by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
May 14, 2016
A lady explained,
I am shopping for my very first hearing aids. I am trying to decide between two hearing aids, and since I have very limited experience, I’m hoping you can offer me some knowledgeable advice on this matter.
I am considering the ReSound LiNX2 9 or the Oticon Ria2 Pro. Both are behind-the-ear hearing aids with the receiver in the canal. I tried them both out for 30 minutes or more.
Everything I’ve read online about Oticon says they are superior to ReSound and, basically, that only ignorant newcomers to hearing aids (like me) like the sound quality of the ReSound aids because we’ve never heard anything else to compare it to.
But I tried both, and honestly the Oticons sounded more tin-can-ish. The ReSounds were so clear and natural they made me cry with joy. It’s so hard to tell whether to trust my ears or the online reviews.
The price, specifications, warranty and package are about the same for both. ReSound has a better app interface, but the audiologist selling the Oticons offers free batteries for life. Both have a 30 day trial period; the ReSounds have a $250 non-refundable fee.
I’m leaning toward the ReSounds but I want to know if I really am an ignorant newcomer and will regret this decision forever. I’m paying fully out of pocket, so I’d really prefer that this not be a $6,300.00 mistake. Please help me make the right decision.
It’s not easy being a first-time buyer for anything—especially hearing aids. There are a confusing array of brands and features and everyone tries to tell you their aids are the best. So here’s some tips to help you find the right road.
First off, why are you limiting yourself to just two brands? There are six major brands out there. In no particular order they are Oticon, Phonak, Resound, Widex, Starkey and Sivantos (formerly Siemens).
Furthermore, most of the parent companies of these six also own other brands as well. For example, William Demant (Oticon) also owns Bernafon; Sonova (Phonak) also owns Hansaton and Unitron; GN ReSound also owns Beltone, Interton and Danalogic; Starkey also owns Audibel, Micro-Tech and Nu-Ear; and Sivantos (Siemens) also owns Signia, Rexton and Miracle Ear. (Note: the above is only representative. It is not a complete list of who owns what.)
In addition, there are many other good, but lesser-known brands such as America Hears and SeboTek.
Buying hearing aids for the first time is like buying your first car. When shopping for your first car, would you just go to the Volkswagen and Ford dealerships and ignore the General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Mercedes, Ferrari, etc. dealerships in your area?
Obviously you typically don’t go to every possible dealership—but you go to a good number of them so you can try out and see which car best suits you. Only then do you narrow it down to one or two makes.
Likewise, you should do the same when shopping for new hearing aids. Don’t just settle for the first one you try. You want to try several makes and models.
All of the major hearing aid manufacturers are good—how else do you think they got to be so big? Each brand has its own unique features (just like cars) and all of them have things in common (just like cars). So ultimately it boils down to which make and model really “turns your crank” (just like cars).
For example, one hearing aid has a particular feature you just love so you want to go with it. At the same time, you wish it had another feature another hearing aid has. You have to weigh these things and compromise.
In my 55 years of wearing hearing aids, I’ve never been totally happy with any. I always had to make compromises where I wanted features that weren’t available on the brand I ultimately chose. Thus, each time I get new hearing aids, I try yet another brand—always looking for the one that best suits my needs at the time.
Also, you should know that most hearing aids use the same chipset, so it is not the hardware that makes them different. Rather, the real difference is in the software that runs the hearing aid, and the bells and whistles attached to this aid. The result is that with some software, what you hear may sound perfectly “normal” to you, but not for others. That’s just the way it is since not only are hearing aids unique, but so are you. Thus you are looking for the best fit for you—not what works for someone else.
Ultimately, the reason you get hearing aids is to understand more (not really hear more—as you might just hear more noise). Therefore, you want to go with the make and model that sounds most natural and comfortable to your ears. That should be the one that lets you hear and understand the best. Don’t be swayed by all the glitzy bells and whistles of competing models.
Furthermore, don’t believe everything you read on-line. Everyone has their own opinions—whether good or bad, right or wrong. Oticon isn’t head and shoulders above the rest. Nor is ReSound the worst. Do you really think that ReSound got to be one of the big six by being worse than the others? Each is different, not particularly worse. They all have their good points and they all have their bad points (or maybe I should say they all have better points and worse points). In truth, each manufacturer comes out with a new innovation and leap-frogs ahead of the others—then one of the others does the same. So no one manufacturer stays at the top of the pile for long. It is this competition that makes hearing aids better and better as time goes by.
When it really comes down to it, choose the hearing aid that works the best for you. You explained, “I tried both and honestly the Oticons sounded more tin-can-ish. The ReSounds were so clear and natural they made me cry with joy.”
Doesn’t that really answer your question? You want the hearing aids that make you “cry with joy” because they are so clear and natural to you. So, of the two choices, you know which one to go with. (Someone else may have exactly the opposite experience, so for them, given these two choices, the Oticons would be their right choice.) This just shows that choosing the right hearing aids is a uniquely personal experience.
Now, having said that, let me explain another secret of satisfaction with a given hearing aid. The skill of the person fitting your hearing aids can make all the difference to how well you hear with a given aid. For example, it could be that the person that programmed the Oticon for you did a bad job so it sounded tin-can-ish to you, while the person who programmed the ReSound aid did such a good job that you “cried with joy”. Be aware that a lot of what a hearing aid sounds like is due to the skill of the person fitting you—not due to the characteristics of the hearing aid itself.
When shopping for hearing aids, you want to “buy” both the hearing aid and the fitter. (A skilled fitter can make a basic hearing aid sound wonderful while a poor fitter can make the most expensive hearing aid sound horrible.)
Even so, there are still differences in the ultimate output of a given hearing aid. For example, even if the same skilled fitter adjusted both hearing aids to fit you perfectly (if such a thing were possible), you will still find that you instantly like one better than the other—it just sounds “right” for you. That’s the one to go with.
Consider price too. Just as with cars, there are inexpensive, basic cars, moderately-priced cars, luxury cars and ridiculously priced cars (think a Ferrari at $1,200,000.00).
The same is true with hearing aids. Typically each manufacturer has three lines—the basic, relatively inexpensive line, the middle, more-expensive line and their top line with all the bells and whistles for the big bucks. Just get the amount of hearing aid, and the features, you need. (Hearing aid dispensers tend to push the top line whether you need it or not since they make more money doing that. It’s only human. You need to be aware of this.)
I recommend getting the hearing aids that help you hear the best and are comfortable so you will wear them; and have the features you need for different listening environments; and are affordable to your budget so you can buy them. The brand doesn’t really matter all that much.
Also, be aware that like some car dealerships, some hearing aid dealerships are known to be high-pressure and pushy, not to mention high-priced. Others are not.
For example, there are brands that are more costly and whose salesmen typically use high-pressure sales tactics. I’d stay away from those. For example, ReSound and Beltone aids are identical (Resound owns Beltone), but the equivalent Beltone branded aid may sell for $1,000.00 – $2,000.00 more than the ReSound. Furthermore, Beltone salespeople have tended to use high-pressure sales techniques. The same price structure holds true with Starkey and Nu-Ear. Nu-Ear aids are identical to the Starkey line, but cost much more.
Sivantos (Siemens) owns Miracle Ear so the hearing aids are identical (except for the name of course), but like Beltone salespeople, Miracle Ear salespeople have also tended to be pushy. Besides, the Miracle Ear aids cost a lot more than the equivalent Siemens aids. On the other hand, Rexton aids are good, and are a cheaper version of Siemens (who also owns them). So if you know your way around the various brands you can save yourself a lot of money for the same equivalent aid.
If you are not made of money, be sure to make Costco one of your stops. You can save a bundle of money on your new hearing aids. Costco carries six lines of hearing aids. ReSound is one of them. (They don’t carry all models though). You could save a minimum of $2,000.00 on a pair, and maybe more.
Furthermore, Costco gives you 90 days to try out their hearing aids—not just 30 days. Also, they do not charge a $250.00 restocking fee either. What you will save is much more than getting free batteries for life. (Remember, the free batteries are for the life of the aid—maybe 5 years—not for your lifetime.) Not only that, I think you’ll find they sell their batteries for much less too.
One more thing. Never, ever, (and not even that often) purchase hearing aids that don’t have good, properly-oriented (vertical), manual (not automatic) t-coils (sometimes called telecoils or audio-coils). It doesn’t matter whether you know what a t-coil is, or how it is used, just make sure your hearing aids have them. They won’t cost you a penny more. In the future you will find out just how useful they can be. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently (and believe me, they will try).
Finally, be aware it takes time for your brain to adjust to hearing again. Everything may sound too noisy. Be patient, it can take around 90 days for your brain to adjust. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to go back to your dispenser (several times if necessary) and have your hearing aids tweaked as needed. Now, get out there and enjoy your new-found hearing!