The word digital is fast becoming the antecedent to almost every device, and involvement in any sensory experience is now almost wireless. Digital hearing aids come as no surprise to the market of digital technology and software. This article will discuss digital hearing aids and what they are with a focus on Nano Hearing Aids, as well as various reviews and academic-based research of Nano and other brands of digital hearing aids.
Defining Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids
Hearing loss can occur due to various reasons; it can be age-related, damage caused to the inner ear canal, injuries, certain medications, or loud noises. There are three types of hearing loss:
This can occur when the sensory cells in the inner ear, referred to as hair cells, are damaged.
This hearing loss occurs when sound waves fail to transmit through the outer or middle ear, or sometimes both. Fluid in the middle ear, earwax, or a punctured eardrum can cause this.
This is a combination of sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.
What are Digital Hearing Aids?
Hearing loss can be treated with the use of hearing aids, which are ‘sound-amplifying’ devices. Among the different styles of hearing aids, there are also two different types, namely, analog and digital hearing aids, which are responsible for the amplification of sound.
Before we describe digital hearing aids it is important to have a foundational understanding of how hearing aids work. According to the US Food and Drug Administration hearing aids are composed of the following: a microphone for picking up sound, an amplifier to make sounds louder, a miniature loudspeaker that enables the sound to travel and be received by the ear canal, and batteries for the electric parts of the hearing aid.
In addition to this, hearing aids can have different designs and features based on the needs of the user, there are several different styles: Behind-the-ear (BTE), ‘Mini’ BTE (On-the-ear),
In-the-ear (ITE), In-the-canal (ITC), and Completely-in-the-canal (CIC). Optional features can be inserted to enhance the efficacy of a hearing aid, for example, Directional Microphones, which helps with sound coming from a specific area, T-coils or a Telephone switch, which allows one to hear better when speaking on the telephone, and Direct Audio Inputs, which allows one to plug in a remote microphone or FM assistive listening system as well as connect to other devices like a computer or TV.
Another important consideration is whether or not the hearing aid will be analog or digital; analog hearing aids convert incoming sound waves (whether it’s noise or speech-related sounds) into electrical signals, which are then amplified, some can be programmed for different environments with assistance from a microchip.
Analog hearing aids are less common compared to digital ones, which convert sound waves to ‘digital signals’ or ‘numerical codes’ (making complete copies of the sound coming in), which are then amplified – it can process and convert sounds that are more complicated when amplified, for example background noises. Digital hearing aids can also be programmed in more ways that are specific to the loss of hearing.
Apart from digital hearing aids, there are other types of hearing aids that can be implanted in the inner ear, which increases the transmission of sound vibrations, for example Middle Ear Implants (MEI) that attach to a bone on the middle ear, and Bone-anchored Hearing Aids (BAHA) that attach to the bone behind the ear, the disadvantage to these implants are that they require surgery.
Nano and Technology for Hearing Aids
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, nanotechnology is defined as the ‘manipulation of materials on an atomic or molecular scale’, but what does this have to do with hearing aids? Technology is increasingly being used to assist with advancing not only the efficiency, but also the affordability of hearing aids; as the world is becoming more connected, smarter and smaller, the term ‘nano’ is quite apt and does not exclude hearing aids.
The Hearing Aid Market
Nano Hearing Aids
Although the term nano refers to technology at a micro level, companies like Nano Hearing Aids (launched in 2017) offer hearing aids with micro and smarter technology and aim to make it affordable for more people.
Choosing the right hearing device will depend on specific hearing loss needs, and ‘smart’ is maybe not always the best option, however there is more than one option from Nano that will fulfil hearing aid needs.
Reviews of Nano Hearing Aids
Nano Hearing Aids offer various types of hearing aid packages, for example, the Nano RX2000, Nano X2, Nano X2 Recharge, and the newer Nano Sigma. Nano’s Hearing Aids come with additional specials like buy 1 and get 1 free, including a 45-day money back guarantee, free shipping, and simple returns.
The Nano RX2000, priced at $397 from $1289 (on sale), is almost invisible, measuring in at 35mm in height and 16mm in width; it can be charged using a Micro USB Charger with approximately 16 hours of battery life, it has an up and down volume button and a program button for environment control. This is a Behind-the-Ear (BTE) model and is suited to fit in the ear with comfort.
The Nano X2, $697 from $2997 (on sale), enables noise-cancelling technology with four settings that adjust to the environment and different frequencies including television and everyday frequencies; in addition to these it also has two directional microphones that allow noises to be picked up more accurately, including volume control. The ear tubes can be adjusted to fit any ear size and just like the RX2000 it is small and ‘nearly invisible’.
The Nano X2 Recharge, priced at $797 from $2997 (on sale) is a similar model to the Nano X2, but this hearing aid has rechargeable batteries that come in a portable charging case; the battery lasts for up to 12 hours and charges for approximately three hours, the upside of using a device like this is that it will save on restocking of new batteries. Nano uses hearing aid chip technology, called ‘Audion 4’, which is also used in numerous other hearing aid models. The X2R comes with two directional microphones and four settings that adjust to the environment, these include: conversations (one-on-one), television, restaurants, and the outdoors (including noise-reduction). This model is also behind-the-ear design and ‘as thin as a pencil’.
The Nano Sigma is the newer model in the Nano Hearing Aid devices, it’s priced at $797 from $2997 (on sale); it comes with new technologies that include a wireless feature that can be controlled from a smartphone with Nano’s Mobile App. This hearing aid allows you to take a hearing test from the mobile app, which will adjust the hearing aid accordingly to the specific hearing needs. The device is easy to use and connects via bluetooth and you can choose between four sound environments (conversations, television, restaurants, and outdoors), different frequencies, and adjust volume as needed. This model is also a Behind-the-Ear design and offers a degree of invisibility when worn.
Why Nano Hearing Aids?
Nano Hearing Aids offer considerable bonuses with their purchases, including discounted prices that make it affordable for more people, in addition to these, monthly payment plans are also an option for those who can’t afford the full price upfront. As mentioned, Nano also offers a money-back guarantee and an Elite Protection Plan with a year-long protection for any losses that might occur during that time, customers can call a toll-free number to enquire if they pre-qualify for online financing.
What makes Nano’s Hearing Aids more affordable is that they ‘cut out the middleman’, in other words, additional costs that would go to rent, doctors, and audiologists would not be needed. Usually hearing aids cost between $1000 to $6000 (if you need an aid for both ears that is) and most medical insurance plans do not cover the costs of hearing aids that’s why Nano ensures that they take care of their clients by offering more than just a hearing aid device, but everything needed to make the hearing aid device work at its best.
The ‘Big Six’ Hearing Aid Manufacturers
Apart from Nano Hearing Aids there are other competitors on the market, below we will take a look at Costco Hearing Aids and MD Hearing Aids, however it is important to note why hearing aids are sold with the efforts to be more affordable.
The ‘Big Six’ in terms of hearing aids are companies like Widex, Signia, Oticon, Resound, Starkey, and Phonak; these companies are large manufactures and increase their wholesale prices due to manufacturing costs, including costs for employees and research and development; a recent article about the costs of hearing aids discuss that these manufacturers up their prices ‘because they can’ and they know their competitors are also manufacturing hearing aids.
Reviews of Costco Hearing Aids
Costco is the largest private provider of hearing aids in the US; along with hearing aids they also provide free hearing aid cleaning, appointments, and free warranty periods with loss and damage cover.
The Kirkland Signature 9.0 is a digital hearing aid kit available from Costco that sells for $1,499.99, this hearing aid kit can connect to iPhone and Android Smartphones and is ‘Bluetooth Capable’.
Hearing aids from Costco cater for mild to severe hearing loss and can be available as open fit, behind the ear, in the ear, and in the ear canal. Batteries
Reviews of MD Hearing Aids
MDHearingAid offers FDA-approved hearing aids with a focus for affordability; it was started by an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Similar to Nano Hearing Aids, MDHearingAid cuts out the middleman and sells directly to the customer; offering home deliveries too. Without needing to make appointments, clients can contact an in-house audiologist to determine the best hearing aids after doing a free hearing test online, in addition to this one-on-one customer support is available over the phone.
Best-selling model, the MDHearingAid AIR sells at $399.92 for a pair, and, similar to Nano Hearing Aids, it comes with a 45-day risk free trial and free shipping. This model is built to aid in noise reduction and can be set for four different environments (setting include quiet, noisy, and social). It also includes a ‘no whistle’ feature to prevent the interference from another hearing aid.
The MDHearingAid VOLT sells at $599.99 for a pair bundle, this model is rechargeable (with a magnetic charger) with dual microphones that allow a better focus on specific sounds while cancelling surrounding noises. Similar to their previous model there is also a whistle reduction feature and is small to easily fit inside the ear (almost invisibly). Both models provide tubes and tips that are shaped like the ear canal with various sizes, as well as being able to be stored in glass cases.
The MDHearingAid CORE sells at $999.99 for a pair bundle and offers ‘smarter’ capabilities via the MDHearingAid App for smartphones and tablets; it connects via bluetooth to a smart device that personalizes the specific hearing accordingly – this option cuts out the need to visit an audiologist.
This model also adapts to different environments with four audio settings, similar to the previous models it has two directional microphones that allows for noise cancellation and sound enhancement, as well as a no-whistle feature.
Hearing Aid Scams
According to a recent article by The Hearing Review, approximately 4.23 million hearing aid units sold in 2019, this increased by 6.5% from sales in 2018. With such a large amount of hearing aids being sold in the US it is important to be aware of hearing aid scams, more so because the target market is usually the elderly population who are in need and on a budget.
Avoiding Hearing Aid Scams
According to Signia-Hearing there are top three things to avoid when it comes to hearing aid scams:
- Avoid short trial periods
Trial periods for hearing aids should be around 30 to 90 days, it is advised for people, when they test a specific hearing aid before buying, to ensure that the test period is longer than 30 days because it takes a length of time to see results from the hearing aid used and to determine whether or not it’s the right fit.
- Avoid sellers that are too pushy
When trying to buy a new hearing aid it is best to be aware of when salespeople become too rushed in terms of wanting to sell a hearing device. When buying a hearing device it is best to follow the correct procedures, in other words, find out about a hearing test first and what device will be the best fit according to ear shape and hearing needs.
- Avoid buying hearing aids online / mail-orders
It is advised to opt out of buying hearing devices online as there is never ‘one size fits all’ – a hearing aid specialist will be able to help to determine which hearing aid will fit and work best according to specific needs. Although there are many online options to purchase hearing aids it is advised to remain discerning of who is selling them and how hearing tests can be done – ‘don’t let online advertisements mislead you’.
Academic Research on Hearing Aids
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) research on ‘computer-aided technology’ is being done to advance the uses of hearing aids, which includes noise reduction and sound transmission.
In a recent research study from The Hearing Journal states that of the global population 61% are mobile internet users (statistics from 2019) and by 2025 this figure is estimated to increase by 79%, but what does this imply for hearing aid devices? More and more hearing aid devices can be accessed via mobile applications, which customize hearing according to the specific needs, however there is still ongoing research in this field to determine if the use of smartphones are more beneficial than traditional uses of hearing aids.
In a study to test the efficacy of hearing devices on smartphones various conclusions were found, for example, users stated that they did not prefer to use the mobile app over the actual hearing aid device, in addition, performance on android phones were slower than that of iOS with increased signal delays.
Hearing aid devices are following the rapid technological changes we are witnessing today, as more companies cut out the ‘middleman’ it is becoming more affordable to own state-of-the-art hearing aid devices, knowing that they will provide for any hearing loss needs. Up and coming companies like Nano Hearing Aids are quickly placing the power in the consumer’s hands by providing smart hearing devices that are easily accessible; people can now upload and customize their hearing aid device on their smartphones and do the necessary hearing tests to determine what hearing aids are best for them all without having to spend their fortunes on additional costs.