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Hearing is believing – A first “ear” snapshot of performance across manufacturers

Majority of listeners agree that Phonak has the best hearing performance.

At Phonak it is important that we understand the landscape of hearing aid manufacturers in our industry ‒ Where do we stand? What do real listeners think of the sound quality provided by different hearing aid manufacturers on the market today?

To answer this question, it was necessary to find an unbiased way for listeners to compare sound quality and performance across manufacturers in the same conditions and listening environments. The truth of the matter is that it is extremely difficult for audiologists and hearing aid users to listen to multiple hearing aids in the same conditions, in a side-by-side type of comparison.

To fulfill this need and allow the opportunity for any listener to experience these side-by-side comparisons, Hearing is Believing was created. This method involves the use of a tool called MUSHRA (Multiple User Stimulus with Hidden Reference Anchor), initially used outside the field of audiology to compare sound quality, now repurposed for this use.

To prepare the Hearing is Believing listening experience, three to four of the newest, premium devices from competitors —as well as our premium device—are programmed, each according to the recommended manufacturer fitting formula for first-time users with a flat, 35dB hearing loss. (A mild hearing loss is chosen so that the recordings can be listened to, and judged, by normal hearing listeners).

Once the devices are programmed, with all gain settings and acoustic parameters programmed equivalently, they are put on the acoustic test mannequin, KEMAR, in various challenging listening situations (noisy restaurant, music, streaming of various media types). The output of the hearing aids are recorded, and after accounting for the acoustics of KEMAR’s ears and the headphones used for listening, these recordings are now available for comparison, and are loaded into the interface for testing. (See below)

Example of instructions given at Hearing is Believing demonstration

For the Hearing is Believing demonstration, each sound recording is presented in a blinded, randomized fashion to the participants to judge which sound sample is considered “best”, ”middle” and “worst”.

This method is simple in theory, because the recordings are created from the hearing aids themselves. In this way the sound from each hearing aid is completely unaltered and is being heard as though each individual is wearing each pair of hearing aids on his or her own ears. The challenging part comes when we consider that each manufacturer’s hearing aids need to be programmed equivalently, including coupling, experience level, hearing loss, and program selection.

A particular strength of this demonstration, in addition to being double-blinded, is the ability to make immediate back-to-back comparisons. This is a unique experience that can be beneficial to audiologists in understanding the implications of fitting recommendations, but also hearing aid users, who may never hear multiple manufacturers in such a comparison.

Results taken from Hearing is Believing demonstration at EUHA 2016 Congress in Hannover, Germany.

What participants receive in the end is a clear impression about the device sound quality and performance offered by each manufacturer. This provides a fun, informative, and unbiased way to see which products are subjectively preferred when placed into these real-world scenarios.

Due to the value and flexibility of the Hearing is Believing experience, it is anticipated that this will be offered for years to come, as technologies change. Keep a look out for Hearing is Believing at future audiology conferences, the best way to experience the differences between hearing aid manufacturers and technologies, first-hand!

Phonak HQ recently conducted double-blinded sound quality tests to evaluate sound samples recorded through Phonak Audéo B and two premium devices from competitors. Here is a summary of their results:

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12 thoughts on “Hearing is believing – A first “ear” snapshot of performance across manufacturers

    1. Were all the tests and data collection performed by Phonak employees? Can you recommend any other double blind studies that I can refer to done by independent investigators? I know of none in the industry.

      1. These types of “Hearing is Believing” investigations have been done across hundreds of participants all over the world. We have done large-scale data collection at conferences and trainings, and smaller-scale data collection, internally, to investigate a particular feature or processing scheme. This is obviously the benefit of a double-blinded listening study…anyone can participate! Simply put, yes, non-Phonak employees are frequently the participants of these investigations. You can see above, for example, the results from the EUHA 2016 Congress is comprised of non-Phonak participants.

        In terms of these types of subjective sound quality assessments, there have been studies completed at SenseLab in Denmark, an independent research lab. These are also very carefully executed, double-blinded listening studies. I will add a link for you.

  1. I wonder if there is a way to totally exclude humans from the tests. Put simply: Can a standardized hearing test be given to each brand of hearing aid and can each hearing aid be electronically monitored to see which sounds they pick up and which sounds they do not pick up. I would think this may be possible today with all the advanced electronics we have available. What say you?

    1. This is a great point. Yes, we could measure each hearing aid electroacoustically to determine which hearing aid picks up the most sounds in terms of bandwidth and dynamic range. There are even objective measurements of sound quality that can be performed with no human input, whatsoever.

      The main purpose of this particular “Hearing is Believing” paradigm, however, is to determine the “human response” and preference between these hearing aids. At the end of the day, we may find that one hearing aid type picks up sound at the lowest levels, for example, but we don’t necessarily know if this is better or worse in terms of subjective preference on the ears of listeners.

      This test was designed to get that purely subjective feedback- the culmination of everything the hearing aid is providing to the listener- to determine which ultimately sounds “best.”

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. I used to rely almost exclusively on Phonak for my patients. That has changed because of changes that Phonak has instituted. I now use Phonak for about 50% of my patients. First, the elimination of the superPower Plus receiver (with waxtrap) and the introduction of the ultrapower receiver (without waxtrap) have limited the number of patient’s for whom I recommend Naida instruments. I simply am unable to justify use of a receiver/cShell that does not incorporate a waxtrap for severe hearing impairments. Second, the discontinuation of soft cShells (for whatever reason) has prompted me to use manufacturers who continue to provide those for patients requiring soft shells. Sound quality matters little if a patient is unable to maintain the fitting or if the patient experiences discomfort on placement of the instrument.

  3. Who dertermines the inefficient/efficient programing of a hearing aid, is it the patient, audiologist or HIS

    I have simply asked this question due to the fact that the audiologist/HIS claim they do …..from my end as phonak advocate….it is unfair since I own my ears and disability.

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