Recently I had an opportunity to be fitted with Signia’s Pure 13 Nx hearing aids thanks to the help of Ron McVeigh at Nutech Health and Hearing and Signia’s Bridget Covey. Those that follow this blog know that I previously used Signia Pure Primax 5’s as my first foray into hearing aids. That experience was both eye-opening and very positive. It brought clarity to conversations and a broader range of detail to music at reasonable volumes. (For more on my initial experience as well as more details on the importance of getting your hearing checked, see here ) So, what’s new with the Pure 13 Nx? Quite a bit actually. The main new feature presented in the Nx series is what Signia is calling Own Voice Processing (OVP). It will be helpful to step back before I try to describe the problem they’re solving. Have you ever heard your voice recorded? Typically, it sounds like a slightly higher pitched you. When you hear your voice without any hearing aid, you hear it through the resonating cavities of your bone structure which typically presents it at a lower pitch, especially for men. So imagine that higher-pitched you being magnified in your ears through hearing aid mics. Now you’ll recognize the problem they’re solving: your voice sounds artificially high and loud to you in conversation (and usually with a bit of echo). It’s as if you were listening to yourself recorded in a cave. To reduce this artificial sound of your voice, people would turn down the volume of the mics, but that also reduced your ability to hear others. So, Signia built in the ability to essentially detect and filter your own voice without having to suppress the sound of other voices. In other words, your own voice is filtered down to a natural level while continuing to elevate other voices in the conversation so that you can hear them better and with less strain. Signia, ironically, packs a ton of high tech into the device so you hear your conversations (especially your part in them) as completely natural as if you had no need of hearing aids and weren’t wearing any. But then that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Hearing at its best where the technology vanishes into the background.This would be called a nontrivial upgrade. So if you tried hearing aids (or were afraid to try hearing aids) because of things sounding “weird”, you ought to give these a try.
My own experience of OVP is that it essentially eliminates any artificial flavor to the sound of your own voice. That echoey nature of your own voice vanishes. Moreover, with the directional nature of the mics, your overall perception of sound direction seems enhanced. Note: the artificialness of your voice is mitigated immediately but, over time, essentially vanishes. The hearing aids learn your sound more over time and your voice sounds completely natural after a week or so (except under some profiles like “Recorded Music” where that processing is turned off; I’ll dive into that later).
[Full disclosure: Signia has supplied Pure 13 Nx, StreamLine TV and StreamLine Mic for review. While this does influence what I review, I do not believe it influenced my evaluation.]
There are other additional features as well. The app, now called myControl, has many more features including the ability to control the tinnitus therapy signal in the Universal program, better management of automatic spatial configuration, the ability to capture sound exposure data, the ability to change programs and mic direction based on motion and a much smaller StreamLine Mic (compared to EasyTec) for Android users (Apple phone users don’t require it). Along with new features, they also fixed some nagging inconveniences, foremost among which is the ability to change profiles (programs) without having to detach from a Bluetooth or headphone connection. So much easier!
The myControl app works well, overall, with my LG V30 Android phone. Switching and staying between programs works really well. I don’t have any issues with it dynamically switching programs on me or switching out of a spatial configuration after some period of time (e.g., I have the mics pointing forward, then after some time they used just revert to the default setting). Roughly once a day during very heavy use (especially during this review period), it crashes and restarts, but everything works well. Finally, sometimes it’s slow to initially bring up the app, but now I’m nit-picking. I will say that this app shows Signia’s dedication to improvement. There are lots of fixes and features tied into the app such as reviewing your sonic history:
I’ve also had an opportunity to use the StreamLine TV. I can’t imagine how amazing this would be for somebody who has a severe hearing loss. Even for myself, who has a relatively moderate hearing loss, it simply sounds great. Certainly, movie or TV sounds fabulously crisp and clear with no need to crank up the volume. With my preferred ear domes, you don’t get a ton of bass (explosions or cannons won’t have the oomph you might expect) but Signia even has an answer for that: double closed domes. For me, they’re a bit too warm of a sound signature, so I’ll settle for a less strong bass. Listening to music via CDs or Blu-ray is great.
So let me dive into the music aspect. I love music. In fact, my initial desire for hearing aids was the fact that my upper register (and some lower register) sound had significantly diminished and to mitigate my tinnitus through the tinnitus therapy signal. I would have to crank the sound to harmful levels to hear some detail. It turns out, as my wife and children have been telling me, my ability to hear conversation was degraded as well. So, I was pretty excited to test out music heard directly through the hearing aids. What an experience! The spatial awareness, as well as the clarity and detail of music, is simply amazing. I listened to Diana Krall’s Turn Up the Quiet, Itzhak Pearlman’s Concert in Moscow which includes a Tchaikovsky piece and Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five. In each case, the detail, clarity, and richness of the mids and treble are fabulous. Moreover, the range of StreamLine TV is just sick. I was listening downstairs in my den, had to a go do something, walked upstairs into the master bedroom and there was no a hesitation, let alone a break, in the sound. It was not until I walked outside the house, opened up my car, and started to get inside to grab something, that the signal was finally breaking up. So, it easily goes through walls, floors, and some pretty serious distance without missing a beat. The only problem you have is people start talking to you because they don’t realize you’re listening to anything and you have to pause what you’re doing and have them repeat again. But the sound is spellbinding. I was talking to a colleague of mine about this and I saw his eyes light up. He has a close relative who cranks the TV up to the point where it’s painful for him to go visit when the TV’s on. He really wants to get his relative into StreamLine TV.
I’ve also had an opportunity to use the StreamLine Mic. This allows streaming to the hearing aids for Android phones (it’s native to iPhones). That means music, phone calls, Audible audiobooks and podcasts all can go directly into your ears. The sound is the same quality as the StreamLine TV. That is, astonishingly good for the mids and treble with subtle bass (again, unless you switch to double closed domes). To me, this is a game changer and one that I can see being adopted in the future in a more mainstream manner, even for those who don’t have hearing loss. This is not quite the future of implants, but close. I can be anywhere, without any bulky, separate headphones and listen to tunes or my favorite book.
Finally, a separate note on channel separation. I listened to a few binaural recordings, that is, where the recording mics are placed in, essentially, a mannequin’s ears so that it is recorded exactly how a human would hear it live. This provides the ultimate in stereo separation. For example, I listened to David Chesky’s Primal Scream: Jazz in the New Harmonic (a binaural recording). Words fail me. The channel separation is stunning. The placement of the drums in, for example, left rear while the sax is jamming in the right front is amazing. It really is as if I’m in the middle of the studio with the band around me going at it. While I listen mostly to jazz and classical, I love all genres. When I need a bit more thump, I pull out my Grado SR125e’s which are an open-backed headphone with a flat on-ear cushion that works well with my hearing aids and their mics.
One of the brilliant things the Signia Nx does is adjust the mic volume automatically based on environmental noise. For example, I was out on a walk with my dog, listening to Amor Towles’ audiobook A Gentleman in Moscow (I highly recommend it) when a car drove by my bit of the sidewalk. The volume pumped up automatically to adjust for the car noise. Very nice; the story continued and there was no need to rewind to before the car came by. Equally nice is that you can still hear some environmental noise so that you can avoid dangerous situations like a cyclist calling out “Left” as they breeze by you and you do not hear it because you have headphones that keep noise out. Phone calls are really clear on the receiving end and, I’m told, clear on the recipient’s end albeit you sound like you’re in a tunnel. Your words are clear but you sound a bit different. So, as I said, anywhere I go, I have instant access to my tunes, music, and phone without ever picking up a separate headphone, Bluetooth headset or anything else.
There’s so much more built into these things. Let’s talk programs (or profiles). So, working with your audiologist, you can set up different programs. Mine are Universal (this tech is smart so I leave it on Universal most the time and let it figure out what’s going on and adjust accordingly), Noisy Environment, TV, Recorded Music, Outdoor Sport, and Tinnitus. I’ll use Noisy Environment in a restaurant where the hearing aids will pull in the spatial signature to be closer in (reduces the sound of conversations, plates, and movement so you can focus on the conversation at hand). TV is used when I want the hearing aids to pick up the StreamLine TV device. Recorded Music kills the tinnitus therapy sound and opens wide the sound signature. Outdoor Sport more aggressively manages wind noise and Tinnitus focuses on the tinnitus therapy stream. Here’s the kicker though; the Signia Nx’s are still smarter than you, at least when it comes to hearing. Let’s suppose that I go the Universal setting and manually configure the mics to point to my left so I can listen to my dear bride speaking to me from that side. OK, time to leave. As I’m walking, the Nx detects my movement and will reorient my mics forward. Pretty slick.
Honestly, these are a stunning piece of tech. Prior to wearing hearing aids, the world sounded like I had a thick blanket over my head; I could hear conversations, music, and so forth. I could mostly distinguish all of the words, albeit, with effort. It was like hearing everything through the filter of mediocre headphones which muddied down the sound. Now, there is a crispness, sparkle, and clarity which was previously lost. All of this while retaining a more natural sound to my voice. I don’t have to focus as much to understand what’s being said. If that was all, these are worth it. However, I also have the ability to control my sonic environment more than ever. I can adjust the volume down for a loud movie or turn the right side up to hear my wife in the car. I have tinnitus therapy to mitigate the buzz in my head and, now, can connect to my media and phone calls everywhere. Serious sonic seventh heaven.