Great Choice Of Style
Phonak introduced the Quest range of models in 2012, first with the Virto (Custom In The Ear) and Bolero (Behind The Ear) models. The Virto comes in several form factors, from the Full Shell (ITE), down to the Half Shell (HS), In The Canal (ITC), Completely In The Canal (CIC) and the tiny, almost invisible nano (IIC or "invisible" in the canal). The Bolero has several power options, varying in size. Which one you go for really depends on how bad your hearing loss is, and how self-conscious you feel about wearing a hearing aid.
One excellent compromise is the Audéo micro BTE, which is virtually invisible when worn on the ear. Most people would be hard pressed to see the thin wire which runs from the speaker or "receiver" inside your ear canal to the top of your ear, where the small main unit sits neatly tucked away behind your ear. It was upgraded this year from the Spice platform to the Quest platform. You can still get the Spice versions (Audéo MINI S 3/5/9, Audéo Yes S 3/5/9 and Audéo SMART S 3/5/9), and these are still great hearing aids, but the Quest architecture adds auto stereo zoom in the Q90 and better wind noise reduction, as well as the tinnitus noiser for people who also have tinnitus. The Audéo Q has different model designations, so the Audéo MINI S9 becomes the Audéo Q90-10 and the Audéo SMART S9 becomes the Audéo Q90-312 - the Yes has been discontinued, but replaced by the Audéo Q90-312T, which adds a telecoil induction loop setting for the first time in the Audéo range - perfect for church, conference or theatre goers. The Quest now adds an even greater choice of technology levels, so there's now a Phonak Audéo Q, Phonak Virto Q or Phonak Bolero Q for every budget. Which one you go for is ultimately up to you, but bear in mind that the components are the same high quality throughout the range - you'll mainly notice that noise reduction gets better as you go up the range from basic to entry level to mid range to pro and then premium. The sound can be customised more, and in more situations as you go up the range. There are extra features that get added as you go up the range, such as EchoBlock, UltraZoom Premium and Auto StereoZoom, that help with speech clarity in more challenging situations. Which model you go for ultimately depends on your lifestyle and your pocket, but my advice is to get the best hearing aids you can afford without spending too much.
It's All About The Technology
Phonak Audéo Q30 - 2 Stars - £595.00 - In stock
So what do you get for the money? The Q30 is an entry level ("Essential" in Phonak parlance) hearing aid that does a fantastic job of correcting a simple hearing loss. It has 8 channels (unprecedented in an entry level model... if the idea of channels doesn't mean anything to you, have a quick look at "What's All This About Channels?" at the end of the article) and no wirelsss capability, but maybe you don't need wireless? It has a directional microphone which is on by default and this can help cut down on background chatter, SoundRecover that can improve speech clarity for people with severe to profound loss of high frequency hearing, and "Tinnitus balance" that creates a sound that people with tinnitus can find soothing. If you want something that will help you hear better, but you're on a tight budget, then this is the model for you.
Phonak Virto / Bolero / Audéo Q50 - 3 Stars - £995.00 - In stock
What more do you get on this model? This is now the midrange model ("Standard" in Phonak language) in the range, and is a great hearing aid. It has 12 channels, and adds an automatic program ("Soundflow 2") that automatically switches on noise reduction and the directional microphones ("UltraZoom") when it gets noisy, and goes back to a more natural sound when having a conversation in a quiet room - these situations are known as "Calm situation" and "Speech in noise", and the hearing aid's settings in each situation can be adjusted indvidually by your Audiologist - for instance, the levels of noise reduction and directionality, and the tonal balance. The Q50 also adds wireless capability - with optional accessories wireless overcomes the problems of listening to the TV, using a mobile phone, and listening to one person when it is extremely noisy.
Phonak Virto / Bolero / Audéo Q70 - 4 Stars - £1295.00 - In stockWhat extras does the Q70 have? The Q70 is the high end model in the Quest range, what Phonak call "Advanced". It increases the channel count to 16, meaning that noise reduction can be even stronger. It adds a new feature called WindBlock, which reduces wind noise when you are outdoors in the elements. The automatic program is now "Soundflow 3", which adds "Comfort in noise" to the "Speech in noise" and "Calm situaton" settings. Again, these settings can be individually adjsted within the automatic program. "Calm situation" increases the noise reduction and reduces directionality, which can be more relaxing in noisy situations where there is no conversation going on. "Speech in noise" gets upgraded to include SNR-Boost with UltraZoom - SNR-Boost actively monitors each channel in directional mode, and can change the the directional pattern to reduce background noise yet further. What this means for you, the wearer, is that you'll be able to follow the conversation and participate socially in even more chanllenging environments. The Q70 is also compatible with the full range of wireless accessories.
Phonak Virto / Bolero / Audéo Q90 - 5 Stars - £1595.00 - In stock
Q90 is the Premium product from Phonak, and is for people who want to hear the very best that they can. It increases the number of channels to 20, meaning that noise reduction is the strongest in the range, and sound reproduction is superlative. An additional feature called "EchoBlock" is added - this reduces echo in places with hard surfaces and/or high ceilings, and can make speech far more intelligible in these situations. It also adds a further two auomatic settings, namely "Music" and "Speech in loud noise". The Music setting switches off background noise reduction, WindBlock, EchoBlock and reduces directionality to make music sound more natural. It also adjusts the tonal balance and automatic volume control to make the sound reproduction as authentic to the music as possible. "Speech in loud noise" automatically switches on StereoZoom when the noise level gets very high - this makes the hearing aids zoom in very tightly to the front, so that chatter and noise from the sides and rear won't be amplified. It is pushing directional microphone technology to the maximum without using any external accessories. To get any better than this, you'd have to add the Phonak ComPilot with the RemoteMic, and many people like to add this option. It really is amazing that Phonak manage to pack so much technology into such a small and tiday package. The Swiss design is apparent in how easy the hearing aids are for me as an Audiologist to adjust and fit, and that goes for all the models in the Q range. The final feature that I'd like to point out is "AutoZoomControl". This feature means an end to "head tennis" as I like to call it. Head tennis is when a hearing aid wearer has to turn their head from side to side to hear people on either side of them having a conversation, and it looks like the crowd watching a tennis match. It's tiring to keep up, and sometimes you miss the beginning of the sentence as another person starts to speak. With the Audéo, Virto and Bolero Q90, the directional microphones on the hearing aids are linked, allowing both hearing aids to have a 360 degree "view" of the soundscape, so that they can cooperate on what they amplify. AutoZoomControl automatically follows the strongest source of speech, no matter where the person is in relation to the wearer, whether they are in front, to the side, or behind, so you can really be the centre of the party! Rather than you having to keep turning your head to follow the conversation, the hearing aids can use an array of four microphones to electronically listen in any direction while they focus on the speech source as it moves around you, or from one side to the other. The hearing aids react much quicker than you can turn your head, so you won't miss a beat! For you as the wearer, this means you're able to keep up with the conversation and participate much more in social situations, such as having coffee with friends, at a family reunion dinner, or a festive party.
I'm glad you asked (or at least read this far)! As soon as I say the words "20 channels" I can usually see most people's eyes glazing over. It's like on the adverts when they say "Now here comes the science bit", but please keep reading and I'll explain why it's important. It won't take a minite... The channels in a hearing aid processor are like keys on a piano keyboard. All manufacturers' hearing aids , with a few notable exceptions, have roughly the same range of pitch, from low pitch (bass) to high pitch (treble), in order to accurately reproduce the human speech range. The width of the piano keyboard in this analogy equates to the human speech range. The more keys we have on the keyboard, the narrower each key, and the more accurately we can fine tune the hearing aid to correct your hearing loss to clearly hear what you want to hear. Having 20 channels means that the Phonak Audeo / Bolero / Virto Q90 can very accurately distinguish between speech and background noise and zap the background noise without greatly affecting speech. The Q90 monitors each of its 20 channels (or piano keys) and detects whether each channel contains speech or background noise. If it's speech, it gets amplified to a level that you need, according to your hearing test results. If it's background noise, it gets turned down. That's how noise reduction works, on the whole, and the more channels, the more accurate and therefore the stronger the noise reduction.
Optional Wireless Accessories
You can add the ComPilot and TV-Link S bundle for £375, including pairing with your hearing aids. The RemoteMic is an additional £195.