Wearing a Halo

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke

There is no good time to suffer from hearing loss but there’s no better time than now for being able to cope and compensate.  The technology of today’s hearing aids truly does seem like magic.

If you want proof put on a pair of Starkey‘s Halo2s.  First, their bluetooth connectivity is remarkable.  That should come as no surprise.

Starkey’s ELI (2005)

Back in 2005 Starkey introduced ELI, the world’s first bluetooth enabled hearing aid.  (That was two years before the iPhone was unveiled.)  So they have a lot of experience to build on.

As you can see on the left, ELI was an ungainly looking device.  Note the dangling black cube which was the bluetooth radio.

Their latest model the Halo2 is, by comparison, light and sleek.  Thanks to 12 years of miniaturization, the bluetooth radios are tucked inside out of sight along with a set of powerful microprocessor chips.  It’s a smart hearing aid designed for smart phones.

I have been sporting a pair for about a month now, long enough for my brain to adjust to them and to explore their features.  A few observations:

The “Trulink” app

I paired them with my iPhone but if you’re on the Android side of things the apps pretty much offer the same features.  The most basic and most useful is the ability to have the voice of a caller streamed directly into your ears. It’s startling how clear and intimate their voices sound.

You can also use the app to turn down or turn off Halo2’s microphones while you’re on the phone which eliminates much of the noise around you.  A great feature in noisy environments.  I also like being able to stream music or video soundtracks from my phone in much the same way.

Another cool feature of the app is that it puts the ability to adjust the sound in the palm of your hands.  You can use it to simply adjust the volume or you can fine tune the frequencies depending on where you find yourself.  You can also give those custom settings a name, “Coffee Shop” for example, and save them in the memory for your next visit.  You can also geotag the settings so the next time you walk into that coffee shop it will automatically adjust.

Other hearing aid makers also offer similar apps but this one boasts the most features I have seen.  If you are interested in exploring more of them click here on Starkey’s “Trulink” site.

It’s little thicker than other hearing aids to accommodate the larger size 13 batteries which last about a week.

Bluetooth magic aside, it’s important to note that the Halo2 is like any hearing instrument, its main job is to provide the best possible sound to compensate for your loss.  On that score, I found them very helpful in a couple of areas.

First, the directionality of the microphones and the circuitry that supports them do a great job when I am listening to people in noisy environments such as restaurants or parties.  As any hearing aid user will tell you this is the most difficult challenge of all.

The so called speech-to-noise ratio remains the most challenging technical problem for all hearing aid makers. None that I know of has completely mastered the job of isolating human speech and separating it from background noise but the Halo2s come pretty damn close.

Over the holidays I even found myself at a party where I discovered that I was having less trouble following conversations than some of the people around me who had normal hearing.

The downside of the Halo2’s forward focused directionality is that I often miss sounds that are coming from behind me.  As well, my overall sense of where sounds are coming from is not as acute when compared to Oticon’s Opns for example.

Another plus, I discovered that I am able to hear music more clearly and I get a fuller range of clarity from the low to high frequencies. Similarly, the radio in my car comes through much more clearly, especially the voices.

I should also note that I prefer “open” style ear pieces or domes.  They have small holes that allow the remaining natural sound that I can still hear to reach my eardrums.  It also makes the hearing aids more susceptible to feedback issues, a problem that was pretty much fixed on a return visit to my audiologist.

In sum, the Halo2 may not be perfect but it’s still magic.

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