There is an Ever-Growing List of Good Solutions
I see people from time to time that are having some problems with their ability to hear in certain situations. Usually, it is situations with competing noise or voices and often it may include hearing dialogue on the TV. More often than not I find they have a mild or maybe moderate high-frequency hearing loss. Often, they may be in a grey area for suitability for hearing aids. Yes, they have a problem, but that problem is only in some areas of their life. For them, their situational needs don't add up to a three grand problem. The investment to benefit ratio is genuinely off for them. They aren't ready for hearing aids. There is a growing list of decent solutions for them, solutions that offer situational help and make sense financially. While some of these solutions fall within the Hearables category, some don't. Let's explore some of them together.
The picture above is of the new Jabra Enhance Plus devices just announced. Rather attractive looking things they are. Anyway, the Jabra units represent a growing device segment that was first presented to the world by NuHeara. Admittedly, there were others, but they fell by the wayside before they made it to market.
The device is a Bluetooth enabled stereo headset that also delivers audio enhancement that you can customise to your hearing needs. Once set, that enhancement works with phone calls, streamed audio, and ambient hearing.
These ear-level devices represent just one strand of the ever-growing offerings that can be called situational devices. They aren't designed to be worn or used all day, just within the situations that you may need help with your hearing.
While NuHeara were perhaps the first to push this device form, things heated up a bit when Apple offered what is basically hearing aid functions in their AirPods Pro devices. If apple was taking augmented audio seriously, well then other consumer electronics businesses needed to take a long hard look at it as well.
The concept of augmented audio is important when we are discussing these solutions. Some of the solutions such as Chatable's AI aren't devices, they are apps or algorithms designed to help people hear better. Chatable is a good example, it started life as a Smartphone app, however, just recently, they announced that they have smashed the latency issue and it can now be installed on an ear-level device without any time lag that may cause problems.
Let me explain that, latency is a signal delay, when it comes to audio, latency is a problem. Any latency would mean that the audio reaching your ears would be out of sync with what you are seeing. If there was latency in hearing aids the world would appear out of kilter and it would be like being in an echo chamber.
What matters is that the Chatable AI is not a traditional approach to hearing loss and the problem of hearing speech in noise. Far from it actually, the Chatable AI isn't interested in what your hearing loss is, it is just interested in cleaning the speech signal and presenting it to you in an optimum way.
SonicCloud is another app-based solution but works to change audio output across a range of your devices. Their site says "Turn your phone or laptop into a powerful hearing solution in three easy steps". SonicCloud offers a self-tuned speech intelligibility system that will give you customised audio and in theory, it could be embedded on any audio device.
Mimi is another player with a similar idea, again their system is app-based and they say it can be integrated with pretty much any audio solution to drive a more personalised (read corrective audio) sound experience. Philips TV line-up of 2021 will have Mimi sound personalisation integrated.
In my article "The Future of Hearing Aids Sales, What Will it Look Like?" I said that I thought the future is full of augmented audio devices. I think that augmented audio is a good term because future solutions may bear no resemblance to hearing aids as we know them. Outside the traditional industry, we are already seeing huge growth of devices that augment audio while focused on something else.
You can't call a mobile phone running a self fitted speech clarity algorithm for calls and streaming audio a hearing aid, can you? A TV that does the same doesn't exactly fit into the hearing aid category, does it? There is an ever-growing list of solutions out there for you for different situations and I feel that they are just going to get better and better.
Choice & Accessibility
These solutions deliver choice and accessibility, they offer cheaper solutions to specific problems. The bulk of them also offer a route to help outside the traditional model of hearing care. Unfortunately, Jabra has chosen to go through the traditional retail audiology route with their offering. Finally, they offer solutions for the people who don't have a three thousand dollar problem and those who are just too embarrassed to wear hearing aids (you really need to get over yourselves).
I said recently that I thought the explosion of augmented audio devices will lead to a confusing marketplace. I feel that we as hearing care professionals can help and guide consumers through it. How we will do that and will consumers still be interested in our services is the question?
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