My first job in audiology in 1992 was for a small independent private practice. We were a “multi-line” office, meaning that we represented all major manufacturers. There were, at that time, two proprietary chains selling in our market: Miracle-Ear and Beltone. I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with the owner of the Beltone franchise near us which gave me a good perspective on that model as well as their products.
Back then Beltone developed and manufactured their own hearing aids out their Chicago headquarters. They were the leaders in using television advertising and provided a good range of products from some of the first in-the-ear devices to very powerful behind-the-ear instruments for people with profound hearing loss.
In 2000, Beltone was acquired by the Great Nordic (GN) group that had previously purchased the ReSound hearing aid company. This move allowed Beltone to take advantage of GN's research and development and release Beltone products that are essentially private-labeled ReSound hearing aids.
Despite this partnership with a “Big 6” manufacturer, Beltone retains its vertical sales channel through its single-brand locations. Some are corporate-owned, and some are franchises. In my experience, the franchises often have a bit more “personalized” feel as the owners are usually members of the communities they serve like my old pal Barry in the '90s.
Beltone has won several awards in recent years for its products including an Edison Award in 2017 for its smartphone apps1 and a Big Innovation Award in 2020 for its Android streaming technology.2
The folks at Beltone were friendly enough to send me some hearing aids to inspect. I'll talk about each one separately, but in general, these are all well-built hearing aids with world-class technology.
The Imagine is unique in that in addition to the typical two microphones on the hearing behind your ear, there is a third microphone integrated into the speaker (receiver) inside your ear canal. The idea makes sense from an ear canal and pinna (the outer ear) acoustics perspective. In an ear without hearing loss, the pin's shape and ridges help us determine the sound's direction. The pinna and ear canal also acoustically amplify different pitches. This “pinna effect” helps people without hearing loss to hear and understand better in background noise.3
In addition to this “MREI” technology, the Imagine is rechargeable and compatible with the Beltone Hear MAX smartphone app (more about that later in this review). They are “made for iPhone,” so they stream directly from iPhones, iPads, and iPods.
I haven't seen any peer-reviewed data on this approach. Still, based on the “bench science,” I can certainly see that this will be at least as effective as traditional RIC (Receiver In Canal) hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss and decent speech understanding in noise. This is the Image's target user, so I expect people who opt for this premium device will do very well. The demo recordings on ReSound's website for the equivalent product (the ReSound One) creates a few decibels of signal-to-noise improvement. So again, if your hearing loss fits into the target niche, I would expect at least a perceived improvement in listening comfort and effort in noise.
Built on the very successful ReSound Lynx platform, the Amaze is equivalent to the ReSound Lynx Quattro. I've fit a lot of the ReSound version and find them a very flexible and well-built hearing aid. Because they offer both sophisticated automatic processing and the ability to create manual programs for particular situations, they are appropriate for people with a wide range of hearing loss. The Beltone Amaze is suitable for those ranging from very mild “first-timers” to those with up to a severe loss in a very attractive, discreet package.
A traditional RIE (Receiver in the Ear) design, the Amaze is also Made for iPhone, and it is compatible with several of Beltone's accessories and its smartphone app. I'd be hard-pressed to find a patient I couldn't fit very well with this device. The addition of rechargeability makes the Amaze an excellent option for anyone who hates the hassle of changing small batteries. Where it crosses over into genuine lifestyle improvement is for patients with neuropathy or memory issues. For the neuropathy patient who really can't feel little things anymore, they simply pop the device out of the charger, onto their ear, on and off they go. For the memory patient, the risk of mixing up toxic hearing aid batteries with medication or the frustration of trying to remember how to change the batteries is gone entirely.
The charger is very rugged and offers a 30-minute “quick charge” that delivers eight hours of operation. Three hours of charging will provide up to 30 hours of hearing aid functionality.
Often, patients with very severe hearing loss have to settle for lower-tech solutions since some manufacturers focus the “bright and shiny” stuff on the largest segment of the market. Beltone breaks this mold a bit with the Boost Ultra and Max. Sharing technology with the ReSound Enzo, the Boost brings all the features and functionality of the Amaze to people with severe to profound hearing loss. These traditional BTE (Behind The Ear) instruments use either a #13 or #675 Zinc Air battery and require a custom earmold, which your Beltone dealer can make for you.
I fit many patients with the ReSound equivalent of the Boost Ultra when I ran cochlear implant programs. I found that I appreciate these devices' durability and flexibility.
Like the Amaze, the Boost is iPhone and Hear Max App compatible. The fact that Beltone hasn't forgotten the needs of people with more severe hearing loss earns them points in my book and keeps them competitive with the larger players like Oticon and Phonak, who also have strong histories of providing help to those most in need.
Beltone also has several accessories and apps to go along with its hearing aids. Like their sister products, the Beltone line uses a 2.4GHz wireless system to connect to accessories. This is a very robust and long-range (about 60 feet in most buildings) way to overcome some of the additional challenges of distance, reverberation and background noise.
This small portable microphone allows you to hear what people are saying when they speak into it. The sound streams directly into your hearing aid The official range is 80 feet, but realistically, I've found that depending on certain environmental factors, they are very reliable up to 60 feet. These remote microphones use the same hardware as the ReSound MultiMic and Mini Mic. They operate very similarly with a few differences.
The MyPAL Micro has a directional microphone and accelerometer that senses if the microphone is dropped and mutes it before the “clunk” of the floor happens.
The MyPAL Pro is, in my experience, one of the best values in Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT). In addition to the features above, it also allows for manual adjustment of the microphone sensitivity from onmi-directional to ultra-narrow. The accelerometer automatically switches to omni when placed on a flat surface. What makes this device one of my favorite hearing system components is that you can use it as a hub for other technologies. On the bottom of the myPAL Pro, there are two sockets: One for a standard 3.5mm audio cable (included) and a 3-hold “Euro” jack. These allow you to connect other audio devices to the myPAL Pro and then stream to your hearing aids.
I've used this feature on ReSound hearing aids to allow folks to listen to Mp3 players, hearing assistive devices in theatres or in the case of students, take advantage of district-owned FM systems like the Phonak Roger that uses a Euro plug.
As if all that wasn't enough, the myPAL Pro also has a telecoil to allow for connection to wide-area “hearing loops” found in auditoriums and houses of worship (see our hearing aid buyers guide for more about this). This is great because even if you have a smaller hearing aid without a telecoil, you can take advantage of this very effective technology for computing distance, reverberation and background noise.
This device connects to a television or other audio producing device and streams the sound to your hearing aid. It is very easy to connect and supports both analog and digital inputs. Streaming reduces the negative effects of distance and reverberation on speech understanding. For those with different TV tastes than their partners, the Direct TV 2 allows you to hear clearly when the TV speakers are very low or even muted.
The current line of Beltone hearing aids stream to iPhones and iPads. If you use an Android phone or tablet, the Phone Link 2 converts the Bluetooth signal from your phone to the 2.4 GHz signal of your hearing aids. This allows you to hear in both hearing aids, hands-free and controls the basic functions of the hearing aid.
With this small remote you can adjust hearing aid volume and switch streaming devices. This is very helpful for those with dexterity problems or who require assistance in daily living as it allows a caregiver to easily control the hearing aids.
As the Beltone hearing aid lineup has evolved, so has its smartphone app HearMax. This app is a very user-friendly, intuitive, and discreet way to control Beltone Hearing aids. Once connected, it provides basic volume control and program selection control. It also allows you to fine-tune your hearing aids in specific settings and adjust the “mixing” of input from accessories like the MyPAL microphone or TVLink2.
The updated user interface is attractive, and I like that the tinnitus management is integrated right in. Well done, Beltone!
This app also helps to control hearing aid features. It can be used by Apple and Android users as well as with Samsung Galaxy products.
This is an exclusive app for the Apple Watch, allowing you to control all hearing aid functions from your wrist.
Get sound therapy and relaxing exercises to calm tinnitus with this app. In my practice this is one of the best and most effective supportive apps for tinnitus. A trial of this app (or the ReSound version) has been part of my standard protocol for tinnitus patients regardless of their hearing aid brand. It's logical, easy to use and is based on solid tinnitus research very similar to the Progressive Tinnitus Management program developed by the Veterans Administration.4
Beltone offers much of its customer service through online support. Through the HearMax App, you can send a request to a hearing aid specialist to reset your hearing aid and get help without leaving your home.
On its website, there is also technical support available for all its hearing aids and product lines, as well as app support and support for accessories. Beltone also aims to answer many frequently asked questions on its website.
If you have a specific question that cannot be answered with the information available online, you can always send a message via the company's “contact us” page. There is also a toll-free number available if you need help.
Aside from that, the current generation of products would be a good fit for the vast majority of people with hearing loss. As with any hearing aid brand, your success is much more about the relationship you foster with the dispenser and the amount of “mental calisthenics” you're willing to do to maximize the benefit of your hearing aids.
BusinessWire. (2017). Beltone myPAL Accessories Win 2017 Edison Award.
Taylor & Francis Online. (2010). Sound source localization using hearing aids with microphones placed behind-the-ear, in-the-canal, and in-the-pinna.
US Department of Veteran Affairs. (2018). Progressive Tinnitus Management.
As a practicing audiologist since the 1990’s, Brad Ingrao, AuD has fitted thousands of hearing aids to seniors and people of all ages. Brad is the Official Audiologist for the International Committee on Sports for the Deaf and a well-known speaker. Dr…. Learn More About Brad Ingrao