A couple of week’s ago I was fitted with some Phonak Audeo V90 RIC hearing aids. They’re thought by many to be the best hearing aid on the market and I thought that if I was going to take the plunge into buying some hearing aids privately, then I might as well try out the very best.
I’ve always wondered whether there was much of a difference between NHS aids and privately bought aids, and after two weeks, I can now tell you that there most definitely is!
Now some of this is no doubt down to the customer care I’ve received by going privately and the expertise of the audiologist doing the fitting and fine tuning, and I have to give credit where its due to Castle Hearing for this.
Anyway, I’ve been trialling the V90s for the past two weeks and here’s what I think.
First impressions revisited
I thought it might be useful to start by revisiting some of the first impressions that I posted here, the day after I received the aids.
- Sound quality – this is very good, and my brain quickly got used to what I had initially described as the ‘brightness’. An example of this were the clicks on my laptop keyboard as I typed, which were much louder than I’ve ever experienced. The sounds I made using cutlery and crockery were also louder and brighter.
- I also got used to the sound of my voice, which I know always sounds different with new hearing aids, and the adjustment to that was pretty straight forward. However, one thing I did notice was that my voice when using the ComPilot was quite loud and distracting, although this would just require a simple adjustment of turning down the CimPilot microphone a touch.
- The receiver was initially quite difficult to place in my ear canal and much more fiddly than my NHS BTE aids with full earmoulds. It took quite a few days to get the hang of it and whilst I can now do it one-handed, I wouldn’t describe it as very easy. If you’re not very dextrous, it might take a while longer to get to grips with, but that being said, this isn’t a criticism of this particular hearing aid, but I guess is an issue with all receiver in the canal hearing aids that currently dominate the market.
- The receiver initially felt a little tickly in my ear canal compared to the more solid feel of my ear moulds. However, it wasn’t uncomfortable and again was easy to get used to. One of the key benefits I found from having a receiver compared to a mould, is that my ears seem to produce less wax and are less inclined to become moist which has resulted in me having occasional infections in the past.
- As the main body of the hearing aid and microphone is still behind the ear, I experienced ‘rustling’ sounds as I put my spectacles on and off and brushed my hair. These were much more audible than my NHS BTE aids, perhaps because of the position of the microphone or just simply because the V90s are more sensitive. This isn’t too much of a problem, and again would be the same for all RIC hearing aids, but if you wear reading glasses which you put on and take off all day long, you might find it slightly irritating.
- The aids came with a Phonak ComPilot which I’ll review separately. However, I’ll
simply say that the sound quality was much better than the previous two bluetooth neck loops I’ve had, and the streaming transition was seamless. There’s also an app available that enables you to make changes to some of your hearing aid settings through the ComPilot.
What were my overall impressions?
After wearing the hearing aids for a couple of weeks, I settled into them well and they felt very comfortable and natural. They became easier to get in and out and I stopped worrying about whether I would completely pull the hearing aid apart each time I tugged at the small plastic cable to remove them.
During the time I had the hearing aids, I’m afraid that I didn’t have an opportunity to try them in all settings at work and home – for example, I had no big meetings or network events planned for those two weeks. However, I did find the following:
- I managed to hold a conversation over a dinner party table with background music playing, AND didn’t have to ask for the music to be turned down. This was possibly the biggest surprise I had in the two weeks, as its been years since I’ve been able to comfortably hold a conversation in a situation like this. When I’ve had friends over for dinner in the past, my hearing aids would amplify the music to such a degree that I just couldn’t hear the conversation and I would have to repeatedly turn the music down until its been almost silent. With these new V90s, however, the music really didn’t feel obtrusive at all. It continued to play in the background all night and I could also have a conversation across the table, whilst another conversation went on with friends beside me. Something that I previously would have really struggled with.
- I was able to go for a walk with a hat on and not suffer from constant feedback. Also, the hat didn’t feel quite so uncomfortable because the hearing aids were smaller and weren’t pressed so hard against my scalp. You can see in the photograph, the difference in size with my old hearing aids.
- I was able to watch quite a lot of tv without subtitles. I’ve had to use subtitles constantly for the past year, so again, this was a very pleasant surprise. I switched back to my old hearing aids briefly one evening just to double check the difference and found that whilst I could hear the programme dialogue, it demanded a lot of concentration whereas using the V90s meant that I could just sit back and the sounds and dialogue simply drifted into my ears without having having to concentrate and actively listen.
- Whilst I had the use of a ComPilot, I was able to use my mobile phone without it. I’ve previously posted about how difficult I found using phones but with the V90s, I could simply lift the phone to my ear and be able to have a conversation. I’m not sure if this was because the hearing aid was picking up the sound more easily than my NHS aids, or if it was due to the fact that the receiver was an open fitting which meant that some natural sound was making its way through to my ear. I suspect it was a bit of both, but again it was a pleasant surprise. (I have to admit that for a webinar I attended via my laptop, I was even able to use a set of headphones over the top of my aids and was able to hear very well).
- 1:1 conversation seemed okay, although I’ve never really had many problems with using my NHS aids in close proximity to people. I did think, on reflection, that I said “What did you say?” and “Pardon” a lot less often. I could also distinguish better where sound was coming from and found that I could hear conversations taking place further afield in the office.
- The most difficult setting I tried was going for a drink with a colleague in a noisy bar after work. I really struggled that night but managed to continue the conversation and understood a lot, if not most of it. Its difficult to say whether the hearing aids were much better than my NHS ones, but I think they probably were as I finished the evening feeling less exhausted than I often do in similar situations. Hence, I mustn’t have needed to concentrate so hard.
- Finally, my hearing aid batteries lasted exactly one week which was less than I had anticipated. My NHS aids, usually last up to three weeks and I thought I might have got two weeks out of the V90s. However, what was good was that they ‘beeped’ at me for a good 4-5 hours before they eventually failed. My NHS aids used to beep and then fail within minutes, not leaving me much time to change the batteries. I also found that the V90 performance didn’t fade during this time, whereas my NHS aids used to feel dull for several hours before the battery failed.
Compared to my NHS hearing aids, the V90s are brilliant. I now believe those people who say private hearing aids are far better than NHS ones (although I still resent having to pay quite so much for them)!
In some kind of magical, techie way, these aids manage to amplify the sounds you want to hear and block out background sound so that I’ve found myself simply hearing again rather than having to actively and intently ‘listen’. I’d go so far as to say my hearing feels almost normal again.
I can hear conversations in the office – even overhear conversations – without having to concentrate really hard. One day, I simply sat at my desk, gazing across the open plan and found I was able to tune in and out of conversations that were going on in different parts of the office in a way that I’ve not been able to for years.
I realise now, what a burden I’ve been carrying with my NHS hearing aids and what ‘stress’ they’ve been putting my brain under in desperately trying to decipher sounds into meaningful words and conversations.
Yes, I’m sold on the V90s, and would encourage anyone to have a trial run. You might not get the same results and they may not be the right aids for you as we all have different types of hearing loss, but for the sake of a visit to an audiologist for a free trial, I think its worth investing the time.
That being said, I’m still making my own mind up about the financial investment and if I go ahead, I’ll be sad to say goodbye to my old NHS aids. They’ve helped me to cope at work for several years now and I really don’t think I could have continued to hold down my job without them. It makes me reflect on the fact that we really are so lucky to have a national health service in England.
What experiences have you had in buying hearing aids?