by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Years ago, about the time the dinosaurs stopped roaming the earth, I had a cell phone that worked wonderfully well for me. It’s secret was a special integrated amplifier called the “Chaamp” that provided me with more than enough amplification in spite of my severe hearing loss. I loved that cell phone/Chaamp combination and used it for a number of years.
Although it outlived the dinosaurs, I knew its days were numbered as advancing technology was quickly making it obsolete. Thus, I began looking around for a replacement. A Bluetooth headset was obviously the way to go—one that would work with all Bluetooth-equipped cell phones, no matter how fast technology kept changing. Unfortunately for me, there were two major problems. First, the Bluetooth headsets available did not work with hearing aids (they did not have t-coils), and second, they did not work without hearing aids either, as none of them had enough volume for me.
With nothing suitable available, I approached Serene Innovations about my need for such a device—a device that would work with any Bluetooth-equipped cell phone, and that would have the volume I needed when I was not wearing my hearing aids.
Fortunately, Serene Innovations was interested and we worked together for a couple of years to design such a gizmo. I drew up the specifications—a wish list of what I wanted and needed in a Bluetooth cell phone amplifier. Eventually, that all came together and the “HearAll” was born.
While it was in final testing, Verizon suddenly quit supporting my dinosaur cell phone and instantly I was left without a means of hearing on a cell phone. I purchased a new smart phone—an iPhone 5s as it happened—but as I knew, it didn’t have enough volume for me. You can imagine how eagerly I was awaiting the imminent release of the new HearAll Model SA-40 cell phone amplifier that came out a couple of months later.
Not only does the HearAll help me hear on my cell phone, it also has a number of cool features just perfect for hard of hearing people. The HearAll is just like its name says, you can hear all. It is wonderfully versatile, whether you are wearing hearing aids, or just have your “broken” ears to hear with. As a result, if you forget your hearing aids, they break, or you run out of batteries at an importune time, you can still use your cell phone if you have the HearAll with you.
The HearAll is designed, not only for hard of hearing people, but also for hearing people who have to hear under difficult listening conditions. For example, when there is a lot of background noise around, you simply crank up the volume until you can hear over the noise. At the same time, the soft flexible earphone “cup”, when pressed against your ear does a good job of helping keep all the extraneous racket out, again helping you hear better. Furthermore, if you’re like me and need more volume, you typically hold any phone tightly against your ear and the soft flexible “cup” doesn’t hurt your ear like hard plastic tends to do, especially on longer calls.
The HearAll has three different operating modes—handset mode, speakerphone mode and t-coil mode. In handset mode, you just hold it up to your ear like you’d do with any cell phone. With the convenient volume control buttons, you can quickly set the volume to whatever level you need.
Note: the HearAll should have all the volume you need. Unlike most Bluetooth devices, the HearAll provides up to 40 dB of amplification so you’ll be able to hear on your cell phone without straining.
In speakerphone mode you (and those with you) can listen to the caller with both ears—whether you have hearing aids with t-coils or not. Again, the convenient volume control lets you set the volume at the level you need (within reason).
Finally, in t-coil mode, it’s powerful t-coil couples with the t-coils in your hearing aids to let you hear beautiful, clear sound without all the extraneous racket around you affecting your hearing. And because your cell phone is not up by your hearing aids, you never get any interference from your cell phone like you might if your cell phone didn’t have a high enough( M4/T4) interference rating.
A cool feature is that when in t-coil mode the speaker is turned off so no one can ever overhear your conversations. Since we so often have to have a lot of volume in order to hear, any hearing people around us can easily overhear our private conversations. With the HearAll in t-coil mode, your conversations are totally private since you are hearing solely via your t-coil.
Note: in handset mode, just by pressing the earphone cup tightly against your ear, you can also prevent sound escaping so those nearby can’t overhear your conversation as much as before.
Another cool feature is that there is a earphone jack on the HearAll so you can plug in either standard stereo earbuds and hear with both ears (if you are not wearing hearing aids). Alternately, you can plug in devices such as the Music Links, switch your hearing aids to t-coil mode and hear with both ears. (Switch the HearAll into t-coil mode when you use the earphone jack–and again no one will be able to overhead your conversations as the speaker will be turned off.)
Note: hearing with both ears has two decided benefits. First, you can understand speech better than when just hearing with one ear. Thus you don’t have to strain as much, or ask for as many repeats. Second, you can hear better with less volume than you need when listening with one ear. For me, this makes all the difference between whether I get headaches when using the phone or not.
And talking about understanding speech better, the HearAll has a three-position tone control (located on the left side) so you can set it to where you understand speech the best. You can set it to have high-frequency emphasis, mid-range emphasis or low-frequency emphasis depending what sound frequencies you want to boost in order to understand speech better. Set it to whatever works best for you.
Another neat feature is that the HearAll has a mute button. If you want to say something to a nearby person and don’t want the person on the other end of the phone to hear you, simply press the mute button. The mute light will turn green and the person on the other end will be “locked out”. Press the mute button again to turn off the mute function and the green light will go out and you’ll be back in normal talk mode again.
The HearAll works with virtually all cell phones that have Bluetooth capabilities built in whether they are “smart” phones or “stupid” phones. Since most phones have Bluetooth built into them, it is unlikely that you’ll have to go out and get a new phone. And when you do get a new phone in the future, as long as it has Bluetooth built in, it will also work with your HearAll.
In order to use the HearAll with your cell phone, you first need to pair your phone with the HearAll (exactly like you have to pair any other Bluetooth device before you can use it). Pairing is easy. First, turn on the Bluetooth feature on your cell phone. Next, turn on the HearAll. Shortly the ON/STBY and BATT lights will begin alternately flashing green and orange indicating the HearAll is searching for any Bluetooth devices in range. On the screen of your cell phone you should see under Bluetooth devices a new device listed—the model number of the HearAll, namely “SA-40″. Click on the SA-40 on your cell phone and the two devices will now pair. When completed, your phone should say “Connected” beside the SA-40. At the same time, the alternating flashing lights on the HearAll will stop. You are now paired. You don’t have to pair the HearAll again unless you deliberately delete this Bluetooth connection on your cell phone.
Now, whenever your cell phone and HearAll are in range of each other (assuming you have the Bluetooth function activated on your cell phone) your HearAll will automatically pair to your cell phone. The proof of this is that the ON/STBY light will flash green every 6 seconds.
The designed range of Bluetooth devices is 33 feet (10 meters) although many Bluetooth devices I’ve tried wouldn’t work more than 10 or 20 feet away from the paired device. I was pleased to see that the HearAll works well out to the 33 foot designed range.
The HearAll is a wireless Bluetooth device. Thus, you can leave your cell phone on your desk or counter, for example, and be up to 33 feet away from it and still get a strong signal assuming you have an unobstructed line of sight. This distance may be less in buildings with metal in the walls when you do not have an unobstructed line of sight to where your cell phone is.
When you receive an incoming call, both your cell phone and the HearAll ring. If you are away from your cell phone (and still within the 33-foot range of Bluetooth) you may not hear your cell phone ring. Therefore, especially if you are hard of hearing, be sure you leave your HearAll in speakerphone mode with the volume turned up so you will hear it ringing. (In handset mode, the ring volume may be too soft to hear if you have a significant hearing loss.)
To answer an incoming call on the HearAll, just press the talk button (the one with the phone handset icon on it) and the ON/STBY light will change from flashing green every 6 seconds to steady green while the call is in progress. To hang up, press the talk button again and the ON/STBY light will resuming flashing every 6 seconds.
The HearAll is also designed for use in your car as a hands-free phone. It comes with a magnetic visor clip that you slide over the front edge of your sun visor. The HearAll magnetically attaches to the clip. Now you can use it in hands-free (speakerphone) mode if you wear hearing aids or only have a mild to moderate hearing loss and don’t wear hearing aids. I found that for my severe hearing loss, if I’m not wearing my hearing aids, I can’t quite hear/understand the person talking that way. Not an unsurmountable problem. All I did was plug in a pair of earbuds and I could hear very well while driving.
One of the good things about using the HearAll instead of holding your cell phone up to your ear is that you greatly reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation. Yes, you are still exposed to radiation as the HearAll operates in the same frequency band as cell phones, but the power is greatly reduced since it only has to transmit up to 33 feet, not several miles like your cell phone may have to. As a result, if you are concerned about cell phone radiation, using the HearAll is one way to reduce your radiation exposure. (For more on cell phone radiation hazards, see my article “Are Microwave Hearing Devices Slowly ‘Cooking’ Our Kids?“)
The HearAll uses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack so you won’t have to keep replacing dead batteries. When the battery charge is getting low, the orange BATT indicator light will flash continuously to warn you. Recharging the HearAll is simple—just plug the recharging cable into the micro USB port on the lower left side of the HearAll and plug the other end into a A/C wall receptacle. In just 3 or 4 hours it’s battery will be up to full charge, ready to go. While charging, the orange BATT indicator light will stay on. When the battery is fully charged, the BATT indicator light goes out.
Should you ever need to, you can use your HearAll while it is charging. Just plug the charger in and continue using it.. If the battery dies while you are out driving (perhaps you are on a long trip), you can charge it in your car if you have a little power inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter (I always have one in my car) and you have your recharger in the car with you. However, with its high-capacity battery, its unlikely you’ll need to recharge the HearAll in the car as long as you recharge it every night or two.
Standby time for the HearAll is up to 14 days depending on the condition of the battery. (New batteries have more capacity than older batteries. Older batteries slowly lose their capacity as they age.) Talk time is up to 10 hours, again depending on the battery condition.
The HearAll works with Bluetooth cell phones, but it also works with other Bluetooth devices as well. For example, you can use it with your iPad or iPod. Experiment and see what other uses you can find for this wonderful, versatile HearAll.
If you’re now drooling at the thought of using a cell phone like everybody else, here’s how you can get one for yourself—and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg either! Although the regular price of the HearAll is $99.95, you can get it for only $83.63 from the HearAll page on the Center’s website. Once you have tried it, I’ll bet you’ll love your HearAll as much as I do mine!