Oticon Opn – Reviewed by a Techie Software Engineer
Bluetooth connectivity opens a new world of convenience
The new Oticon Opn S
Editor’s note: The following review was written in 2017 and relates to the original Oticon Opn hearing aids. In early 2019, Oticon released a new version of the Opn, dubbed the Opn S. The newer model includes OpenSound Optimizer™, which offers more amplification through improved feedback management. Oticon claims that the new model provides “improved speech understanding, without compromising clarity and sound quality.”
Oticon Opn Expert Review
If you’ve been in the market for new hearing aids or are just browsing to learn about the latest advancements in hearing technology, Oticon Opn has probably popped up in your search results.
The Oticon Opn – built on Oticon’s Velox Platform – was initially released on April 14th, 2016. Here we are in mid-2017 still talking about it. A year later, I still keep seeing amazing reviews from customers and hearing care professionals. I’m writing my own review because of the awesome, personal experience I’ve had with this hearing aid. I purchased a pair of my own and can personally attest to their incredible abilities.
In mid-June, I suffered what hearing aid users would agree is the most tragic of hearing circumstances: My hearing aid died! My old hearing aids are nowhere as good! My life is over (for the next couple of weeks anyway)! This was the beginning of the dreaded mission to replace my out-of-warranty, 5+ year old hearing aids.
Establishing the requirements
The Software Engineer / Techie in me quickly started obsessing over all the advancements in technology that have happened over last 5 years in the mobile, hearing, and embedded device industries. I started pouring over reviews, technical specifications, and hearing aid blogs searching for the “miracle” device that would be the answer to all my hearing issues.
My list of the Top 5 requirements for my modern, new pair of hearing aids were:
- Speech Intelligibility – my ability to distinguish words when I hear them – had to be on par or better than with my current hearing aids.
- Sound Quality – the granularity, precision, and range of the sound – had to be on par or better than with my current hearing aids.
- Bluetooth Streaming had to work directly with my phone as opposed to through a streamer. A streamer is an intermediary wireless device that relays sound and other information between your phone and hearing aids – it is usually worn around your neck.
- Program / Volume Control through my phone, as opposed to through a dedicated remote control that I need to carry with me. A remote control is a separate device for changing volume and programs – most often streamers also have this functionality built-in.
- Batteries that last at least 4 days – even with Bluetooth streaming.
Sound quality and speech enhancement
The speech intelligibility and sound quality requirements are met by many if not all hearing aid manufacturers through the evolution of modern hearing aid technology:
- The increased number of channels (i.e. sound frequencies) that can be processed simultaneously.
- Advances in algorithms that can distinguish between speech and noise.
- Advances in algorithms that can “track” and enhance the understanding of specific voices in a room full of people, depending on where people are relative to you.
- Advances in the performance of the embedded chips that comprise hearing aids, such as: reduced power usage, more powerful microcontrollers, increased memory, and integrated wireless radios (i.e. Bluetooth Low Energy).
The third, fourth, and fifth requirements narrowed down the choices quite a bit.
Comparing the competitors
At the time of selection, only the following hearing aids met all of my criteria:
- Oticon Opn
- Starkey Halo 2
- GN ReSound LiNX2
Trying to compare these three models of hearing aids is how I stumbled onto Hearing Tracker in the fall of 2016.
Armed with early customer reviews, side-by-side hearing aid comparisons from Hearing Tracker, marketing material and discussions from sites aimed at hearing professionals, and personal connections in the hearing industry, I made the choice to try the Oticon Opn 1 (the “1” refers to the top technology available for the Opn product family), despite never having worn Oticon hearing aids before. Even after all of that research, I had a “Plan B” in place to switch to the Starkey Halo 2 if the Opn 1s didn’t work out for me during the trial period. Having worn Starkey hearing aids in the past, they felt like a solid failsafe choice.
The anxiety of switching hearing aids
Despite all of the meticulous research and time spent picking the “perfect” hearing aids, I still had a pit in my stomach on whether they would live up to the level of hearing and “normalcy” I had achieved with the old set of hearing aids. This anxiety and doubt have been there every single time I’ve switched from one hearing aid to another in the past 20+ years.
The Oticon Opn 1s will remain special in my mind forever because it was the first time I put on new hearing aids and heard a sound that was almost in perfect sync with what my old hearing aids produced. A large part of that experience, I believe, was a direct result of superior hearing experience and configuration that the Opn 1s offer compared to hearing aids of previous generations combined with the skills of my experienced Hearing Instrument Specialist, Mina. I have only had to go back once for some minor adjustments in loudness. Compare that experience to the 3 to 10 visits I needed for my old hearing aids before things were “just right”. According to Mina, many of her clients had similar positive experiences with the Opn 1, which further adds to Oticon’s reputation as a leader in the hearing industry.
My expectations were exceeded
It became apparent to me in the weeks that followed that the Opn 1 hearing aids far exceeded the capabilities of my previous hearing aids. Coworkers and friends who I used to have exceptional trouble hearing and really had to focus on when they were speaking, became noticeably easier to understand. In the past I would manually cycle through different programs and volume settings on my hearing aids as my listening environment changed. However, the universal program on the Opn 1s was able to auto-adjust with limited input from me aside from the occasional volume up or down by a notch or two. I don’t think I’ve used the other 3 programs for more than a few hours collectively in the last month and half.
The direct Bluetooth connection between the Opn 1s and my iPhone as another big winner that unlocked a lot of new perks. The Oticon ON app allows me to change volume settings, programs, as well as view information about the battery status of my hearing aids – helping anticipate when I’d need to change batteries next. Another interesting feature is the ability to control the volume in each hearing aid individually, which has been particularly helpful when driving in the car with my wife beside me. I just turn down the volume on the hearing aid facing away from her, helping me hear her voice better in the midst of car noise.
With Bluetooth streaming, I don’t think it’s ever been easier to take phone calls in all my years with hearing loss. Having the audio come straight into both hearing aids has made it easy for me to take phone calls even in really loud places – I am able to turn down or mute the microphones on the hearing aids when necessary to only hear the speaker on the other end of the call. With Bluetooth, I also no longer require headphones (or streamers) to listen to music! In fact, the hearing aids even enhance the music listening experience by enabling “noise cancellation” like capabilities by giving the user full sound suppression control. When my co-workers get loud, I adjust the balance of the music streaming volume versus microphone input volume rather than loudness.This allows me to hear my music clearly while my noisy co-workers become quieter background noise. It’s an awesome feature that helps preserve my natural hearing in the midst of distracting or loud noises. It works so well in fact, that I can mow my lawn while listening to music without hearing the drone of the lawn mower!
All in all, the Oticon Opn 1s are great hearing aids that I’ll be happy to wear them for the next few years. As with all products, there is always room for improvement, so I will share some of the rough edges in the user experience as well.
Issues with the Oticon Opn
Here are the top 5 issues I’ve encountered with the Opn 1s:
- The hearing aids have a rare, but nasty tendency to reset themselves randomly – about once or twice a week on average. One second the hearing aid would be on, and the next it would be off and restarting. In software terms, this known as a memory corruption error and it seems to be triggered under very specific conditions in this case. The good news is that it’s most likely a software issue that can be corrected through a firmware update once it is diagnosed and resolved.
- As much as I love the Bluetooth capabilities of these hearing aids, the Bluetooth connection itself can be a bit jittery. Every 15-20 minutes or so, I notice some choppiness in the streaming of the sound. This can be a bit annoying when on a phone call or listening to music, but it’s tolerable in light of all the other benefits these hearing aids provide.
- If you have multiple devices that you share your Bluetooth hearing aids with, for example an iPhone and an iPad, selecting the device to stream from requires you to turn off the Bluetooth radio on one of them otherwise they interfere with each other. The crux of the problem is the management of two or more simultaneous Bluetooth connections. This problem too is solvable, but it’s not trivial. I see this being an important feature for the hearing aid user who is on the go and uses multiple devices at home, at work, in their car, and in between. I certainly fall in that category! Resolving this issue will be an important step towards interoperability.
- Oticon Opn 1s (alongside Starkey Halo 2, and GN Resound LiNX2) are all “Made for iPhone”, meaning that the experience on Android phones is sub-par compared to what you get on an iPhone. I personally like Android over iPhone, but had to buy an iPhone to make use of all the features the hearing aids offered.
- Manual controls to zoom in on a specific sound source are sometimes useful when the hearing aid inadvertently suppresses the sound you’re trying to hear. In my case, the hairdresser was talking to me from behind, but the hearing aids were lowering the sound of her voice alongside the noise in the mall – obviously the opposite effect of what I wanted at the time.
To put things into perspective for the everyday user, my list of Top 5 issues is by no means a list of glaringly large issues that should discourage anyone from buying the Oticon Opn 1s. They are likely just minor nuisances that the everyday user would encounter. Imperfections that are indicative of the newness of this technology inside of the hearing aid. The benefits of the Opn 1 far outweigh these rough edges that will hopefully be addressed in future firmware and feature updates.
A call to action
As an Embedded Software Engineer, I know that no software is perfect or bug-free, and the companies that respond to user feedback and engage their customers are ultimately the ones who succeed. I would welcome the opportunity to work with Oticon to help resolve these issues on behalf of all their affected customers. With that said, I would encourage you to take some time to let your hearing aid manufacturer know when things are not working as you want them to. You’d be doing a huge favor not only to them but also to the hearing impaired community as a whole. Send an email, reach out via social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc…), or even call them.
I would not hesitate to recommend the Opn 1s to my fellow friends, family, and others in the hearing impaired community in hopes that they have the same success as I have had.
I am in no way affiliated with Oticon, other hearing aid manufacturers, or the hearing industry in general. All views and opinions in this article are my own and presented from the perspective of an experienced, technically savvy hearing aid user.