After months of searching for a hearing aid solution to meet my requirements, I finally found a relatively inexpensive system that integrates sound amplification, mobile phone communication, and streaming music. The BeHear Access hearing system from Wear & Hear is not perfect, but it helps with my moderate hearing loss while keeping me productive at work. (This is not a paid promotion.)
My Hearing Aid Solution With Streaming Music and Mobile Phone
Many years ago, a professional audiologist documented my hearing loss. The right ear is worse compounded by ever increasing tinnitus. You know the telltale signs of hearing loss; you request people repeat their questions while standing near you and the necessity of increasing the radio or television volume just to understand the dialog. I’m convinced my son speaks in soft tones just to irritate me and needle me into getting hearing aids.
I’ve been able to moderate the consequences of hearing loss by avoiding noisy crowded rooms, intently listening to the person I was conversing with, and reading more. Most of my work day is spent on the computer, returning emails, and talking on the phone. I hear phone conversations with no problems. My ear buds took care of the telephonic side. This past year I subscribed to a streaming music service. If a phone call comes in while listening to music, the wired earbuds easily flips over to the call, then back to the music. Mobile phones are very smart.
Then I got wireless earbuds and really liked the freedom they provided to move about the house. All of this is to say that I became increasingly averse to getting either in-ear or behind-the-ear hearing aids. The search was on to find a product that met all of my requirements of hearing amplification, phone calls, music and the freedom to dance throughout the house. Numerous internet searches for Bluetooth hearing aids provided plenty of hits, but none met all of my requirements.
I went on Amazon and there it was, the solution I was hoping for. The next question was would the BeHear Access hearing aid really meet my needs? After using the hearing aid system for over a week, in different situations, it is performing very well. There are a few hiccups that I can live with because I understand integrating a wireless Bluetooth enabled system into an iPhone is a complicated matter.
My overall assessment of the BeHear Access
- The music quality is very good. They are better than my really inexpensive wireless ear buds, probably not as good as some of the super expensive wireless ear buds on the market.
- Phone call quality is very good. No one has complained that they cannot understand me, an issue with some earbuds. I hear all of the callers very well. The sound seems a little heavy on the bass or light on the treble side.
- Hearing amplification is good. I have no experience with professionally fitted hearing aids that cost $2,000 to $5,000. Those products may replicate a more natural sound than the BeHear Access.
The system has four acoustic modes: Indoor, Outdoor, Crowd, and Live Music. From what I can deduce, the system changes the relative decibel level for different sound wave frequencies (500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, 4kHz, 6kHz, 8kHz). For example, Indoor mode amplifies all the sounds all around you. This includes little small high frequency sounds like the tinkling of silverware and water. It also leads to excessive, in some situations, echoes. I have found the Live Music mode the most acceptable for diminishing ambient noises. I will hazard a guess that with the Outdoor and Live Music modes the higher frequency sound waves (4kHz – 8kHz) are reduced.
With the Indoor mode, the smallest high frequency sounds are amplified. You can easily hear dry leaves blowing across the walkway or your feet shuffling over carpet or hardwood flooring. I have put on the black wind screens. Even a small breeze, at the right angle, can create a scratchy input. The wind screens, like little ear muffs, help diminish or eliminate the wind noise. I use a similar cover on my wireless microphone when I am recording hiking videos.
I did a test revolving my body in one position with the TV playing old, bad music videos from the 1980s. I changed the live hearing modes with each revolution switching through Indoor, Outdoor, Crowd, and Live Music. While the room was not very big, I did not notice any reduction in volume or clarity of the sound with any of the modes. This tells me the microphones are omni-directional, picking up sound in all directions. The sound quality and clarity did change with the modes. The Indoor mode having the most ambient, unwanted sounds.
I quickly dismissed the characterizations of the different modes and focused on which mode worked for me. My preference for inside a house or building is Live Music. The Indoor mode created too much echo, almost like being in a tunnel. Our house has a lot of hard surfaces to reflect sound waves. When I was walking outside in the Outdoor mode, I thought a flock of Canada geese was going to land on my head. I would definitely select the Outdoor mode if you think you are being followed.
On a recent hiking excursion where I was leading a group of people on a history hike, I was able to try the different modes. Public speaking events, where I have to field questions, has been particularly difficult for me with my hearing loss. The Live Music mode suppressed the side noises and the person in front of me sounded clear, even when they were twenty feet away. I did switch to Outdoor mode so I could easily talk to the person next to me as we were hiking on the trail.
At the dentist office, I switched to Indoor mode and heard all of the surrounding conversations…too well. I felt like I was eavesdropping on other conversations and promptly switch to Live Music so as not to hear those conversations. When it comes to my limited television viewing of boring BBC murder mystery shows, the Live Music mode has worked well, eliminating the need to increase the television volume.
The environment where I had problems adjusting the BeHear Access to deliver good sound was a restaurant. Even though it was very nice restaurant with lots of soft surfaces in a moderate size dining room, full of polite patrons, the ambient noises were just too much. There just was not a good setting to allow me to converse with my guest and minimize the ambient noise. At least I could hear the person sitting across from me – something that is problematic without hearing amplification – I also received lots of noise from people talking, servers clearing tables, and the background music.
Of course, this is a similar complaint with all hearing aids and attempts to reduce the ambient noises. The ambient noise issue may be a function of the design. The ear buds protrude from the ear, being more exposed, with the ability to pick up more sound. Ears were designed to funnel sound waves into the ear canal and to the ear drum. The BeHear microphone, because of its location, captures every little sound, making directional sound capture difficult.
Some people may not like the ear buds and wires dangling down. It can convey the impression you are listening to music and not paying attention to the speakers. I have moved past public perceptions of my outward appearance. They can judge me all they want, and yes, I’m probably listening to music, which is probably more interesting than their conversations.
The BeHear Access has two tassels. The right side contains the hearing amplification volume and mode selector. The left tassel is used to answer income phone calls and adjust the phone call volume. I have had to train myself to answer the phone calls with the tassel button and not on the phone. I’m not sure where the microphone is on the tassel, but no one has complained they can’t hear me.
The power button is on the back of the device which is over the neck. When the button is pushed to power up or down, there is a little vibration indicating the selection. The Bluetooth range is about twenty feet. If I walk too far away from the phone, a polite voice informs me “disconnected.” When I walk back in range, the pleasant “connected” is announced.
There is a slight delay from deactivating the phone or streaming music to when the sound amplification comes on. It is not instantaneous. As long as you know of the transition delay, it is not an issue.
The pairing of the BeHear Access with my iPhone was simple. The only problem I have encountered is a duplicate connection. I’m not sure if the system needs two Bluetooth connections – one for the application controls and one for the phone – but it always seems to come up. I have tried deleting the BeHear Access app, deleting the connections, resetting the system to original factory specifications and repairing repeatedly, only to have two Bluetooth connections being recognized. The same duplicate BeHear Access connection also occurred on my iPad that I use to watch YouTube videos.
Another issue I have experienced is the BeHear not returning to live hearing mode after leaving a mobile device it was paired with. In other words, I would be listening to music, pause the music, and the hearing amplification would not come up. I have to sometimes click the mode button (switching from Indoor to Outdoor) to get the live hearing back on. I have the ListenThrough purposefully turned off. ListenThrough allows the sound from the mobile device to be channeled through the ear buds along with sounds in the room. I find having the ListenThrough on greatly distracts from the music or phone call.
There were times when I was reading on my iPad, closed down the tablet, and lost live hearing amplification. It was if the BeHear device was trying to pick up the iPad, or at times the iPhone, as was still connected. I have disconnected from the iPad tablet as the BeHear has issues trying to connect to both the tablet and the phone at the same time or switching between them, if they are in pairing range.
Finally, I had one other issue with the mobile phone. If I go to listen to a voice message, the connection closes and the phone plays the message through the phone. I’m not sure if this is a function of the two different BeHear Bluetooth connections or something else. After several days of playing with the device, I’ve determined that the device (phone or tablet) needs both Bluetooth connections AND they must be connected. Perhaps one is for the phone and one is for the BeHear app functions relative to live hearing. However, you don’t need to use the BeHear Access phone app after initial setup. As long as it connects to the phone, all the controls are on the tassels.
I’m not going to dwell too much on the Bluetooth connections. While annoying, I understand the complicated nature of Bluetooth pairing and switching between different devices. Heck, as I was writing this post, I took three phone calls, received two text messages, while listening to my streaming music. Then I got up, turned off the music, went outside in live hearing mode and heard all of the birds chirping and my cats meowing for dinner.
There is an initial hearing assessment that you must use the app for. I did the assessment and it showed my right ear more deficient in hearing than the left. The system then uses that sound profile to modify how it delivers sound to your ears. Great, I guess it is working, everything sounds equal on both sides to me. The only thing I do use the BeHear app for is to check the battery charge. It can be a little annoying to have to go through the pairing screens just to check the battery state.
The whole system including the charging cradle and extra sizes of silicone ear bud inserts set me back $290. Compared to $4,000 for other hearing aids, this is a steal. (I only wish it was not made in China.) Plus, I haven’t exploited all of the functionality of the system like connecting to the TV with a Bluetooth connections. For an old dude like me who just wants to listen to the B-52s, talk on the phone, and hear the cat meowing to be let inside the house, the BeHear Access is a pretty good fit.