Hey Doc, what's your opinion of Oticon? This is the type of question I'm asked a lot as there are many different hearing aid styles, prices, and brands out there. I have a lot of experience with Oticon, starting with their behind the ear (BTE) instruments in college. I found them to be one of the most popular instruments among my Deaf friends. Oticon was one of the first hearing aid companies to focus on the sound quality of a user's voice, which tends to sound strange when amplified through hearing aids.
For this year's review, I'll show you how Oticon fits on my friend's father-in-law (with pictures proving social distancing was observed), and talk about my experiences with their products. I'll also review Oticon's product line, most popular accessories, and provide a bit of a history lesson for those interested in the subject.
I can confidently say that if you buy an Oticon hearing aid and have them properly fitted, you will hear better and have a satisfactory user experience. I've fit them for nearly 30 years including three family members and they not only sound good, they hold up and are a good investment. The company stands behind the product and there is likely an experienced Oticon dispenser in any decent-sized town in America.
Since the early days, I've always found Oticon products to be well built and durable. They offer up to a 3-year warranty and in my clinical experience, have always gone the extra mile to resolve any repair issues promptly. As with other “big 6” companies, the warranty is international and they have a very large network of independent providers in addition to company-owned Hearing Life locations.
Here is a picture of my friend's father-in-law with the Oticon OPN-S (which I'll explain in more detail below).
Not only can you see that he is wearing a mask for safety, but the hearing aid itself is barely visible. This is his second pair of Oticon hearing aids. The first lasted 13 years, and still work, but he wanted to take advantage of the newest technology.
Here is what the rechargeable base station looks like, you can just put it on your nightstand and have a full day's charge when you wake up in the morning. It is smaller than a clock radio.
Here's one last picture of the hearing aids resting on the bench of this septuagenarian's boat he rented for the day to water ski. He (wisely) took out the hearing aids before skiing and snapped the photo for me. You might notice they're color-coded to easily tell left vs. right ears.
Oticon is one of the oldest hearing aid companies in the world. In 1904, Hans Demant became the Danish distributor or Acousticon which later became Oticon.1
In 1992, Oticon released MultiFocus, their first non-linear, programmable, automatic hearing aid. This new approach to amplification has become the standard. At that time only Oticon and ReSound had this technology. Patients reported significant improvements in hearing and quality of life. The success of the MultiFocus was followed by their first digital instrument, DigiFocus, in 1996.
Since MultiFocus, Oticon's philosophy of hearing aids has revolved around restoring normal loudness perception through the use of compression. Their angle on this was a little different than others like ReSound because Oticon used less compression in the higher frequencies to allow critical speech sounds to remain audible in background noise. In combination with directional microphones, this has worked well for many of my patients.
The current iteration of this philosophy is called “Brain Hearing” and was first introduced in the OPN product line in 2016.2 The current version and the ones my friend's father-in-law has is the OPN S.
The idea of Brain Hearing and the OPN concept is that the brain is the best filter of sound based on the content, rather than the specific direction or combination of pitch and loudness. The approach has been shown to reduce listening effort. I find it works very well with folks who have mild to moderate hearing loss with good to excellent speech discrimination. For my patients with more severe hearing loss, I often provide a manual program with a more traditional directional microphone setting for challenging listening.
The OPN S comes in a mini Receiver In The Ear (RITE) which other manufacturers call RIC, in rechargeable and standard zinc-air battery models. The standard models include one with a telecoil miniRITE T). For more severe losses, the OPN S BTE PP provides a slight modification of the OPN algorithm and much more power. This model has a telecoil and uses a zinc-air battery.
On the custom, or ITE (in the ear) side, Oticon offers the previous generation OPN chip in IIC through Full Shell models.
Oticon also offers an “essential” line of hearing aids called Ruby (BTE and MiniRITE) and Siya (ITEs). These are very high-quality products which are essentially “pre-OPN” level technology. These legacy products are sometimes derided as being a compromise for people who can't afford the latest and greatest, but in reality, these were the latest and greatest just a few years ago. One of the things I like about Oticon as a company is that they offer a very wide range of price points making their technologies available to more people. From the outside, the Ruby and Siya look exactly the same as OPN S and OPN and they support all the accessories and apps described below.
OPN and Ruby products are “Made for iPhone” which allows direct streaming to iPhones and iPads. This is a nice feature not only for phone calls but in the days of COVID-19 it provides better fidelity from binging streaming media or connecting with family remotely using FaceTime or Zoom.
The Oticon OPN app provides basic remote control of the devices as well as cool features like “Find My Hearing Aid” and the ability to manually adjust the “mix” of accessories and ambient sounds. This is great for TV listening (keeping the noise from the kitchen down) or when using a remote microphone.
They also provide an app to allow your hearing care professional to provide remote support which is especially relevant in the COVID-19 era.
The Connect Clip is a nice multi-function device. First, as the name suggests, it is a very directional remote microphone. This allows you to control the negative impact of distance, reverberation and background noise by picking up speech very close to the person talking and then wirelessly streaming that “clean” speech to your hearing aids up to about 60 feet away.
Secondly, it acts as a simple remote control for volume and program change. This is good not only for users with dexterity difficulties but also for those with memory problems who may need a family member or caregiver to assist them with their hearing aids.
Finally, for those with Android devices and use the Connect Clip as a Bluetooth “re-broadcaster” to allow streaming of telephone and music from the phone.
This small device connected to your TV or cable box using either an analog or digital connection. Once paired to the hearing aids, it will stream the TV audio up to 45 feet. This is separate from the TV speaker, so your listening partners have separate volume control. As noted above, the mix of TV sound to environmental sounds can be adjusting using the ON app.
This small box connects to your landline phone and then pairs to the Connect Clip which then streams to your hearing aids. This essentially turns your landline phone into a cordless phone.
While I think Oticon does a good job of trying to offer a wide range of price points, the reality exists that many people still cannot afford hearing aids. Unfortunately, the most seemingly obvious solution, Medicare, doesn't provide any coverage for hearing aids. There is legislation in the works, but for now, that's a non-starter. Some private insurance plans cover some of the costs. If you are of limited means, your state Medicaid program may be able to help. If you're still working, as many seniors find themselves needing to do, check with your state Vocational Rehabilitation office. If you are a Veteran and eligible for general VA healthcare, hearing aids, including premium devices like the OPN S, are fully covered, as are accessories.
If Oticon hearing aids are in your price range, I have a high degree of confidence that you will hear better and have a good total user experience – from fit to service to reliability.
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