Google-Bob, Sulky Voice Assistants and Being Rugby Tackled by Mall Security
I have been wearing Audeo 90 P R, rechargeable hearing aids from the new Paradise platform for a little over a week now. The experience has been a great deal of fun for me; in fact, I may be a little in love with them. The sound quality is excellent, as you would expect from top of the range hearing aids, the connectivity is both convenient and pretty much rock-solid stable. They appear to have dealt with that irritating problem of people not being able to hear you on phone calls. Finally, the tap feature, hahahhaha, where have you been all my life, tap feature! Anyway, let's talk about the Audeo Paradise.
The Paradise is not the Marvel on steroids; it is a brand new chipset powering some exciting new features and abilities. In essence, Paradise has all of the best Marvel features while introducing six key upgrades which are as follows.
- More Bluetooth connections: Paradise can pair with up to eight Bluetooth devices and have two active Bluetooth connections. That makes switching between your two favourite devices pretty simple.
- Tap controls: Oh my god, these are magnificent, you can double-tap the Paradise hearing aids to accept/end phone calls, pause/result streaming, and access voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.
- Motion sensors: The Paradise rechargeables use new ultra-low-power accelerometers. They detect when you move and adjusts the hearing aid microphones and noise cancellation settings. They also power the tap controls.
- Clearer speech in quiet settings: A new "Speech Enhancer" feature amplifies soft speech to make it clearer. It only works when you're in a quiet environment.
- Improved noise reduction: Phonak is introducing "Dynamic Noise Cancellation", for noisy situations. It is automatic, but you can control it from your app. The feature adds up to a 4dB boost in signal to noise ratio.
- PRISM sound processing chip: That new chipset I spoke about, it offers double the memory and enables better Bluetooth connectivity.
The Paradise aids were fitted for me remotely by a friendly Phonak rep in my country. The remote fitting was simple, easy and the connection was pretty good. I sent her my audiogram and had her fit me with a basic first fit. I didn't have either the feedback manager calibration run or undertake audiogram direct, which is the in-situ hearing test. I also purposely did not look for fine-tuning during the trial. My reasoning for this was simple; I wanted to experience the aids with a simple first fitting without any of the customisations that I would regularly undertake.
The remote fitting went without a hitch; the video call was pretty good if a little choppy in places but that was a wi-fi thing. It was stable enough for me to understand her, and for her to follow me. The fitting took a couple of minutes only, and I was good to go. It was a funny experience for me to have someone else fit me with hearing aids, no matter how rudimentarily. It was good to have the remote experience as a user though, it is simple, easy and not something you should fear.
Easy to Wear
Like the Marvels before them, Paradise aids are pretty comfortable to wear. The case has changed slightly, but you would have to have the changes pointed out to you to notice. One of the worries, though, was with the difference in the mic ports. What would the changes do to wind noise? To be honest, nothing, the Paradise appears to handle wind noise a little better, although Phonak says there hasn't been a change.
They sit on the ear nicely, and I found that retention wasn't an issue for me. I had a little problem with feedback on the left ear, so I changed the open dome to a vented dome, and it sorted out the problem. Again, don't forget that I had a basic first fit, so feedback shouldn't be an issue for you after an in-depth fit.
The Audeo P Rs that I am wearing are the smaller of the rechargeable models available; they are discrete device. They can use several power levels of receiver, meaning that it will cover hearing losses from mild, all the way to severe to profound. This model has the motion sensor on board; it is essential to note that the motion sensor is only available in the rechargeable models.
Rechargeable and Battery Life
According to Phonak, a fully charged Paradise aid should be able to deliver 16 hours of use. The freedom of voice search. They base that number on 8 hours of listening, 4 hours of audio streaming via Bluetooth classic (so from your phone, be it calls or music etc.) and 4 hours of TV Connector streaming. If you aren't streaming, you can expect to get 24 hours of battery life from them.
I got a full day of use every day during the trial, and I streamed calls and audio to a certain extent with abandon. I didn't use the TV Connector mainly because I am okay with the TV mostly. I think if I can manage without going dead, most users will probably be able to also.
Unfortunately, Phonak has not gone with a charger case system like ReSound's or Signia's. I am on record as saying I think this is a mistake. I like the charger case systems; they are easy to carry around in your pocket and free you from the wall socket. Anyway, the Paradise chargers are the same as the chargers for the Marvel, and I believe they are interchangeable.
The new Tap Control feature makes Paradise hearing aids highly functional and easy to use. Using simple double taps either on the back of the hearing aid or even the top of your ear will control your Bluetooth devices. The tap function adapts to different situations; for instance, during phone calls, a double-tap will answer the call. A second double-tap at the end of your call will then end it. When you are streaming audio such as music, audiobooks or podcasts, a double-tap will pause and resume the streaming. Finally, you can set a double-tap to activate the voice assistant on your phone such as Siri, Google, etc.
I love this feature and got a little hit of inane pleasure every time it worked. You can set your tap control to work in the manner which suits you in the myPhonak app, or your hearing professional can set it up. Tap control will be only available on the rechargeable models in the 90 and 70 ranges.
I spent an excessive amount of time talking to my Google assistant. It was magnificent, hahaha. I kept calling it Bob but eventually had to settle for Google-Bob, because it got sulky. I had it read me my messages and emails; I had it send message and emails. Quick tip here, don't laugh maniacally with joy every time you are composing an email or message. You look strange to the people around you, and the person receiving the message worries about your mental stability.
Second tip, try holding your phone in your hand when you are talking to your voice assistant, so the mall security doesn't think you are nuts and you don't end up running down the mall screaming I am on the phone while they desperately try to rugby tackle you. This of course never happened to me, but it could (Narrator: He's lying). Anyway, I used it to get directions; I used it for voice searches, ridiculous voice searches, hahaha, the freedom of voice search. I used it to open apps. I used it for so much, it was great. Having easy access to the voice assistant through your hearing aids makes your life a whole lot easier.
Unfortunately, there is a caveat here, well two, the first is it becomes addictive, the second is a real warning. Masks, damn masks, sometimes when you are removing your mask, you will jostle your aids and suddenly get a fright when you hear your voice assistant in your ear. That will pass, but you can bet while we have our good old friend COVID around, it will happen from time to time.
Phonak says that Paradise will deliver unrivalled sound quality. Sound quality is one of those ephemeral things that are hard to describe. A sense of what is good sound quality is, and what it isn't is also a little personal. Having said all of that, I found the Paradise to be excellent, gorgeous to listen to, with very decent audio streaming be it calls, music or audiobooks.
The Paradise aids performed as well or better than I expected in all of the situations I found myself in, especially so considering it was a basic quick and dirty fitting. The new Autosense 4.0 (sound management system) does its job well, managing the features and switching between pre-sets without fuss or fanfare. They have changed how they handle louder speech, without bothering you with technical jargon, it does sound better.
Good Phone Experience
I took a few phone calls while wearing Paradise aids. In general, they behave as you would expect modern Bluetooth earbuds to behave. You can answer a call with a simple double-tap. When you have finished the call, you simply return to whatever you were doing. So if you were streaming, streaming resumes on the music or podcast, you were listening to before being interrupted. If not, you go back to your listening programme.
Phone calls are clear, and everyone I spoke with said my voice sounded good on the other end. That was not always the case with the Marvels, one of the issues that people complained about was that they could hear their callers well, but the caller couldn't hear them. It didn't happen all the time, but it was a bugbear for some in particular if they were outside. I have to say that during the time I was using them, no-one complained about being able to hear me. Although, I have a habit of holding the phone in front of me when on a call, mostly, so people don't think I am nuts and talking to myself.
Hearing in Motion
Phonak are not the first to put motion sensors in their hearing aids. The concept makes sense as understanding the actual motion of the user, will allow better feature management decisions to happen in the processor when the user is on the move. In my day to day experience, I did notice the difference that the motion sensor made to hearing a companion while walking alongside them. There was much less turning my head towards them to hear what they were saying, even in a busy shopping mall with masks on. This new feature will only be available on the rechargeable models in the 90, 70 and 50 ranges.
This one was a little hard for me because I don't think I have that much issues with soft speech usually. I think I did notice an improvement probably delivered by the system at least once. I was sitting in the kitchen writing, and my wife was in the sitting room reading. Total and blissful quiet in the house, a rare occasion. Anyway, she spoke to me from the sitting room without any thought of raising her voice. I heard enough of what she said to know what she wanted. Usually, I might struggle there.
Using The Dynamic Noise Cancellation
Dynamic Noise Cancelation is a new noise suppression system that will allow Phonak hearing aids to work even better in noisy situations. The feature can be set by your hearing professional. It can also be activated, decreased and increased from your app. It will give up to an extra 4dB signal to noise ratio boost. An additional 4dB may not sound like much, but it could be enough to help you hear what is going on. I didn't really get to test this feature as I wasn't in any loud noise situations. The new feature will only be available in the premium 90 range.
The Paradise offers eight slots for the pairing of devices. You pair to the device once, and it is stored. While eight slots sound like a lot, many of us will probably have four or more Bluetooth devices we want to pair to our aids. For me, it's my laptop, Tablet, my primary phone and backup phone. As technology changes, we may well want the connection to more and more devices.
Paradise offers two active Bluetooth Classic connections which means that they connect to two separate devices at once. Suppose you are connected to your Tablet and phone. In that case, while you are streaming audio from your Tablet, you can still answer any calls on your phone without any fuss or fanfare.
Say you have a work phone and a personal phone, with the Paradise you can be simultaneously connected to both, taking calls from each with no effort. I was able to pair the Paradise aids to an iPhone and Android phone simultaneously. I could easily switch back and forth without having to turn off Bluetooth on one or any other shenanigans every time I wanted to switch devices.
The only issue I found here was that sometimes one of the phones would grab the audio connection when I didn't want it to happen. I was listening to an audiobook on my Android phone when I decided to check the news on the iPhone. When I started to use the iPhone, it grabbed the connection and interrupted the book. That's a Bluetooth thing though, that isn't a Paradise thing. Once I figured it could be an issue I just worked around it.
Pairing The Paradise
Pairing Paradise to any smartphone is a pretty simple exercise. Just like the Marvel though, you must remember that there are two types of pairing. You need to pair to them through the app, which uses Bluetooth LE, but you then also need to pair to one of them through your Bluetooth settings for the audio streaming. When you have done it right, you will have three pairings to the Paradise devices in your device list under Bluetooth.
The new myPhonak app works much the same as the old myPhonak app. The familiar three-band frequency controller for bass, mids, and treble, a volume control, noise reduction and speech focus control, and control for decreasing loud sound or increasing soft sounds are all there. Phonak say that they have improved the Speech Focus slider, stating that the slider "will now reduce noise from behind and sides whilst enhancing speech from the front." The Dynamic Noise Cancellation is only visible in the Speech in Loud Noise situation. Again, it is only available on the 90 level of technology. You can also change or set up your tap control feature in the app. You will also have access to the remote hearing care feature, battery status and wear time, a hearing diary, and any custom program settings.
Stepping Up To The Mark
The Marvel was perhaps one of the most successful hearing aids that Phonak has ever produced, so it was going to be hard to top it. However, it feels like Phonak has risen to the challenge. In my experience so far I have been exceptionally impressed with the balance of sound and features introduced with the Paradise. I also think that the amazing tap control system makes it a world-beater. Honestly, I think the Paradise may well outdo the Marvel, and I think that is saying something.
While you may now feel that tap controls are ancillary, or that the easy use of the voice assistant is not core. I think within a short period of time we will begin to look back at the Paradise as the beginning of a shift. While I know there are similar features out there, no manufacturer offers the combination of good sound quality, universal and now integrated connectivity and ease of use that opens up accessibility through voice to many.
Of course, that may all change when Bluetooth LE Audio becomes ubiquitous across brands. But for the minute, Phonak is going to run with that ball and I think they will do quite well. For users, the Paradise is most definitely worth your consideration and if you do move forward with it, get to know your own Google-Bob or Siri, and the wonders that they can deliver to you.
Like us on Facebook by clicking the button below to keep up with our latest utterances. Alternatively, if you don't like Facebook, sign up to the newsletter below. It is important to remember, a hearing aid isn't properly fitted unless they do Real Ear Measurement.