On the 7th February 2017 I attended the Sofitel hotel at London Heathrow for the UK launch of the Oticon Opn 2 and 3. The 1st talk introduced two testimonials by people that have been using the Opn1 which was launched last spring. The testimonials stated a significant improvement in the ability to hear speech in noise. These testimonials are of course always going to work in favour of the product but I must say that for me the Oticon Opn1 has proven itself to be a fantastic product with very positive feedback from patients.
Oticon then proceeded to divulge in the technical side of how the Opn technology works. They talked about Opn Sound Navigator which is the algorithm that is designed to preserve speech from all directions whilst minimising noise. Oticon seem very keen to avoid the use of the word ‘directionality’ when referring to the Opn hearing aid. However, the way they describe their Opn Sound Navigator technology sounds awfully familiar to multi channel adaptive directionality (MCAD).
MCAD is when the hearing aid samples the environment and adjusts the null points (the parts the hearing aid wants to ignore) as per the loudest noise input. For example, there is a loud fan in a quiet room. The hearing aid will detect this and create a null point in the direction of the fan thus minimising the gain and the respective noise interference. The hearing aid can do this many times over to many different sources of noise in the same environment using multiple channels to help reduce background noise and emphasise speech.
I used this argument with Oticon and they advised that where the Oticon Opn differs is that it ‘locks on’ to speech sources meaning that wherever speech is detected a null point would never be applied. They also added that the balancing aspect of the Oticon Opn, although similar in its application to MCAD is applied much more selectively/sparingly and thus keeping the sound scape much more ‘open’ than the competitors. They then explained that most of the signal to noise improvements occur due to the application of their noise reduction algorithm which reduces diffuse noise between words.
As such, it appears that there certainly are similarities between Oticon’s strategy and multi-channel adaptive directionality as I originally suspected but where Oticon differs is the application of this technology and how it integrates it with their noise reduction algorithm. The balance they have achieved appears to be working very well for a lot of individuals and perhaps in future we may see other manufacturers easing off the strength of their directionality systems to achieve similar results.
Next on the agenda was the difference between the Opn1, Opn2, and Opn3. They have moved away from the use of the term premium, advanced, and standard and now just have a dot system: three dots for the best, two intermediate, and one dot for the worst. They said they made the differentiation more vague intentionally but I’m not sure to what purpose. For me, it makes providing an educated recommendation to my patients on appropriate technology more difficult because I need to remember exactly what features are restricted. However, for the purpose of this article I was able to roughly gauge what is lost as we move down the technology levels:
Opn 1: All features fully utilised and optimised. 113dB input range. 10KHz bandwidth
Opn 3: Further compromised noise reduction. Reduced input range to 95dB. No spatial noise management. Reduced bandwidth (8KHz)
The biggest compromise for me is on the Opn 3 where the input range has been lowered to 95dB. A recent presentation I attended on optimising hearing aids for music recommended a minimum input range of 105dB and so the Opn3 falls below that. Essentially this will result in a lot more distortion when exposed to louder sounds such as music and is certainly something to consider when making the recommendation for a purchase.
From Left to right: Oticon Opn Power BTE, Oticon Opn mini RITE-T, Oticon Opn1
Oticon also announced the release of a number of new features:
New slightly larger design with loop system
A BTE size 13 Power
Frequency lowering technology
Firmware update for existing Opn users
All of these new features will be available late April. The tinnitus and frequency lowering features will be available for existing Opn wearers with a firmware update on the hearing aids so be sure to stay in touch with your audiologist.
Oticon have used their own unique approach to frequency lowering which is called frequency composition. From what I understood it samples the high frequencies and then replicates them at a lower pitch whilst still maintaining the original high frequency information to assist with temporal cues. It is also used in the Dynamo superpower hearing aid but I have not yet had any experience with this method and so I can not comment on its efficacy.
A big talking point of the day was the release of their tinnitus features. They have produced some very nice documents to assist with the rehabilitation of individuals with troublesome tinnitus and have announced the new Soundsupport Sound Generator. It has three ocean like sounds, and four broadband sounds. The sounds can be customised for each individual by varying the loudness, the rate of modulation, and the type of noise (e.g. white, pink, or red). Red noise seemed to be the keen favourite as it had a lower frequency emphasis and tended to replicate the noise of the ocean much better. The utilisation of these programs as a tinnitus relief program is certainly something of interest and will be something I look to trial with my more willing customers.
Oticon delivered an informative product launch and have helped to clarify specific dates for the update to the current platform. There was nothing too shocking about the Opn2 or Opn3 release but we have lots to look forward to from Oticon in the next year, which should hopefully include a custom in ear version of the Opn1.
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