Bluetooth, invented by the Swedish tech giant Ericsson, is synonymous with wireless technology these days, but did you know its name goes all the way back to the 10th century? According to Gizmodo, “Bluetooth technology was named after a Danish king, King Harald Blatand, who had a penchant for snacking on blueberries and was known for uniting warring factions in what is now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Uniting devices from different manufacturers with different purposes, like computers from Apple and mice from Microsoft, is what Bluetooth technology is all about – all at a low cost, with low power consumption and a secure connection every time.” In addition to the devices we normally use in our daily life, from laptops to smart phones, we can now add hearing aids to the list! With Bluetooth-compatibility, wearers experience a whole new world of accessibility.
How Does Bluetooth Work?
Bluetooth uses wireless technology to stream audio, transfer data and broadcast information between devices. Bluetooth is available in two forms: Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate (BR/EDR), which is ideal for wireless speakers, headsets, and hands-free car systems, and Low Energy (LE), often used in point-to-point (P2P) networks used to transfer data, such as fitness trackers and health monitors. To put it more simply, when we use a number of electronic devices, they create a sort of “community.” Before Bluetooth, we needed to use wires to transfer information between devices. With Bluetooth, a low-level transmission automatically transfers information wirelessly between your devices.
Bluetooth Compatible Hearing Aids
Using Bluetooth’s low energy technology, hearing aid brands have released Bluetooth compatible hearing aids designed to connect wirelessly with your devices, opening up accessibility in many different ways. Bluetooth compatible hearing aids allow you to stream phone calls and video chats directly from your smartphone or tablet directly to your ears. In addition to the convenience of having a hands-free conversation, this connectivity makes it easier for you to access phone conversations. There’s no need to hold the phone up to your ears anymore – something that might have created difficult listening with your hearing aids. Now, audio streams directly to your hearing aids, as they might stereo headphones. The same goes for watching TV shows, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify – you name it. Through Bluetooth connection on your iPad or laptop, you can stream audio from your favorite entertainment directly to your ears.
There are two ways in which Bluetooth can be used with your wireless hearing aids. Made for iPhone-specific hearing aids (Starkey, ReSound) allow you to directly connect your devices to your hearing aids via Bluetooth. Other Bluetooth compatible hearing aids link up with a streamer (worn around your neck or kept in your pocket) that works as a middle-man between the Bluetooth-ready device and your hearing aids. Here are some of the most popular Bluetooth compatible hearing aids.
Starkey Halo IQ
The Starkey Halo IQ uses Bluetooth to connect wearers directly to their iPhones. This allows wearers to stream phone calls, FaceTime, music, and other media directlIQ from the compatible device to the Halo IQ. In addition to this ease of accessibility, Halo IQ activates the iPhone’s GPS feature, which geo-tags your listening preferences at specific locations. Later, when you return to these archived locations, your Halo IQ hearing aids will make automatic adjustments based on your saved preferences. This provides a natural and seamless listening experience. Halo IQ also boasts Starkey’s best listening features, with fast sound processing and directional microphones to capture speech sounds with clarity, earning it a Silver Edison Award in 2015.
ReSound LiNX 3D
No less remarkable, the ReSound LiNX 3D is now in its third iteration as a Made for iPhone hearing aid. LiNX 3D uses Bluetooth to connect you to your smartphones, allowing for easy streaming and clear sound of calls, music, and media. Additionally, ReSound packed LiNX 3D full of features that provide 50% better speech identification and 80% more access to sounds in any environment. Features such as Surround Sound and Binaural Directionality III ensure that wearers have access to 360-degrees of sound. With Smart Fit, a new fitting software, LiNX 3D ensures comfort through customization.
Built with an open sound solution in mind, Oticon’s Opn (pronounced “open”) captures the full richness of your entire soundscape, with features that support your brain in focusing on the sounds you want to hear. Opn is a Bluetooth compatible hearing aid that uses a number of streaming accessories to open up your listening experience. To improve your TV and music listening experience, Oticon offers the TV Adapter, allowing you to stream up to 45 feet. To make discreet and quick adjustments to your listening experience while you’re out and about, Oticon’s remote control (the size of a modern car key) gives you access via Bluetooth. Through the Oticon ON app, connect to your smartphones to adjust program levels and switch between programs. Opn conveniently offers a “find my hearing aid” feature that uses Bluetooth connectivity to locate your misplaced hearing aids.
Phonak Audeo B Direct
Phonak, Swiss manufacturer, offers Audeo B and Virto B, Bluetooth compatible hearing aids. Powered by the Belong platform, Audeo and Virto connect directly to your smartphone, allowing for streaming of phone calls and audio. Additionally, Phonak’s TV Connector turns Audeo and Virto hearing aids into wireless headphones, allowing you to stream your favorite shows directly to your ears. Phonak Audeo B and Virto B are available in a number of technology levels and provide wearers with Phonak’s awesome features, such as UltraZoom, SoundRecover 2, and even a rechargeable option (Audeo B-R).
The new Signia NX hearing aids come equipped with bluetooth compatibility and HD e2e (high definition ear-to-ear transmission). In addition, their Pure BT 13 touts the longest streaming time of hearing aids in it's class.
While Widex was one of the later entrants into the iPhone streaming world, the wait was worth it. Widex hearing aids use Widexlink, a wireless technology that streams better than Bluetooth. The Widexlink specifically addresses demands of current hearing aids by using less power and transmitting extremely fast so that drops or delays do not occur.
Using 2.4 GHz direct connectivity, studies with wearers rate the Beyond as best in clarity and sound quality. The Beyond also uses a multi-connectivity array called the TRI-LINK ™ which allows three different inputs from the pure-link (2.4 GHz communication), Widex-LINK (for InterEar communication) and the Telecoil (used in public spaces such as churches or theaters for communication).