Hearables improve what you see as well as what you hear

Connected hearing aids make everything better, not just your hearing. From MNN, February, 2017

My three favorite things: My hearables, my IPhone 7+ and Keanu Reeves. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

A few months back I wrote about the latest hearables I was wearing — that’s the trendy name for hearing aids that I prefer because they’re so much more than hearing aids. Lots of people are playing with hearables these days, particularly since the iPhone 7 came out and with it, the AirPods. I’m wearing Starkey Halo 2 hearables that connect via bluetooth to my new iPhone 7+ phone.

My daughter thought I was wasting my money getting a new, bigger phone when I had a perfectly good 2-year-old iPhone 6, but she didn’t understand the true nature of the connection between my phone and my ears. She moves from her phone to her iPad, but I use my phone as the control panel for my life. The Halos only connect to one device at a time, and switching is a time-consuming pain, so you really want to stick with one device.

The Halos are terrific hearing aids; I can be in a crowded, noisy room and clearly understand what the people I’m talking to are saying. (A big complaint of most people who are having trouble hearing.) In the classroom I can actually understand my students without them having to ask every question twice. Digby Cook, on his site Hearing Loss Journal, notes:

The so called speech-to-noise ratio remains the most challenging technical problem for all hearing aid makers. None that I know of has completely mastered the job of isolating human speech and separating it from background noise but the Halo2s come pretty damn close.

But for me, it’s the connection to the phone and the control it gives me that is the most wonderful feature; the larger screen of the 7+ adds a whole new dimension. It’s big enough that you can enjoy a video on it, and I’ve come to prefer watching on the little screen through the hearables vs. on the big screen through the speakers, even though I could turn up the volume (and we have a great sound system). In fact, I previously didn’t watch many videos and often had trouble really getting into TV shows. Now I’m watching more video than I ever did before because I can hear them so clearly, whereas before it often was muddy. (And I don’t even bother anyone else in the house.)

In fact, having lousy hearing and great hearables can be an advantage at times; I have a whole level of adjustment that people with good hearing do not. I can turn off the background when I don’t want it. In the morning when I’m at the gym, I can get on the treadmill and turn off the outside world — the noise of the machinery and the other people simply disappears and all I hear is my soundtrack. I have a volume control on my head as well as on my video.

And when I’m working in a noisier environment, I simply turn down the background. I can dial up silence.

Sometimes the dog won’t stop barking (all the time the dog won’t stop barking) and I can just tune him out. In fact, I’m trying to use the software to design a listening environment where I can hear everything except the barking dog frequencies, but alas, the program doesn’t give me the fine tuning for that yet. The best I can do is what I call “dog mode,” which drops the treble and the volume.

A long time coming

It took me a couple of years before I broke down and got my first pair of hearing aids. I couldn’t understand my mumbling daughter, and my wife complained I was getting cranky. And as Susan Seliger wrote in the New York Times a few years ago,

“The No. 1 thing I get from patients is ‘I hear what I want to hear,’ ” said Dr. Linda S. Remensnyder, an audiologist in Libertyville, Ill. “What they don’t understand is that in order to be fully engaged in life, you have to be fully engaged everywhere.”

Engaged? I am now. In fact, I’m pretty much married to my phone and my hearables.

Selinger goes on to note that “hearing aids still carry a stigma. “Men think, ‘It’s a sign of weakness,’ and women think, ‘It’s showing my age” ” But she wrote that article before the connected Halo2s and the Resound Linx were developed; it’s like describing the benefits of smartphones when everyone is using old Motorola RAZRs. It’s not a sign of weakness or showing my age, it’s a sign of being wired and connected. And unlike the people who buy the Bragi Dash, Nuheara IQbuds and of course, the Apple AirPods, nobody can tell I’m wearing these, and I don’t have to recharge every three hours. (I do go through a lot of batteries at a buck a pop, but rechargeables are beginning to come onto the market).

So what has really changed since I last wrote about these? The realization that I not only can hear better as the default when they’re on, but that I can chose not to hear — to turn off the world and revel in relative silence. It’s no longer a curse but a choice.

Also, the realization that there is such a close relationship between audio and video. With the big screen on the 7+, I can seriously get into a movie or laugh at Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live,” making me even better connected than I was before. I’m surprised at what I’ve been missing with my eyes, let alone my ears.

So for those avoiding getting hearing aids because they’re a “sign of weakness” and a “stigma”? Please. For me, they keep opening new worlds, and they’re just getting better every day.

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