I have recently replaced my old Starkey hearing aids with the new Halo 2. My hearing loss is not profound and is mostly in the mid-range. Without aids, I have some problem with everyday speech and the sound from the TV. For telephone I have been using earphones (Bluetooth and wired) so I can hear the caller through both ears.
My overall reaction to the Halo 2 is that it is a paradigm shift in the way I hear and the way I use the iPhone. Any sound produced on the phone is routed automatically to my ears without me doing anything and without any external attachment to the phone.
You need to install the TruLink iPhone App on the iPhone for most of what I describe to work. iPhone settings for the hearing aids are found here: Settings / General / Accessibility / Hearing Aids. I have all settings “On” and have selected “Automatic” where available. Some people have reported the need to set “Audio Routing” to “Always Hearing Aids” but “Automatic” has worked for me. A triple click of the home button on the iPhone gets you a screen where you can adjust volume, select memories, and “Start Live Listen” (which routes the iPhone microphone to the hearing aids).
Using the telephone
I was delighted the first time I used the iPhone to make a call while wearing the Halo 2. From my audiologist’s office, I called his receptionist and talked to her with the phone in my pocket using only the hearing aids.
When I left the office, my next stop was the UPS store to ship some hardware. UPS would not accept the charge number I had so I had to call someone to solve that. Again, after dialing, the phone was in my pocket. The person I was talking to asked to talk to the UPS agent and for a moment I was lost. I could hand the agent my phone but it would still use the hearing aids. The solution is trivial – you just have to be ready for it. Press the “Audio” icon on the phone app. It will show that you are using hearing aids. Just select “iPhone” or “Speaker”.
Anything you play on the iPhone is transmitted to the hearing aids. I found the sound quality very poor until I turned on “Stream Boost”. You should definitely turn on “Stream Boost”. It made the sound quality acceptable – meaning good enough for me. It still didn’t quite match the sound quality of $8 Bluetooth earbuds.
If you turn on “Live Listen”, you can stream the microphone on the iPhone to your ears. I found this wonderful. When I was talking to someone who spoke very softly. I put the phone on the table between us and could hear him fine.
I sing with a group and I have recorded my harmony parts as voice memos on the phone. I can review a harmony part by playing it on the iPhone and I hear it but nobody else does.
If you are streaming anything to the aids, then the microphones on the aids are disabled.
I find that the batteries last 9 to 10 days. Since I use a lot of Bluetooth, this is acceptable to me. My previous Starkey’s batteries lasted almost exactly one week (with no Bluetooth). My previous Starkey aids gave me a battery low warning “batteries” about 30 seconds before they turned off. The Halo 2 gives me about 30 minutes notice. This is better because you actually have time to do something about it.
You can add the hearing aid batteries to the display you get on the iPhone when you swipe down and view the “today” screen. I visited my audiologist one week after getting the new aids and both the iPhone today screen and his software still showed the batteries at 100%. A couple of days later (day 10) the battery levels suddenly dropped to 0% and then gave me the warning “batteries”. For me, the battery level display on the phone is useless. It’s always 100% or 0%. The TruLink app also shows a battery level indication on any memory screen but I’ve only seen three displays – completely full (when new batteries are installed), about 80% full (most of the time) and empty (when you’ve heard the “Batteries” warning). This may be an artifact of the batteries themselves. I suspect it is good design for a battery to do its best to provide the rated voltage until it just can’t do it any more.
I know that the batteries are air activated and that they start generating electricity when you pull off the tab. I did not know that you should give the chemical reaction time to get going. I’ve always (for years) put new batteries into the aids immediately after pulling off the tabs. In general, it is recommended that you wait one minute for the reaction to get started. Starkey suggests waiting five minutes.
When on any memory screen in TruLink, press the gear symbol at the top of the page and one of the options is “Alerts”. If “Alerts” are on, the aids play an audible sound for a calendar event, Email event, or social media event. I quite like getting this notification when a text message comes in.
TruLink and Memories
What are called “Memories” on the Halo 2 were called “Programs” on my older aids (if MY memory is correct). My audiologist set up 3 Hearing Aid memories for me – “Normal”, “Restaurant” and “Meeting” (I suspect Normal is always there). I added 4 TruLink GPS memories – Home, Library, Sing, and Car. For “Home”, I have the volume a little louder. For “Library”, I almost have the volume off. For “Sing”, I have the volume quite high. For “Car”, I have the volume lower and used “SoundSpace” to reduce High Frequencies.
When you change memory manually or Trulink changes memory automatically, you are notified with an audible (only to you) signal. For the hearing aid memories, the notification is the number of the program “One”, “Two”, or “Three” for me. You have to know (if you care) which memory is which. For the Trulink GPS memories, you get a tone that you learn to recognize as a memory change. You must be running TruLink on the phone if you expect it to make the adjustments I describe next.
For “Normal”, “Resturant” and “Meeting”, I manually select the desired program using TruLink on the iPhone when it is appropriate. The first three TruLink GPS memories that I added are selected automatically by TruLink when the GPS says that I am at the location for which they are programmed. For example, as I walk from the parking lot to the library, when I’m a certain distance from the library, the hearing aids make a notification sound and switch to the “Library” memory. When I leave the library, they revert to “Normal” and say “One”.
The “Car” memory is different. It is selected when you are moving more than 15 miles per hour. (It is not an instantaneous change. It can take a minute or more for the memory to change.) It’s interesting that if you are at a stop light too long, the memory will switch back to the “Normal” setting. When you move again, the “Car” memory is again activated. I think of this as a “Car” setting so I was surprised when I was riding in a trolley that the memory switched to the “Car” setting. They know I’m moving but do not, of course, know what vehicle I’m in.
Some situations I’ve noted
Pairing with another Device
If your aids are paired with your phone and you want to pair with some other device, for example your audiologist’s software, power off phone completely and turn hearing aids off and on (By opening battery compartment and closing it again). If the software or other device can’t find your aids, it’s probably because the phone still has them paired.
Find Hearing Aids
When on any memory screen in TruLink, press the gear symbol at the top of the page and one of the options is “Find My Hearing Aids”. This brings up a graphic that I believe shows you the Bluetooth signal strength.
Recording from the iPhone Microphone
When on any memory screen in TruLink, press the gear symbol at the top of the page and one of the options is “Remote Microphone”. This brings up a picture of a microphone with three possible selections: a power button (a circle with a line coming out of the top), a Red record button and a list selection. You must first turn on the microphone by pressing the power button. Now whatever the iPhone microphone hears is transmitted to your ears. While the microphone is on, if you press the Record button, the App additionally records what it hears. You press the record button again to stop recording and you are prompted to give a name to the recording. If you do give a name, the recording is saved in the list of recordings. Pressing the list icon gives you the names of all the recordings you have. You can select one and replay it. Note that the list icon is visible but unusable if the microphone is powered on. Turn off the microphone (by pressing the power button) and then select the list. The documentation does not say this.
Ear to Ear
On my older Starkey’s, if I pressed a button on the aid to change program or adjust volume, this would be communicated to the other aid using what is called “Ear to ear”. The Halo 2 does not have “Ear to Ear”. The aids only communicate with the iPhone. Without the phone, if you adjust volume or change memory by pressing a button on one of the aids, it will only affect the device where the button was pressed.
Tunity is an iPhone app that lets you stream live TV to your aids. It is not specific to Starkey and works with any Bluetooth ear buds. I include this only because I tried it with my aids. If you’re in a noisy bar and they have TVs on (maybe the program you are interested in doesn’t even have the volume on) you scan the TV screen with your phone and the app locates the audio and streams it. It only works for live TV not recordings. It would be pretty neat if it worked but for me it never worked. Only once did it actually find an audio stream for me for a sporting event and it streamed the audio to me in Spanish. Perhaps this App will get better over time.
I think the Halo 2 hearing aids are a great product but not all is perfect.
I had one failure in the first 40 days of my evaluation period. Driving in the car, I got the “batteries” notification in the left ear after only 3 days with a new battery and the left device shut down. When I got home, I replaced the battery and the left device made a sputtering sound for about a minute and then shut down again. This was repeatable. I recalled reading something like this on one of the hearing aid forums but I could not locate it again. I called Starkey customer service. I wanted to know if this was a known condition and what to do about it. They were completely unhelpful. I took out the battery for about 30 minutes and when I put it back all was OK again. I suspect moisture is the problem because it was a 100 degree day and I was perspiring heavily when the unit failed. I know they are supposed to be water resistant but I don’t have another explanation. I’m a little worried because other people have reported numerous electronic problems but this is the only one I experienced. The battery problem occurred in the left unit again a few days later as I was parking at my audiologist’s office. He measured the battery with a tester and it shown 100%. Putting it back in the aid also worked for a few minutes then it dropped again. It was another hot day and I had been perspiring again so he and I both still suspect it’s a moisture problem – only in my left aid. Note that each night I take the batteries out and put the aids in a dry box. When I change batteries, I now wait about 2 minutes after pulling off the tabs before putting them in the aids.
Sometimes Trulink, the iPhone app, stops changing memories. I suspect that while it should be running in the background, it sometimes falls asleep. If I make any change manually on the app, it comes alive again. Not a big problem just annoying.
Wish list – features that would be nice to have
The Halo 2 is new technology and I think we’re only beginning to see the possibilities.
- Since I can use the phone with it in my pocket, it would be nice if one of the buttons on the aids could be programmed to answer the phone and to hang up.
- When the aids switch memories it would be nice if they spoke the name of the memory rather than a number or a tone. I would think that it is only software to let you record a short audio clip giving the name of the memory and playing that back to you when it switches to that memory.
- It would be nice if the notification alerts could also play a short recorded audio clip instead of giving a tone. The tones are different for different kinds of events but I don’t get enough of them to remember the tone patterns. If I heard “Text Message” there would be no doubt about why the alert was sent.
- While we’re at it, the technology to read text exists. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could press a button on the aids and have the iPhone read you a text message? I’d use the same button as the one I’d use to answer the phone.
These comments are mine alone. If I have anything wrong, let me know and I’ll update this review although I don’t mean for this to be a substitute for the documentation provided by Starkey.
I think the function provided by the Halo 2 hearing aids is wonderful and I would do not want to do without them. I’m hoping I do not experience any of the troubles reported by others. This technology is new and I’m sure there’s much more to come. Even people without hearing loss would love these devices were they not so expensive. They are that good.