Buying a new set of hearing aids Print

Those who know me well—or those who really read the stuff on this site—know that I'm hard of hearing. If you're similarly afflicted, you may be interested in this post.


I've been going to the House Ear Clinic for some time now for hearing loss medical care. It's well known in the otology world, Ronald Reagan went there, it is renowned in restoring hearing in extreme medical cases, and so forth. When I finally decided to buy some hearing aids, I went to the House Ear Clinic dispensary.

My first set of hearing aids was a CIC (completely in the canal) set made by Siemens that worked well at the time and were almost completely unnoticeable to others. Siemens has been at the forefront of hearing aid technology for over 100 years.  The CIC units have circuit compromises because of the very small size of the unit. These were OK for about five years. They were $3,000 for the set. That's a lot of money now, and 15 years ago it was even more significant.

My next set was larger, the Diva unit made by Widex. These were a little better but, thinking back on it, I was never really impressed by them. For $6,500 I thought I should have been hearing ants crawl. In the past year I have been having more and more trouble hearing and/or understanding people, but my hearing tests have shown no loss in hearing—actually, there has been some improvement.

The left one quit working a few months ago and I sent it up to the House Ear Clinic to see what was wrong. After polishing up the contacts it was working, but I was advised that if it failed again, I could send it back to Widex for repairs that would cost $480.  It failed shortly thereafter so I found myself walking around in something of a fog, wondering what the hell people were saying.

About this time, I had decided that vanity no longer had a place in my hearing world. I didn't care what the hearing aids looked like or how big they were; I wanted something that could help me hear. And, I thought that spending $480 to fix something that I didn't like any more was a non-starter.

While I fussed and stewed about this sordid state of affairs, I read up on hearing aid technology and learned that many manufacturers were building Bluetooth connectivity into their BTE (behind the ear) units. This appealed to me because I figured I could pair the hearing aids with my cell phone and have meaningful conversations on my cell phone again, while also complying with California's preposterously stupid hands-free law.

If you're a Costco junkie like we and most of our friends are, you know that it's a good company that sells good products at a fair price. Costco develops and maintains a premium line of products under its Kirkland Signature brand that represents excellent quality and value. Its dress shirts are a good example; its cashews are another.

All this, combined with the facts that (1) our company medical policy doesn't cover hearing aids and (2) I didn't want to spend over $6,000 for another set, led me to our local Costco, where there is a hearing aid center on site. I had to wait ten days for the next appointment but it was worth the wait. After a hearing test and brief consultation, I bought a set of Kirkland Signature BTE hearing aids and the Rexton remote control that controls them. Siemens makes the hearing aids for Costco and packages the Rexton RCU with the set. The hearing aids were under $2,000 for both and the RCU (remote control unit) was $365. I can hear better with these hearing aids than I have in many moons, and talking on my iPhone is so much easier and so much better I still can't believe it.

The RCU also comes with a transmitter that can connect to a TV or stereo system so I can listen to those devices through the hearing aids. The noisy environment function on the RCU works much better than it did in the Widex Diva set. There is an open option that can be programmed for a future device. I bought another phone system for our home made by Panasonic that is Bluetooth enabled, routes calls directly to cell phones, and can be paired to the RCU. The batteries are rechargeable so at night I put the hearing aids in the charging base, which also dehydrates them a bit, and in the morning they're ready to go with a fresh charge. The RCU contains the microphone for phone conversations so you just need to have it within a few feet of your face in order to carry on a conversation.

Yes, these are a little more work. Traveling with them is a bit more complicated because I take disposable batteries instead of the charging station. On the other hand, I've been using disposable batteries all these years with my other sets, so big deal. And yes, these are more visible so my hearing handicap is more obvious, but I couldn't care less. Which is worse—having someone notice that I wear hearing aids that help me hear them, or wearing a completely concealed set that doesn't work for beans so I can't hear them and having them wonder why I can't?

So far, I think the Kirkland Signature hearing aids are a winner. If you're considering a new (or first) set of hearing aids, I suggest you check them out. If you have any questions about hearing aids, send me an email and I'll be glad to share what I know with you.

Update:  I've learned that you can't have more than one phone paired to the RCU at any given time.  The handling is complicated;  suffice it to say that once you have your home and your office phones paired with your Bluetooth hearing aid RCU, you need to, when you arrive at such a destination, forward your cell phone to your home/work phone and turn the Bluetooth off on your cell phone.

Our phone system at work is a Nortel system that was in purchased in 1998.  The system itself is incapable of handling anything Bluetooth because Bluetooth wasn't around at that time.  However--the article to which I refer below says that the Plantronics Voyager 510S base can be paired with a Bluetooth hearing aid RCU so I bought one and--gloriosky--it works! 

To pair the Voyager 510S base with your hearing aid remote you will need to turn on the pairing mode on your Bluetooth adapter (check your instruction manual if you are not sure how to do this). Otherwise, pairing to the Plantronics hub is fairly simple:
1. Turn on the Bluetooth pairing mode on your Bluetooth adapter.
2. Then push and hold the volume up and volume down buttons on the back of the Plantronics Voyager hub until you see the blue light flashing on the top.
3. Pairing is complete when the light turns solid blue on the Plantronics Voyager hub and your Bluetooth adapter flashes blue slowly.

To receive a call:
1. Lift up on the handset (or press headset button on phone)
2. Push the button on the top of the Plantronics hub – it should shine solid blue.
3. You will hear beeps in your hearing aid(s) to indicate you are in your Bluetooth program. The blue light on your Bluetooth adapter should shine solid blue as well.
4. Begin talking.
5. To hang up, push the button on the top of the Plantronics hub. Replace the handset (unless you are using the handset lifter).

To make a call:
1. Push the button on the top of the Plantronics hub
2. Lift the handset from the telephone (or press the headset button on the phone)
3. Dial the number. 

I can once again have meaningful phone conversations at work.  I do have to go through the exercise each morning of (1) turning Bluetooth off on my iPhone, (2) forwarding the iPhone to my direct dial number at my desk, and (3) confirming the pairing between the Voyager 510S and my RCU--which, fortunately, is automatic and happens as soon as I walk in the door.  Then, I'm set for whatever length of time I'm in the office.  When I'm in my car leaving the office, I cancel call forwarding on the iPhone, turn Bluetooth back on and pair it with the RCU.

It may sound cumbersome, and it is (slightly), but so what?  I can hear.

The Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a great blog on the subject here