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Audiology, Inc.

 

Phone  719.520.1155

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Dr. Gene McHugh

Licensed Audiologist

In Colorado

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Is Oticon's Opn™ Over-rated?
 

 

Oticon's newest hearing aid called "Opn" has been advertised so much through regular and social media, consumers have been calling to ask if we carry it, and, since we do, if we would specifically fit that model because of its reported superiority over anything currently available.  It is Bluetooth compatible so you can use it with your telephone, and more importantly, it reportedly has a newer and better means of helping people hear in background noise.  This opinion does not address Bluetooth function; instead, it is about Oticon's reported superiority in background noise - what Oticon called Open Sound Navigation

I may be only one in a handful of professioinals, but I am not that impressed with this hearing aid. 

I have been listening to and evaluating hearing aids for nearly 40 years.  I trust my ears.   So when I received a pair of Oticon Opn-1's to test, I was eager to try them out on my own ears in various situations (quiet, different kinds of background noise, and with music). 

So to this clinician's ears: Did the hype match up with results?  I was expecting a "wow effect."  

My first impression was not good.  In quiet, there was a distorted sound quality that was not present when compared with previous high-end hearing aids from Oticon.  The Opn sounded rather "digitized" and broken up.  Regardless of program changes, it still sounded distorted and not a normal analog sound quality as with their previous Oticon Alta 2 Pro.  That was a disappointment.  Certainly no "wow effect" there.  

Outdoors, the Opn still sounded distored and there was not that much difference in the suppression of background noise as compared to previous Oticon models, most likely because it was generally not that clear a sound quality.  This is Oticon's signature claim of the superiority of Opn.   Lastly, music did not sound as good as it does with their previous high-end hearing aid.

Granted, my hearing is relatively normal until the very high frequencies - above 4kHz - so it is possible the results might be different with persons with communicatively significant hearing loss.  So, how has it worked with patients?

Because of demand,  I have fit Oticon Opn™ on about 30 people.  I did have satisfied patients using the Opn, but only about 50%.  The other 50% returned them for credit or went to another Oticon product, most often the Alta 2 Pro.   That is a far cry from the 95% reported in Oticon's article. 

Their complaints about Opn have been: 

1) Not as clear and crisp in sound quality; and,

2) No better in background noise. 

Interesting.  Exactly the same conclusion I made with my own ears. 

Oticon often refers to two reports in THE HEARING JOURNAL by Beck and others (2017) that professionals are encouraged to cite as verification of the effectiveness of the Opn products.   The articles sound very encouraging (although not as impressive if read critically).*  In my opinion, the claims made in these articles are overstated. 

  So why did I write this review? 

1) I wrote it so consumers hear an alternative opinion from someone who sells and dispenses Oticon's products; 

2)  I wrote it because I think their claims are overstated; and,  

3) I wrote it so consumers will have a more realistic attitude when discussing the Opn product with their hearing care professional.     

If you come to my office seeking information about Oticon's Opn product, and if hearing aids are appropriate, I will tell you this same argument/opinion.  Now, if you still really want to try the Opn to find out for yourself, you may. I won't say, "...you can't." According to my clinical experience, there's a 50/50 chance you'll like it (not 95%!)  That said, I sincerely hope this opinion does not discourage anyone from still trying to find the best solution for your hearing problem.    

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REFERENCES AND COMMENTS:

 1) Beck, D. & Porath, M. Consumer Response to the Oticon Opn Hearing Aid.  The Hearing Review. January, 2017. 

Comment:  The was a consumer satisfaction study that suggested "satisfaction level" with Oticon's Opn is 95%.  If that's true, that is remarkably high.   In survey research, the manner in which data is collected can affect reliability.  Oticon stated they enclose a postage-paid consumer response card within their product packaging.  They state completion is voluntary and does not involve the dispenser.  This is a good idea, but has problems.  I see this in my practice with follow up surveys I send to my patients.  Usually, people who are "satisfied" with their hearing aids complete the form.  Those who are not satisfied throw it away or return it with they try to get their money back.  To be more valid, survey research requires an adequate sample of "non-senders" to be called.  In my opinion, this is a weakness in the reported number of satisfied or extremely satisfied users. The other issue is that the article was based upon data from 2016, when the hearing aid was very new, including those in the initial beta studies.  We know there is a Hawthorne Effect** which tends to make users of new products more optimistic about their experiences than what is really true.     

 2) Beck, D. & LeGoff, N. Speech in Noise Test Results for Oticon Opn.  The Hearing Review, August, 2017.  

This article discusses Opn's newest strategy to improve speech understanding in noise referred to as "Multiple speaker access technology" or more commercially as "Open Sound Navigator."  The report suggests Oticon has found a different strategy of speech understanding in noise.  The authors admit that previous studies to validate the effectiveness of hearing aids in noise rarely do a good job of predicting real world experiences.  In this study, Oticon compared their Opn product to two other hearing aids listed as "Brand 1" and "Brand 2."  (???)  The results suggested that speech recognition in noise with the Opn were approximately 1dB better than the other hearing aids.  That is positive; however, it is then followed with the statement "...it's generally accepted that for each decibel of SNR (signal to noise) improvement, the listener likely gains some 10% with regard to word recognition scores."  This generalization has been made by various authors for years.  I do not the accept  the face validity of this statement, nor do I believe it is even close to being true for people with hearing loss. I think a more valid question would have been  "Oh, by the way, which hearing aid sounds better to you in noise?"  

     **"Hawthorne effect" - Subjective reaction of subjects who are simply told they are in a study involving something "new."  It is a 1958 term related to experiments at a factory called "Hawthorne Works" near Detroit where workers were told changing the lighting positively affects work output.  While the experiment was being measured, worker output improved.  When the experiment was over, worker output returned to normal.