I reviewed the original OPN hearing aid from Oticon back in September 2017, I was very impressed by it, Bluetooth was superb, speech discrimination in noise was excellent and Oticon's Sound Navigator made a real difference to listening effort. All in all, the OPN allowed me to hear really well in all situations.
Oticon has now released a new OPN model, the OPN S, which they say builds on the already excellent OPN platform and improves hearing ability and sound quality even further.
I have been testing out a pair of OPN S for the last couple of weeks and as Oticon claimed, and I expected, they are everything the original OPN was but better.
The immediately obvious difference with the OPN S is that it now has a rechargeable battery option. Having a rechargeable hearing aid might not be your priority but it makes a difference in day-to-day usage - I was stepping out of my front door this morning to go to London for an important meeting and it did cross my mind "are my hearing aids going to be OK" and of course they were because they were fully charged and were not going to let me down whilst out and about. That's a nice peace-of-mind to have.
As well as the peace-of-mind factor, not having to change batteries could be a big win for people with arthritis, other mobility issues or sight problems - batteries are small and fiddly to put in at the best of times.
Oticon has gone for a "bedside table" style of charger, its round has a stylish matt black finish and doesn't look out of place on your dressing table where you can leave the aids on charge overnight and they will be ready to wear all day as soon as you wake up.
Going for the rechargeable option does not affect the size or weight of the hearing aid, it's still small, lightweight and fits snugly behind the ear. I wear glasses too and behind my ear does not feel crowded with the Oticon OPN S and glasses next to each other.
I've been wearing the OPNs all day, from around 7am until 11pm, and I've had no concerns that they might need recharging. The Oticon guide said they would last 24 hours with no streaming and about 18 hours with five or so hours of streaming - either way, they easily last all day for me.
Streaming from iPhone and iPad
I've been used to high-quality streaming for a few years now. I struggled with hearing on the phone until the day I got my first pair of Bluetooth hearing aids that streamed calls straight into my ears, it was a life-changer and made calls so easy and stress-free. The OPN S does not disappoint, they are Made For iPhone® hearing aids, which means they integrate closely with iOS such that the hearing aids more or less become another feature of the phone. You can triple-tap the home button whilst the phone is locked and an iOS window pops up letting you alter volume and change programmes, quick and neat, you don't have to unlock the phone or open any apps to alter your aids.
Once you've paired your hearing aids with your iPhone or iPad you can stream any audio to your hearing aids automatically, for example, if you answer a call it goes straight to your aids by default. The sound quality itself is superb for both music and phone calls, I'm able to hear song lyrics clearly and as I said before, phone calls have gone from being something I avoided to being clear, easy and stress-free. I couldn't live now without a Bluetooth-enabled hearing aid and the OPN S delivers.
In the office
Open plan offices are tough environments to hear in, there's usually a lot of background noise, competing conversations and often people will talk quieter to you than they would do elsewhere as they are conscious of other people overhearing. Unluckily for me, we have a guy two rows down from me who I am going to call Foghorn Freddie. Fred is unable to talk at a normal volume, if there's one person I can always hear in the office it's him - so when I'm talking to someone next to me they are competing with some Foghorn background noise, other conversations, scraping chairs, and so on.
Even though Fred does his absolute best to drown out the conversation I'm having with the person next to me, he doesn't succeed, the OPNs do an excellent job of focusing on the local conversation and putting our man Fred in the background where he belongs. I was interested to see how they would work in the office because the majority of the background noise is other voices, other conversations that I'm not party to and don't want to be - I presume a hearing aid has a harder time isolating the background noise when the noise is other voices but absolutely no problems here.
Talking in a busy bar
I don't really need a reason to go to the pub but it's nice to have an excuse. Oticon say that the OPN S has "Noise reduction so fast it cleans noise between words" and what better place to test this than a noisy pub? There's plenty of people talking all around, music, chairs scraping and all sorts of other background noise. I was using the OPNs on the default settings, the Oticon ON phone App does have an OpenSound Booster mode if "you are finding it hard to focus on speech". Without the OpenSound Booster I was comfortable staying in the conversation on my table, because of the music, people were talking more loudly than they normally would do (in general, not for my benefit) which means their voices lose some of the clarity of normal-level speech, even with that I could understand almost everything. This impressed me no end as this was not a noisy environment to hear in. Given that my hearing loss is severe I was still concentrating on the speaker to follow along but I didn't feel stressed or as if I was straining to hear, I was able to stay in the conversation without too much effort on my part, which was great.
Oticon talks about the OPN's OpenSound Navigator™ feature a lot on their website. It's the core software in the OPN S that handles noise reduction, speech clarity in noise and directionality. It's impossible to test each feature in isolation but it's safe to say that based on the experiences in the bar, the office and other places that the OpenSound Navigator™ does make a difference to speech understanding and listening effort. I liked the previous version of the OPN and I think the OPN S improves on that, it seems to do a very good job of intuitively selecting and enhancing the voice of the person I want to hear, even when that's not obvious. By that I mean, it's easy for a hearing aid to enhance the voice of the person you are looking at right in front of you but not to allow you to hear the person second on your right who just said your name. I'm not sure how, but the OPN S seems to get it right in all the situations I've been in, the voice I wanted to hear has been brought to the fore and other voices have moved to the background, it just works.
Even though I almost always listen to music via Bluetooth streaming these days I decided to see how the OPN S sounded when playing music normally (i.e. not streaming). It's always a good test of a hearing aid because you want to be able to hear the lyrics clearly but also do not want the instruments to be treated as background noise and reduced too much. With a lot of hearing aids, music can sound like a mess and is (to me anyway) unlistenable without streaming.
I tested the aids out by playing The Stereophonics and The Smiths through my laptop speakers. Just to make it extra interesting, I tried two different scenarios: firstly the music was the only sound in the room, then I turned the TV up as well.
I've been very impressed with the OPN S during my trial but I think this may be the thing that has impressed me the most. This is probably the best sounding music I have ever heard through a hearing aid, the vocals were crisp, easy to hear and kind of elevated above the instruments to just the right level. There was no muddying of the sounds, the whole spectrum of instruments sounded superb, I got the full appreciation of the tracks like I don't think I ever have done before. Even with the TV on I could still concentrate on the lyrics easily and listen to them with no effort.
Confidence in everyday life
The OPN S has performed really well in all the tests I've done in the last few weeks, it's a great hearing aid. I was thinking about how I would sum them up at the end of this review and its this: they've given me confidence that I am going to hear in any situation and that's really what you want from a hearing aid, to be able to go about your day stress-free, knowing that you'll be able to hear when you need to.
The OPN S is a next-generation hearing aid, it's cutting-edge technology, it produces clear sounds making voices easy to understand, music sounds wonderful and noisy situations are less effort than they used to be.
Oticon is currently guiding interested people towards Oticon associated professionals to try the Opn S for themselves. You can click the relevant button below for where you are in the world.Try Opn S Try Opn S