Senior Reviewer HJ: Music programs on high-end hearing aids

By April 13, 2018 No Comments

Hearing Aids for Listening to Music – Oticon or Widex?

I have been wearing hearing aids for over two years, and one of my priorities has been to find a pair that sound natural when listening to music. I thought that Phonaks sounded rather too harsh in the treble, so Mr Donnan suggested that I should try a pair of Oticon Opn 1 aids, as they have a reputation for sounding less bright than the Phonaks. After an initial trial, I bought them and wore them for almost two years.
It has been said that Oticons are good for music because they have a mellower sound production and iPhone functionality, but I disagree. It is true that Oticon aids sound less harsh than Phonaks, and iPhone connectivity makes them convenient for listening to music, but the idea that music should sound “mellow” was dismissed when 1950s radiograms began to be replaced with Hi-Fi units in the 1960s. In recent years the general quality of music reproduction has gone down with the proliferation of compressed digital audio files. The trend is to listen to the music on these files whilst on the move.
Listening to music whilst out-and-about might shut out unwanted noise pollution, but I don’t think that it is the best environment for the appreciation of music.
I did not find Oticon hearing aids to be good for listening to music. They colour the sound, introducing a warble to higher frequency notes. High notes on a guitar and other instruments acquire an artificial tremolo effect that spoilt the enjoyment of my listening to the extent that I removed the aids when listening to music

Mr Donnan identified the issue as being caused by the Feedback Manager, which he turned off on the Music program. The tremolo effect disappeared, but the sound of music was disappointing. The treble sounded thin and lacking in timbre, whilst the bass was weak and feeble. It was as though I was listening to a cheap 1960s transistor radio. Mr Donnan made adjustments that improved the bass, but the treble was still of poor quality.
The Oticon Feedback Manager is very effective at eliminating feedback, but it distorts higher frequency sounds. The effect is particularly intrusive when listening to music, but it affects other sounds as well, such as electronic beeps emitted by household devices. I suspect that it also adversely affects the tone of voices in the higher register.
The Feedback Manager of Widex Beyond 440 aids has a much lighter touch. It is not as effective at controlling feedback as the Oticons’, but that isn’t a problem. It wouldn’t surprise me if it is switched off in the Widex Music program. I suspect that the effects of sound manipulation that enhances the clarity of speech has been minimised, because when set to Music the aids deliver an extended treble and the bass is full. The treble is slightly harsh and there is some sibilance on vocals, but it can be tamed using the equaliser on the smartphone app.

Widex aids can cope with a wide dynamic range. I recently went to a live music gig and the sound quality with the aids in place was superb. If I had been wearing my Oticons in such a situation I would have removed them for the duration of the performance.
Oticon Opn 1 and Widex Beyond 440 hearing aids both have iPhone connectivity, which makes convenient for listening to streamed music. Considering how each of them sound when reproducing music, the Widex aids have a much closer approach to the original sound.

F H Jones,