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Wearable Tech

The ReSound LiNX is the world's first 'Made for iPhone' hearing aid (hands-on)

A 'smart' hearing aid that built to work directly with your iOS device via Bluetooth.

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ReSound LiNX ReSound/Per Søgaard

A hearing aid isn't something I'd normally expect to try out while working for CNET, but in fairness, the ReSound LiNX from GN ReSound isn't your standard hearing aid. Also, it's Hearing Awareness Week here in Australia, so it all sort of makes sense.

First making the news late last year, the LiNX is the world's first Made for iPhone hearing aid, developed in partnership between Apple and the Danish company, ReSound. The hearing aid will pair with an iPhone (or iPad, or iPod) and allow users to access detailed controls, as well as functioning a bit like a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

The concept is apparently designed to help reduce the stigma around hearing aids, making the LiNX feel more like a phone accessory than a medical prosthetic.

But a medical prosthetic it is, so before I can try the LiNX, I need to get my hearing tested. Rashel Abdishoo, audiologist with NS Audiology does the testing for me. She uncovers something I'd long suspected: I do have some hearing issues. Specifically, I have mild sensorineural hearing loss at the 3-4KHz range, occurring bilaterally.

It seems that I have an almost-textbook "4KHz notch" where my hearing drops at those specific sounds. It's commonly caused by exposure to loud noises, which may mean one concert too many in my youth (or, more honestly, one bad goth club too many).

It's not a big problem as hearing loss goes, but I'm assured that I will notice some benefits from a hearing aid, and my results are emailed off so my LiNX can be programmed for me to pick up at the Sydney Apple Store that evening.

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The LiNX uses Bluetooth to pair with iOS devices and also to help lower the power consumption. The current compatibility list is iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5, iPad Air, iPad (4th generation), iPad mini with Retina display, iPad mini, and iPod touch (5th generation) with all devices needing to run iOS 7.X or later.

At the Apple Store, Ayrton Hogan from ReSound sets me up with the LiNX. A little bizarrely, he's joined by Todd Hunter from classic Australian Rock band Dragon, who's a bit of a spokesperson for the device.

The hearing aids themselves are as small as would be expected and pretty much invisible once they're in. The over-the-ear portion is small enough that there's no problem getting my glasses on over the top. Apart from a slight weirdness to the way everything sounds, I could easily forget that I'm wearing them.

Hogan says that the weirdness is natural -- there's a period of adjustment for any hearing aid as the senses get used to the new input.

I take some time to explore the app and its this that provides the point of difference for the LiNX. There are some standard controls, such as the ability to adjust the volume, along with the treble and base. The adjustments can me made to the hearing aids either as a pair or individually.

But there's also a lot more. You can add different programs to the app that will adjust the LiNX for optimal use in certain situations, such as driving, or in a restaurant. You can then associate those programs with actual locations. So, for example, when you're in your favourite restaurant, the ReSound app notes your GPS location and automatically switches to the restaurant program.

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That GPS connectivity can also be used to track your hearing aids, almost identically to how you can track a lost phone. For when you can find the LiNX but you know it's within Bluetooth range, the app can let you track it down using a directional finder.

But obviously it's the sound connectivity that matters the most. The LiNX will directly play sounds from your Apple device, including any content audio (music, movies etc) as well as phone calls, Skype, Facetime and the like.

I try the music and it's a little reedy and tinny, but Todd Hunter breaks in at this point to assure me that with some adjustments to bass and treble, you can get decent sound. He also says its particular good for sat nav directions while driving. Hunter even uses his to get foldback direct from the mixing desk while in concert.

Because of the Apple partnership, the LiNX has some impressive integration with iOS. A triple press of the iPhone's button at any time -- even from lock screen -- opens up an interface for basic sound adjustments on the hearings aid as well as the option for a 'live sound'. In this mode, the hearing aids directly relay anything coming from the iPhone's mic. Hogan suggests that this is particularly good for lectures and talks where an iPhone could be placed on a lectern and someone wearing the LiNX could get a clear sound even from the back of a noisy conference room.

In the short time I had the LiNX in, it's hard to tell if my hearing was any better -- voices certainly seemed a little clearer -- but the sheer level of control and options, as well as the comfort of the hearing aids themselves, was impressive.

One possible concern would be battery life, however. The LiNX uses Bluetooth LE, but it's a still a big drain on the battery, which is the standard hearing aid size 312. Hogan says that the normal battery life is about a seven to ten days, but that the Bluetooth functions can drop that to just four days.

There's also the price. ReSound don't like to discuss the cost, saying that the company is a wholesaler and it's up to suppliers to set price. Speaking to the people back at NS Audiology, they also don't want to give exact pricing, but they do say that in general a top of the line hearing aid, such as the ReSound LiNX, can run anywhere from $9,000 to $13,000 (£5437 to £7853, AU$9661 to AU$13955). Back in November 2013 when my colleague Dara Kerr reported on the LiNX, the estimated US price was $3,000 (£1817, AU$3220).

So, definably not a cheap option, but the tech savvy (and, obviously, Apple fans) among the hearing impaired might find that the extra features and additional level of control to be well worth the cost.

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