This is a review of Costco-provided ReSound Forte 861 RIC hearing aids (312 battery) vs. Oticon’s OPN 1s. For context, I am upgrading my eight-year-old Oticon Agil Pros and recently finished a two-week demo with the OPN 1s. I decided to purchase the Fortes. The Forte fitting, conducted by a hearing aid specialist in Costco’s Newport News, VA store, included the use of a real ear measurement (REM) system in order to determine whether the aids are delivering the prescription. For more information on real ear measurement and its significance, see Dr. Cliff’s excellent REM video. To see my audiogram, click my user name (Bryan9), above.
To address an ongoing controversy concerning these aids in relation to ReSound’s LINX2 and LINX3D offerings, a ReSound publication settles the matter: the Forte 8 feature list is identical to that of ReSound’s LINX3d 9s, except that the Forte 8s lack the remote adjustment and tinnitus features. Both aids have exactly the same specs. Some claim that the Fortes are based on the previous LINX2 platform, in line with an assumed ReSound policy of sending Costco nothing but previous-generation technologies. So far as the Fortes are concerned, this assertion simply isn’t true. For example, the Fortes include a LINX3D feature that was not available in the LINX2, called Binaural Directionality III. This feature is very important to me. My chief complaint concerning my elderly Oticon Agil Pros is that I could never tell where sounds were coming from, and I could barely hear environmental sounds.
As mentioned above, I demoed a pair of Oticon OPN 1s for a couple of weeks before purchasing the Fortes. (The OPNs were adjusted to my hearing profile, of course.) I quickly learned why they’re considered the industry’s gold standard. I could tell where sounds were coming from, including faint environmental sounds (birds singing, wind in the trees, etc.). During this period, my wife and I kept track of how many times I said “What?” after she spoke to me or failed to comprehend what she was saying. This is a tough test for a hearing aid: my wife often speaks to me when I’m facing away from her or in another room. The improvement was remarkable, but not perfect. There were several “Whats?” per day. On the plus side, the iPhone integration worked as advertised. I took joy in being able to use the telephone comfortably and listening to audiophile-quality music streaming from iPhone sources.
We repeated this test with the Fortes, which outperformed the OPN 1s, to my surprise. The Fortes’ sound localization and spatial sense performance is outstanding and I was able to hear and understand ongoing, nearby conversations in a 360 degree sound field. At home, the aids virtually eliminated the “Whats” and speech comprehension failures, to my wife’s joy.
My major complaint about the Fortes, initially, was poor streaming audio performance with music. It sounded tinny and distorted. However, I discovered that these problems disappeared when I pushed my Power Domes all the way into my ear canal. Suddenly, there was ample bass and the distortion was gone. This does suggest that users of open domes may not be satisfied with the Fortes’ streaming music quality.
I’ve yet to evaluate the Fortes’ performance in noisy restaurants (update: see my comments below). Like many HA users, I’ve developed an aversion to them. Sitting in an acoustically bright room with dozens of people yelling at the top of their lungs is not appealing to me. But I’ll give it a try and post an update.
I’m using my aids with my iPhone 6 Plus. I have little to add to the acclaim for ReSound’s connectivity features; they’re the industry leader. In comparison, the Oticon app is pathetic. To be sure, streaming from the iPhone is automatic and delivers great sound quality. But the app does little more than let you adjust HA volume, and even that is poorly implemented. In comparison, the ReSound Smart 3D App lets you adjust hearing parameters for all of the configured programs as well as custom locations that you create. Although the Fortes lack the LINX 3D’s tinnitus relief features, you can download a nifty ReSound app (called Relief) that provides even broader functionality. As with other MFi hearing aids, Android users will have to put up with reduced performance (e.g., audio in one ear only).
In sum, my experience with the Fortes suggests that they indeed deliver the Resound 3D 9’s binaural directionality and spatial sense capabilities, to a level that equals or exceeds Oticon’s OPN1s. But the Fortes couldn’t match the OPN1s’ streaming music quality unless I pushed my power domes all the way into my ear canal. That wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. I don’t need audiophile-quality sound for phone calls, and I don’t mind pushing my domes all the way in when I want to listen to music. Plus, the Smart 3D app is clearly the industry leader.
Overall, it was pretty much a no-brainer to go with the Fortes ($2500, vs. $7,000 I was quoted for the OPN1s). To be sure, the OPN1 demo aids might have performed better had I asked my audiologist to tweak them a bit, and as a commenter pointed out, I could likely get them for less. But I’d still be paying more for performance I already have with the Fortes.
Be aware that there’s a downside to purchasing HAs from Costco. You have to go back to Costco to get them adjusted or repaired. If you move somewhere where there isn’t a nearby Costco, you could be looking at major time and money expenditures if your aids need adjustment or repair. Also, make sure the hearing aid specialist you’re working with intends to conduct a real ear measurement (REM) during the fitting, in order to determine whether the aids are performing at the prescribed level. Mine did, but it seems that this test isn’t done at some (many?) Costco locations. Ask before buying! I agree with Dr. Cliff that insisting on a REM test is probably the single smartest thing you can do when purchasing hearing aids.