I currently wear two Oticon Alta CIC’s and I’ve been nothing but happy with them. However, when the Opn hearing aid came out, I had the chance to try a pair out. In many ways, I regret it.
Before I go further, I need to explain a little bit about how I like to hear. Each hearing aid manufacturer has a different approach to amplification and a person might love how one hearing aid works, but hate another. I had this experience a while ago when I demo’d a pair of brand new, high end hearing aids from MANUFACTURER X. I won’t say which manufacturer it was, because I know many people who love their hearing aids from them. But their approach just wasn’t for me. Those hearing aids spent a lot of time trying to “zero-in” on the dominant speaker in a certain situation. While sitting in a lecture hall, they did a great job of making the professor sound like a warm, pleasant audiobook playing in my head, but I struggled to hear classmates sitting nearby me. The other frustrating part was the way these hearing aids shifted their idea of who the “dominant speaker” was in a certain situation. If I was trying to hear a classmate across the room ask a question, they might decide that it was more important for me to hear a pair of classmates sitting nearby, having a conversation about something completely unrelated. These hearing aids were good in simple situations, such as hearing a lone dinner companion in a loud restaurant, but failed to capture the complexity of the auditory world around the listener (in my opinion anyways).
I like to hear everything around me. I want to hear air vents, clattering dishware, and conversations going on at the next dinner table. To not hear those things, is to live in an artificial world of “sterilized” sound. I don’t want to feel like there is a crystal clear voice inside my head, instead I want to hear the world as close to how it actually sounds. That’s what I’ve loved about my 8+ years of wearing Oticon hearing aids. In my opinion, they do a great job at this. Everything is made available for me to hear, and it feels natural. It feels real.
I thought I was happy with my Alta’s, but then I tried the Opn’s. At first, the difference wasn’t major. Over time though, the subtle differences became obvious. I could still hear the entirety of the soundscape around me, but everything felt a little more accessible (or “Opn” if you run the marketing campaign for these hearing aids). Someone on the phone in the next room wasn’t just noise to me, it was speech, with tones and intonations and a rhythm that I couldn’t hear from that far a distance with the Alta’s. Sharp, percussive sounds like clapping or footsteps felt more natural, and didn’t blend into the background noise of a room. Instead, everything stood out like the individual sounds that they were. My biggest realization about how much I liked these hearing aids came when I played music. I often take my hearing aids out to listen to songs, because there is a certain crispness and weight to music that gets lost when its processed by hearing aids. With the Opn’s, I found that these sensations of music made it through, and were actually improved. It felt like all the music I’d heard through previous hearing aids came from tiny laptop speakers, and the music from the Opn’s was like an expensive surround-sound system.
If you’ve heard about the Opn’s, you might just know them as Oticon’s direct-to-iPhone hearing aids. I was able to use this feature a little bit with a friend’s iPhone (I have an Android) and found that the app was great and easy to use. I wish I had the opportunity to try out some of the IFTTT features as well, but unfortunately didn’t. In all honesty though, these features really wouldn’t even register for me as reasons to get these hearing aids – the difference in listening ability is more than enough. At the beginning of this post I said that in some ways I regret having tried the Opn’s. Now I know how much better they are than my current hearing aids – which I previously thought were the best out there!
If I had a need for a new pair of hearing aids, I’d get the Opn’s in a heartbeat. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, as a student money is always a concern), my current Alta’s are only about 2.5 years old. Trying out the Opns was more for the sake of my own curiosity than anything else. I don’t quite have the overwhelming need to upgrade right now.
(Finally, I do feel like I need to disclose that I was not motivated, financially or otherwise, by Oticon to write this post. I know how every manufacturer uses a wealth of persuasive buzzwords to make their products sound like they’re all completely revolutionary, and it can be hard for someone looking to choose a hearing aid to make sense of it all. I happened to have a very positive experience with these hearing aids, and just wanted to share that experience with others and try to explain what I found enjoyable about them. As well, its important to note that a lot of what I’ve talked about is rather subjective. Someone else could try these same hearing aids, fit the same way, and have a completely different experience.)