Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Medicine Technology

Ask Slashdot: Hearing Aids That Directly Connect To Smart Phones? 183

mtcups writes "I am a musician/IT guy whose hearing has suffered from VERY LOUD guitar players, (yes I do use earplugs now, but too late), and am faced with the outrageously priced hearing aids $4.5K+/pair and was appalled at their lack of integration with smart phones. It seems obvious to me that I should be able to control the hearing aids via a smart phone interface so I can shape the profile for different environments, and also control features like 'hearing loops' and Bluetooth connections. I have done some research, but my guess is that the hearing aid companies want proprietary systems and don't want a smartphone interface since they would loose control and it would allow for competition for cheaper & better programs. I am not convinced that a combination of good ear-buds, good microphone(s), and a smartphone interface couldn't totally replace these overpriced solutions."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: Hearing Aids That Directly Connect To Smart Phones?

Comments Filter:
  • iPhone (Score:5, Informative)

    by mr100percent ( 57156 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:57AM (#41396511) Homepage Journal

    Apple has already made iPhones compatible with hearing aids [apple.com] and appears to be looking to refine it with "made for iPhone" aids [appleinsider.com].

  • by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @03:58AM (#41396517) Homepage Journal

    If it's just a racket, why not buy the cheap hearing aids you see advertised all over the place? Less than $200 each.

    I'll tell you why: because they're crap. They uniformly amplify the entire sound spectrum, which means that sounds in the range of your hearing that are not impaired, driving you crazy with feedback and overamplification. Real hearing aids selectively amplify the frequencies you need. Mine (which I only paid $2k for) don't actually make sound like they're amplifying sound, more like restoring missing texture.

    Mine not only contain sophisticated DSP hardware, they have small radios so they can talk to each other and work together. If you think you can build something like that for less than $1K a unit (which also has to cover the cost of fitting and programming) then go for it.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @04:07AM (#41396547)

    So you are right that some good mics, earbuds, and a DSP could mostly replace hearing aids, with the right programming and calibration. The issue would be size. Those expensive hearing aids fit all that in or around your ear, and get pretty good battery life to boot.

    So sure, I could design you something using off the shelf components, but it would be large. It takes some pretty advanced manufacturing to pack it all in to that tiny a package.

    You are right that tunability would be a good feature. I'm not sure why they don't have it, may be a mixture of regulations (medical devices have pretty tight restrictions on them), anti-competitiveness, and just lack of adaptation.

    So if you want to geek out and roll your own, go for it. Just realize it will end up being a bit bulky. In terms of software implementation it depends on what you want. Good hearing aids work like multi-band dynamics compressors/limiters. They bring up the frequencies you have problems hearing, but make sure to compress things so that loud frequencies don't cause more damage. If you are doing it on a device with a lot of power you might go multi-stage, do noise reduction, EQ, multi-band compression, and brick-wall limiting in that order. That would give you sound superior to any hearing aid out there, and require a fairly beefy processor (by mobile standards).

  • by Rastloser ( 1364593 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @04:09AM (#41396557)

    At the last Chaos Communication Congress, Helga Velroyen discussed this and other topics around hearing aid evolution. You can find her talk at ftp://ftp.ccc.de/congress/2011/mp4-h264-HQ/28c3-4669-en-bionic_ears_h264.mp4 [ftp.ccc.de] and a corresponding blog project at http://blog.hackandhear.com/ [hackandhear.com] . While I do not have to rely on hearing aids and thus have not looked very deeply into her activities, I get the impression that she is one of the most knowledgeable persons regarding this topic in the European hacker scene.

  • IHearYou (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2012 @05:14AM (#41396851)


    You can program/tweak these yourself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2012 @05:50AM (#41396989)

    They're expensive because the cartel that makes them got them classified as medical devices decades ago. There are all kinds of legal and regulatory hoops you have to jump thru before you can call something a "hearing aid".

    Being an acoustic engineer with knowledge of these matters it sounds to me (no pun intended) that you do not quite appreciate the engineering work that goes into developing these aids, apart from the extensive testing a medical device goes through to make sure it does no further damage to the user.

    You can buy a bluetooth earpiece for $20-$80 that has the exact same parts - condenser mic, speaker element, battery, and opamp/EQ circuit - and has vastly more functionality, including the bluetooth radio system and spiffy LED indicator lights.

    My fiancée has a hearing aid because of some extraordinal mechanical damage in the middle ear and that kind of damage can not be remedied with a "normal" aid, into which catagory your bluetooth headset would fall. Granted, she wears a "normal" hearing aid now, but that's just because she didn't feel like a permanent titanium screw in her scull was what she wanted (see. www.cochlear.com for examples), she gets by using what she has but the quality of sound it delivers into her inner ear is not very good, putting it mildly. I have tested them myself and it's like having a bucket over your head listening through them (and these are quality ones). It is precisely this quality of sound that is one of the most expensive parts. It does not suffice just to amp up and amplify whatever frequencies you have lost, it is, in the end, a question of the quality of the soundsource (i.e. the speaker unit) in the aid that will be the determining factor. Quite frankly, these tiny speakers are just so good because of their mechanical function that depending on your specific damage they just might not be what delivers a natural soundscape into your ear.

    Hearing aids are configured with an equalization curve tailored the the wearer's specific hearing loss, but it's not like there are a million different kinds of loss. It's mostly "top down" according to age and environment. Only newborns can hear 20khz. We lose a few thousand before we hit puberty and pretty much everyone loses everything above 12k by their 30's. (by "lose" I mean response is down a considerable number of decibels from our factory abilities). Impact-type noise from construction, artillery, or rock bands can punch holes in what's left, especially in the voice frequencies, but it's not like it's DNA-complicated or something. A simple hearing test can identify your remaining response curve in a few minutes and it isn't going to be that much different from the guy on the next bulldozer on the left or the guitar player on the other side of the stage.

    There are exactly three types of hearing loss you can suffer from. Damage to your middle ear, inner ear or to your nerve that goes into your brain. How these present themselves from person to person is, as you might guess, highly individual. And this is where the audiologist comes in.

    There's no reason an ear doctor or audiologist couldn't give you a "prescription" response curve when you go in for a hearing test that you could load into a device that costs two figures (three if you want it to be super tiny) yourself with an app of some kind. The 4-5-figure price tags are simple price gouging by a "medical" cartel.

    Your doc could also give you a scalpel and offer you the option of removing that cancer yourself, for just 2 figures instead of 4-5. Taking the expertice out of the hands of common laymen by medical staff is, in my opinion, a nice gesture to keep them from messing things up even more. If the user could change settings of EQ or volume, there is no guarantee that he would not induce further damage to himself due to lack of knowledge or even just lust for experiments.

    To summarize: Loss of hearing is not a

  • Re:Mod parent up (Score:4, Informative)

    by davide marney ( 231845 ) <davide...marney@@@netmedia...org> on Thursday September 20, 2012 @05:58AM (#41397017) Journal
    An interesting and informative blog. She points to America Hears [americahears.com] as one of the very few vendors who sell a software interface to their hearing aids so users can self-tune.
  • Re:Fully agree.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @06:27AM (#41397111) Homepage

    I use Phonak hearing aids, they have an external Bluetooth gateway called iCom which is an small box with an induction loop you have to wear as a necklace. The sound quality is very good when using the phone and both hearing aids are in usage when using the Bluetooth link. This is a big plus in my case since my capability to decipher the spoken language increase significantly when using both ears vs any single ear.

    As mentioned, the reason the external box is required (in fact it is almost a battery only) is the required power would drain your hearing aids batteries very quickly if you have to power the Bluetooth chip.

    However, with the new BT v4 low-power for medical devices, it is likely this will change in the few next years as the manufacturer will incorporate the new BT chip and convert to the new standard.

    The necklace type gateways are better than nothing, however the design could have been much better. In the case the Phonak device, the material the wire was covered with harden with the time and eventually the wire simply break by lack of flexibility at the junction with the plug. I had to replace it at least once a year and the replacement cannot be done by the customer, that means you have to send the box to the company and be deprived of it for about a week. This should have been made field replaceable. At least the audioprothesist could have done the replacement without delay.

  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Thursday September 20, 2012 @06:44AM (#41397171) Homepage

    These are toys, not real hearing aids. They just amplify the sound, it's like what I got 30 years ago. Even some of these are what my mother got 60 years ago and never really used because of the bad quality of the sound. I'm sorry, be this isn't serious stuff. Also, none of these are having BT except one model which is just a regular headset/earpiece, nothing to do with hearing aids again.

    Here, in my country, the government is dealing directly with manufacturers to get the best price they can for hearing aids since they are provided for free to people with an audiologist/ORL prescription. They ensure to have medium quality devices that will last at least 6 years. The manufacturers are required to guarantee and do the repairs for the whole duration of the contract. There is two styles of hearing aids available: the analog hearing aids and the digital sound processor hearing aids. They are not the top of line products, but they are good products. The pricing is around 700-1000$/pair of hearing aids. Considering they will last six years and they quality is much more better than these toys, I think the pricing is competitive.

    For the Bluetooth gateway, I had to pay 400$ for it. This is exagerated given the price of the BT chips. The hearing aids themselves are coupled with the gateway via an induction loop and a radioMF signal, so the hearing aids themselves have nothing special, the coupling with BT is all handled by the gateway.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?