Review of the Phonak Audéo Belong Recharable
The Phonak Audéo Belong Rechargeable (B-R) hearing aid is Phonak’s solution for those seeking a rechargeable device. It is aimed at active users who require a hearing aid that can keep up with their dynamic lifestyle. Phonak claim to provide over 24 hours of hearing on one simple charge.
It comes as standard with a mini charger and there is also the option for a mobile, battery powered charging case. The hearing aid only comes in the behind the ear (BTE), receiver in the canal (RIC) format at present and it is unknown when a rechargeable in the ear (ITE) device will come to market.
In terms of what is inside the hearing aid not much has changed since the Venture platform. They have however introduced Soundrecover 2 on the Belong platform. This new concept is based on the original frequency lowering technology Soundrecover. For those that may not understand how frequency lowering works I will try to explain it in a simple way…
Imagine you have a piano; the keys on the left hand side of the piano are low frequency sounds and as you move across to the right the sounds get increasingly higher pitched. For people with high frequency hearing loss they may not be able to hear the sounds on the upper end of the piano (the high tones). With Soundrecover, if somebody was to play the very highest note on a piano, to the person wearing the hearing aid it will sound like a note lower done on the scale to ensure it is audible for the listener; this is called frequency lowering.
You may be thinking that things may sound out of tune with Soundrecover but in reality this lowering of the frequencies is generally only applied to much higher pitched sounds beyond the reach of a standard piano. It also has a cut off frequency so it does not affect important low frequency speech components, particularly the vowel sounds.
Adaptive Frequency Lowering
This has now been developed further and Soundrecover 2 has differentiated itself as the first adaptive frequency lowering system. The hearing aid samples the sound coming in to the hearing aid and if the sound is predominantly higher pitched then the lower cut off frequency will be used to improve audibility. However, if the initial sound is predominantly lower pitched it will use the upper cut off frequency to prevent distortion of the important low frequency vowel sounds. This evolution of Soundrecover is still in its juvenile stages and so research around the tangible benefits are limited but I can say that patient feedback has been very positive.
Phonak have also improved its water and dust resistance from an IP67 to an IP68, the highest ingress protection rating available for water resistance. This is because the device is now completely enclosed as you no longer need to have access to the battery.
When I got my first pair through the post I was very keen to open them up and give them a test drive. Phonak hearing aids are always somewhat overpackaged in my opinion, but to be fair the large black case is durable and practical.
These hearing aids are larger than a lot of the RIC devices currently on the private market and are probably the size you would expect from a superpower hearing aid. This is because the Lithium-Ion battery takes up more room than the disposable zinc-air batteries. Even still, they fit neatly behind the ear and have a nice solid feel about them.
My first Mistake
I switched them on for the first time straight out of the packaging and this was my first mistake with them. I was made aware that the hearing aids are sent out in a ‘shipping mode’ for safety reasons when transporting Lithium-Ion batteries. If you try to turn the hearing aid on before docking it on to the mini charger the hearing aids will fail. I tried everything to get it working but because you can only program wirelessly there was no way for me to reset the firmware. As such, they had to be sent back for repair.
When I received the repaired hearing aids, I once again plugged them in to the mini charger and the green light started to flash indicating that they were charging. From here I was able to program them up the same as any other Phonak hearing aid which is done with ease using their intuitive software.
No Loop/T setting
I am disappointed that the Belong Rechargeable does not feature a loop system program as this has prevented one or two customers moving forward with this device and so this could be something they will hopefully develop later down the line.
I have fit a handful of these devices now and every customer so far has been happy with the hearing aid. They find charging intuitive and the hearing aid is lasting the full 24 hours as advertised. The one downfall is that the mini charger is a bit light and so it lacks stability on a bedside table but this is overcome with the more sturdy mobile charging case although this is a chargeable extra.
The clarity of the sound has been reported to be good and the hearing aid meets prescription targets well. Music comes through clear and patients are able to notice significant improvements when listening in background noise.
Thus far, no glaring issues have been highlighted to me about the Belong Rechargeable other than the lack of a loop system and the fact that they are somewhat larger than conventional zinc-air hearing aids.
The Phonak Audéo B-R is a fantastic addition to their range of hearing devices. It caters to the more active and dynamic users and has seen a fantastic uptake by customers, so much so, that at one point Phonak were struggling with demand. If you require a loop system unfortunately this isn’t the device for you at present but I’m sure we will see a solution to this in future.