address their hearing loss. We want more people to be helped. We still strongly believe that the best way to address hearing loss involves the hearing care professional. We offer hearing aids in all different price ranges, so the user can get a normal hearing aid close to the price of some OTC devices. Oticon’s Research & Development focus on creating life-changing technology will not change as we continue to develop our products based on the BrainHearing concept. This view is very different from a very simple OTC device.
HearingTracker: Well, I think we’re out of time. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Gary. It’s always great to hear your perspectives and we look forward to learning more about Oticon Real.
Rosenblum: Thank you, Karl.
- Rosenblum G, Beck DL. Over the counter hearing aids: Opinions and perspectives 2018. The Hearing Professional. 2018:35-55.