Phonak Ambra, on the new Spice platform

Was just fitted with a pair of Phonak Ambra MicroM BTEs. I have a lot of HA experience over many years, ranging from analog aids through both trials and ownership of good digitals - all BTE with suitable earmolds and careful repetitive fitting. I have even tried some of the eBay Chinese cheapies, and the fit-it-yourself online aids. I have really $upported the hearing aid industry!

The Phonak Ambra is the best I’ve tried, so far.

It has some unusual features. The two aids share information via a radio across my head, which is supposed to combine computing power and optimize phase and time-of-arrival data, thus improving processing and making focus more accurate and acute. It seems to actually do all that.

During the fitting process I had a choice:

  1. Automatic program selection based on what the aids hear, with manual volume control (left aid button is volume DOWN, right is UP).
  2. Automatic volume control with manual program selection.
    I chose option #1, which works well so far.

In the past, my wife and I picked restaurants, etc. based on ambient noise. These aids overcome such environments nicely, and we can talk comfortably when my head is pointed toward her. Excellent. And I can still hear enough of what’s going on around me so if there’s something interesting I can turn my head and the aids will instantly re-focus. It’s just as mother (nature) intended, augmented by technology and money.

Though they are new arrivals on the U.S. market, hopefully others here are using the same aids, and we can share experience and take advantage of it.

I return for a fitting in a few days, but so far don’t have much to ask for. Maybe a little more bass. In general, these are as far above my previous “advanced” digital aids as those were above their predecessors (first generation, single mic IIRC).

The Bluetooth interface was ordered today by phone, and the audiologist says it will automatically connect with my cellphone and with Bluetooth audio devices such as my laptop, an eBook reader, a module connected to the television set’s headset port, a microphone-transmitter placed on a lecturer’s podium, etc. If that all “works” it could become a life-changer.

These aids are already quite satisfying after the initial fitting, and I hope that with time and the addition of further capabilities they will get even more so.

Is it possible to post your audiogram. A lot of your experience and satisfaction index is tied to your level of ha need. I for one can not relate until I know from which direction you are speaking.

Thanks so much - Peter

I am pleased with my Ambras too. In auto mode, however they do seem to occasionally muffle sound from the desired direction. I am going to get the full shell ITE version. I had a big problem with BTE Audeo Smart aids being shut down by sweat getting to the batteries. ITE version works without that issue and the feedback suppression prevents any squeals from nearby objects which used to be a pain for my previous (used for 15 years) analogs.

Good luck to you on these aids,

I have the Ambra MicroP, slimTube, closed dome configuration. I trialed the Oticon Agil Pros, the Audeo Smart S IX and liked these best. I had a bit of trouble at first because my Audi wasn’t up to speed on Target, but she called in the Phonak rep for training,and during the training the rep tweaked my aids.

That was a month ago, and they have bee superb since then! These are my first hearing aids, so I don’t have your experience, but for me - and my needs (I’m a lawyer, and need to hear CLEARLY in a variety of environments) they more than met my expectations!

I have five programs in the MyPilot, and the StereoZoom and the ZoomControl get a lot of use. I also have the iCom for streaming my bluetooth landphone.

I did a lot of research before visiting the audi, and fo my needs, found the Phonaks to be the best.

You’re right - in this group of sophisticated consumers, correlation between audiometry and subjective perception of aid performance would be useful. I’ll ask for a copy of my audiogram next week, and will post the data.

Meanwhile, my satisfaction continues. Yesterday I attended a business lunch in a noisy Italian restaurant with a hard floor, walls, and ceiling - clattering dishes and loud people, music, and lots of other ambient noises. Pre-Phonak, it would have been impossible for me. However, I had fewer hearing problems than other attendees with no aids and presumably normal hearing. The ability of these aids to “focus” - restricting hearing to sources at which my nose points - was very impressive.

Happy camper!

Dare I ask what these things cost?

At the risk of angering audiologists, here’s what I know (and I am pretty sure of the information)…

All good digital aids consist of an outer case, a chipset, one or two mics, one or two switches, an output transducer (in the trade called a “receiver”), assembly and test labor, and packaging. Whether by Phonak or another company, that cost is probably about $70 plus a share of amortization of R&D (a big number!) and overheads that includes an army of reps who train and support the retailers (audiologists), taking them to lunch and convincing them to recommend that aidmaker’s latest and greatest.

Any quality digital aid is sold to the audiologist for about $1k, who combines it with audiometry, earmoldmaking, counseling and handholding, and fitting services, and then absorbs returns. The consumer pays something in the $3k range, or should, and all such figures are negotiable, or should be - particularly if a pair of aids is being purchased because one retail process is underwritten by the margin on two pieces of hardware. The audiologist must pay for equipment, facility, and staff, so this is about right. It is definitely NOT a rip-off, and audiologists do not get rich from audiology.

So do not ask what one aid or another might cost - all of them in a given category have about the same cost structure, and about the same retail price. Or should. We pay far more for audiology services than for the hardware.

Phonak has developed simplified fitting technology, with (I expect) a lower return rate, so perhaps the audiologist should charge less for this one than for others that have more returns and/or absorb more fitting time. But it’s a very nice product, and new, so while the blush is on the rose they can charge a bit more. It balances.

While I’m on a rant, consider the “dispenser” (could be a high-school graduate taught by aidmakers’ reps) and the “audiologist” (typically a doctorate or at least a masters). Price is the same, they use the same impressive words, and they both wear white jackets. So… does it matter?

Some dispensers have great skill and some audiologists are incompetent, but the consumer that knows nothing has a better chance of a good result if the work is done by the educated professional. The odds are better. I’m certain that the bell-curve of satisfaction is skewed toward professional audiologists.

Interestingly, the consumer rarely discovers what was missed through lack of professionalism or skill, or even uncalibrated or inadequate equipment in the facility. If there’s some level of improvement, he walks away “satisfied” – and recommends a friend. In the hearing aid world there’s just no way for us (the consumers) to know that we’re getting the very best solution in hardware or service.

One last point.
Why does a dispenser or audiologist recommend some particular aid? You won’t like this… As long as the fitting profile (power vs. loss) and human interface (BTE, shell, ITC, etc.) fit the consumer’s needs, there are few differences between competent aids. In fact, many different brands use precisely the same chips, mics, switches, receivers, etc. The same. The recommendation, therefore, is based upon aidmaker promotions, relationships between the aidmaker’s rep and the retailer, and the comfort that the retailer has with the fitting software. Maybe the bagels the rep brings in. But never! on some exotic technical aspect of a particular aid that uniquely fits some exotic technical aspect of a client’s hearing problem.

(donning flameproof suit, escaping out the back door)

I think you are 100% right.
Is the same in other businesses.
I suspect that the haring aids stays within ownership of the manufacturer until finally sold.
The Audiologists gets an distribution fee. Depending on their (target) market share, the manufacturers increase/decrease their fees.
The Audiologist recommends (most of the time) where he gets the highest fee.
Its sad, but I am very afraid that’s how it works.