More than a few readers have contacted us since we broke the story about the new Costco Kirkland 9.0 hearing aids. They wanted a clear comparison of the devices so that they could make educated decisions on buying. I have said it already in the article "Costco Launches New Kirkland 9.0 Hearing Aids", these are outstanding hearing aids but they aren't quite a Phonak Marvel 90. At $1499.99 you are getting a lot of hearing aid, so why would you spend extra money for a Phonak Marvel? Let's talk about what we know and what the Marvel offers over and above the new Sonova manufactured Kirkland Signature 9s.
If we take a look at the aids themselves first, there are obvious differences between the 9 and a similar 90. While the push button is different, it doesn't mean much to the functionality. However, the Mic ports do, Phonak have spent a lot of time and research on the design and placement of their mic ports. Their new mic port design actually cuts down wind noise physically by 5dB. Doesn't sound like a lot, but because the decibel scale is logarithmic, it actually is. So that means the Marvel 90 will be better in the outdoors.
The Marvel 90 312-T also offers a telecoil, while the Kirkland 9.0 doesn't. The telecoil might be old technology, but believe me, when I say, it is still as valid today for hearing aid users as it was when it was first invented. You can read more about the systems in the article "Are Telecoils in Hearing Aids Obsolete?". The simple version is no, they aren't and they are just growing in importance in the USA as lobby groups ensure more and more of them are fitted.
Update June 2020: It appears that the KS 9 now has a telecoil option. The KS 9.0 T is now available and costs no more than the device without the telecoil. Go for the telecoil, you will thank me later.
The Kirkland Signature 9.0 is offered in one configuration, a 312 powered hearing aid. The Marvel range is already available in four hearing aid types and will eventually be available in multiple configurations across RIC, BTE and custom devices. Simply put, the Marvel offers much deeper choice. Again, the price of the Kirkland 9 still sings out if you are happy to just wear what you get.
Let's get down to the nitty-gritty, the internal features that make a difference. While it is difficult to compare the features, mainly because we really don't know exactly what the features are in the KS 9s. Initially, we were told that the Kirkland devices do not have the proprietary Phonak BVST (Binaural VoiceStream Technology) features. However, it appears we may have been misinformed.
Phonak has become quite famous for its BVST features; they use real-time Binaural Voice Streaming to deliver real benefits in different types of sound situations. Binaural VoiceStream Technology allows their hearing aids to take a full audio bandwidth signal from one side and stream it to the other side. BVST is used in programs like speech in loud noise, speech in 360, and speech in wind.
In essence, the technology ensures that both of your hearing aids are delivering the best signal possible to your ears to understand what is being said in difficult situations. Update July 26th 2019: A Costco hearing care professional has called this into question, she says that the Kirkland Signature 9 does, in fact, have the BVST feature. We tried clarify this as we were told that BVST is a Phonak proprietary feature and it is not used on any other brand than Phonak. It appears though that the information is wrong and the Kirkland KS 9 does in fact use BVST.
The Roger system from Phonak is recognised as the gold standard for far-field assistance. Let me explain, hearing aids handle near field communication, that's the ability to communicate within about three feet. Anything beyond that is really far-field. Even very complex near-field situations, for instance, an animated conversation around a restaurant table by several people, can be difficult and the Roger system excels there as well.
The Roger system is made up of remote transmitters that can be used in different situations to allow you the best possible understanding of speech. With Marvel, Phonak will soon upgrade the Marvel devices to allow Marvel users to connect directly to Roger technology. That means that they will be able to use Roger devices without any extra FM receiver or intermediary device. Update June 2020: We were originally told that only Marvel hearing aids will have this ability, the Kirkland 9.0 won't have access to RogerDirect. However, with the firmware upgrade we are hearing about, this may have changed. We are trying to get an answer to that and will get back to you on it.
Update June 2020: Phonak delivered a new firmware upgrade for Marvel devices which boosted functionality and connectivity. It was a part of a wider expansion of accessory devices that Phonak introduced. Originally, it was thought that Marvel devices including devices already sold, would get the upgrade, but the Kirklands would not. However, according to recent chatter on the hearing aid forums, the Kirklands have got a firmware upgrade that appears very like Marvel 2.0.
Apps For That
Updated June 2020: While the Marvel and the Kirkland 9 originally had similar remote apps, both pretty simplistic to be honest. The Marvel had access to a host of apps that the KS 9 didn't, including the MyPhonak app for remote fine-tuning and the amazing live phone call transcription app. Phonak provided a newly updated app in 2019 that offered more power over the hearing aids and integrated better functionality in one simple app.
The app could only be used by Marvel 2.0 devices so again, the KS 9s would have no access to these rather splendid apps. However, it seems that Kirkland hearing aids with the new firmware upgrade can actually access the new myPhonak app according to some users:
"Following up - I got the firmware update. I now can connect to both of my cell phones but not at the same time. The old app no longer works so I now use the MyPhonak app. This app allows for more options to control the HAs. I had to re-pair to my TV connector but that only takes seconds."
That means that Kirkland users now have a whole load more power over the hearing aids. I am surprised that there is no Easyline app upgrade for the Kirkland devices, but maybe there is one coming along?
No Remote Assistance
The Marvel devices have full access to remote assistance, which means that you don't even need to attend your clinic to have changes made. The Kirkland 9s don't. Again, with the new firmware upgrade to the KS 9s, there is no reason why the Kirkland would not have remote access, that doesn't mean Costco will introduce it though.
No Tinnitus Features
The Marvel offers access to Phonak Tinnitus therapy features, the KS 9 doesn't. Having said that, it may not be as big a deal as it sounds. Let me explain, if you connect a Smartphone to your KS 9s, you can simply download an app such as the excellent Resound tinnitus focused app. Then you can set up your own sound therapy sessions and sounds and simply stream them to your KS 9s.
I stand by what I said in 2019, while the KS 9 is not quite a Marvel 90. Having said that, I don't want you to think for a minute that the KS 9 is an inferior aid. With the option of a telecoil now available and the introduction of the firmware upgrade, the KS 9 is a damn fine hearing aid at an amazing price.
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