My wife has otosclerosis, including one ear with a failed prosthetic surgery. She’s been very happy with her first pair of hearing aids, a tiny in-the-canal Widex model 7-8 years old, which she bought through the leading hearing and balance center in our city. They cost about $5000 at that time.
Over time, the Widexes began needing repeated servicing. After sending them off a couple of times, they began getting noisy and crackly, and today they only work in the noise-canceling mode. So she started looking for replacements.
We read all the complaints about how hearing aids seem to the be the one unsubsidized medical device and electronics product that keeps getting more and more expensive over time. You would expect that the prices of these things would come down like other electronics, but they don’t. Perhaps it would be possible to buy my wife’s original hearing aids from Widex for less today, but the top tier manufacturers keep adding new features and technologies, selling only the newest and most expensive devices. Widex doesn’t make that hearing aid anymore, and what they make today costs at least as much as these did eight years ago.
A few people mentioned Costco, so she tried them first. The first pair she got were ReSounds. While she liked the audiologist, she was very disappointed with the sound quality. They sounded “tinny”, and there was an “echo-like” quality to the sound. Now, we realize that there was an adaptation period when she got her Widexes, but she insists that these differences aren’t a matter of adaptation. She kept the ReSounds for a week, but within days she wasn’t wearing them, and had gone back to the Widexes.
More reading left my wife suspecting Costco hearing aids might be “cheap” and inferior. Maybe it’s simply not possible to get something as good as Widex at Costco. So Costco cheerfully took the ReSounds back and ordered a pair of Rextons, and we hoped that their affiliation with Siemens would guarantee better quality. The Rextons came in yesterday, and while they are not as “bad” as the ReSounds, my wife says these too are tinny and they also echo a lot compared to the Widexes.
Last night she said she would give them two weeks, but this morning she has decided to go order Widexes on Monday. There’s probably somewhere around $3000 difference, total.
So I’m trying to understand how this industry works. Is it really impossible to find competing brands today that make hearing aids as good as Widex was making them eight years ago? And are these sound properties that my wife associates with “quality” even quality at all, or is it just a matter of adaptation? It doesn’t help that for months even her Widex experience has only been in noise-canceling mode, since the other modes on the old aids are broken.
Curiously, my wife does hear “better” with these new hearing aids that she doesn’t like. But I have a pair of glasses and, while I see “better” looking through them, I often look over them for a less cloudy view. So I kind of understand that acuity alone isn’t enough. One thing my wife did notice is that the canal “tail” on both the ReSounds and the Rextons is about 7.5mm longer than the tail on the old Widex aids. I don’t know how significant that is, though she suspects it’s part of why they don’t seem as good.
My biggest concern is that due to advances in audio technology, algorithms and miniaturization, perhaps all of these hearing aids are “better” but simply not what my wife is “used to.” Even worse, what if the latest Widex models sound more like these ReSounds and Rextons from Costco than her older Widexes? It would be a shame if what my wife is looking for in a hearing aid turns out to be “old technology” that she’s simply comfortable with. I am genuinely concerned that she will get Widexes at much greater cost and actually make no gain over the Rextons.
Meanwhile, my wife has pretty much decided that whatever’s going on at Costco is a cheap and inferior experience. By no means does she think it’s a ripoff; more accurately she thinks “you get what you pay for”, and Costco simply isn’t selling a premier product. I think that may be possible, and if it’s accurate then the obvious answer is to go to the hearing and balance doctor and order the Widexes. But I’m having a really hard time finding a source to confirm that, yes, the Costco products are second-rate, or strictly bargain-brand, or some such thing. Costco apparently believes they offer a quality spread, with hearing aids for all tastes. If that’s true, maybe she just needs help communicating her desire for something as good as these old Widexes, or maybe she needs help identifying a Costco product that’s genuinely comparable to them.
Is our experience typical? What should we be expecting? Will new Widexes sound the same as the old ones?