Its been three years since I purchased my last hearing aids (Phonak Audéo Q90 312T) and my audiologist offered to let me trial a few of the newest hearing aids to see if it makes sense to upgrade. I’m a busy professional who spends tons of time travelling, in meetings, restaurants, talking on the phone, working out, etc, so I’ve always gone with the premium products to get the most flexibility. I also spend hours per day talking on the phone through my mobile phone and laptop so bullet proof wireless connectivity is also a huge requirement for me.
First on the list are the top of the line Phonak Audéo B90 R with the new rechargeable batteries. I am testing these hearing aids with the ComPilot Air II as I absolutely hated the wire on the original ComPilot and was looking forward to the pocketable form factor for bluetooth connectivity.
I just finished the first week and here are some initial observations:
The hearing aids are about the same size as the Q90s and I feel no physical difference when wearing these hearing aids. They are comfortable for all day wear and the only thing that is weird is that there is no battery door to close to turn on the units. As you know, these hearing aids have Phonak’s new rechargeable lithium batteries and you turn them on my holding down the small button on the back of the hearing aid. While its a little weird at first I’ve gotten use to first putting them on and then reaching back to holding the buttons down for 3 seconds to turn them on. Charging is dead simple. You simply take them off at night and slide both hearing aids into the charging unit. The light on the hearing aid blinks when charging and turns solid at 100%. After wearing them for a week, I have never run low on battery power despite 18 hours of use and heavy wireless use with the ComPilot Air II. The nice thing is that you never have to carry batteries around with you. Right now I have batteries stashed everywhere because I often forget when I last changed the batteries in my Q90s and from time to time you get a bad battery in one of the units. The rechargeable option is great despite everyone’s gripes about what happens in 3-4 years when the lithium cells give up. No more battery anxiety.
My ability to hear is definitely better with these hearing aids. In particular, speech in very loud noise (i.e. restaurants) is noticeably improved. I really don’t know why this is the case. My gripe with the Q90s was that they were good with speech in very noisy environments provided there were no loud conversations happening right beside you. Tightly packed restaurants with multiple conversations going on all around seemed to drastically reduce the effectiveness of Stereozoom. It was almost as iff the hearing aids couldn’t decide which conversation was the dominant one. The Audéo B90 R hearing aids appear to do a better job in this situation. Perhaps they have improved the Stereozoom algorithm and it does a better job staying focused on the person you are looking at. The hearing aids also do a better job outside in windy environments. It looks like the microphones are now shielded a bit and this may be contributing to the improvement.
Another big gripe with the Q90s that seems to be addressed is music. I had the audiologist program the Music setting into one of my program slots and I also had her remove all noise reduction and Soundrecover. Music is much, much better than the Q90s. I’ve tested it out listening to music, listening to music on the ComPilot Air II and playing the guitar. I’ve even tried it listening to music in the car with lots of highway noise and there is a significant improvement. The audiologist did have to boost the bass and midrange for the Music program a bit on my last visit but its now sounding quite good. Its a bit tricky to get it dialled in perfectly because the settings you need for speech recognition are different than the settings you want for music. It would be easier if the App on your phone let you tweak the frequencies a bit vs. having to keep going back to the audiologist but this is a step in the right direction.
There are lots of little improvements too. Everything from much smoother automatic transitioning between the various automatic programs and cleaner noise reduction in noisy situations. Listening in the car is a good example of a subtle but good improvement that isn’t obvious but is definitely better.
The ComPilot Air II operates very similarly to the original ComPilot. Its smaller size and absence of the annoying wire means you can stow it in your pants pocket and keep it on you at all times. I like the way you just clip it to your shirt when needed and pocket it after a call. On the downside, you need to keep it rather high up on your neck as it starts to crackle and drop when it gets too far from the hearing aids or if you turn your head too far in one direction. On the positive side, you can walk at least 30 feet away from your phone and it maintains a good connection with your phone via bluetooth. I still haven’t figured out how to turn off all the annoying notification beeps/messages from my Android phone but once I get that figured out, all should be good. The ComPilot Air II has one new feature that is quite useful vs. my original Com Pilot. If you are talking on the phone in a noisy environment with the Com Pilot Air II and you are having trouble hearing because of noise leaking in via the hearing aid microphones, you can hold down the Volume down button on the Com Pilot Air II for a few seconds and this turns down the gain on the hearing aid microphones only. Great feature for talking in noisy places like restaurants and airports.
Those are my first impressions after one week of use. I will post another update as more things occur to me.