Is it possible to upgrade to higher performance levels?

I am researching hearing aids for my wife, and possibly for myself.
We both have impairment in understanding other people when not speaking face to face, and in noisy environment.
We would only consider ITC types, and by that I mean not the smaller CIC and IIC, or the larger HS and ITE.
I am looking at the Phonak Virto Marvel, the Oticon Opn, and Starkey Livio.

Do these brands and styles allow after-sale upgrades to a higher performance level?
I assume that the chips and firmware is the same, only features are enabled/disabled, so in theory it should be possible.

I do not recall reading anything about this on the manufacturers’ websites, but it may be available.
The prices of the Premium levels are prohibitive, and that level may not be necessary at present. But what if the impairment worsens with time? Upgrading the existing device could be the answer.

I can only speak for the Oticon OPN, which is what I have. But I think in general it applies to other brands/models as well.

As far as the OPN 1, 2, and 3 levels, it’s the same exact hardware inside, but they simply disable the various functionalities for the lower levels. Having said that, I don’t think you can order, let’s say, and OPN 3, and later ask your audi if you can pay more and simply turn on some software options or do some kind of firmware update to transform your OPN 3 into an OPN 2 or an OPN 1. My understanding is that you will need to trade in your OPN 3 to get a different pair of OPN 2 or OPN 1. I think although they share the same firmware, but there’s an identifier inside that says it is an OPN 3, so the firmware will operate the functionalities in accordance to what’s available for the OPN 3.

I don’t own the OPN S model, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s the same principle on the OPN S. And most likely it’s the same operating principle for the other brands as well.

But of course you can negotiate with your HCP to give you some kind of physical upgrade path if you find that the lower level models don’t satisfy your need within a certain period of time.

Thanks, Volusiano.
I will have to ring the local distributors and ask them about any upgrade paths.
It would be better to buy a “KEY” to enable the hidden features, or upgrade the firmware, once you are happy with the idea of wearing a HA, and willing to pay more for better performance.
What I read is that large percentage of HA’s ends up in drawers, because people can’t or don’t want to get used to them.

BTW - how is the ‘speech in loud noise’ performance of your Opn set?
Do you have one of the ITE custom types? If yes, how is the occlusion effect?

Unitron is the only HA that has the feature you’re looking for. I think they are almost the same HA as Phonak

I think I’ve heard that only unitron allows that, never heard something like that for any of the brands you mention.

I remember widex dream was just a sw click to change tech level (for regular aid, not trial one), but they might abandon that by now.

I saw this topic after the one about autosense. However check the amount of mics. I think all ‘somewhere around the canal’ ones have only 1 mic.
Bte and ric-bte have 2 (for higher tech level).
And noise is tricky, having more mics could help.

Also, it would definitely be beneficial if you share your and your wife’s audiogram and word recognition score, and ideally if you have sentence in noise score as well.
That way we won’t be guessing so much what would be good to try :slight_smile:

Occlusion is solved by vents, but if everything is tiny, you don’t have space for much venting.

I see that virto is in the ear, so I guess it’s not in the canal, eg you can see this one from the side, no? But it’s not sitting in the concha either.

But those names are definitely not consistent between manufacturers.

My first were ric and I bought red one because I just hate skin color colors and couldn’t stand wearing it.

No one noticed it until I told them.

Now I have black, because phonak is boring and doesn’t give adults some proper color, and people just don’t see it. Or don’t care, which is equally worthy :slight_smile:

This year I’ve learned a ton, and I concluded that anything that’s not bte type, just isn’t worth the hassle for me - I want BT streaming and have non trivial loss. And very bad sentence in noise score with HA properly fitted.

So that means I need 4 mics and additional external microphone. Bte types of aids are loaded with connectivity options, while ite variations either aren’t or it has more connectivity issues. Not to mention mostly small battery (size 10), and my ric on 312 when I started streaming would burn in just 4 days.

So it definitely depends what are the features you want. And how your loss looks like.

And then check user experience for those features to avoid nasty surprises. I see you already started, just nudging you to definitely check everything, don’t assume it’s great just because manufacturers say so :slight_smile:

Thanks, I will look at Unitron

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One more thing, it’s common that you trial tech, and then decide which one you want. Oftentimes you might trial using ric aids, then decide for tech level, then get your custom ones for final trial (or pay with ability to return them).

Especially in rics it’s easy to test both and see which you need/want.

Tech levels bring features like better noise cancelling or connectivity and so on. Or more programs and features like eg echo block with phonak and so on.

If your hearing gets worse, in rics you can just change receiver (speaker in the canal) to stronger version. Maybe such exchange is possible for custom made ones, just not that easy as with plug and play at RIC ones. I don’t know, but that would be worth checking.

If hearing gets worse, going to higher tech might not do anything, but going to more powerful receiver is common practice.

At this stage I am only exploring what is on the market, what I would like to have, and what damage it would make to our retirement savings. Income is close to zero with .5% interest rates. Pension is low.

We can get by without HA’s, but we struggle with conversation in a noisy pub, and even when the grandkids come. They can, but don’t like, speaking clearly.
I do not envisage that either of us would have the HAs inserted when at home by ourselves. Only when the kids come, or when we go out.
For TV watching we use TV headphones, For Youtube and music, a pair of good quality headphones. No problem there, I can employ equaliser if I have to.

Here in Australia age pensioners only get $1,600 subsidy. A pair of premium HAs will probably be close to $8,000. That’s why I am asking if it could be done in steps.
We may not need Premium at this stage, but if we do later, I would not want to fork out another $6k for each of us.

I don’t have an audiogram from an audiologist, but have done online tests. My low freq is OK, but after 1k drops sharply. Word recognition in noise is poor. My wife will be similar, maybe worse in low freq.

If we buy anything, it will be the ITC size. It is not the smallest - there are two sizes smaller that ITC.
They have two mikes for sure. They all use sophisticated directional and beam forming acrobatics.

This is the Oticon Opn ITC -

Oticon Opn ITC

and how it sits in the ear -

Phonak Virto Marvel -

Virto M

they ccome also in fashionable black -
Virto M black

They all use 312 batteries.

The Phonak Virto is more versatile - it can stream Android, TV, any Bluetooth Classic device without any intermediary gadget.

The Oticon Opn Marvel seems to have more sophisticated speech recognition technology, but how it performs in real life I don’t know yet.
It is designed for iPhones. We are an Android family, but streaming into HA is not important for us. We would take the HA out and use headphones.

I have the miniRITE model, with the unit behind the ear / receiver in the ear.

I wear a bass dome that has a single vent hole. The vent hole helps avoid occlusion.

The speech in noise functionality of the OPN is great. If you decide to go with the OPN, though, you should be aware of its “open” paradigm which is quite a bit different than most other brands of hearing aids. They allow you to hear more sounds around you instead of trying to block them off. As a result, a noisy place is going to sound more “noisy” on the OPN than with other brands. But they do clean up the speech so that it’s more clear for you, despite hearing all the noises.

Some people don’t like this, they prefer to have surrounding sounds blocked so they can hear only the speech in front. Other people like the open paradigm better after they get used to it because they get to hear almost everything but still can understand speech better.

If you’re not planning to wear them all the time, you might as well not spend the money. You won’t automatically derive a benefit the moment you put them in. Your brain has gotten used to hearing with the input it receives; it must adjust, which can take weeks to months or even longer, to the hearing aids. They will not make your hearing perfect - struggles with background noise are never going to completely go away. You need to go to an audiologist and get an exam, both of you, to see where you’re at with your hearing. That will be the thing that primarily dictates what hearing devices you might benefit from. And you should very much heed the audiologist’s advice, and the advice of folks here who have years and lifetimes of experience.

Good luck!!


Your first step for the two of you is definitely get a proper in office hearing test/exam. They are provided free of charge by most providers in the United States, not quite sure about Australia.

A good/trustworthy provider will explain your loss in detail, and recommend some options, while mentioning some pros and cons of each option. A unprofessional (borderline unethical) provider will act like a used cars salesman.

Trial periods should be available, and if you so wish I’d recommend taking advantage of them. Posting an audiogram for on here and getting opinions is what I would do prior to purchasing anything.

Also ask the audiologist or HIS if they perform Real Ear Measurements. The main reason so many hearing aids sit in people’s drawers unused is usually due to improper initial fitting, and no follow up care to fine tune and make software adjustments.

  1. Find a fitter who follows best practices

  2. If you’d need them only in noise, honestly I’d abandon idea of aiming for high end aids, and I’d buy the cheapest that support external microphones.
    I don’t know if marvel virto can do it or it’s too small.

My solution for noise is ric aid + roger select iN. I had marvel audeo, now paradise audeo (on trials), and they have integrated hardware so I only need to buy select that comes with licences.
Yes, such mic is expensive, but can be connected to several HAs at once.

So, you could buy audeo marvel M30 x4 (for each of you two pieces), then one roger select, put it on the table and you both hear, and each of you has program for that mic for their need.
Currently I see prices on ebay (new aids from USA) for like 1600 eur pair. Select iN is here 1000 eur.
Someone mentioned that in Australia they can get select refunded, so maybe check that.
I’d definitely look into all available options, charity programs and whatnot who will donate you money for it.

Check if virto has such option, or some other connection possibility.

Here I can’t find virto marvel.

Ok, here it says that virto marvel M-312 (I guess that’s biggest, I really have no clue about all these names IIC, CIC and so on), has even roger HW inside, plus it’s able to connect to various things, unlike other models.

It also says that M-312 comes only in ITC, HS, FS forms whatever that is.

But I’d definitely look not into highest tech to get you best speech in noise but the one that enables additional microphones.
Because, the best HAs can give you up to 5 db boost in ideal conditions, while mic gives you up to 15 - mostly because it’s closer to the source and skips a ton of air between you and the sound source.

Yes, I agree that only by constant wearing them like 6+ hours a day your brain will train to listen to such speech and utilise it the best.
However I think you might get benefits even if you use it only for outside with this mic combination. Because boost will be awesome.

However, maybe looking into BOSE HEARphones could also help? They’re much cheaper and some users report they work pretty well in noisy situations like restaurants. Yes they’re not adjusted for your exact hearing loss, but they have better mics than your ears currently are.

But, test with audi first.
Invest the time in finding one who follows best practices.
Then explain that you want HAs only for some situations and ask for opinion about getting low tech + external mic as opposed to high tech HAs only.

Your results in noise and quiet will guide your audi for best answer. Also, low level HAs will perform the same as high level HAs in quiet if they’re fit properly, so you might start wearing them at home as well, especially when you discover how good it is to get direct streaming adjusted for your loss :slight_smile:

But find proper fitter who wants to help you to hear better and not seller or clueless person.

We know where and how our hearing is impaired without a test. The audiologist can only advise what to do about it. I am sure that they will want us to spend money, because the impairment exists.

I appreciate your comment about how long it takes to get used to hearing aids, and that just an occasional use would be difficult, or not work at all.
We have friends who keep their lower grade HA’s in the box when we meet in a restaurant/pub. They don’t make any improvements, or make it worse.
So this is the dilemma for people who get by without HAs, but would like some improvement in certain situations only.

Maybe the coming wave of hearables will bring something.
When we get out of the lock-downs, I will buy the Nuheara IQbuds2MAX and try them for a month, to see if that could be the answer.
They are not meant for permanent wear, have two microphones and algorithms for speech separation.
But as with all devices, some people claim they are fantastic, others say they don’t do anything.


We obviously have very different hearing needs and that’s fine. I would not be able to participate in the world of sound at all now without my hearing aid and cochlear implant. I do hope that whatever solutions you investigate provide some benefit.

My comments were really to ensure you have realistic expectations, and also understand that you on your own and/or with the help of an app can’t properly diagnose yourself. It’s human ego that says you know how you hear and what you need. What you need truly is assistance and that’s ok.

Wishing you and your wife the best!! I don’t know where I’d be without my wife’s support on this journey.

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Thanks, Blacky

The “Roger” system sounds good, but we don’t go to restaurants often enough to warrant forking out $1,800.
But it is a plus for Phonak aids, as it could be considered as a “reserve” for the days ahead if hearing gets worse.
Virto Marvel is compatible with the RogerSelect iN.

Buying a cheaper HA’s and Roger microphone would be OK in a restaurant or at home when the daughter comes with kids. But to have it around our neck when we go shopping or to the doctor, etc.?? Don’t like that idea. We are not THAT bad.

Oticon Opn gives 9 db noise removal in the most expensive grade, 3 db in the cheapest.

Phonak couldn’t be bothered giving these details about the Virto Marvel. They just say that all grades have Speech in Noise feature, and the dearest has Speech in Loud Noise.

Bose HearPhones are not sold anymore. Bose is developing a new OTC hearing aid, but it may take a couple of years.
We have a product here in Australia called Nuheara IQbuds2MAX. I am planning to try them when we are allowed to go to pubs.

What I meant was that we know we have a problem without going to a proper test.
I have now posted my wife’s on-line test in my profile. Mine is better than hers.

She will definitely go to an audiologist when the covid danger is down a bit, and I would not mind spending the money for a premium aids, but what I read on this forum is a bit scary. Even with so much money spent, you can’t expect very good results.

I have posted my wife’s on-line test results from an independent website. It is calibrated with the hand-rubbing method, but it gives some idea.
Free check and trial is available in Australia.
I am not sure if in Australia there is the division into two groups - audiologists and hearing instrument fitters - and how that would work.
I read about the REM in the canal. Not sure how/if it works with In-The-Canal devices. I will ask about if anybody here uses it.

Thanks, Volusiano

Do you have the best performance level - Opn1?
In addition to the speech understanding features, the info document also lists 3 listening programs for personalisation and optimising.
What is adjustable? Everything, or only the 3 programs? And, are the 3 programs related to the OpenSound Navigator, or is it something entirely different?

Point of doing test isn’t about confirming that you have loss, but about precise measurements, and setting the expectations.

For that tone audiogram should be done, then word recognition score in quiet, in noise. Sentence in noise (that’s speech babble).

Those numbers can say what realistically expected that HAs can provide you.

Then, after fitting, HAs should give you those numbers or better. Otherwise they’re not fitted correctly.

We here can only guess, but without those several numbers, we all are clueless. Yes we all can agree that you have some issues, but that’s about it.

REM measures are done with a tiny tube that sits in canal beside HAs, no matter the shape of aid. Tube is soft and flexible, your canal also.

It’s of utmost importance to find someone who follows best practices summarised by dr cliff

Also, understand that list yourself. That way you can directly ask someone what are they doing and keep looking until you find someone who follows the most of them. (like sentence in noise is useful to see how much signal to noise ratio you really need eg if external microphone would be recommended, but, we mostly know when we don’t hear in speech babble, and exact number isn’t important but our budget :joy:)

Also, I have one good ear, so in theory I should be good in any environment. At least that’s how some regulations say.

In practice, that might work only if I completely plug my bad ear and concentrate very intensively, also lip reading and whatnot. With one HA is the same, signal that comes isn’t equal and it isn’t helping that much.

So I opted for 2 HAs and mic, in order to reduce energy drain as much as possible. I want to use that energy on being witty and not on being one step behind the conversation. Also watching tv is now fun activity and not deeply concentrating one.
I’m lucky I can afford it. Also I found a fitter who is giving me a discount, that definitely helps :rofl:

If I couldn’t, I’d definitely go writing to any charity and collect money from all of them who might want to help.


The hearing loss you have posted is quite dramatic. Even budget hearing aids will provide considerable improvement in quiet situations. Benefit in noise is more variable from person to person and can be difficult to predict from the audiogram alone.

If that is the current hearing loss with no prior hearing aid experience, be prepared with the expectation that getting used to appropriate gain may take some time.

As others have said, Unitron is the only manufacturer that offers an upgrade path. They are a sister company to Phonak and share the same accessories, but their sound management is different. (Much of Phonak’s R&D is actually done out of Unitron in Canada.) I’d have to double check, but direct Roger compatibility should be an option in the newest Unitron line. In my experience, Unitron has historically been a bit better than other companies at keeping features available in their entry-level devices. There is also an option of a 30-day trial upgrade. So it would be reasonable to purchase at the bottom level, allow time for adaptation, and then trial at a higher level to see if you get a benefit. If there is still a lot of difficulty in noise at the higher level, the Roger Select would probably be a better choice over an upgrade.

The bluetooth chip in the virto line (and thus the Unitron equivalent) is big. The smallest custom device is really closer to a half-shell than an ITC. The size of the ear will also constrain how small it can be made; if the canal and the concha are too small, the bulk of the chip has to be built into the upper portion of the ear (ITE).

I’d take that 9 dB SNR improvement with the Opn with a grain of salt. The Opn is a good device though.