The latest hearing aids can help compensate for noise and even for the muffling effects of COVID masks
By Caitlin Finlay
Every January, the Consumer Technology Association trade show in Las Vegas (once named the Consumer Electronics Show, it’s now known simply as CES) showcases everything new and innovative from the top tech companies. The 2021 version took place from January 11 to 14—virtually, of course—and among the concepts and gadgets introduced were new developments in hearing-aid technology. One in 10 Canadians has some degree of hearing loss.
Signia, a producer of hearing aids, has introduced a new feature within its Signia app called Face Mask Mode. This new setting will allow hearing-aid wearers to better hear those speaking through a mask—an especially helpful tool these days given the ubiquity of mask-wearing during the coronavirus pandemic and the muffling effect masks have on speech. The mask mode, easily turned on or off at the tap of a button, works with hearing aids to produce cleaner sounds for words and to reduce background noise. Once Face Mask Mode is turned off within the app, the hearing aids revert to their normal settings, balancing surrounding sounds. Face Mask Mode is available on the Signia app for devices featuring iOS 11 or Android 6.0, and is compatible with the Signia hearing aids Pure 312 X, Pure Charge&Go X, and the Styletto X.
Another app that aims to help separate speech from background noise is HeardThat. The free app is available for both iOS and Android devices and is meant to act as an add-on to hearing aids. The app must be connected to a headset or hearing aids, and the cellphone must point towards the person with whom you’re conversing for the best results. This app would likely work well, enhancing speech while reducing background noise, in a restaurant setting, where you can place your phone on the table.
Oticon Inc. has launched a new hearing aid called Oticon More, which is designed to improve speech processing and understanding, and in particular the processing of speech in a noisy environment. In a sense, the device listens for the user: it features a deep neural network—computer technology that allows the device to process speech much as the human brain does, so that it “understands” words rather than merely amplifying sounds. The aid can connect to iPhones and Android devices and be controlled via the Oticon ON app to adjust volume, check battery level, and track the hearing aid if it gets lost.
Another hearing aid with an interesting array of listening modes is the Kite personal sound amplifier produced by Incus. It has three listening modes: one for focused one-on-one conversations, one that reduces background noise during conversations in a group setting, and another that reduces unwanted background noise while allowing for environmental awareness. Though the device is currently available only in Hong Kong, Macao, and mainland China, Incus hopes make it more widely available soon.