Monday, February 14, 2011

Do Not Download Adobe Reader X

I have downloaded Adobe Reader X (version 10) on several PC's now, and the installer always installs McAfee Security Scan Plus with the reader. I've seen no way to opt out of the McAfee "trailer."

Further, as far as I can tell, McAfee Security Scan Plus is "advertising" software. Run it and you will eventually be prompted to download a not-free version of McAfee. It may have other functions, but I doubt that it has any value in a computer already employing appropriate firewalls and other virus protection.

Suddenly I've lost confidence in both McAfee and Adobe, especially Adobe. Now I wonder what else Adobe put on my computer that they DIDN'T tell me about.

I've uninstalled McAfee Security Scan Plus, but I'm still a little concerned.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bluetooth Hearing Aids Report

Bluetooth Logo used by permission In the recent two or three years, high-end hearing aids have been available with Bluetooth wireless technology, which means that they use radio waves to connect to a cell phone, wired phone, TV, stereo music player, or computer, providing high-quality audio in both ears.

I'm definitely a fan of Bluetooth in my hearing aids. I'm hooked. What's so good about it?:
  • The sound quality can be exceptionally high, much more crisp than sound coming through the air into the hearing aids' microphones;
  • The sound from a telephone comes into both ears, making callers easier to hear (some new aids do this without Bluetooth);
  • It's cordless. I can go get myself a sandwich in the kitchen, visit the bathroom, or start a load of laundry in the basement while still listening to TV or stereo music;
  • I can listen to the TV while the sound is muted for everyone else, or mute it while others in the room are listening, or change the volume to please myself; and
  • If it's cool to be on the phone with a Bluetooth gizmo sticking out of the ear (some people think it is), then it's really cool to do it with no visible gizmo.
What are the arguments against Bluetooth?:
  • It requires the use of a separate Bluetooth control unit, hung around the neck or clipped on clothing.
  • The control has to be shirt-pocket high or so, because it communicates wirelessly to the hearing aids and because it contains the microphone that picks up the wearer's voice during a phone call;
  • It adds cost to the hearing aids, typically $300 to $400 for the Bluetooth control unit and a TV/stereo adapter;
  • Some of the less-expensive but otherwise good aids, like those from Sam's Club, do not yet offer Bluetooth;
  • It's more complex, so some hearing instrument dispensers are not experienced in fitting these aids; and
  • The user will want to figure out how to connect the TV adapter to a TV or stereo, and to "pair" the Bluetooth control unit to a TV adapter, cell phone, music player, or other device.
Of course, a person can use the TV feature of Bluetooth but not the telephone feature, or vice versa. The Bluetooth control unit can be "paired" to multiple devices, although it is able to receive audio from only one of those paired devices at a time.

As far as I know, hearing aids with Bluetooth are the same physical size as those without - the difference is in the auxiliary Bluetooth control unit.


So far, we three have tested Bluetooth hearing aids from Bernafon, Phonak, and Unitron. In all cases, the aids switched automatically to special programs when Bluetooth was turned on to provide the sound source. The resulting frequency response was preset to provide good speech recognition, which did not necessarily yield the best music quality. However, in all of those aids, the preset frequency response can be changed by the hearing instrument dispenser to provide high-quality music. The newest aids have two different Bluetooth programs, one for one-way audio such as TV sound, and another for two-way telephone conversations.

Bluetooth Sound versus Conversation:

The hearing aids can still provide sound from people in the room through their normal microphones, even while actively connected by Bluetooth to a TV, telephone, or other device, so you hear both. The level of room sound can be adjusted by the technician, and I did have mine changed from the factory settings to provide more room sound in TV mode and less in telephone mode. In this way, we can listen to high-quality sound from the TV, each at our own chosen volume, and still have a conversation. This is an issue - we don't want to sit side-by-side, each inside our own sound bubble, unable to talk. With the hearing-aid microphones turned up just right, it seems to be working for us.

TV Setup and Use:

The TV adapter must be wired to the TV (there are jacks for this on most digital TV's) and "paired" to the Bluetooth control unit, but only once. From then on, a push button on the Bluetooth control unit will pipe in the TV sound, and the same button will turn it off. That's it. Volume is controlled the same way that microphone volume is controlled. All three of us can sit side-by-side-by-side watching TV with all three Blueteeth turned on, and with no interference between them. Except: When we walk around, to get a snack in the kitchen for example, the sound does go quiet if we get too close to each other. So far, this has not been a significant problem.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Phonak Audeo S Smart IX Hearing Aid Review

Please note: This is just one person's experience. It may not be typical.

They just didn't work. A pair of Phonak Audeo S Smart IX hearing aids costs over $6,000 with the remote control, Bluetooth control, and TV sound adapter. They were the most expensive of the four brands of hearing aids that Sunshine has tried, and it's safe to say that they worked the least well. A very experienced, highly competent, certified "hearing instrument dispenser" readjusted them several times in repeated visits over a period of six weeks, to no avail.

Speech recognition was the problem, not only in groups of people but in normal conversation with just one person. There was enough volume, but Sunshine couldn't distinguish the words, describing the sound as "both muffled and echoey." Interestingly, when those same aids were connected to the television through Bluetooth, the sound was crisp and clear, speech quite intelligible. It was only when acting as regular hearing aids, with sound coming into the microphones, that the words were indistinct.

Phonak has launched a new sound-processing technology which they call "sound recover," in which some of the high frequencies are actually shifted to a range that is within the hearing ability of the wearer. The technician tried turning that off, turning it up, changing the response curve, nothing seemed to help. I'm thinking that the "sound recover" technology may be a great idea, but we never found out because something else was wrong with the hearing aids, both of them.

We returned them and got the money back, less Phonak's $50 "shipping charges." Humpf - $50 to try aids that had no chance of working. One final insult from Phonak.

So far we have actually purchased four (4) pairs of aids, all using open-fit "receiver-in-the-ear" (RITE) technology, in our quest for better hearing for Sunshine, who has a straightforward, flat, 60 dB loss:
  • Bernafon Verite 9, from Costco: These work fine for Sweetpea and me (see Post1 and Post2) but alas, not for Sunshine. Returned;
  • Phonak Audeo S Smart IX: Returned;
  • America Hears Liberty SIE, from Sam's Club: Good speech recognition, still in contention, but no Bluetooth, and WE ALL LOVE Bluetooth. A blog post review is coming; and
  • Unitron Passport Moxi: Good speech recognition, still in contention, good Bluetooth but more than twice the price of the Sam's hearing aids. A blog post is coming.
Observe at least a dozen trips to hearing instrument dispensers so far. For a while, as we tried the Bernafon and Phonak instruments, we wondered if anything could ever match Sunshine's scruffy old aids, much less improve on them. Now, though, have two sets of aids with better speech recognition and the more comfortable open-fit RITE technology. One even has Bluetooth.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bernafon Verite Review - Final Report

In our little household, all three of us are hearing impaired. Flabbergasted by the price of top-notch aids, we went to Costco and bought Bernafon Verite 9 hearing aids, one pair at a time of course. Two pairs stuck - both Sweetpea and I are happy with ours. The sound is good, speech is recognizable, programs are logically distinct from one another, and Bluetooth streaming audio from the TV is clear as a bell. We ended up with excellent, high-tech aids at the relatively modest cost of about $3000 per pair.

No such luck for Sunshine - she returned hers. Even though the Bluetooth worked fine, with excellent speech recognition, the Verite aids did not provide good speech recognition when used as normal hearing aids. After at least a half dozen trips to Costco, she gave up. One other Costco person assured her that he could have made them work for her, but she was done with Costco and went to different hearing instrument dispensers:
  • Sam's Club, where she finally got hearing aids which DID provide decent speech recognition but which didn't have Bluetooth; and
  • Independent Dispenser, who fitted her with two additional brands, both having Bluetooth. New Phonak Audeo S aids didn't work after several readjustments. Finally, the dispensing person tried Unitron Passport Moxi aids, which do seem to work just as well as the Sam's aids, but with Bluetooth and a higher price.
There will be separate blog posts reviewing the America Hears Liberty SIE from Sam's, the Phonak Audeo S, and the Unitron Passport Moxi.

Costco does have a problem, though. We had a lot of trouble finding a competent "hearing instrument dispenser" person at Costco in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Each store seems to have just one person. The person nearest us is totally incompetent, doesn't know it, refuses to learn, and doesn't much care. Another cares a lot, but doesn't have a handle on the technical details necessary to fit high-tech aids. A third may be competent, but we didn't really offer a chance to prove it. It's a very small sample, but the two Sam's Club people we've met were both more competent than two of the three Costco people. Sorry to say that, because I like Costco better on principle, but the Sam's guys knew what they were doing. Furthermore, Sam's Club had given them great tools with which to do it, better than the Costco people have available.

  1. If your Costco fitter hasn't done LOTS of Bernafon Verite aids, you should insist that the fitting be done by the Bernafon factory representative (you're paying, you can insist, though it may delay things); and
  2. If you are ordering ANY brand of aids with an external control unit, especially the Bernafons, be SURE that the control unit is "paired" to the aids before you leave the dispenser's office. They forget to do that, which means that the control unit won't work and you have to drive all the way back there for nothing. That happened to us three times! We're slow learners.
See also our initial post titled Bernafon Verite Hearing Aid Review. Some of the comments may be informative.