Here at CNET.com.au, we wouldn't normally assess hearing aids; they're generally items that people use as a matter of necessity, rather than an optional technology that enhances one's life. The Oticon Epoq aids piqued our interest, however -- they're still functionally hearing aids, but they're hearing aids with today's technology in mind.
We should note at the outset that we're just evaluating the Epoqs from a technology angle; the reviewer has no particular auditory impairments of note. As always these kind of health matters should be evaluated by a qualified audiologist. What makes the Epoqs stand out from the hearing aid crowd is the inclusion of Bluetooth, and specifically, an optional add-on, the Epoq streamer. If you need to use hearing aids, you're practically excluded from using traditional Bluetooth headsets -- either for calling purposes or in A2DP Stereo mode, as most won't fit, or may interfere with an existing aid. Outside of MP3 capable mobiles, there aren't that many Bluetooth enabled portable music players, but Oticon have that angle covered as well, with the optional Epoq Streamer. This is, in essence, a Bluetooth adaptor for most common audio inputs, enabling you to use with non-Bluetooth audio streams in the same way you'd use a regular Bluetooth device.
The Epoq hearing instruments themselves look, not unsurprisingly, like rather small and very light hearing aids. The battery door does double duty as the power switch -- there's an intermediate stage where the battery can't fall out but isn't in contact with the unit's terminals, saving power. The Epoq streamer, on the other hand, has taken a rather obvious design cue from the world of personal technology -- it looks functionally identical to an iPod nano, albeit without a screen. The basic idea with the streamer, which has a very limited range (less than 0.5m) is that you power it up -- it charges via USB -- and stick it in your pocket (or on a lanyard, if you're so inclined) and then either directly plug or pair it to other devices, depending on their Bluetooth capability.
There's no missing the fact that the Epoqs themselves are medical devices, right up to the solid packaging that slides out to reveal the tiny and very light weight hearing aids themselves. Having said that, we wish more CE companies would invest in solid packaging like this; there's no way you'd throw these out, and there's no doubt as to where each part goes. The aids themselves use a slim and light design that Oticon calls "RITE" - that's "Receiver-in-the-Ear" - and can be marked with special coloured inserts to aid in identifying which ear they're intended for. A cleaning tool is included to keep them in best possible working order.
As was mentioned in the introduction, we're not equipped or able to accurately assess the ability of the Epoqs when it comes to assisting with hearing difficulties; that's the job of a trained professional who has evaluated your individual hearing profile. We were more curious to see how easy the Epoqs, in conjunction with the optional Streamer, were to set up and use. Medical instruments are often far more concerned with fidelity -- for obvious reasons -- and ease of may be left as a secondary consideration.
The first step in pairing up devices is to connect a cabled device to the streamer -- it comes with a standard 3.5mm audio jack -- or pair it with a Bluetooth device. We tested with both cabled and Bluetooth connections. As with all other Bluetooth connections, pairing is the first step, which involves a lengthy press of the streamer's Bluetooth button. We then searched for the streamer and connected effortlessly -- the streamer will connect to up to eight Bluetooth devices at once. One nice ease of use consideration with the streamer is that it then automatically connected up to the Epoq earpieces automatically, with no need for further pairing.
Our one consideration with the streamer is that the range is extremely limited -- Oticon refers to it as needing to stay within the Body Area Network, around 0.5m. In our testing, we found that we had to keep it quite close to the earpieces -- any lower than our chest and the audio started to wander a little. It's an understandable limitation when you consider that there's no pairing involved with the streamer and the earpieces -- otherwise two Epoq wearers meeting each other would be flooded with each other's audio streams.