Until fairly recently, the hearing aid industry was dominated by the “Big 6” manufacturers (GN ReSound, Oticon, Phonak, Signia, Starkey, and Widex), and distributed primarily through store-front clinics. A few attempts have been made to break that model and provide a direct to end-user sales channel, but until the COVID-19 pandemic forced wide-scale clinic closures, I hadn't seen many really take off.
Lively looks to be one that's got some legs. Their current offering is limited to people with mild to moderate hearing loss, but it has solid technology and a good online support system. This makes a lot of sense and places them in the largest market for hearing aids: Mild to moderate hearing loss with few other problems. This entry-level market is also where a lot of late Baby-boomers and early Generation X-ers like me (I'm 54) sit age and consumer habit wise.
Lively's website describes their hearing aids as being made by the first company to bring direct iPhone streaming to hearing aids. That and the images of the devices, smartphone app, and accessories tell me that the devices labeled Lively are made by GN ReSound who has a similar arrangement with Beltone. Unlike Beltone who offers ReSound's entire line of hearing aids (IIC through BTE), Lively has chosen the lane of Receiver in Canal or RIC hearing aids. ReSound's underlying hearing aid technology has been very successful with my patients over almost 30 years and their accessories do a very good job of mitigating the negative effects of distance, reverberation, and background noise.
The on-line selection process is a combination of a well-written hearing and lifestyle questionnaire and a basic online hearing test designed by Harvey Abrams, Ph.D. who I know and for whom I have great respect. They also offer the option to upload a scanned audiogram if you prefer.
I took the online test and received results very similar to what I know my hearing to be. Because I still have very good hearing (knock wood), I cheated a little and took the test with my iPad speakers instead of my studio-quality insert earphones. I did this to see how sensitive the online test was and was impressed. When you use speakers, the room acoustics make certain sound harder to hear which is why they prefer you to use earphones. I've done this “cheat” before and compared to insert earphone data, so I'm comfortable saying the Lively test is accurate enough to get you a good initial fit.
Following the test, you can watch a video explaining your results. Lively gets a thumbs up for open captioning the video. The test itself is pretty straightforward, and I imagine that less tech-savvy folks wouldn't have much difficulty with it.
Here are Lively's results from my test:
The results page is not a typical audiogram, but rather a functional descriptor of hearing. I like this because one of the things I spend a lot of time doing in clinical practice is explaining an audiogram graph that doesn't really follow any rules of graphing.
Finally, I can click on a video and the Lively Head of Audiology explains my results. This is not a truly individualized explanation, but they clearly have several videos based on common patterns of hearing loss. Again, kudos for the open captions.
To ease the pocketbook, Lively is offering their hearing aids at a pretty significant discount compared to buying the ReSound branded version from a local dispenser or audiologist. They also provide financing further supporting the “buy it online by the month” mentality and purchasing behavior of those most likely to be buying their first hearing aids. For example, their Lively Bundle is currently retailing for $2,000 (rechargeable) with an option of $78/month.
Currently, they offer a private-labeled ReSound RIC with either a #312 zinc-air battery or a Lithium-Ion rechargeable. These devices are “Made for iPhone” which means they use Apple's proprietary version of Bluetooth LE to stream directly to iPhones, iPads, and iPods. There are also a few Android devices that can link up this way and Lively provides handy compatibility charts on their website.
They have all the features you need including directional microphones for noise reduction, automatic and manual programs, feedback control, and enough adjustment channels to allow Lively's audiologists to match the shape and severity of your loss very well.
Because the devices themselves are ReSound, I can speak with confidence to both the build quality and the appropriateness of the amplifiers for people within the target audience. What's really nice and somewhat different is that Lively is offering 3 years of online support with a remote audiologist. This was a great idea before COVID-19 but as we creep into the fall flu season, having that kind of virus-safe access to hearing care is critical.
I downloaded and installed the Lively App which, not surprisingly, is exactly the same as the ReSound/Beltone App. It provides basic volume and program control as well as more advanced features like custom frequency sharing, mixing for accessories, and tinnitus management. This is also the vehicle for remote support.
The 1:1 re-use of the ReSound App with only a label change is a good example of not reinventing the wheel on the part of Lively, and also demonstrates how ReSound is very good at maximizing the return on their R&D dollars.
On the accessory side, Lively offers ReSound's most popular wireless devices: The TV Streamer, the MultiMic, and the Phone Clip. Unlike Beltone, these are shown with no corporate logo which suggests to me that that ReSound may be looking at additional distribution opportunities within the on-line space.
All of these accessories use the 2.4 GHz wireless platform and allow users to hear and understand speech more accurately in the presence of background noise or when the source, like a TV, is beyond the ideal sweet spot for hearing aids (6 feet). These devices are easy to configure and use and are, in my clinical experience, quite durable and provide a lot of benefits. I rarely sell only hearing aids, preferring instead to provide “hearing systems” rather than “hearing aids.” With Lively's prices being quite low for the hearing aids and the accessory prices being about average (there's historically very little mark up on accessories), I think this is a great model to encourage more people to use Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) more often.
If you or a loved one have mild to moderate hearing loss and are thinking about diving in with your first hearing aid, I recommend checking Lively out.
Also, I hope that we continue to see more companies like Lively offering alternatives to the typical brick and mortar hearing aid shop. It's long been a problem that only 20% of people who need hearing aids get them. I've been convinced for some time that it's much less about the technology than the limited purchasing channels. Lively and others like them will hopefully provide market data to not only support that theory (I love it when I guess right) but more importantly, encourage more people with early-onset hearing loss to treat it before it erodes their interpersonal relationships and health-related quality of life.