It’s a question that I commonly get asked and it can be difficult to answer. It depends on what your priorities are and what you are looking to get out of a hearing aid.
You could ask my wife, for example, what qualities she looked for in a husband. You could ask Melania Trump the same question. I doubt very much if their answers would be the same.
So let's list the common things that people look for:
The ability to hear a conversation in noise
Not unexpected for anybody following hearing aid news, the Oticon Opn1 has been the best performing hearing aid since it came out last June. Until another manufacturer manages to match the processing speed of this hearing aid I think it will stay in top position.
The Linx3D 9 replaced the previous Linx2 9 earlier this year and is performing even better than it’s already highly rated predecessor. The clarity in background noise almost rivals the Opn1 but as it makes heavier use of directionality, the experience isn’t quite as natural.
Hearing the television clearly
No winner here, most hearing aids should do a very good job of hearing the television. My main advice for you if hearing television is your main priority and you don’t spend any time in difficult environments, is don’t overspend. Look more to the lower mid-range aids and they are likely to do just fine.
Hearing music most naturally
Bernafon hearing aids process sounds differently to any other hearing aid. They use a “Channelfree” system, instead of breaking sounds up into channels to amplify them, they process sounds as a whole. This seems to create a more natural sound that is especially noticeable to musicians and audiophiles.
The Starkey Muse i2400 may process sounds in a traditional way using channels, rather than the Bernafon system but they have still made significant provisions for music fans. They have three separately defined options for music settings, one for those listening to recorded music. One for live music and a third aimed at musicians who are playing music live themselves.
A hearing aid that people can’t see
If you are looking for something that can’t be seen at all then you’ll be looking at an IIC or “invisible in canal” aid. Starkey has long been known as the in-ear specialists and they can make the Soundlens smaller than almost any other hearing aid. The amazing thing with this particular model is that they have an IIC hearing aid with full wireless capabilities which adds significantly to the hearing aid’s functionality.
Made from titanium which is thinner than a traditional shell and therefore smaller. They seem to now be able to match Starkey for size. They are in second place only because they don’t preserve the hearing aid functionality as well as the Soundlens and have no wireless at all in any of the “Titanium” range.
If you have to have a hearing aid that people might see, what looks the nicest
Unitron has won several design awards and their “Kiss” shape of aid is one of the smallest and most attractive receivers in canal aids available. We have mentioned the top model in the range, the “Tempus Pro” but it is important to note that you don’t really pay for looks with hearing aids and all models in the Tempus range have the “Kiss” shape, right the way down to the most basic (and least expensive) Tempus 500 Kiss
The Widex “Passion” shape has always been amongst my favourite “receiver in canal” shapes. If a hearing aid can be pretty, this is it. It missed out on the top spot as the technology inside it isn’t so attractive, the Widex Unique range was poorly received and the newer Widex Beyond range that quickly replaced it is only available in the larger “Fusion2” shape, rather than the prettier Passion shape.
A hearing aid that is easy to use
No clear winner here but several factors to consider. If you have poor dexterity and struggle to get hearing aids into your ear, then a half-shell custom aid made for the shape of your ear if often the easiest to insert. Receiver in canal aids is usually fairly easy to put in as well and have a number of other advantages. If you can’t change the hearing aid batteries easily then consider rechargeable aids.
If poor dexterity isn’t an issue and you just want something straightforward to use that doesn’t involve remote controls, changing programs etc then almost all hearing aids of mid-range and upwards have decent “fully automatic” settings that will adapt to your environment.
Best for connectivity
Resound and Starkey started the “made for iPhone” revolution in 2014 since then Widex and Oticon have also followed the same lines. Resound are the ones who have really refined the “user experience”. The iPhone/iPad app for the new Linx 3D range is lovely to use, it offers a great deal of control over the hearing aids without being complicated. Even if you don’t have the hearing aids, you can download the app for free to try it out for yourself.
The new Phonak B90-Direct is getting a tentative second place as it is somewhat of an unknown quantity at the time of writing. Out next month, on paper they look great – they have similar connectivity to the other “made for iPhone” hearing aids only they work with any smartphone at all. This has the potential to be great for non-iPhone users, however until we have had time to try some out over a period of time we will not know for certain.
Best for “gimmicks”
At the last minute, I have added in this extra section to give Phonak some credit – and some criticism.
This time last year I was looking forward to Phonak’s September launch and was sorely disappointed. This year, exactly the same. Why? Because I had high expectations and their advances feel “gimmicky”. Phonak are one of the best known (and best selling) hearing aid manufacturers, so I feel that they have a responsibility to have products good enough to back them up as the market leaders they should be.
Last year they added a rechargeable battery to their range, this year a made for smartphone aid and a custom aid made from titanium. I like these features, rechargeable batteries are great for people with poor dexterity, a made for smartphone aid that doesn’t require an Apple product, also a good and innovative development. Titanium makes for a strong and thin hearing aid shell and is a great step forward for custom hearing aids.
However, the main thing a hearing aid is for is hearing better and Phonak have not made any significant upgrades in that direction since January 2015, putting them behind almost every other manufacturer for overall hearing aid technology/chip sophistication/sound processing ability.
My answer here may seem like a cop-out. The first section, “The ability to hear a conversation in noise” is commonly thought to be the main thing that a hearing aid should be good at. Hearing aids that achieve this well tend to be very good overall at everything else. Therefore the results are the same.
Hold on, it’s only August. Isn’t it a bit early to be writing this? Yes and no. Most of the action in the hearing aid world happens in April / May time as that is when the big audiological conference in America occurs. Generally, anything new of significance has come out by now and we have had the chance to give them a thorough testing.
• What might my wife go for?
• What might President Trump choose?
What might my wife go for?
As a busy mother of three with a job that involves a lot of meetings, she would need the best of the best. She would be picking from the “best all-rounder” category.
What might President Trump choose?
This is more difficult, would he go for something invisible like the Starkey Soundlens or would he have something big, shiny and golden specially developed for him in ostentatious dictator-chic? If he gets a second term, we may find out.
Is any of this relevant to you?
If you are interested in any of the above hearing aids, or even if it has been some time since this was written and you want to find out if the information is still valid, fill in our contact form or just give us a call. There is almost always an audiologist at the other end of the phone here, the number is 0800 567 7621
When we refer to a product as 'New', we mean that the product is new to the market.
When we refer to a product as 'Superseded', we mean that there is a newer range available which replaces and improves on this product.
When we refer to a product as an 'Older Model', we mean that it is has been superseded by at least two more recent hearing aid ranges.