Costco vs. Widex

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?

I’ve been wearing HA’s for 40 years and have gone through the adaptation process several times. IMO, she simply hasn’t given the new aids enough time. No where near enough.

I’ve demoed the Resounds at Costco. The Rextons at Costco. The Oticon Alta Pros from a private dispenser and the Widex Dream 440’s from the same dispenser. There is a difference in quality, there is no doubt about it. The Oticons are best at speech recognitions, the Widex have fabulous sound quality in quiet situations, but for some reason my speech recognition isn’t as good. 8-(

Interestingly, a different dispenser has the same Widex 440’s as my first dispenser. She volunteered to fit me because she feels that more often than not audiologists don’t have enough experience or spend enough time to get the fit right. She turned out to be right. Her fit is much more natural than the first fit.

So IMHO your wife needs to give each aid at least a couple weeks of wearing. Her brain needs to adjust to each aids unique characteristics. PLUS she needs to find a fitter she trusts that is highly skilled.

Not easy I know. But as you can see by reading about my process I think it’s worth the trouble. But she’s going to wear these aids 16 hours a day for the next 8 years, she should bite the bullet and pay the price. It’s worth it.

Your second question is a separate topic. Are the new aids better than the old ones? IMO, there’s 2 parts to this question. First, the sound quality in quiet environments, in general, is a little better, but not a huge amount. However, the second part, speech in noise, is a totally different story. There’s no doubt in my mind that the new aids are much, much, much better. Those of us who have hearing loss have learned to compensate unconsciously in noisy situations. However this takes a lot of mental effort. The new aids lessen this effort by quite a bit imo. The new aids give more usefulinformation to the brain, and suppress the background noise much better than the old aids.

Now what does this all mean? First, HA’s are not ever going to give perfectly natural sound. Each aid has its own sound characteristics. Its own sound signature if you will. Your wife has to find the signature she likes best and ALSO find a fitter who is willing to work with her to optimize those characteristics for her specific hearing loss.

This is all very time consuming and tiring. But to get the best fit possible, and the beest speech recognition, and the best music enjoyment, it must be done.

Interestingly, even after spending all this time to find the right hearing aid, I fully expect to have to make several additional visits back to the audiologists for a couple months to fine tune the aids. Why because it takes time to acclimate to the aids to be able to know what is ‘missing’ in the over all hearing experience.

Mind you, this is just one man’s experience, based on my own biases and experiences. Each individual is different.

same old tune… Costco’s are second rate. did it occur to your wife to ear them a week and go back saying they sound tinny and let Costco make some adjustments? you might want to be sure about the return policy at the Hearing Center. a copy of her audio-gram would help and with what kind of domes/mold she was using. Costco also has several models of Rextons which was she trying?

Based on what you said, I suspect your hearing aids have not been properly adjusted. Any hearing aid can sound “tinny”. If the Costco fitter can not find the proper sound quality that your wife likes, have her go to another Costco location for a second opinion. Also, you could ask Costco to schedule an appointment with a factory rep. to address your issues.

Three years ago, I decided to try Costco and purchased the Resound Futures (Alera). I found they worked very well, but I still had issues in noisy situations. After working with the fitter for several weeks, she said she would recommend I try another fitter at a nearby location that had more experience than she did. After a couple of visits with him, I was quite satisfied with the hearing aid performance.

I am now auditioning the Kirkland 5.0 and the Rexton hearing aids, simultaneously. After the initial fitting and one follow-up, I thought the Kirkland 5.0 aids were better than the Rextons. However after the next follow-up, I think the Rexton’s are now performing better. As you can see, adjustments DO make a differences.

I believe the instruments sold by Costco are of the same quality as those bought from independent providers. neither Costco and the manufacturers would benefit from selling an inferior product. Give Costco the full ninety days to get it right for you. I remember that they extended my trial past ninety days in an effort to satisfy.

Re: Costco and quality. There is no doubt in my mind the quality is the same between the Costco aids and brands available elsewhere. But, and it’s a big but, the performance is not the same. It’s like the difference between a less expensive stereo and a more expensive one. Better components make for better sound.

The question is whether the more expensive aids have better components. Because of the vagaries of fitting, you can’t really test hearing aid A against hearing aid B.

I hate to admit it, but I have spent over $30k on my stereo system. I like to think I know what good sound ‘sounds’ like. And believe me the quality of the Widex ‘sound’ is at a much higher level than the Costco’s aids. Just one example. The signal to noise ratio in the Widex’s is so much better than the other aids I’ve tried (including the Oticons) that it is almost laughable. Does this mean that you’re guaranteed to like the Widex? Absolutely not. There is such a thing as sound signature, and each individual prefers a different signature.

But given a perfect fitting, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the quality of sound from the Widex’s is much better than any other aid I’ve tried. But as I said in my earlier post, will the Widex algorithm for speech in noise perform better in the real world? That’s for eacch individual to decide.

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The Rextons are Finesse ITC

What do you mean “same old tune” – because it’s a frequent claim, or because it’s common knowledge?

I realize there’s a quality spread – it’s possible to pay more for better product without getting ripped off at either price point. There are other kinds of costs as well – making something tiny enough to fit in the ear probably forfeits processing power and battery life that would be possible in a less discreet package.

I think the real question is whether Costco sells products that are at least as good as what Widex was selling seven or eight years ago. I would hope so, but who really knows?

If you wanted the Costco HA that gives Widex the best run for the money, which one would it be?

I tried the Kirkland, and Bernafon top of the line and the Quintra. Any of these aids fit properly should give fine performance.

Are they as good as the Widex from 7 or 8 years ago? I dunno for a fact, because I didn’t try a Widex until this time around. But I’d be shocked if they weren’t. My experience has been that the newer aids have always been better. It’s a matter of fit and prior prejudice from wearing an aid whose sound you are used to.

I have absolutely nothing against Costco and recommend them highly. Their service and return policies are first rate.

people always implying that Costco sells cut-rate hearing aids.
again without an audio-gram any response is just a guess.

<people always implying that Costco sells cut-rate hearing aids.
again without an audio-gram any response is just a guess.>

Sorry, but this is nonsense. Do you need to go to a racetrack to know the difference between a Mercedes and a Hyundai? The same holds true for hearing aids. You don’t need a perfect fit to tell the difference between the QUALITY of sound between 2 particular brands of hearing aids.

A perfect fit with the equivalent of a boom box doesn’t make that boom box sound like an audiophile’s stereo.

Yes, fit is extremely important. Absolutely. But an audiogram has nothing to do with quality of sound. Just to be clear, Costco’s aids are perfectly serviceable and satisfy most people’s needs very well. However, to compare the sound quality of a Quintra to that of a Widex Dream is simply laughable. The Quintra sound is clear and open, but also thin without the richness of the Widex. The Widex Dreams make a piano sound REAL again. The Quintras help you recognize you are listening to a piano. Big difference.

So Costco aids offer great value, but they absolutely do not offer the sound quality of the best aids available. The Hyundai gets you there. The Mercedes does it in the finest way possible.

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You may prefer the sound and fit that you experienced with Widex, but many people prefer the sound and fit from Resound, or Siemens, or other manufacturers. The way a hearing aid sounds can be adjusted. “Tinniness” is a perception and is certainly adjustable. When you say “richness” I think you mean less high frequency response?

He admitted his wife could hear better with the new hearing aids, so doesn’t that mean they are better?
“Curiously, my wife does hear “better” with these new hearing aids that she doesn’t like.”

My Resounds also make a piano, including the high notes, sound great, like I remember from my youth. That is one of my favorite things to hear now.

Your points are well taken. However, if you don’t know what I mean by richness, you’ve made my point. Any musician can tell you when an instrument sounds ‘rich’. It’s the difference between a Stradivarius and beginner’s budget violin.a

And some HA’s are Stradivariuses and others aren’t. Now if you have two Strads, then you can talk about one being preferred over another. Both are ‘rich’ but my perception and preference my be different than yours.

The other variable here is that some users simply can’t perceive a rich sound regardless of the quality of aid. And that is why I was at pains in my post that Costco’s HA’s are excellent values for a significant part of the HA population. But under no circumstances can you call them Stradivariuses.

And just to be clear, I’m no Widex promoter. Right now I’m struggling to get my demo Dream 440’s to improve their performance with speech recognition. And if you search through the posts here, Widex is well known for it’s performance with music.

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Now that we have dealt with that myth! The same goes for the idea that because Costco hearing aids are less expensive, they are not of the same quality as those sold by the conventional dispensers. Costco has a reputation of selling quality products as a lower price point. Their maximum selling price is limited to 14% over cost. Now, they negotiate price with suppliers based on volume. Since they are one of the largest distributors of hearing aids, they can negotiate a very low price from the manufacturer. Thus, they can sell a Premium quality product at a very reasonable price.

Three years ago, I was in the market for new hearing aids and learned of that Costco was selling the same hearing aids I was thinking of purchasing from my prior dispenser. I was interested in the Resound Alera 7 and discovered that the resound Futures had the same specifications and features for $2508 for the pair! These came with Bluetooth and TV Streaming capabilities. They have provided great trouble free performance over this time. I also auditioned top of the line Phonak & Siemens hearing aids from my normal dispenser and found none of these aids performed any better than those purchased at Costco. My dispenser offered me a big discount, but it wasn’t even close to the Costco price.

There is no way that Siemens and Resound are going to provide sub-standard products to Costco and risk their reputation of manufacturing quality products. Costco offers the longest trial period and the best warranty in the business. If you are not happy, they refund your money, no questions asked!

I am presently auditioning the Kirkland 5.0 and the Rexton aids. After two adjustment sessions, both are improving and it is going to be difficult to decide which I want to keep.

I repeat, Costco HA’s are not substandard. But they are the equivalent of manufacturer’s mid line products. And they in my experience are not the very latest models. I’ve spoken to Siemen’s, Resound, Hansaton, Sonic Innovations and they have verified this.

The majority of Costco’s products are equivalent to the top-of-the-line, most recent models that you can get from a private dispenser. For example, Rexton Quintra is equal to Rexton Strata 18. And Kirkland Signature 5.0 is virtually the same as ReSound Verso 9.

And Rexton is a lower cost version of Siemens.

I was hoping to avoid a discussion of binning. Number one it’s complex and going into depth would require writing the equivalent of a white paper. Number 2, it’s a depressing topic for those who are not familiar with production quality control of electronics.

Suffice it to say, not every chip to come off the production line is created equal. They are sorted by various qualities depending on application. To cut a long story short, you can buy two chips (whether they be dsp’s or merory or any other type of chip) from the same production run and their performance characteristics will vary widely. Better performers are put in one bin, lesser performers in other bins.

When a HA manufacturer (who don’t make their own chips) buys a dsp or memory chip they can buy at various price levels depending on an intended application. btw, this applies to all electronics.

What’s this mean? Simply that not all chips are created equal. And hence performance will not be equal even though looking at two assembled aids side by side will look exactly the same. But they won’t perform the same.

Now there are other factors involved here including volume purchasing, product life cycles, keeping a production facility running at maximum efficiency and so on. So depending on which factors are at work, the product you purchase at a Costco or equivalent may or may not sound exactly like the equivalent models you suggest. But the bottom line is that you get a good product from Costco, but believe me w/o a lot of luck it isn’t the equivalent of the top of the line Siemens etc.

If you doubt this, I’ll give an example. Memory chips come in various capacities and speeds. Those chips come off the same production lines (mostly) but they test to different specs and are thrown in different bins. Then they are sold at various prices and with the specs they test to.

Same thing happens to hearing aids.

I won’t even talk about binning microphones, drivers, receivers and all the other variables and how they interact. Which leads to binning of the final product.

Now pretend you are Vice President of Marketing for one of the large multinationals. How would you structure your branding and pricing and distribution of your available products to maximize profits? All the while making sure you don’t lose market share in any segment. Or lose your reputation for quality in the high priced segments. All the while selling every device in every bin.

It would be very helpful to us dispensers reading in if someone would come up with actual data on the percieved quality differences between Costco and the “high end” stuff. Is it the speed of the processors, number of channels, proprietary fitting alogrhythms, or what? Have there been any true double-blind studies on these differences using verification procedures on actual patients?

Those of us how have fit hearing aids for any amount of time (in my case 25 years), all know how elusive and mysterious human hearing can be, when evaluating what “works” and what doesn’t.

Lastly, could there be some placebo effect involved here? In other words, by spending more for a product, does one believe they are actually hearing better?

Processors get binned at manufacturing for a variety of reasons, one of which is to cull underperforming chips. Those culled chips may end up somewhere, depending on the type of chips, but it is a real stretch to say that manufacturers are sending underperforming chips to Costco. The chip’s purpose is to run the software, where there is no binning. For example, if the unit performance must be 2.7 for the product to perform as advertised, then they may shoot for performance of 3.0. Then all chips that don’t make the 2.7 minimum are culled or an alternate use is found. Can you tell the difference in a hearing aid where the processor graded out at 2.7 and one that graded out at 2.9? No, you can’t because the software runs the same.

For hearing aids, it would not make sense for a branded product, or a store brand where the “real” manufacturer is not a guarded secret, to use lower performing chips. Their reputation is just as much at stake from a Costco sale as it is from an independent audiologist. It also would not make sense for the software to somehow be dumbed down. If they refer to the features with the same names and if the Costco version is somehow set to underperform their independent versions, they risk their reputation for those features.

So you’re saying hearing aids from the same company will test to different specs and therefore they’re sold at different prices? And you know this because you have first-hand experience working at a company that manufactures hearing aids?

Costco stuff is “high-end”. You won’t see any studies between products intended for Costco versus the equivalent retail versions because they’re essentially the same hardware and software.

There have been some studies on placebo effect. See here:
http://www.audiology.org/news/Pages/20130207.aspx