Bluetooth solutions: Differences between Made For iPhone, Android ASHA, BT Classic

I’m wondering if we have any Bluetooth gurus in the group that can answer the following:

  • What are the benefits of Phonak’s universal Bluetooth connectivity solution over made for iphone (MFi) or android ASHA?
  • What are the benefits of MFi or Android ASHA over universal connectivity?
  • What are the benefits of MFi vs ASHA, and vice versa?

Thanks!

3 Likes

Phonak’s advantages are hands free calling and ability to directly connect to computers and other bluetooth sources. Also works with much wider selection of phones.

Disadvantage of MFi or ASHA is that you will need some sort of device (most likely a TV connector) to stream from a computer

MFi vs ASHA–I think pretty similar, but have no experience. Depends on one’s preferred phone.

Should be some theoretical battery life advantage with MFi and ASHA over Phonak. Not sure how noticeable it is in practice.

2 Likes

I’ve used both Phonak Marvels (universal) and Oticon Opn S1s (MFi and universal / ConnectClip).

The Phonak BT implementation is based on the BT “classic” Hands Free Profile (HFP) and Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). HFP is used for two-way (low data-rate monaural). A2DP is used for one-way (high data-rate stereo). Implied by the name “classic”, these profiles were developed in early on in the development of BT standards, long before anyone thought hearing aids would ever support BT. Therefore, they are both designed around one hearing device being connected to the mobile. This requires one device (left or right) to transmit to the other device. In the case of hearing aids, the hearing aids are separated by the wearer’s head, so they work best when there are surfaces that can reflect the signal, since a head is a good attenuator of a high frequency signal like BT. There is also some latency introduced by this design.

The MFi and ASHA approaches are completely new implementations, based on BT low energy. BT LE doesn’t support the BT classic HFP or A2DP profiles and replacement profiles don’t exist (yet), so Apple and Google designed their own one-way profile (high data-rate stereo) which is similar to the BT classic A2DP profile, but streams directly to both hearing aids simultaneously. I’ve never used ASHA, but my understanding is that it works identically to MFi. MFi and ASHA are interim standards and they will eventually be replaced by profiles that will be built-into the BT standards. Neither MFi, nor ASHA support a microphone. IMO, this is not a loss, because you can easily use the microphone from the mobile for the microphone. The audio quality is much better than the Phonak, anyway.

I started with Phonak and switched to Oticon. My opinions of these are based on my experience. YMMV. There were long and tedious discussions comparing them on this forum.

I switched from Phonak mainly because when they were first introduced, they could only be paired with one device at a time. This was a show stopper for me, because re-pairing required me to reboot my laptop which was very time consuming, due to the number of applications that I use. I also found the connection to be unreliable to the point where I could not depend on them for business meetings, so I had to have a pair of wired headphones on stand-by in case the hearing aids stopped working. It was inconvenient and very embarrassing to disrupt meetings due to the equipment not working. I also received numerous complaints about the quality of my audio, perceived by people that I was communicating with. Also, due to the design, the device that is connected with the mobile not only has to receive from the mobile, but also transmit to the other device, so it uses more power than the other device. Phonak had no fix for these issues, so I trialed Oticon Opns and they worked so that was that. Phonak eventually fixed the single pairing limitation. They can now be paired with two devices. By that time, I had already moved on.

The Opns don’t directly support BC classic, so they require the ConnectClip to connect to a non-iPhone or laptop. While it’s an inconvenience having another device, it works very well, so I don’t mind it at all. In the morning, I turn it on. At the end of the day, I turn it off. Same thing the next day. I don’t remember the last time it dropped the connection. They connect directly to an iPhone using MFi. This generally works well, although occasionally, if I’ve just been in a call using the ConnectClip, it can take a few seconds (or more) for the connection to switch from the ConnectClip to the iPhone. Sometimes, I have to turn BT on the phone on and off to force them to reconnect. While I’m doing this, the audio temporarily goes out through the speaker, then automatically switches to the hearing aids. I don’t miss anything and the caller has no idea it’s happening, so it’s annoying, but not the end of the world.

If you’re only using a mobile, there is no question that the MFi / ASHA approach is better. Eventually, this will be standardized. Battery life and sound quality are both better using BT LE. (I would hope so.) For people who don’t have an iPhone or a newer android phone that supports ASHA, the only choice is BT classic. For these users, the choice is either Marvels (direct) or Opns with a ConnectClip. This is a personal trade-off. I had a miserable experience with the Marvels, so I don’t mind using the ConnectClip. (The iPhone is my primary device, so I’m using MFi most of the time when I’m not on my laptop.)

6 Likes

The main benefit of Phonak’s universal Bluetooth is that it’s… drumroll… universal. One possible drawback that hasn’t been mentioned is higher latency.

I’ve had to borrow my wife’s iphone once or twice since my phone got stolen and (I hate to say this) mfi works beautifully with my OPN1’s. Much nicer experience than using a Connect Clip (which connects to the phone via the ‘universal’ Bluetooth Classic).

4 Likes

Thanks very much to all of you for the excellent feedback here. I suppose ASHA and MFi will both become obsolete with Bluetooth LE Audio / BT 5.2 … But for now it seems like they are good options for those who primarily want to connect to a compatible phone and don’t need accessory-free hands-free calling. BTW, my understanding with Phonak’s latest is they can pair with up to 8 Bluetooth devices and have 2 active Bluetooth connections… so perhaps it’s better now than when you tried Marvel 1.0 @darylm.

1 Like

Can you confirm if the Marvels that originally supported one pairing and one connection now support eight pairings and two simultaneous connections via a firmware upgrade? If so, I’m truly impressed.

To put the BT 5.2 support into perspective, the iPhone 12 and Google Pixel 5 support BT 5.0 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 supports BT 5.1. Who knows how long it will take before any phones support BT 5.2, including support for hearing aids and how long it will take before hearing aids that natively support BT streaming audio are available. I won’t be holding my breath for this.

1 Like

I’m not sure if this is a Phonak exclusive if you have an Apple Watch and use the microphone on the watch, which is surprisingly good (vs. the thread "Handsfree is the Achilles Heel of the Marvels…), and, unlike Phonak on your ears, you can actually hold the microphone on the watch right up in the vicinity of your mouth. One of my daughter’s father-in-law had an LTE version of a much earlier Apple Watch and said he was like Dick Tracy with his watch and everyone else in the family said the quality of his voice in calls was quite good. Since I’m only using my iPhone 6S as an “iPod,” I haven’t tested out my Apple Watch 6 in this capacity but I would imagine you could set it up so that the incoming call audio goes to your HA’s, your own voice audio goes out through the Watch microphone. I may be wrong. The watch may insist on playing the incoming audio on its own speaker, which is also surprisingly decent for such a small device. Perhaps someone with a fully functional iPhone and a recent version Apple Watch with or without the standalone LTE capability can comment on how well you can use the watch for handsfree audio in phone calls. I’m too lazy to switch my sim card out of my Android phone to experiment.

My understanding is that Phonak Paradise supports 8 pairings and 2 connections but that Marvels support 2 pairings and one connection.

3 Likes

I think before your time here, “hands free calling” (without any other device) was the holy grail. I too have read of the issues with it, but I always err on the side of brevity. There are LOTS of hearing aids that can do “hands free calling” with another device–even my old KS7 with a SmartConnect.

I think Signia, Widex, Starkey and Resound also offer a device that will allow Classic BT streaming to their hearing aids. Signia’s looks just like Oticon’s ConnectClip. Even my old KS7 had a streaming device (SmartConnect) that would allow this.

The one point I would add is that call reliability, call quality and connection speed override any or all extra features or benefits offered by any of these standards. Even a slight delay in connecting, random interference or occasional dropped calls makes the solution unusable for those people who depend on streaming for business. I use MFI hearing aids (Quattro’s) because they connect instantly with high call quality and I rarely experience a dropped calls. Any of these new standards must meet or exceed the MFI reliability standard or they are useless.

Just my 2 cents…

2 Likes

I think the tipping point in handsfree calling is whether you have to use an accessory device that’s a bother to wear and that you always have to remember to charge and take with you, etc.

The advantage of the microphone option being on the HA’s is that naturally that mic is always with you and you’re committed to keep your HA’s going with plenty of charge available, no more than a battery change or a short recharge away.

I think the thing that makes the Apple Watch different than any other accessory devices is that most wearers are always going to have the device with them and always worry about keeping it charged for other reasons besides HA connectivity. They don’t have to remember to carry it with them since they go out the door naturally wearing their watch (I wear mine 24x7 except for brief charging periods). So in that sense, the Apple Watch is a step above and beyond any other HA accessory.

Samsung, Google, and everyone else in the Android sphere really need to get their acts together on wearables and on accessibility. You don’t have to worry with Apple, as you do with Android, is my preferred phone OEM implementing ASHA?, BT LE Audio? Well, when?!, and how good it that customized implementation compared to anyone else’s?!

BTW, as an off-topic aside here(more Android vs. iOS), one reason that I particularly love Android on my Galaxy Note 8 is the S-pen, e.g., hover over an Inbox e-mail listing in the Outlook app and read the opening paragraph of each e-mail in turn without having to open any. And I just found out that the script writing in Google’s Gboard keyboard/writing pad is far superior, surprisingly enough, to the built-in Samsung keyboard. So for anyone using a Samsung Note device, I highly recommend trying handwriting with Gboard. Although Apple was smart enough to go against Jobs’ advice on pens and introduce the Apple Pencil for iPads, I doubt that sort of writing/drawing implement is going to come to the iPhone soon although one could put a pen to good use with an iPhone Pro Max, given its large phablet screen size.

Jim the Apple Watch doesn’t work with hearing aids. I have all 3 of the items and I was hoping that it would all work together as you are suggesting. I have the Iphone 7, Resound One 9, i watch.
The Resound Ones work well with the ipone 7.
The i watch works well with the iphone 7.
The i watch works through the iphone 7 to control the Resound ones.
The i watch doesn’t work direct to the resound ones so the mic in the i watch will only work back to the iphone but not to the hearing aids.
If you answer the iphone from the watch it works only between the watch and the iphone, not connection at all to the hearing aids at all, not even the sound to the hearing aid.
If you answer the ipone the sound comes through to the hearing aids and work very well but you need to speak into the iphone.

1 Like

Hi, Kevin

You answered most of my questions about how the Apple Watch works with MFi HA’s and the iPhone. One thing I’d still like to know: when you’re using the watch linked to your phone, does the caller’s voice come out of the iPhone speaker or the watch speaker? And what do think of the caller’s audio quality and, in turn, what do they say about your own voice quality through the watch microphone? I imagine if you hold the hand wearing the watch up in half a fist salute with the watch about neck high and the fist almost in front of your mouth, the watch mic will be close to your mouth and the watch speakers, although they’ll be facing away from you, pointing towards the floor, will also be closer to your ears and perhaps easier to hear. Or is there a better way to employ the watch as a “handsfree” calling device - can you keep doing whatever with the arm that has the watch and still hear and be heard OK? Your analysis has motivated me to swap the sim card into my iPhone and give it a try myself! Thanks!

Edit_Update: One further suggestion. On the iPhone, in Settings, Accessibility, Hearing Devices, Audio Routing, have you tried changing the call audio to Always Hearing Devices while leaving the Microphone on on the watch? I’m wondering if there is a difference in the choice of the audio routing for Hearing Devices between “Automatic” and “Always Hearing Devices” with the “Automatic” allowing the caller’s incoming audio to go to the watch and perhaps the “Always Hearing Devices” choice forcing the incoming audio to go to the HA’s? (probably not, but wouldn’t hurt to try and I will give it a shot myself).

The voice all comes out of the watch and nothing from the iphone when you answer the call from the watch.

I naturally just have my arm bent at 90deg out in front or across the body and it works well enough. I do lift my hand up to chest height if there is a hearing problem.

The sound quality from the watch is good but obviously from a very small speaker so lakes depth of sound.

No complaints from the person on the other end of the call.

I have just tried setting the audio routing to allways to hearing devices instead of automatic but it makes no difference at all. Fail.

1 Like

Thanks for the update, Kevin. Thanks to your previous post, I switched my sim card to the iPhone and I really like the Apple Watch as a device to answer phone calls. The best part is the calling number is displayed on the watch screen and the identity of the caller (at least if that person is in your contacts, haven’t checked about Caller ID yet). The other neat thing is with the watch and the iPhone you have a number of options to deal with the call. You can answer it on your watch or from the watch you can switch it to your iPhone and your HA’s as receivers (or vice versa - from iPhone to watch). And with a tap, you can handle the call with a number of options including sending a prepared canned text message reply like “Call you back in a few minutes.” or reply with a new text from your watch. Too bad one can’t use the watch microphone to speak and one’s HA’s to listen. Maybe someday! Thanks for checking!

It’s been a huge let-down, Bluetooth doesn’t always stay connected and even when it does voices are frequently unclear. The Phonak program doesn’t work on my phone which is disappointing because it should based on the software and technology requirements it should work. My audiologist disappeared with Covid and now I’ve moved and I’m basically stumbling around on my own trying to find support.

When using the “Maps” complication on the watch for GPS driving directions, the audio is routed via the iphone to the hearing aids. I’m at a loss to understand why the audio from incoming calls answered on the watch (non cellular) can’t be routed to the hearing aids and the watch microphone be used in place the iphone microphone.
I have the iphone SE, Apple watch SE 2020 and Resound Preza aids.

I think the issue is that the watch has no way of directly connecting to the hearing aids. Only the iPhone can connect to the hearing aids. When you answer a call on the watch, you are then stuck with the functionality of the watch. I think answering calls on the watch was just supposed to be an occasional/convenience thing.

JordanK, Thank you for the quick response.
I may not have expressed my question very well. As I understand it, the “Maps” app on the watch turns on the corresponding app on the iphone which sends the gps directions audio to the hearing aids. It would be great if the audio from a phone call answered on the non cellular watch would also be routed to the hearing aids the same way. But I realize this is wishful thinking.