ReSound One: The Pandemic Hearing Aid Review
ReSound sent me a set of their brand new rechargeable ReSound One hearing aids back in September. I must admit, they were sitting on the shelf in my office for well over a month — along with a pile of other devices awaiting my attention. Between the insanity of running a business and raising three kids during a pandemic, I’d fallen behind on my product reviews. Apologies to my readers!
One of the reasons I’d been stalling to review my pair of One’s is that I’d been locked down, working from a quiet home office since receiving the devices. The One’s deliver some huge advancements when compared to previous ReSound models, but most of the advancements aim to tackle problems related to hearing in background noise. How was I supposed to put these devices to the test without any background noise to speak of?
I hadn’t been to a restaurant, coffee shop, or movie theater since April, and I’d almost forgotten what it felt like to struggle to hear in background noise. Well, that is until last week. My family is part of a very tightly-knit group of intense “lockdowners” — we all work from home, school our kids from home, do curbside pickups, and mask up for gatherings (yes, even outdoors). Well, a few of us made the decision to get together for Thanksgiving for the largest gathering I’d been a part of for months. We’re talking like 10 people here, but hey, it still provided a unique opportunity to put the ReSound One aids to the test.
A giant leap forward?
We recently had ReSound’s Chief Audiology Officer, Dr. Laurel Christensen, on the Hearing Tracker Podcast to talk about the latest audio-enhancements delivered by One. The stand out feature that everybody is talking about is the new “M&RIE” speaker design that puts both the microphone and speaker deep in the user’s ear canal. We asked Dr. Christensen to explain the novelty and relevance of the new speaker design on the podcast, and she explained that M&RIE represents one of the largest “leaps forward” the industry has seen since the development of the original open-fitting hearing aid.
It’s true that open-fitting hearing aids were a momental leap forward for the hearing aid industry. Prior to the open fitting, hearing aids blocked the ear canal more, leading to less natural hearing, poorer sound quality, and more occlusion. “People felt like their head was in a barrel” Dr. Christiansen explained, “the sound of their own voice was not natural, and an overall sound quality just was not great.” Since their introduction in the early 2000s, open-fitting hearing aids have taken over the hearing aid market — almost 80% of the hearing aids sold in 2019 were open-fitting styles.
An open-fitting ReSound One hearing aid is shown on the left. A traditional custom hearing aid is shown on the right.
But is ReSound’s M&RIE technology really that big of a deal? Does the new technology actually solve a problem? And if so, what problem is it solving? And why did we have to wait until 2020 for M&RIE? If this was such an important advancement, why were hearing aid manufacturers putting the microphone in the ear years ago?
The problem solved by M&RIE
The outer ear (the part of the ear you see) does an amazing job of collecting sound and funneling it into the ear canal. Just like cupping your hands around your ears, the outer ear provides a natural boost to sound, making it easier to hear the pitches that are most critical for understanding speech. And the unique shape and ridges of our ears helps us to know where sounds are coming from (especially in the up and down directions), and this helps our brains to unconsciously reconstruct the three-dimensional audio world around us. This 3D reconstruction is especially important when we’re trying to listen to a specific person in a noisy environment. It’s what allows us to focus in on a single person and ignore the rest.
Until now — until M&RIE — all behind-the-ear open-fitting hearing aids have had the microphones positioned on top (or slightly behind) the ear. Collecting the sound from that position meant that hearing aids no longer got the natural sound boost provided by the outer ear (or pinna), and it meant no more information about the direction of sound.
Hearing aid manufacturers have gotten pretty crafty at trying to replace the so-called “pinna effect” by creating an acoustic model of the average ear, but due to our human uniqueness, this approach has never been perfect. Finding a way to put the microphone in the ear, while at the same time retaining the benefits and comfort associated with open-canal fittings, has been longstanding goal for the industry.
On One, ReSound keeps the usual microphones, but adds a third microphone to the speaker unit, the part of the hearing aid that sits deep in the ear canal.
Hearing aid microphones were initially placed behind the ear on open-fittings out of necessity. With the ear canal open, amplified sound is able to leak out of the ear, and if that amplified sound gets back to the microphone, well, that means you’re going to hear some horrible high-pitched squealing (acoustic feedback) in your ear. Any hearing aid veteran will know what I’m talking about. So, the goal was to put the microphones as far away from the speaker as possible, and maybe even tucked behind the ear a little, shielded from oncoming amplified sound.
Well, as technology has improved, so too has our ability to “cancel” hearing aid feedback using digital processing algorithms. And with M&RIE, ReSound has shown that we’re at the point now where we’re so good at cancelling feedback that we can put the speaker and microphone virtually next to other without any negative impact. Of course there are limits. M&RIE is not for people with severe or profound hearing loss. Too much amplification will overcome the feedback canceller.
What are the real-world benefits?
M&RIE attempts to restore the ear’s natural sound by capturing the sound collected by your unique outer ear. But does it work? And what are the benefits?
Research from ReSound suggests that M&RIE improves our ability to tell where sounds are coming from (our ability to accurately localize sounds). Their testing shows that localization is the worst when using traditional behind-the-ear microphones, significantly better when amplifying sound based on an average outer ear model, and significantly better again when placing a M&RIE microphone in the ear canal (to pick up the individual’s unique pinna effect). If true, it stands to reason that the sound produced by M&RIE should be more natural, and should lead to better “spatial hearing”, which should in theory improve our ability to understand speech in background noise.
ReSound’s testing also shows that users with and without hearing loss prefer the sound of M&RIE over traditional microphones. For those with hearing loss, the following reasons were given for preferring M&RIE: “Speech is more distinct and background noise less distinct”, “Least disturbing sounds”, “Reduced listening effort, more comfortable and sometimes more intelligible” and “Less noise and better localization”.
Lastly, ReSound claims that wind noise is improved significantly by using M&RIE. Given the position of the microphone deep in the ear canal, it makes sense that wind noise would be improved. This is a far more shielded position than a traditional behind-the-ear microphone, sitting on top of the ear. ReSound reports a 14-19dB improvement in wind noise reduction when compared to traditional mics, with greater improvements achieved in less windy settings.
Setting up my hearing aids
If you were hoping for a more traditional product review that includes an unboxing video … well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but you won’t be getting that here. However, I did take a picture of my programming setup.
Wirelessly programming the ReSound One's from my home computer.
Being an audiologist, I was able to fire up the latest ReSound fitting software, connect to the devices wirelessly, and tune the hearing aids up for my needs. Seeing that I have normal hearing myself, I just tuned them up for a mild hearing loss, and added the closed speaker tips to try and hear more of the processed sound. I added 3 sound programs:
- All Around - use all microphones as needed
- All Around with M&RIE - use the M&RIE microphones
- Ultra Focus - use the new binaural beamforming directionality function
I also tweaked the programming settings to allow me to quickly switch programs using a short push on the hearing aids’ push buttons. I wanted to be able to quickly cycle between the programs to see what differences I could pick up in any given environment.
Wearing the hearing aids
I wore the hearing aids around the house and at the office for a few days just to get a feel for things. It always feels weird to put hearing aids in my ears. The sound is different from what I’m used to hearing naturally, but after a few hours, I sort of forget I’m wearing them. And, I usually instinctively put in my AirPods in for phone calls and audio streaming, so I had to remember that the hearing aids were already in my ears and ready to go.
After a couple of days, having the hearing aids in became normal for me. I tried to keep them in all day, and only take them out to shower at night. I figured I should follow the same instructions we give our patients. I also took the hearing aids out at the end of the day to charge them. I love ReSound’s inductive charger. The hearing aids charge quickly and the charging case seems robust. The hearing aids always lasted the whole day, even though I put them through the wringer by streaming Zoom calls all day.
A 3-hour charge gives 30 hours of battery life or 24 hours when streaming television, music, or other audio. The premium charger holds 3 full charges.
Less wind noise
One thing I noticed immediately was the improved wind noise reduction on the ReSound Ones. When riding my bike to and from the office, I put the hearing aids in the M&RIE mode and I was able to listen to my podcasts without all the (expected) rustling of wind over the microphones. The overall sound quality for audio streaming leaves a lot to be desired when listening to music, especially when compared to my AirPods Pros, but for spoken-word programming, they held up just fine.
Connecting the hearing aids to the app
I’m not sure if this is a general problem, but I found when I opened the ReSound Smart 3D app, sometimes the hearing aids didn’t connect at all. At first, I thought my hearing aids were dead, but eventually realized they were fully-charged and paired up to my phone’s Bluetooth … and just not connecting to the app. I tried inserting them into the charging case a few times to see if that would help, but ultimately I could not get them to connect without turning Bluetooth on my phone (a Pixel 4 XL) off and then back on again. This trick consistently got them to connect.
Thanksgiving meal test
The moment of truth was finally approaching. I was a little nervous about wearing the hearing aids with my friends and family around. Given that I have normal hearing, I was honestly a little worried that the hearing aids were going to make it harder for me to hear. I was worried I might just give up on it and put the hearing aids aside for the meal.
Before the meal, we congregated in the kitchen to prep the meal and visit. There was plenty of noise in the kitchen, and the kids were running around in the background like maniacs, so that kept things loud and lively. I started out with the hearing aids in “All Around” mode. All Around mode is ReSound’s automatic program—the hearing aids automatically attempt to optimize the sound, whether you are in a quiet room or in a more dynamic environment like a noisy kitchen on Thanksgiving day.
Things seemed fairly natural to me on the All Around Mode, and I really didn’t have any trouble hearing, but when I switched the hearing aids into the dedicated M&RIE mode, I definitely noticed a difference. More than anything, the sound just seemed more natural to me. I don’t know that I was having any localization issues before or after switching into M&RIE, so I can’t comment there, but my overall preference in the moment was to stay on the M&RIE program.
At mealtime, I went back to All Around mode. Everything was fine, and I was hearing as well as I expected to. The hearing aids weren’t interfering with my ability to hear, so that was good. Switching into M&RIE again, I experienced the same phenomenon of things sounding more natural. I stayed on that mode through most of the meal, but as more wine (and sugar) was consumed, and the kids got crazier and crazier, I decided it was time to try out ReSounds new “Ultra Focus” mode.
Ultra Focus mode was pretty amazing for me. As many others have reported, I felt like people’s voices were almost beamed directly to my ears, or like there was some kind of tunnel connecting my head to the person’s head I was speaking to. And other voices noticeably faded into the background a little, allowing me to focus more on the conversation at hand. Of course, one issue with Ultra Focus is paying attention to everything else that’s going on around you. Overall, I think I preferred M&RIE, but I did enjoy testing out Ultra Focus, and I could see it being extremely beneficial for smaller group settings, or a one-on-one meal in a noisy restaurant.
Overall, I was very pleased with the ReSound One. It seems like a robust hearing aid, and the app and charging case both work well. As an Android user, having the seamless Bluetooth integration was a huge plus. There were a few issues with connectivity, but nothing I couldn’t overcome. For those who are good audiological candidates (discuss this with your audiologist), I would recommend this product without hesitation.
Oh, and the ReSound One is also offered by Beltone under the model name Imagine. All the technology is identical, and both hearing aid models are produced by ReSound’s parent company, GN Hearing. Both hearing aids are adjustable remotely through the telehealth features in their respective apps.