Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bernafon Verite Hearing Aid Review

I've had my Bernafon Verite (Vérité) hearing aids for almost two months now. My first hearing aids. I was reluctant, but it was time. I bought two aids, even though one ear has only a slight loss.

Bottom line: I'm very glad I bought hearing aids, and I'm glad I bought two. I got them at Costco. It feels as if I have bionic hearing, able to hear things that I couldn't before, and maybe even things that others can't hear. Don't turn the TV up for ME any more! Speech recognition is much better, the most important benefit, and these aids have still more to offer.

  • Two identical behind-the-ear high-tech Berafon Verite aids using "receiver in the ear" (RITE) technology. In the hearing industry, the "receiver" is actually the loudspeaker that makes the sound for the ear. The connection from the aid to the ear is a wire, not a plastic tube.
  • There are lots of colors. I got blue ones. What the heck.
  • Open-fit, which means that a disposable soft-plastic dome holds the speaker in the ear rather than a conventional ear mold. The dome has holes which allow some sound to bypass the aids. If I had a more-severe loss, the open fit would not work because of feedback, but the Verite and its RITE work with ear molds too, of course.
  • Power speakers, rather than normal ones, for reasons known only to the guy who ordered the aids for me. I suppose he assumed that my hearing would eventually get worse and I would need the extra power.
  • Bluetooth: To borrow from an old commercial, "This is not your father/mother's hearing aid!" More about Bluetooth later.
  • The SoundGate is an extra device which hangs around the neck (with a breakaway safety cord) and can control channel, volume, and connections to any of several Bluetooth devices.
  • This configuration cost about $3000 in Minnesota, about half the price of high-quality aids from the conventional hearing-aid providers that we checked. That's a $3000 savings, the best reason to shop Costco for hearing aids.
  • Sounds are crystal clear, especially voices. This is what a hearing aid is about, and it works! When I take the aids out at night, sounds seem soft and dull by comparison.
  • There is no perceptible delay between sound from the aids and sound coming into the ear directly through the open-fit domes.
  • Feedback is minimal. When it starts, as it might if I hold something (like my sweetie) next to my ear, the feedback is quickly detected and controlled by the computer in the Verite.
  • Noise management: As a hearing-aid newbie I'm not sure what to look for. I do notice that the Verite suppresses white noise in a quiet setting. It doesn't seem to do much to quiet the loud roar in the passenger cabin of an airplane, but maybe it works too fast for me to detect the suppression.
  • The two aids communicate with each other, so that if, for example, the channel is changed on one it will also change on the other. It works.
  • No telephone switch. The Verite automatically detects the presence of a phone receiver held against the ear, and switches that aid to a special telephone channel until the phone is removed from the ear.
Bluetooth, hearing aids that do MORE:

Basically, the hearing aids with the SoundGate control unit can act as a Bluetooth headset for listening to TV or music, or for talking on the telephone:
  • You've seen people walking about with a gizmo sticking forward from their ear, obviously talking to someone. Perhaps you've done that too. Well, now you can do that without the ostentatious ear ornament. Your cell phone rings, you push a little button on the SoundGate hanging around your neck, and you are in conversation. You listen with both ears, and speak forward, which reaches the SoundGate. I love this feature, and it works well, though the Bluetooth sometimes takes too long to connect. I have a new Motorola W766 phone from Verizon, and the combination produces the clearest voices I have ever heard on any phone.
  • Bernafon includes a Bluetooth adapter for use with a TV or music device. Mine is plugged into the TV set's audio output, so I can run to the kitchen and still hear the TV, even with other noises in the house. The audio is adjusted for voice, however, which is fine for listening to the news and most shows, but someone looking for high-quality music would be disappointed.
Room for improvement:
  • There is no OFF switch on the aids or at the SoundGate, for those times that ambient sounds are just too loud: Washing/drying dishes (clank-clank), amplified music, train going by, announcements in the airport, whatever. Noise management does not seem to help those situations. You can turn the aids off by opening the battery compartment part way, but you risk dropping the battery. Better to take the aids out of the ears. I did anticipate this problem and asked the fitter to program channel 4 (the last channel) for very low gain, so I can just switch to channel 4 when the ambient noise is too loud. That works.
  • The Verite responds to single-tone noise (whistles, beeps, squeaks, some alarms) by reducing its gain at that tone, I think. But when the noise is gone, the Verite becomes VERY responsive to exactly that tone, resonant, sounding hollow at that tone, as if sounds were traveling through a steel tube. It usually doesn't quite whistle, but comes very close. It can be restored to normal function by changing the channel and changing it back. It happens in either ear, maybe both. It's a bug in the software that should be fixed. I wonder if they can fix it and download new software to my aids.
  • According to the Bernafon literature supplied by Costco, the Verite also comes with a Bluetooth telephone adapter for use with a standard wired telephone. But it doesn't. A bit of false advertising by Costco. I expected the adapter, and would have used it in my office. I'm asking Costco to make good on their advertising.
  • It comes with a cute little box to contain the aids at night, but I can't figure out how to fit them into the box without bending the RITE wires. I think the box is made for conventional aids with plastic tubes instead of wires. Hard to believe that they would send a box that doesn't work.
  • The Costco guy from whom I bought these aids was unable to fit them properly, and I ended up going to a different Costco store to get them working as they should. This is only partly a Bernafon problem - mostly a Costco problem.
  • My biggest beef:  These aids are not at all tolerant to moisture.  I'm a runner, but I can't wear them when I run because running equals sweating.  I knew that when I bought them, but I sure miss them when I run.