Signia Hearing Aids: New name, historic company
Since before I started my clinical practice in 1992, I was actively involved in the signing Deaf community. As such, I became familiar with very powerful hearing aids we affectionately called “boomers.” One of the most common was the Siemens 284PP, a predecessor to the current Signia hearing aids. A unique feature of this vintage of Siemens hearing aids was that they had sterling silver battery contacts, so we needed to keep toothpaste and cotton swabs in the lab to clean (de-tarnish) them.
Fast forward to today, and Signia offers one of the broadest ranges of products and price points. If you haven’t shopped for a new hearing aid in a while, and the name Signia is unfamiliar to you, here’s a quick summary to catch you up.
In 2013, Siemens hearing aids division was purchased and renamed Sivantos, and the hearing aids were rebranded as Signia.1 In 2019, Sivantos and Widex merged to form WS Audiology.2 This company offers hearing aids (Signia, Widex, Rexton, A&M ) as well as several distribution networks (HearUSA, TruHearing in the US, and others worldwide).
In this year’s review, I’ll go through Signia’s current portfolio, show you how their smartphone app works, review my experiences with Signia products from my clinical practice, and take a few of their hearing aids on a test drive (the company was kind enough to send me a few samples).
Before getting into Signia’s full line of hearing aids, let’s talk about fit and durability. Signia sent me some replicas to play around with, including the Syletto and Charge N Go (full descriptions and pictures of these products are in the next section).
Despite their small size, the build quality is quite good. I expect them to hold up as well as the other Signia RICs (Receiver in Canals) I have dispensed in my clinical practice. They are very light and fit quite well behind my ears, even with my glasses on. As an experiment, I left them in and took a short ride on my motorcycle. I wear a “half” helmet with straps that cover my ears tightly below my chin. The Syletto was comfortable even after the 10-minute ride to the store. For the return trip, I switched to the Charge N Go replicas (a more traditional RIC). They weren’t bad at all, but the Styletto certainly felt better longer. Signia’s domes have always held up well as have the wires for their RICs.
One of the things I’ve always liked about Signia is that they offer my patients a very wide range of products and price points. When I was practicing in South Florida, we sold a lot of hearing aids to people visiting from South America. Signia not only kept older “legacy” models available at a lower cost but also had a network of dispensers all around the world. With very few exceptions, I was able to provide my patients with a list of certified Signia dispensers in their country should they need a warranty service.
The current technology family for Signia is the “Nx” series, but the predecessor, Primax is still around and is very good for folks on a budget.
The Nx series is available in all form factors, including the new “Styletto” super-slim RIC and a clever ready-fit CIC called Silk. (Again, if you’re unfamiliar with the different styles of hearing aids, see our handy guide.)
One of the primary benefits of the Nx platform is direct streaming to Android and iOS devices via Bluetooth LE (Low Energy). This is not the Bluetooth you use for your computer mouse or keyboard, but rather the “made for iPhone” kind. This connectivity is available in Nx BTEs, RICs, and some ITEs as well as the Styletto Connect.
All of the Nx products offer a set of features designed to address the most common complaints of hearing aid users. “Own Voice Processing” is designed to reduce the tendency for one’s voice to sound hollow when wearing hearing aids. They also provide automatic adjustment for volume and directional microphone settings. Like many other advanced hearing aids, the Nx offers frequency lowering which allows people with very poor hearing for high pitches to hear and understand them better.
Signia is also one of the leaders in Lithium-Ion rechargeability. The Nx line is their second-generation rechargeable family and offers inductance charging. This eliminates the need for charging contacts which can become tarnished or corroded, especially in humid climates.
The Styletto hearing aid reminds me of some of the very thin body-worn hearing aids in the early transistor age. Miniaturization allowed them to pack more technology into a smaller case. Manufacturers took advantage of this and hid hearing aids in everything from broaches to fountain pens. The Styletto is very similar. Same tech as a traditional Signia Nx in a sleeker case aimed at the younger, high-tech patient.
It is a RIC style that comes in two versions: the Styletto and the Styletto Connect. Both are built on the Nx chip and are rechargeable, but only the “connect” offers direct streaming.
Charge & Go is the Rechargeable line of Nx-equipped hearing aids. They come in two versions: Behind The Ear (BTE) called Motion, and a RIC called Pure.
Both cover hearing losses from mild to severe and offer contact-less “inductance” charging. I’ve fit a fair number of these and like their predecessors, find them to be reliable, comfortable, and very user friendly.
Signia’s in the ear product line is called Insio. Under the hood, they are the same as the Pure, Motion and Styletto but in an “all in one” design. Aside from personal preference, I have found that for patients with dexterity or shoulder issues an ITE can often be easier to insert and remove. One caveat with ITE instruments. Those smaller than a “half shell” or sometimes In the Canal (ITC) usually only have one microphone. This limits how well the hearing aid can reduce background noise.
For those looking for a nearly invisible hearing solution, the CIC or IIC may be a good option. While they only have one microphone, the deep position inside the ear canal allows for some natural directional benefit. Check out our Buyers Guide for more information on how this works.
Signia makes a couple of products for a smaller subset of folks, but they are worth mentioning here.
The majority of people with hearing loss have an equal loss in both ears. Some either have “single-sided deafness” or asymmetric loss such that one ear is too distorted to benefit from direct amplification. For these folks, Contralateral Routing Of Signal (CROS) or Bilateral CROS (BiCROS) can be helpful. In the case of true single-sided hearing loss, a microphone and wireless transmitter sits on the poorer side and sends sound to a receiver on the other side. If there is also hearing loss in the better ear, the receiver is also a hearing aid. The system looks just like two hearing aids. It doesn’t provide true directional hearing, but it alleviates the logistical problems of not hearing on one side (always needing to sit in a certain place, leaning toward speakers, etc.).
Typical CIC instruments are custom made which means that you need an ear impression and several days to a couple of weeks for delivery. Using the same “click” sleeve system employed in their domes, Signia can provide CIC size and discretion for many people (depending on the size and shape of the ear canal) in an instant-fit form factor.
It provides the same Nx features and uses a disposable zinc-air battery. While not for everyone, it can provide a good solution for people who want a CIC, but can’t, or don’t want to wait once they decide to move forward with hearing improvement.
Like other major manufacturers, Signia recognizes that even the best hearing aids are susceptible to the negative effects of distance, reverberation, and background noise on speech understanding. To address this, they offer a series of accessories. The ones described below are all compatible with the current Nx line. Some may also work with older products. If you have an older Signia hearing aid and think some of these may be helpful, contact your hearing care professional and ask about compatibility or alternate version for your devices.
Hearing aids work best when they are less than 12 feet from the sounds they are capturing. Beyond that, the quality of the signal is degraded significantly by reverberation and background noise. The Streamline Mic is held or clipped very close to the mouth of speaker. This captures the signal at an ideal “signal-to-noise ratio” then beams it wirelessly to your hearing aids. The range is between 60 and 80 feet depending on the type of room you’re in.
In addition, the Streamline Mic can act as a Bluetooth re-broadcaster, allowing paired Bluetooth audio devices to stream to the hearing aids. I like both the flexibility of this device as well as the relatively low price. The operation takes a little getting used to, but the majority of the folks I’ve sold it to catch on within one office visit.
Similar in concept to the Streamline Mic, the Streamline TV connects to your TV or cable box and then streams the audio directly to your hearing aids. Because it uses an audio output, the TV speaker volume can be set to the comfort of those without hearing loss (or Mute for private listening), and then the hearing aids can be adjusted to your needs.
Set up is simple and once connected, it is pretty much hands-off.
Hearing aids today, including Signia models, are designed to operate automatically, however as Finley Peter Dunne implied when he said “Trust everyone, but cut the cards”3 having a manual over-ride is always a good idea. The majority of Signia products have on-board controls, but those buttons are pretty small. Remote controls not only offer sausage-fingered folks like me a way to adjust volume and programs, but they allow caregiver access to hearing aids for patients who may need additional assistance, particularly those with dexterity or memory issues. Signa offers both stand-alone remotes and smartphone applications for this purpose. This review will cover only the current version of each. Other, older versions may be an option and should be discussed with your hearing care professional.
The mini pocket control is very basic. It allows you to control volume (+ and -) and toggle between programs. I find these remotes to be a good match to folks who prefer their hearing aids to be automatic, but occasionally need minor adjustments or a specific manual program such as a telecoil program for a hearing loop at church.
Recently, Signia combined several of their smartphone applications into a “master” app simply called the Signia App. In addition to remote control, it allows for quite a bit of fine-tuning, information about the hearing aids and the hearing rehabilitation process and relevant for these COVID-19 days, an extensive remote assistance (tele audiology) toolkit.
This remote support can be as easy as a text message or if needed, a live, remote programming session. This functionality changes the game for hearing care. I envision the possibility that savvy providers will start to offer extended hours via remote support. This would not only address the immediate needs related to COVID-19 but also chips away at the access limitations of the traditional “Monday – Friday 9 to 5” model of hearing care which I believe is a major contributor to the historically poor market penetration of hearing aids.
This screenshot shows the basic remote control of the Signia App. Volume for each device is shown on the slider.
In this view, the user can fine-tune the behavior of the directional microphone. The example above is often used in the car to allow the driver to hear the front-seat passenger while reducing road noise.
When the Streamline TV icon is selected on the lower ribbon, this slider changes the volume of the TV signal. This only affects the streaming volume, not the TV speakers.
This set of screens provides tips and suggestions to improve the efficacy of hearing aids in different situations. Based on your feedback additional suggestions are provided.
If you get stuck, you can reach out to your hearing care professional. They need to enable remote assistance, but particularly with COVID-19 restrictions, I strongly suggest requesting this. This text-based tool is good for simple issues or to set up a live session.
If you need an actual adjustment rather than advice, a live session can be initiated. This “telehealth” session allows your hearing care professional to adjust your hearing aids live.
I’ve always found Signia customer care to be very good. For dispensers, they offer phone support, online resources, and both in-person and online training. For end-users, they have a wide range of text and video-based resources on their website. I like how they opted for text-based instructions rather than narration with cations. This “open captioned” approach doesn’t require the viewer to enable captions. As a musician, I appreciate the groovy music these videos have in the background.
Overall, I am as happy with the current offering from Signia as I was with that old boomer in 1992. The folks at Signia are continuing the lng tradition begun at Siemens for producing solid products with effective hearing technology inside. They do Lithium Ion as well or better than the competition and their utilization of 2.4 GHz wireless tech rounds out the product line beyond the ideal listening environment. Finally, their ability to stream to mobile devices makes them not only convenient but good citizens in the 2020 consumer electronics ecosystem.
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