Signia announced the launch of an upgraded version of its Face Mask Mode, available via the Signia smartphone app.

Related article: ‘Face Mask Mode’ Now Offered in Signia Hearing Aids

Signia was reportedly “the first in the industry to launch a feature of this kind” in July 2020, helping to enable hearing aid wearers to better understand the speech of those wearing face masks. While masks are necessary to help protect from coronavirus infection, they can pose a serious challenge to speech understanding for anyone, even those with mild hearing loss.

The updated Face Mask Mode helps further increases the loudness of frequencies associated with speech – thereby “making it even easier to understand speech through face masks.”

“Understanding speech requires an ability to hear high-frequency tones, and those with hearing loss lose this ability,” said Dr Tish Ramirez, AuD, Signia’s Vice President, clinical education & professional relations. “While hearing aids amplify high frequencies to increase speech understanding, masks then suppress these frequencies—which is why it can be difficult to hear what others are saying. It’s a problem for all, but particularly those with hearing loss.”

“Signia’s new Face Mask Mode boosts the loudness of the high-frequency tones associated with speech, making it much easier for hearing aid wearers to comprehend speech when communicating with those wearing masks,” said Ramirez.

Face Mask Mode is available in the Signia app and appears on screen as an easy-to-activate button. It’s activated by tapping the button, which then turns it from grey to red. When the hearing aid wearer has finished talking to the person wearing a mask, they can deactivate Face Mask Mode by simply tapping the button again, turning back to grey. 

Signia’s Face Mask Mode requires no in-person adjustments with a hearing care professional. 

How Face Mask Mode Compensates for Muffled Speech Signals
The new Face Mask Mode helps tackle specific parameters of the hearing aids’ settings that are crucial for optimal speech understanding. These include gains to frequencies most relevant to speech intelligibility – thereby “effectively compensating for the adverse acoustic effects of the face mask,” according to Signia.

Furthermore, Face Mask Mode also helps adjust noise reduction and microphone beamforming settings to the “ideal levels for speech understanding.” In combination, these automatic adjustments offer “the best possible sound experience to help the hearing aid wearer understand what is being said.”

Specifically, Face Mask Mode works by applying an increase of around 6 decibels to the high-frequency range from 4000 to 8000 Hz—ie, that which is most commonly associated with speech. The Mode’s increase combats the impact of the mask, which can reduce speech frequencies by between 3 to 12 decibels* depending on the type of mask.

The new Face Mask Mode is available via Signia smartphone app (Android 6.0 or iOS 11 or higher) and is compatible with Signia Xperience hearing aids enabled with Bluetooth™ connectivity.

*Llamas C, Harrison P, Donnelly D, Watt D. Effects of different types of face coverings on speech acoustics and intelligibility. York Papers in Linguistics. 2(9):80-104.

Source: Signia, York Papers in Linguistics

Images: Signia