As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.
A surprise was waiting for me on my last trip to Phonak headquarters in Stäfa, 10 days ago: Venture.
I had an appointment to try some Audéo hearing aids and tweak a few things that were bothering me with the fitting and the settings. As I arrived in the building, I bumped into Ora. I excitedly told her, “Do you know I’m trying Boleros? And I like them, there are really situations where they perform better than my old hearing aids.” She answered that she was delighted to hear that. I mentioned some of my beef with Soundflow. “You should try Venture! Are you going to try Venture? Tell them to make you try Venture.”
Venture? Phonak’s new platform (chip, software) for Audéo.
I headed towards the audiology lab and was welcomed by Michael and Simone. Here is what they had for me 🙂
Venture! I didn’t even have to ask. They had planned it all in advance. I was pretty excited, I had to say. New functionalities, resolution of the Soundflow switching issues that had annoyed me in my car, smaller BTE. No purple, or pink, sadly, but I decided I wouldn’t be fussy about the colour and be happy with the silver that was offered me.
The fitting went smoothly and I got to know Simone, my audiologist for this visit. We did things wirelessly (I was wondering about that in my first post: both options exist for Phonak, it really comes down to the audiologists preference), selected some new programmes, and — even more exciting! — tested the ComPilot Air II and got to see the RemoteControl smartphone app in action.
Two and a half years ago, when I got fitted, I was dreaming about this. My initial assumption once I got over the wonder of hearing more was that there should be a way to interact with my hearing aids directly from my phone. I was shocked that it wasn’t possible. I was also shocked that the device I was provided with to “connect” my phone and hearing aids was so… 2001. With the ComPilot Air II, I feel we’re really getting there.
It’s not direct phone-to-hearing-aid connection, but the device is small, looks good, is actually wearable, and has an autonomy that makes it usable. About 4 hours of streaming, I’m told, versus 1 hours for the M-DEX I tried two years ago. And the app, though it is still quite simple, is also really on the right track. Unfortunately, due to iOS8 Bluetooth problems, I’m going to have to wait a bit for it to be available on iOS so I can really try it out (get it from Google Play though). While we’re talking about “in the right direction”, I can’t wait to see what EasyCall is like — a flat device that fits on the back of any Bluetooth-enabled phone and boasts upto 10 hours of talk time.
The ComPilot works really well. I got to try it for a few real-life phone calls, and once we had set the default behaviour to “mute the room” when streaming started (who on earth would like surrounding sounds to be amplified too while trying to make a phone call?!) it managed to be at least as good as my default “earbuds and no hearing aids” solution. I used it on the train home to listen to podcasts. Now I get to look even sillier when I laugh all by myself on the bus, because I don’t even have earbud wires dangling from my ears.
The smartphone app connects with the ComPilot and allows things like changing programmes through the app instead of cycling through them with the hearing aid button. It also allows control of the general amplification volume (up/down), and with the Speech in 360 programme, you can “lock” amplification in one direction if you desire, instead of letting it automatically determine where the speech you want to listen to is coming from.
In addition to the Speech in 360 programme, I got a dedicated Music programme with no Soundrecover. I also added a simple Calm Environment programme as a fallback if ever the automatic programme was doing things I didn’t want it to (I had been burned, but I needn’t have worried).
One little snag I hit with this new pair of hearing aids was linked to the little bend that has been added to the RIC part of the aid. It actually improves fitting — meaning it’s possible to fit more people with that bend. Sadly it’s not a good thing for me, as I seem to be one of the small number of people for who the bend makes things uncomfortable (outright painful actually!), but Simone managed to find some “old” unbent ones for me. And Michael told me that the bend could be tweaked by the audiologist — so no big showstopper. Just a snag.
I really like that they now make the open tips black instead of transparent. Even if you’re squeaky-clean, the transparent ones always become yellow with time. No problem with black 🙂
We decided to take some imprints of my ears to prepare custom molds for me next time. Even though I don’t like the idea of “occlusive” molds, I did give them a fair chance with my Widex aids, and I’m willing to give Phonak a chance too. So, stay tuned, next time is probably going to be about that.
It was a really exciting morning. I left the audiology lab with a huge smile on my face and a lot of hope for the future.
After a week or two of use, I am totally in love with my Audéo V90s. They’re smooth. I don’t notice them. We’ve solved all my physical comfort problems. I don’t need to take them out when I get a phone call (with or without ComPilot). I don’t hear any transitions between programmes. The sound around me feels completely natural. I never hear anything “weird” coming out of them.
The ultimate test: in the automatic programmes that come with Venture, there is a new one designed specifically for car noise, so I was curious to see how that would play out. Answer, a few days later: great. I had music on full blast, on the motorway, and I was singing at the top of my voice — on the automatic programme. And I never heard my hearing aids misbehave. It was as if I wasn’t wearing them, but could hear.
They’ll have to pry them out of my cold dead hands.