The Big Six: Hearing Aid Manufacturers

(Current as of January 2018)

So what are the main hearing aid manufacturers? Which aid is the best? Maybe it’s time for your first hearing aid, or your child’s, or you just want to know a little more about what’s available to you. Here’s my attempt at a plain-language breakdown of readily available hearing aids and their accessories. This list is written from a US perspective and links are to respective US product pages, but should be helpful to most readers.

I will note that if your loss is milder (perhaps due to aging) and you’re interested in over-the-counter hearing aids, which are NOT fitted by an audiologist, the kind people at Reviews.com have made a list of amplifiers that you can check out here.

In audiology spheres, you’ll hear the term “the big six” which refers to the largest hearing aid manufacturers, and if you’re like me and need an audiologist-programmed, high-powered, behind-the-ear (BTE) aid, it’ll almost certainly come from one of these—Oticon, Phonak, ReSound, Starkey, Signia (formerly Siemens brand), and Widex. I personally have worn aids from half of that list!

I’ll highlight the standout options of each, but know that there’s such a large span of hearing loss and I can’t provide fine print for each “level” of product, so this is meant as as “good to know” list and will perhaps help you refine your search. Focus is much more so on the BTE and RIC (receiver in canal) options for more significant loss as that’s the focus of this website, but custom in-ear molded aids are a great option for milder loss.

Just about all of these have smartphone connectivity options, rechargeable options, and audio streaming accessories.

Oticon

Oticon’s main line of aids is the Opn model, which has rechargeable batteries for the Mini-rite RIC aids. It’s also the first hearing aid to take advantage of the IFTTT network, meaning if you have smart products in your home, you can program alerts to your hearing aid (such as a doorbell). Amazing. As far as I know, this is the only aid that has this feature right now.

The Dynamo is the most powerful aid they offer (and my current aid!), but the bells and whistles are definitely in the Opn line mentioned above, so it comes with a side of slight jealousy.

As far as accessories go, Oticon’s ConnectLine system’s main piece is the Streamer Pro, which transmits sounds directly from your phone, tv, or computer directly into the aids via an FM loop. The reviews I’ve seen aren’t great, as it’s a pretty penny and seems to have an issue failing after a year or so. I still want one, though!

Phonak

Phonak has a lot of product offerings, which is great, but can seem overwhelming at first glance. I’ll focus on what I feel are their three best offerings for strong RIC/BTE aids.

First up, the Audeo B, which seems to be their flagship aid, which comes in 5 separate sub-models. All of them can directly connect to any smartphone, and the Audeo B-R model is rechargeable.

For pure power, you should also be looking at the Naida V, and the Bolero line, though I’m having trouble distinguishing the finer differences between those two.

The CROS B is actually not a standalone aid, but an ideal option for single-sided hearing, and pairs with Audeo or Bolero (seemingly not the Naida) as your main “good ear” aid. The CROS B picks up the sound from your “bad” side and it’s instantly transmitted into your primary aid. This is something I’m strongly considering for my next aid purchase, even though I haven’t worn a hearing aid in my right ear since I was 8 years old. It would be so great for when I’m driving in the car and the passenger is on my bad side!

Phonak has a lot of accessories, but one standout is the Roger Pen (one of several Roger models), which is a discreet wireless microphone that allows for a ton of flexibility in challenging listening environments. It can be placed near a speaker, or in a group gathering for clear sound transmitted right into your aid. It’s size and inconspicuous look means it’s great for work, school, and social settings. The only caveat is that you need to place a receiver “shoe” on your hearing aid, which looks to be slightly longer than the typical battery compartment area. You can add a universal Roger shoe connection even if you don’t have a Phonak aid, though!

ReSound

Refreshingly, ReSound’s options are clear-cut, with their main line spread of the LiNX 3D (from custom in-ear through BTE), and the BTE-only ENZO 3D. The LiNX line allows you to control your hearing aids through your smartphone and use them for wireless audio streaming. No headphones needed!

The ENZO aid is the workhorse for those with severe-to-profound loss, and amazingly, I was surprised to learn that it’s not a tradeoff on the connectivity bells and whistles, as the ENZO’s are able to connect to iPhones just as easily (but I believe it’s Apple products only right now).

Accessory-wise, there are several that all look very similar, but all are designed for streaming audio into your aid, though they are divided into various functions: a clip-on microphone for a one-on-one conversation or instructor-student setting, the very similar Multi-mic for placing on a table or podium, one for phones, and one for TVs.

Starkey

The only American-owned company in the ring, if that’s important to you. My general impression before doing research is that Starkey was on the forefront of smartphone connectivity, as both my parents wear their RIC aids for age-related loss and love the connectivity.

Unlike the other companies, the model details are a bit buried under aid type classification on their website. That said, it seems if you need their most powerful BTE, you’re looking at the upper-end of their Z-series.  That line also includes RIC aids, which can also be found in their Muse line of products which is where you find the rechargeable option. Furthermore, if you’re an Apple devotee (like my mother), have no fear, there’s an exclusive line of Halo aids made for the iPhone.

For accessories, there’s a few, but the standout seems to be the SurfLink Mobile 2, which is a remote, streamer, and assistive mic all in one.

Signia

(formerly Siemens)

Siemens is a huge company, and their hearing aids used to be branded as such, but are now produced under the Signia name. Like Phonak, there’s a LOT of model options to wade through, but it’s a bit frustrating to have to wade through every model to see what type of aid there is.I’d recommend their new Motion 13 Nx for a strong BTE aid with connectivity features, as it seems to combine the best of all the other models. That said, a quick rundown of other options: personally, their Pure 13 bluetooth BTE looks a bit bulky to me compared to similar types from other companies. The Cellion is rechargeable but doesn’t have the connectivity without an extra accessory. The Intuis line is broad but looks a bit dated.

For accessories, there doesn’t seem to be an all-in-one that you can find, if that matters to you–your aid may take care of that already in it’s smartphone connectivity. There’s one for TV streaming and a voice transmitter mic that sits on a surface.

Widex

I’ll be honest, before committing to writing this post, I knew nothing about Widex, but did my due diligence for you! A family-owned business originating in Denmark, Widex is no-nonsense in their product offerings, which is definitely refreshing after various aid model overload from the other companies.

For RIC/BTE, there is the BEYOND Z, which is compatible with direct streaming with iPhone and iPad (for Android, another accessory is needed).

An interesting alternative is the UNIQUE hearing aid, which is right up your alley if you’re a sailor, mountain biker, hiker, or other type of outdoor enthusiast. Because no one likes that microphone wind noise!

Widex also has a CROS aid option (see my description in the Phonak writeup above).

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