Better than Normal Hearing ?

by Dan Taylor, Audioprosthologist, A Advanced Hearing Carepromo-teaser-binax-platform

Part of the boilerplate of every hearing aid purchase agreement since I started dispensing over thirty years ago has been required to have the following, “A hearing aid will not restore normal hearing, nor will it prevent further hearing loss.”  It is one of those write it in stone declarations that make it into law when consumers are up in arms and regulators are called upon to do something.  Hence the required disclaimer.

Thirty years ago our industry was known for making all sorts of wild claims it couldn’t back up, anything to sell a pair of hearing aids.  It got so bad that in 1994 then FDA commissioner Kessler fined all the major hearing aid manufacturers millions of dollars and issued orders that from thence forward all claims of effectiveness would have to be substantiated with actual, repeatable studies and the science to back up whatever advertising claims were being made.

So, having dispensed through both the wild west days, and the FDA slapdown, the email with an attached YouTube video link of Siemens’ claim that their new Binax hearing system offered it’s wearers better than normal hearing in noisy situations raised not only my eyebrow, but my curiosity as well.  Could such a bold claim really be true?

Has the hearing aid industry evolved to the point of being able to provide an appliance that allowed it’s wearers not just to do as well as someone with normal hearing, but to perform better in those noisy cocktail party situations?

I’d had personal experience with such myself with their earlier generation Micon system that I wear.  This, as well as several anecdotal reports from other wearers and patients of much improved performance in noise.   But, for a major manufacturer to make such a bold claim, and advertise it, as Siemens is doing now with their Binax system demanded my attention.

Not to mention arousing my curiosity further as to how they accomplish such a task, and just what they meant by “better than normal”?

As their official product launch isn’t until mid November, documentation is light, and will be until after official launch, but here is what I’ve gleaned so far from what is available through their video and a supporting article in the October issue of “Hearing Review”.

What they mean by better than normal hearing is this; their system will provide it’s wearer a 2.9 decibel improvement of their Speech Reception Threshold, even if the wearer has a moderate to a severe hearing loss, in noisy, cocktail party situations, when compared to the performance of a normal hearing individual.

Their claim that the voice from the speaker directly in front of the wearer just seems to float above the other noises, even if those other noises are the speech babble present in a cocktail party type environment, really is both a remarkable claim, and given their first to make, and back up such a claim with both product, and research data is quite an industry achievement.

They accomplish this amazing feat by combining the information available from both hearing aids, creating a virtual eight microphone array.  The information gleaned allows for the location, direction, and classification of dozens of sounds simultaneously.

Through two patented software algorithms they have named; Narrow Band Directionality and Spatial Speech Locator, they are able to automatically adjust to the level of background noise producing a narrow beam of directionally amplified and processed sound directly in front of the wearer. By applying additional noise recognition and filtering techniques, the voice of the speaker directly in front of the wearer just automatically floats above the surrounding babble and background.

However, regardless of where speaker of interest is located, even if behind, or to the sides, the system allows for the wearer to pick the direction from which speech is emphasised either with the on board rocker switches, or via their EasyTech dongle and iPhone, or Android application..

Congratulations are in order to Siemens for being the first manufacturer to not only be bold enough to challenge our conventional thoughts and conceived limitations of what the hearing instruments of today are capable of.  If, these claims and their product lives up to the hype, this will be one of those evolutions that really move our industry forward.

Forget restoring normal hearing.  Siemens’ Binax offers it’s wearers “Better than Normal hearing in noise.”  An industry first and something that we can watch as every other manufacturer attempts to emulate, as someday all hearing aids will incorporate this type of processing technology.

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