Bluetooth connectivity is everywhere these days and we often rely on it in our homes, in our cars, and in our places of work. Wireless hearing aids are no exception to this trend, with Bluetooth connectivity and compatibility rapidly becoming one of the most important and most touted features in new hearing devices on the market. This wireless technology has made a major difference in the functionality and convenience of hearing aids and similar hearing instruments that make phone calls easier, and manufacturers are taking advantage of the ways in which Bluetooth connectivity can make hearing aids more powerful tools than ever before. We will take a look at the origins of Bluetooth, how it was introduced into hearing aid technology, and what we can expect to see more of in the future.
What Is Bluetooth Technology?
Putting it simply, Bluetooth technology allows our electronic devices to communicate with one another wireless. Data is transferred between two (or more) devices via radio waves (a Bluetooth signal). The technology was developed so that the high-frequency transfer can be achieved without interference or potential security risks. Many of our smartphones, tablets, televisions, music players and other personal electronic devices are now equipped with this groundbreaking technology.
Typically, Bluetooth is designed to work in relatively short distances, in areas of up to around 30 feet. Some of the more powerful Bluetooth devices can communicate in distances of up to 300 feet or more.
While some may confuse Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology, they have two different functions: Bluetooth is intended to transfer relatively small amounts of data over short distances, whereas Wi-Fi transfers much larger amounts of data over much larger distances. The former has a low-security risk and uses little power while the latter is typically tied to more elaborate security measures and uses much more power.
Bluetooth has not been without its “growing pains” since it was first introduced: most users will know the frustration sometimes experienced in trying to pair two electronic devices or the drain on a personal device battery. However, in recent years Bluetooth technology has improved to address these issues with better and more efficient connectivity as well as reduced battery drain.
It was certainly only a matter of time before hearing aid manufacturers took advantage of this exciting technology and harnessed its power to make hearing aids more user-friendly than ever before.
How Does Bluetooth Work with Hearing Aids?
The battery in a hearing aid is so small that it could not generate enough power for Bluetooth on its own. The workaround discovered by hearing aid manufacturers initially involved assisted listening devices, or streamers, that act as a sort of link between the hearing aid and the Bluetooth-enabled phone or other electronic device. The newest developments from tech giant Apple have brought us a patented Bluetooth connectivity where some hearing aids can now communicate directly to iOS. Apple’s exciting and cutting-edge technology means connectivity is possible without complete stress on the battery power and the compatible hearing aids are marketed and sold as “Made for iPhone.”
Bluetooth technology creates many ways for users to streamline and improve their experiences while wearing hearing aids. For example, if an individual with hearing loss wanted to listen to music while running, they would have to remove the hearing aid and use ear buds. Thanks to Bluetooth connections (and streamers), the hearing aid can become a music player, streaming the music from another electronic device. If two hearing aids are worn, it is possible to stream the music to one ear only, leaving the other hearing aid open to pick up other sounds coming from the environment. Multiple electronic devices can also be streamed simultaneously. For example, while streaming a movie from a tablet, you can still stay connected to a smartphone. The streamer will automatically pause the tablet’s audio when a call comes in on your smartphone, making it easy and convenient for the wearer to seamlessly shift between multiple personal devices.
Because some hearing aids are simply too small for external controls, the ability to make adjustments with a streamer, such as adjusting volume and other settings, is also particularly useful.
Are There Any Drawbacks with Bluetooth Hearing Aids?
Bluetooth hearing aids have been known to provide outstanding sound quality and a number of convenient features; they are ideal for those who wear hearing aids full time. However, for those who only use hearing aids intermittently and in certain environments, the added Bluetooth technology may not be necessary. They are more expensive and also have an impact on battery life and, in these cases, the benefits may not outweigh the costs. When working with your hearing care specialist, you can review the pros and cons of Bluetooth connectivity to determine the best possible hearing aid for your needs.
What Are the Best Bluetooth Hearing Aids on the Market?
The hearing aid industry is a constantly evolving and competitive one: manufacturers are always seeking out new technology to improve the experience for users and make the hearing aids as discreet as possible. Finding the best hearing aid for your specific needs and level of hearing loss may take some time and trial and error, and there are certainly budget considerations as well. If you determine along with your hearing care specialist that Bluetooth technology is a “must have” for your hearing aid, here are two popular options you may wish to explore:
- Oticon OPN: a highly rated hearing aid with Made for iPhone direct streaming but is also capable of streaming to Android devices via an accessory piece.
- Phonak Audeo B Direct: one of the newest hearing aids that can stream directly to iPhone as well as Android devices.