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Interview with Donald Hayes, Ph.D., Director of Audiology, Unitron

Donald Hayes, PhD

May 23, 2011
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Topic: Unitron Announces a New Generation: Era Platform, Quantum & Moxi Product Families and TrueFit Fitting Software
CAROLYN SMAKA: Hi Don, great to see you. Can you tell me about your role as Director of Audiology for Unitron?

DONALD HAYES: Sure, my group of audiologists are based in Kitchener, Ontario and we primarily focus on new product and software validation. When new products are developed they're verified by R & D and they need to be validated on actual hearing aid wearers. In addition, we work in the marketing department and provide technical content for our product and software marketing materials. At the time of a product launch we also train our customers, sales force and support staff on all of the new features.

We design our products and software to be both effective and desirable for consumers and for our customers who are the clinicians. Our team speaks for those two groups in our testing. We look at all the new features in all products to make sure that they work as intended and are beneficial for one or both of these groups.

SMAKA: How long does a new product validation typically take?

HAYES: The validation takes between four and five months for each new product. There are multiple rounds of validation with an average of 70 subjects per product launch. But we may require as many as 200 - 300 subjects for some products to make sure that everything is working as designed.

SMAKA: You have a research facility set up in Kitchener for the validation?

HAYES: Yes, we have a research center with two sound booths and all of the equipment you may find in a clinic. Plus we have additional test equipment for very specialized testing.

SMAKA: That sounds like a really interesting job for an audiologist, especially if you've worked clinically fitting hearing aids.

I'm assuming your team was involved in validating the Quantum™ product line?

HAYES: Yes indeed. We were responsible for the validation of both Quantum and Moxi products. Quantum and Moxi are our latest product lines built on our new sound processing platform called Era™. Both product families come with three technology levels and will be fitted using our new TrueFit™ software. For example, the Quantum family is comprised of Quantum 20, Quantum 12, and Quantum 6. We've maintained our naming designation by the number of channels, as it's been well received by professionals. The new Moxi™ CRT line will offer three choices of receivers from standard to super power.

SMAKA: Tell me about the new Era platform. What features does it provide?

HAYES: The Era platform is on an entirely new chip set designed by Sonova and adapted by Unitron. This new platform enables us to move from a 5 MHz chip to a 10 MHz processor, which is twice as fast. With a faster chip, we have better performance and better sound quality. Consider a feature like speech enhancement, for example. During each cycle of the chip we can detect speech and update the status of the speech enhancement algorithm. On the slower 5 MHz chip we could only update 10 frequency bands per cycle. Now on the 10 MHz chip we can update all 20 frequency bands every cycle, thus doubling our performance, This keeps the speech enhancement feature more current with the changing listening environment and therefore gives you a more natural sound. The new platform also has approximately 24 percent more memory. This means that as we develop more algorithms we'll have more RAM to work with.

SMAKA: You mentioned Quantum and Moxi were built on this new platform. How do these signal processing features come into play in these product families?

HAYES: Yes, both Quantum and Moxi are the first product families to be developed on this new platform. The adaptive features are optimized and updated with more cycles occurring due to the faster processing speed. SmartFocus™, for example, has been optimized and enhanced on the new platform. Automatic Program has also been updated. We no longer have a 'winner takes all' approach to destinations within the Automatic Program. On the previous platform with AutoPro, once it was determined that you were primarily in a specific destination like quiet or speech in noise, the aid would switch exclusively to that listening environment. Quantum and Moxi can actually morph between the environments and exist in a state that is partially between one listening environment and another, better replicating real life.

SMAKA: You mean for complex listening environments that may actually have characteristics of more than one environment?

HAYES: Yes. If you're in one of the speech or speech in noise destinations, you're desired performance is likely blended between one and another. On the other hand, music is a separate entity so we've separated out the music environment in Automatic Program and made that one a winner takes all destination. In a fairly stable listening environment the hearing aid is still quite likely to be in one of the original destinations, but it may not be 100 percent.

We also have taken into account the Pinna Effect on the Quantum BTEs. So even in an omnidirectional setting on the Quantum 20 for example, you still have some directionality in the high frequencies only. In a BTE fitting , for example, the microphones are above the ear. Thus they cannot take advantage of the natural pinna effect provided by the external ear. The directional microphones are used to help to offset the loss directionality normally provided by the resonating sound from the pinna and concha in the unaided condition.

SMAKA: Do the Quantum and Moxi lines have wireless capability?

HAYES: Yes. The Era platform offers the most advanced broadband wireless capabilities, offering fast and stable wireless connection to various devices and for programming. So all levels of the Quantum and Moxi product lines are wireless.

SMAKA: You also mentioned some new features for Moxi?

HAYES: Yes, Moxi is a new full line of CRT products with many features that will give the open-fit the most natural sound including Pinna Effect and Natural Sound Balance. Unitron has long been a leader in CRT products, being the first to provide the capability to switch between external receivers of different power levels on our original Moxi.

We now have three receivers for Moxi instead of two: a standard receiver, power receiver, and super power receiver. We also have the ability to change to different receivers of different battery sizes on all of our custom products. So we provide maximum flexibility with receivers and batteries on different products.

SMAKA: Are you seeing the shift away from custom products at Unitron, as the HIA statistics have shown over the past few years?

HAYES: Yes, I think HIA reports approximately a 70% BTE and 30% custom product mix across the industry and we are very close to that. Our BTEs are very popular.

SMAKA: How does TrueFit™ software differ from U:fit?

HAYES: Whenever we develop a new platform we also come out with new fitting software. Unitron software historically has been considered by clinicians to be very user friendly, so in the software development we did not take an approach that we were going to change everything. Instead, we decided on an evolution rather than revolution approach.

In our software validation, we went to clinical sites, and had clinicians use the new software to fit hearing aids. We found they could use the software with little or no instruction because the work flow is so intuitive. At training events such as AudiologyNow! we were able to train clinicians in just a few minutes on the new TrueFit software. The user interface is different;it has been updated with a new look and feel. Furthermore, more of the information you need during a fitting is readily accessible than in previous generations of fitting software. However, the workflow is still consistent with U:fit. So people find it very easy to learn.

There have been a lot of new features such as wireless that did not exist when we first launched U:fit a few years ago. Redesigning the software with all the new features in mind enabled us to open it up, relabel everything, and move some things around for an even more intuitive fitting. Now, you can follow the workflow from left to right or you can go straight to the fitting. TrueFit also gives us lots of room to grow as we add new products and features in the future.

TrueFit will be available with Quantum and the new Moxi products in June.

SMAKA: I appreciate the update, Don. Wishing you much success with the new products. I'll also direct our readers to the upcoming Unitron courses on AudiologyOnline for more information.

HAYES: Thank you, Carolyn.

About Unitron

Unitron is a global innovator of technologically advanced hearing instruments. We care deeply about people with hearing loss and work closely with hearing healthcare professionals to make advanced, purpose-driven solutions available to everyone. Headquartered in the Waterloo Region, Canada, Unitron, a member of the Sonova Group, meets the needs of our customers through 18 international offices and through distributors in a further 46 countries. For more information, please visit us at unitron.com or on the Unitron Web Channel on AudiologyOnline.
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donald hayes

Donald Hayes, PhD

Director of Audiology at Unitron Hearing Ltd. in Kitchener, Ontario

Donald Hayes, Ph.D. has been an audiologist for 18 years. He is the Director of Audiology at Unitron Hearing Ltd. in Kitchener, Ontario. Don Hayes is the Director of Audiology at Unitron Hearing Ltd. in Kitchener, Ontario.