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Interview with John Luna, Vice President of Sales, Unitron

John Luna

January 18, 2010

Topic: FUSE™ - New Crossover Hearing Instrument Combining Best of CICs and Open-fit BTEs
CAROLYN SMAKA: This is Carolyn Smaka from AudiologyOnline, and today I have the pleasure of speaking with John Luna from Unitron. John, welcome back to AudiologyOnline.

JOHN LUNA: Thanks very much;happy to be here.

SMAKA: Thanks for your time today. Before we get into the topic of our interview, can you tell our readers about your background and about your role at Unitron?

LUNA: Sure. I've been in the hearing industry for about 18 years. The past 16 years or so I've worked on the manufacturing side of the industry. I joined Unitron a couple of months ago, as Vice President of Sales. It's very exciting to be with Unitron. We've got a great product lineup and we just introduced two new product lines and a new form factor that is already very successful.

SMAKA: Great. Let's get into the new form factor, Fuse™. My first question is what acronym to use for Fuse because it doesn't quite fit into the BTE, ITE, CIC or other acronyms we've traditionally used to denote style of hearing instruments.

LUNA: We term Fuse a crossover product, as it combines the best of open fit BTEs and the best of CICs into a ground-breaking new form factor.

SMAKA: When you first hear that Fuse combines the best of an open fit BTE with the best of a CIC, without knowing about the product, it sounds like an oxymoron. Can you describe how Fuse fits that description?

LUNA: Sure. Fuse is a feature-rich, instant fit, open ear solution, so in that way it is similar to an open-fit BTE. And, it fully resides in the ear with no tubes, wires or additional accessories, so it's out of sight when worn, similar to a CIC. Fuse is really the best of both worlds where you've got an instant fit, open form factor, and the cosmetic advantages of a CIC, all in one product.

SMAKA: How is the open fitting achieved, if the product resides completely in the ear canal?

LUNA: We accomplish that through a completely new type of venting developed by Unitron. It's called dual-flow™ venting. It's unique to Fuse and unlike anything I've seen on other products in my 18 years in the industry. Dual-flow vents keep the ear canal open, so you have an occlusion-free fitting as well as natural sound quality. The innovative cut-away design of these vents also helps to make Fuse smaller than a traditional CIC style device.

Dual-flow vents provide an open fitting and reduced faceplate size.

In addition, I should mention that Fuse has an articulating joint that allows for maximum comfort for many different ear canals. We know that the shape of the ear canal is dynamic - it changes with movement such as swallowing, chewing, talking and yawning. This can be a challenge when fitting traditional deep-fitting instruments such as CICs. Fuse features the world's first articulating joint that naturally moves with the ear canal. This joint ensures that Fuse stays in place, yet flexes to provide optimum comfort. Fuse comes in both left and right ear versions to work with the natural bend in the ear canal, and the articulating joint works in line with the dual-flow vents to provide a comfortable fit with natural sound quality.

Fuse includes an articulating joint with a range of motion of 30 degrees.

SMAKA: There's a saying that hearing aids are sold in the hand, not on the ear, and the reality is that there are still people that object to open-fit BTEs because they are worn outside the ear and still visible under many circumstances.

LUNA: That's true. Products tend to be evaluated first in the hand or on the table. As I mentioned, Fuse is very, very small - 45% smaller than an average CIC. The small size combined with the color of the product makes it very appealing, particularly to new wearers who often don't want anyone to know they are wearing hearing instruments.

SMAKA: What kind of technology can we get in this tiny package?

LUNA: Believe it or not, the size of Fuse is a not a limitation as to the technology we offer with it. Fuse is a form factor like our Moxi™ and Shift™ products, and is available in a range of technology levels. Fuse is available with our premium signal processing platform, Passport™, as well as with two of our new Latitude™ lines, Latitude 16 and Latitude 8. So Fuse is available at three different price points with three different distinct options for patient needs in terms of the number of channels, the type of automatic program, and the option for remote control, and other features.

SMAKA: John, can you talk about the decision to make Fuse an instant fit product?

LUNA: Sure. In developing this product, we looked at consumer needs. We conducted surveys and focus groups with individuals with hearing loss as well as hearing healthcare professionals in order to find out what is important. We found that individuals with hearing loss, particularly "new wearers" are concerned with cosmetics, are looking for something that sounds very natural and at the same time is hassle-free. They don't want something that they have to worry about. A discreet product like Fuse is what they are looking for in a hearing aid.

The importance of instant-fit capability was also apparent. These folks don't have a lot of experience with the hearing aid dispensing process. They may or may not admit to have a hearing loss when they come in for a diagnostic evaluation, but if it's determined that they have a hearing loss, they may be more interested in doing something about the deficits they are experiencing in their daily lives if it's something they can take with them that day to try. These people can benefit from a product like Fuse. The technology level is chosen based on their lifestyle and needs, and they can be fit the same day. And they can experience outstanding digital sound processing technology that will deliver great performance in all different environments.

It's kind of an instant gratification, which is something that Baby Boomers or a younger clientele is typically looking for.

SMAKA: It sounds like professionals simply need to choose the level of technology. When it comes to selecting Fuse for a particular patient, is there anything else that professionals would need to consider?

LUNA: The criteria for selecting Fuse for a patient is similar to the criteria you would use to determine if someone is a candidate for CICs, based upon ear canal anatomy. Fuse is about 25 mm long, and should fit in the ear canal up to the second bend. There's a real simple sizing procedure using a probe tube that we provide that looks at the length of the ear canal. It is something that can be done very quickly to determine candidacy;you basically measure from the 2nd bend of the ear canal to between the aperture and intertragal notch to ensure Fuse will fit appropriately in the ear canal. Any ear canal abnormality that would preclude you from fitting CICs would preclude you from fitting Fuse as well.

Regarding degree of loss, Fuse fits from mild to moderately-severe losses. Fuse has feedback management, of course, so that it can control feedback while providing an open fitting due to the dual-flow venting.

SMAKA: You mentioned Fuse looks like a shadow in the ear when worn. I wouldn't think color of the product would be an issue, but what is available?

LUNA: You are correct. Due to the fact that Fuse is concealed within the ear canal, color is not an issue. The color of Fuse was selected because it provides a shadow in the ear, regardless of skin color. In the future we'll evaluate the need for other faceplate colors, but we don't anticipate that they'll be needed based on our information so far.

SMAKA: My last question is regarding programming. I would assume to fit the Fuse as well as the new Latitude products that there is a new version of U:fit™ available?

LUNA: That's right. The U:fit software was updated recently with the launch of Latitude and Fuse. It also includes some new features for Passport such as a Binaural Phone feature which can be added to any existing Passport product through the software.

SMAKA: What have you heard so far from consumers wearing Fuse or customers fitting it?

LUNA: Our initial product release has shown that Fuse is definitely received as a very exciting form factor with consumers and professionals alike. Even prior to the release we had many pre-orders for it. The interesting thing is that every professional that puts Fuse in their ear states how comfortable it is and how wonderful it sounds. We recently held many customer trainings around the country;professionals were very positive about Fuse, and definitely shared our enthusiasm for it.

SMAKA: John, thanks again for making time for the interview today, and wishing you much success with Fuse.

LUNA: You're welcome, thank you so much.

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 Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Unitron, a member of the Sonova Group, meets the needs of customers through 16 international offices and through distributors in a further 53 countries. More information about Unitron can be found at the Unitron Web Channel on AudiologyOnline, as well as by visiting
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John Luna

Vice President of Sales, Unitron

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