Inside the Research | April 2023 Hearing Review
A discussion on the Resound OMNIA hearing aid line, designed for hearing in noise.
By Kathryn Sutherland
GN Hearing’s newest hearing instrument, the OMNIA miniRIE, hit the market in February of this year as part of the expansion of its ReSound OMNIA line. The newest products of the OMNIA family aim to address the struggles of speech hearing in noise and to meet the needs of a larger group of people wanting a more natural listening experience.
The Hearing Review’s chief editor, Kathryn Sutherland, sat down with Laurel Christensen, PhD, chief audiology officer at GN Hearing, to discuss the new Resound OMNIA hearing aid line and the launch of the OMNIA miniRIE, which will be presented at AAA +HearTech 2023 exposition in April. In addition, they will hold virtual conferences as part of the launch efforts.
Christensen has over 30 years of experience in the hearing aid industry conducting research on hearing aids and their design. She has been with GN Hearing for 20 years.
Sutherland: Welcome, Laurel. Can you tell me about the technology used in the ReSound OMNIA hearing aids and discuss the approach GN used to make the breakthroughs with hearing in noise?
Christensen: For more than 15 years, we have been working on better solutions for hearing in noise which is the biggest unmet need of hearing aid users. Our philosophy is that we want a hearing aid user who is in a noisy environment to not only hear the speech that they want to hear but to be able to hear everything around them.
That’s very different from the philosophy of directionality historically, which allows a user to hear in a certain direction, usually, the front, while making the rest of the sound around hard to hear. That’s not how a “normal hearing” person would hear noise. A person with normal hearing would hear everything around them and choose what signal they want to listen to.
This is what we wanted to replicate.
So, we started doing asymmetrical fittings where one hearing aid is kept in an omnidirectional mode, and the other hearing aid is directional. Research has found that you get the same directional benefit when you have just one hearing aid in the directional, yet you can still hear everything around you. So, this has evolved over many years. We’ve done different iterations, and ReSound OMNIA is the crowning achievement of a vision that we have had for several years.
Many things are different if you compare it to our last product, ReSound ONE. The first difference is that in ReSound OMNIA, patients can hear 360° around them, so entirely around them. That’s done by streaming the sound from the side where the directionality is applied over to the omni ear. Then we have an improvement in the directional microphone’s ability to improve the speech level over the noise, you call it signal-to-noise ratio, and we have a signal-to-noise ratio of 8.6 dB today in ReSound OMNIA. That is a huge improvement of about 4.5 dB over our previous product, ReSound ONE.
Sutherland: That is a long history, with a significant improvement. Has anything changed with the technology in the new OMNIA miniRIE?
Christensen: We’re happy to say that it is the same technology, but we have expanded the product line and the mini-Receiver-in- Ear (miniRIE) as one of our new products. The miniRIE can do everything OMNIA could do when we put it out several months ago, but now in a smaller device.
Sutherland: Is Bluetooth LE audio part of OMNIA?
Christensen: We do have Bluetooth LE in OMNIA, but it is not the hearing aid standard that you’re probably referring to. The Bluetooth that is part of the new industry standard with connection to Auracast will come in future products. In OMNIA, we do have a new antenna that makes the connections to external devices like a phone very robust. There is no limit to what you can connect to if you use our multi-mic because it has a line in, so you can plug external sources in and stream everything wirelessly to the ears, including hands-free for iPhone. It has all the wireless technology that we’ve had for a long time so that all of the mini mics and TV streamers and everything can be used with this line.
Sutherland: That’s through an accessory, available through ReSound?
Christensen: Yes, the microphone and TV streamer are all available through us.
Sutherland: Is it Android-friendly?
Christensen: It is completely Android-friendly except for hands-free phone calls. If you want hands-free phone calls, you do have to use an accessory; we call it the phone clip. Then you can take hands-free phone calls or use your phone and just talk into it.
Sutherland: Has the connectivity improved with hands-free calling, like when you can hear the other person on the phone call?
Christensen: That is such a great question. It is often very difficult for the person who is receiving the phone call to hear a hearing impaired person talking if they’re in a noisy environment. It is also difficult if you’re on your AirPod Pros and in a noisy environment calling someone else. No company has perfected that technology yet where you can make a hands-free call in a really noisy environment without impacting the person on the other end. We’ve certainly improved it over generations and will continue to improve it. The phone calls are crystal clear if they’re in low-level noise; there are no problems. But as with every hearing aid on the market, if a person is standing in a very noisy environment, you will hear it on the other side; there is just no complete solution yet. It’s no different than if someone walks out into the wind and you are talking to them, and suddenly you can’t hear as well because there’s so much noise in the background, so we will continue to work on solutions for that problem.
Sutherland: That was a good analogy; we have all experienced that. How about tinnitus sounds? Is that something that you’ve expanded on? How do you feel that’s working for you with the OMNIA hearing aids?
Christensen: We have yet to expand on that with ReSound OMNIA, but we have a full line of sounds available. They can be personalized through our app. You can make them sound like ocean waves coming in and out. You can modulate them differently. There are all kinds of controls that the person with tinnitus can use. And, of course, we have our ReSound Tinnitus Relief app as well, which can be used by anyone. We have had lots of success with this app. Any kind of tinnitus therapy that’s being offered can be done with what we have in our hearing instruments today. With our personalization options, we have more for the end user than anyone else.
Sutherland: Now, GN Hearing also has the Check My Fit app. How does it work, and will any upgrades be available in the future?
Christensen: Well, we love Check My Fit. To give you a little intro to Check My Fit, once the hearing aids are fitted appropriately by the HCP in their office, then the HCP would take a picture of them on the app, using their patient’s phone. It’s called the reference. Then they can go home, open the app, and all they do is hold the phone right in front of them like they’re going to take a selfie, so they see their face, and then they turn their head. We have built an algorithm that will automatically detect their ear, take a picture of the ear, and crop the ear out so that you see it. Then it will put it up against the reference photo so that you can easily see if it is in the ear appropriately and if the receiver is down in the ear where it’s supposed to be. It is excellent technology.
We have found that people who use it absolutely get a better fitting. They will get more gain because they will get the receiver more appropriately down in their ear canal. We do use artificial intelligence and machine learning as well. We trained the algorithm to detect ears, skin tones, and genders. We have been successful with it and have about 90% detection now of the ear.
Over time, we, of course, will do more. Right now, you can learn how to put your hearing aid in your ear. If you’re having problems, you can go, “Okay, here’s some advice on how to do it.” But we’re looking at how we can give even clearer advice on precisely what to do to fix the problem. Return visits are often because someone can’t get their hearing aid in their ears. Check My Fit is a time-saver and a good thing for everyone. It is incredibly unique; we’re the only company that has something like this.
Sutherland: Can you talk about the market adoption of the OMNIA line? Has the company met expectations?
Christensen: We are incredibly pleased with what we’re seeing so far. We are getting the market adoption, and the growth that we had hoped for by creating a hearing aid that solves a real problem, and hearing in noise is the number one problem for people living with hearing loss. There are so many studies, like MarkeTrak, and others I’m sure you’re familiar with. My favorite study is where 2,000 current hearing aid users were asked if they were going to purchase a new hearing aid: what would be the most important thing to be improved? Over 88% of them identified conversations in noise. Hearing in noise with OMNIA is a huge benefit. Users can hear this huge difference, and patients love them. We are having great success.
We’re very happy to put this new line out there. We’re upgrading our custom products. We have nice custom rechargeable products that are now being upgraded in this line to OMNIA technology. We have two new BTE hearing aids in the line and then the mini-Receiver-in-Ear. We’ve achieved growth with just the Receiver-in-Ear products, but now we’ve got the entire line, so we would expect it to go well. The benefits to the end user in this product are quite valuable, so we would love it to be on a whole lot more people.
Sutherland: Do you anticipate the new mini will eventually be the most popular of the OMNIA product line?
Christensen: Yes, I anticipate it will become the front-runner very quickly. Receiver-in-Ear products make up almost 70% of the US market. Aesthetics is important to new users. Everyone wants small and is looking for comfort, and if it can do everything that the other hearing aids can do, it will be an obvious choice for people.
We’ve designed this to only have one touchpoint on the ear and only sit at one spot. The microphones are more horizontal with the way we seated them, so there are technical reasons and comfort reasons for the way we designed it, and then you add a smaller Receiver- in-Ear product to that. OMNIA miniRIE delivers everything hearing aid users want.