Songbird First Impressions

I decided to post a thread about my new Songbird, since there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of this aid on the forum. As I posted on another thread, I owned a $800 Miracle ear many years ago, and when it went bad, I never replaced it. I saw an infomercial about the Lee Majors Bionic Aid a couple of weeks ago and ordered one. I realized that after I tried it the improvement in my hearing was fairly good when wearing the aid, and that maybe I should considered going back to wearing one. The Bionic Ear, had a couple of annoying problems. The taper on the volume control was such that the slightest touch would go from too loud to almost off. Being an in the ear type, the feedback when it was slightly too loud was a constant annoyance. You also had to jam in in your ear very tightly to avoid feedback which made it uncomfortable. I called the company when I noticed that there was no way to order the silicon earbuds as a replacement part when they started to go bad after a month or two. The customer service people seemed confused at any question that wasn’t on their script.

My next step was to check into the Songbird Disposable. This aid had been recommended a few years ago by a consumer advocate, Clark Howard, who runs a daily show in the Atlanta area and is now on nationally on HLN. I ordered one about a week ago from their website and it arrived today. It is two payments of $39.95 ( actually got a $5 discount on each payment on the first order as a promo) and it is supposed to last about 400 hours, and then you toss it out and replace it with a new one. I am retired so I am anticipating that with the amount of use that I would expect using it each day, it would have a lifetime of about 3 months. This works out to about $320 a year and since you don’t have batteries to buy, and repairs to make, and you always have a basically almost a new aid, this seems reasonable.

Anyway, I got the aid this morning and used it all day today. It is very light, and once on, you forget you are wearing it , other than you can hear. The sound is clear, and there is no feedback to speak of , so it is fantastic compared to the Bionic Ear. The volume control which is also the on-off switch is easy to reach while wearing the unit. Once set, you don’t have to fiddle with it, like the Bionic ear which seemed to require constant adjustment. It is also very easy to turn it off when you don’t need it, as I did while driving in my car today. You feel a click when it goes off. I have diminished high frequency hearing, and as I slowly turn it up, the high frequencies come alive, the difference is amazing. I went to a crowded restaurant tonight to give it a test in that type of environment, and I could listen to people talking a couple of seats away at the bar without straining. The background noise , while there, was not objectionable. I would say that this aid is better than I remember my Miracle Ear being, and certainly lighter and more comfortable.

I am satisfied with the improvement of my hearing, and the comfort and the ease of adjustment. If the battery gives me the life that they claim it will, I think I am going to be a steady Songbird Customer. I signed up for “free shipping” which means they send you one automatically after 3 months. If you don’t need it that often or more often, you can adjust the interval by contacting customer service. By the way, I boxed up my Bionic Ear tonight and am going to ship it back to them tomorrow for a credit refund.

Bob keep us updated as you get more hours of experience with the Songbird.

With hearing aids not being considered medical devices makes marketing this way a great way to reach the masses. The more they sell the more they will invest in upgrading them I expect so results should spiral up over time.

I still think the profitable market is to baby boomers who can get by unaided but will use aids if the price point is right.

I get similar positive response with my PocketTalker Ultra. I also have dimished high frequency response but I can bring my word recognition, while whatching TV, to near 100% even when the volume is low enough to be comfortable to my wife, (who has excellent hearing). The PocketTalker has a tone control that allows me to boost high frequencies even more.

Overall, it works fine in quiet, stable environments. However, there are several drawbacks:

  1. The TV set is about 12 ft away, while my wife sits next to me. When she speaks with any volume, her voice is way too loud. Clearly, the unit has no automatic gain control. :eek: Frequency selective automatic gain control would be even better.

  2. In a noisy restaurant, the ambient noise level is high and this amplifier just makes it higher. It can’t selectivly reject noise from behind (or anywhere else). My word comprehension is not improved much at all, here. :eek: Dual mics and noise rejection would be essential, in this environment.

  3. The black ear buds that I use are fairly inconspicuous but I’m sure our pastor thinks I am listening to a ball game instead of his sermon… :slight_smile:

I was able to imporve my word recognition even more by adding a portable, Koss 3-band equalizer (EQ50), however, my wife is not impressed by the extra wires and bulk that this entails… :smiley:

Bottom line, hearing aids are not rocket science but they have to be functional and inconspicuous. Most of all, they have to be fairly priced and easy to adjust. :cool:

Edit: The inability to change the battery in the Songbird makes absolutely no engineering sense to me…

Maybe the battery thing is a marketing thing. :slight_smile:

It could be also to keep down their liability insurance cost from kid eating a battery. I am looking forward to what battery they use when someone cracks a dead one open.

I think you hit the nail right on the head. :smiley:

I was thinking about this issue last night, the disposable part, and realized that if they are selling a pretty decent aid for $80, their cost to manufacture this aid must be around $20-40. That’s about 1 to 2% of a $2,000 aid. How can there be such a difference in the cost of manufacturing a small audio amplifier? Anyway, if they make say $40 on each aid, and they sell you 4 of them in a year, that is $160 profit from each customer or $320 if you purchase aids for both ears.

I had read somewhere that the advantage to not being able to change the battery, is that they can make the microphone in the unit larger with some improvement in teh audio , and the aid smaller, since they don’t need room for a battery drawer.

Couple comments. If I had to guess, I would think the Songbird just boosts the highs with little or no compression or max output circuits.

That’s all well in good for people with standard ski slope mild high frequency loss and no recruitment. But I would think this type of one size fits all will not work for anything more serious.

If the Songbird is built in Asia it could easily be made for $15 or $20. Leaving room for the usual 4 times retail mark up.

Even sophisticated aids can wholesale for $80 to $120 in quantity from Chinese mfg’s.

Not long ago I purchased (sampled) a pretty good aid at a cost of $130 from a Xiamen China mfg. Software was pretty awful but the aid had most of the essentials. Ed

$10 would be the at factory price I expect. R&D cost was there at some point but distribution cost is the big one. Prime time TV spots are not cheap.

I doubt there is any aid being mass produced that has a direct manufacturing production cost of over $25. Most distribution costs today comes from the multi tier marketing approach.

The cost to get an aid to production I am sure is huge.

These instruments probably use a much simpler circuit; no DSP, fixed linear amplification. I’m willing to bet the ‘R&D’ is <$10K.

I have used my Songbird for 2 days now in many different environments, and it is fantastic for the money, in my opinion. I have the typical high frequency issue in my hearing, that many people older people do, and this product allows me to hear conversations very well. I would suspect, although I am no expert on this by any means, that the majority of people that could use a hearing aid would fall into that category. I guess what Songbird is saying is ," try it and if it works it works, if it doesn’t we will give you your money back" which to me is alot better than spending $1500 to $2500 or more to get roughly the same improvement, which most people probably would not be willing to do.

I would suspect, being in the electronics industry for most of my life, that the R and D would be alot more than 10K.

We look forward to future updates. Someone there things they have a winner to see that much marketing money spent. Like you R&D for anything is huge. I would guess $100K min.

Well, there is no R and the D is not more then a day or two of electrical design. The board will be similarly simple (1 or 2 days to lay out). If you use commercially available shells, you’re talking a grand total of ~ 2 weeks of engineering time.

So what would be the engineering time involved in the much more expensive hearing aids? Would it be months and months of design time, I don’t think so. Would this longer R and D time justify a price of $2500 plus? I am just trying to get some logical reason for the gigantic difference in price between something like the Songbird and the $2,500+ aids. … Let me relate this to a field I am very experienced in, electronics. If I design an integrated circuit ( IC) for an application and only make a few thousand of them, the cost per IC is very expensive, in the 100’s or thousands of dollars for each one. This would be the cost of an IC that is used in an Avionics application for instance, where the number of units sold is very small. If I mass produce the same IC for a manufacturer that uses it in one of their very large volume selling products like a TV, the price per the same exact IC may wind up being a few dollars a piece if the volume is high enough. I doubt very much if there is a huge difference in the R and D time between the less expensive product and the more expensive one. I think the price difference is based more on the volume that is sold. That is how companies like Songbird and America Hears are able to market a decent product at a price that many people can afford. In my opinion, the companies that hang onto the concept of pricing their products extremely high, with a low sales volume, will lose market share, and won’t be able to eventually compete with the companies with high sales volumes. Again, if you need that specialty aid, then you won’t be able to go with the Songbird concept, but you may be able to be satisfied with American Hears products which has a product that can be programmed by the end user.

Sorry Bob, but you missed by a mile. The ‘fit’ for the songbird is probably a simple analog filter that can be designed with an off the shelf analog amplifier, no chip development required. The shaping of the gain curve is not more then 5 minutes work, match this to a class D output stage; add the mics and reciever and presto! you have the paper design for the electronics done.

AH is a nitch player in the market and has low volumes, they buy their DSP from gennum (who paid the 6 figure sum to develop the DSP). Digital instruments usually involve significant investment in firmware but this is not likely the case with the songbird.

Which AH do you think has the lowest volume?

The question asked was: “Songbird First Impressions”?

My first impression was the same as my second.

Shi-Ku (Don’t want to confuse anyone with my opinion.) Chishiki :smiley:

Problem with your statement is that the Songbird is Digital. A company like Sarnoff Corp would not state that it was digital if it was analog.

I taught both digital and analog circuitry design and repair to component level before I retired. and am intimately familiar with the different circuits and what they are capable of accomplishing. To say something is “digital” and therefore better, is not true. It depends on many variables in the objective that the circuit designer is trying to achieve. By the way, using a class D output stage in a very low power output circuit like a hearing aid makes no sense at all. As I stated earlier, electronics is my specialty and that is why I don’t buy many of these claims that the manufacturers of a $2,500 hearing aid claim. Just because an aid is called “digital”, and has a few programmed bandpass filters that can be reprogrammed. doesn’t justify these high prices in my opinion. Look at the very complex digital electronics that are involved in a cellphone, or a blackberry, or a Satellite receiver, or a wide screen TV. It makes the hearing aid as complex as a flashlight by comparison, and you can buy these other products for a couple of hundred dollars at most.

As far as low volume, I would bet that most of these high priced aids have extremely low volumes and that is why they are so expensive. You have R and D and manufacturing cost. If you are manufacturing something like an aid, in large quantities, the price would be extremely low. If you spread the R and D over just a few thousand buyers, it is going to be reflected in a very price point. Increase your volume, and the price drops like a rock. I think that is what AH and Songbird are counting on.

The Songbird is more interesting than I first thought (I also had assumed it was analog). It is digital and may be (pure speculation), a low power shrink of an earlier DSP. This could explain its long battery life and also the <probable> low development cost. Combine this with a marketing plan that requires the user to buy a new one every 400 hours and you have a foumula for building chip volume and thus, kick starting the baby-boomer hearing aid wave. An optimistic forecast would place the Songbird on the “better, faster, cheaper” track. :cool:

On the other hand, a static, unchanging future would lead to hearing aid expenses not all that different from todays bloated hearing aid prices. 400 hrs / 10 hrs/day = 40 days. A tragically short life that would require the user to get new ones every month - say $160 x 10 times a year for a $1600 per year. Hardly a bargain. :eek:

Bottom line: I would buy them if only I could swap batteries. :cool:

I agree with you, if I needed to use this 10 hours a day, I would probably get a America Hears product. Yesterday was the longest I have used it ( turned on) since I got it, and it was on for probably 4-5 hours. By the way I am a keyboardist in a band and I was using it on a gig last night, and to my surprise, it worked fairly well. I left it on during the set to see if it would distort or cause problems when I was playing ( I use about 300 watts of power in my amps which are behind me), and the sound was acceptable. It was nice to have the bandleader call a tune and I didn’t have to ask her to repeat herself:)

I was wondering if they will make a songbird II for severe-profound hearing loss like mine. Ill need the battery to be removable since I wear it alot and also powerful HAs drain batteries.