Interview with Kathy Landon, Vice President of Branding and Professional Services, Sonic
CAROLYN SMAKA: This is Carolyn Smaka, and I'm speaking with Kathy Landon, Vice President of Branding and Professional Services at Sonic. Kathy, I wanted to talk about a new product Sonic is releasing, Flip. Can you give us an overview?
KATHY LANDON: Sure, we are very excited about this new product and I'd love to give you an overview. Flip is the name of our new mini receiver-in-the-canal (miniRIC) product, and the tagline provides a nice introduction, "Flip your expectations." Flip may change what you expect from a miniRIC-style product in terms of features and benefits. The key visuals for this launch go along with this theme;you'll see people who you would not necessarily expect engaged in playful activities.
SMAKA: That sounds fun! How will this product change the perception of a miniRIC?
LANDON: First, Flip is packed with features, despite its very small size. Second, it's just a beautiful, unique new style.
Flip is packed with features, despite its very small size.
SMAKA: Great, what types of features?
LANDON: As you know, at Sonic we focus on natural sound and speech intelligibility. To address the need for natural sound, Flip uses the Speech Variable Processing platform we introduced this year with the Varicom product. This system is specifically designed to process sound very, very quickly, to preserve the naturalness of sound. And because the system works so quickly, it also does a fantastic job of preserving the subtle nuances of speech, which also helps to address our speech intelligibility goals.
Sonic has always had a reputation for outstanding noise reduction, and Flip introduces a brand new noise reduction strategy that we are very excited about. The new Speech Priority Noise Reduction uses the concepts implemented in our older algorithm, but also includes new strategies that work hand-in-hand with the new Speech Variable Processing to provide really excellent results. We've also added a new Impulse Noise Reduction feature to help address those sudden, loud sounds that patients really don't want to hear.
We have a brand new Adaptive Feedback Canceller in Flip as well, showcasing new, cutting-edge technology which provides superior feedback cancellation compared to previous Sonic products. During our field studies, we have not encountered any feedback problems - it looks like feedback might be a thing of the past!
Despite its very small size, Flip features a two-microphone directional system, allowing for several directional options that help address unwanted sounds from behind the listener. Flip has several wireless connectivity features, include Binaural Coordination between devices, enhanced telephone operation, and streaming of audio from external sources via the SoundGate wireless link.
SMAKA: That definitely is feature-packed. What is unique about the style?
LANDON: When you see the size of Flip, it is just amazing. It is so small, yet it uses a size 13 battery, which is much easier for patients to work with and obviously provides better battery life. In our field tests, we've seen patients get 15 - 18 days off of one battery. And, one of the things we love about the style of Flip is how easy it is to change the battery. The whole side of the case just 'flips' open.
Flip's unique case design makes battery changes much easier.
SMAKA: That is so smart. We have all been fumbling with battery doors forever.
LANDON: It is a great design. You tip it to the side and the battery comes right out.
During the design phase, we really kept in mind the dexterity issues that some of our customers face, especially in mini products, and made enhancements in those areas. Flip has an easy-to-locate push-button for changing programs. Having that push button makes this product operable 'on-board', so you do not have to have a separate remote to change programs.
The other thing that you do not find very often in products of this size is a rotary volume control. We wanted to keep with the concept of having all controls accessible without a separate remote control, so we made the entire backside of Flip a large, easy-to-locate rotary volume control. We found with our Velocity behind-the-ear product that people liked the volume control on the bottom of the device, because it is easy to locate and you can be discreet in adjusting it. So we did the same thing with Flip. We positioned the volume control on the bottom, and made it large enough to easily grab and turn. There is nice separation between the push button and the volume control, making it easier for the patient to locate the proper control. Flip is the only miniRIC available today with both a rotary volume control and a push button. To keep things simple for the wearer, all of the instruments also have binaural coordination where one ear can control binaural adjustments, such as volume and program changes.
We have added a phone coil for excellent phone performance, which, again, is impressive considering the super-small size of Flip. And to make phone operation even easier, Flip also has an auto telephone feature that allows the device to automatically switch to a special telephone program when the phone is brought next to the ear.
SMAKA: What is the difference between the phone coil in Flip and a standard telecoil?
LANDON: Primarily, it is the orientation of the coil. For the coil to be optimized for telephone use, the coil must be positioned horizontally;for use in loop systems, the coil should be vertical. Many times companies will try to cover both and split the orientation, placing the coil at 45 degrees, which works very well if you have enough space in the case, but when you also have a wireless system, you start getting interference between your coil and your wireless system.
We felt very strongly that talking on the phone is a critical activity for most users so we opted to optimize Flip for the phone operation. If patients needed to pick up audio from other sources, they can use the wireless features via the SoundGate.
As a bonus to the hearing care professional, there are no programming boots or shoes needed to program Flip. You can simply plug the programming cable right into the unit.
SMAKA: Can you program Flip wirelessly as well since it has the wireless connectivity?
LANDON: You can. You can use the nEARcom system for wireless programming.
SMAKA: How has Flip been tested prior to release?
LANDON: In the past when we wanted to test Sonic products, we would call the patients who had been fitted with our products at the Salt Lake facility. We now use our Minnesota facility because we actually have quite a large group of users in that area that we have fit with our products over the years. We have been calling those Sonic users and asking them to come in and be fit with Flip, and collecting their feedback on the overall performance, their acceptance, and on a variety of other factors. So far, we have had great results. In our Minnesota trials, people have overwhelmingly said, "This sounds amazing. It is just so clear."
SMAKA: I like the straightforward naming conventions you are using such as "adaptive directionality" and "binaural coordination". I think using common terms across the industry can help reduce confusion and eventually help us all serve our patients better.
LANDON: At Sonic we feel strongly that we do not need wacky feature names, because they don't do anyone a service. We wanted to streamline the features, so we describe the features by what they do. It makes it easier for both the professional and consumer to identify with what the hearing aid is doing.
SMAKA: Exactly. Is Flip available in different technology levels?
LANDON: Yes, there are three different technology levels for Flip.
As part of the recent Sonic rebrand project, we categorized our products at levels of 100, 80, 60, 40, and 20. Obviously 100 is the highest-end and 20 is entry-level. Flip is available in the 100, 80 and 60 levels.
Flip is available in the 100, 80 and 60 technology levels.
SMAKA: Will we be seeing any products being phased out with the introduction of Flip?
LANDON: Flip is a unique model and therefore it's not phasing out or replacing any other products in our portfolio. It is adding another form factor to our product line-up. It is a strong, competitive product that provides everything Sonic does well in a compact style. We are very excited to have this innovative design that provides unique benefits of its own, and truly demonstrates our focus on natural sound, speech intelligibility, simplicity and style.
SMAKA: Sounds like it's going to be a great launch for you. Thanks for taking the time for me today and we hope to follow up with you soon.
LANDON: Thanks for the opportunity!
For more information, about Sonic please visit http://us.sonici.com/ or the Sonic web channel on AudiologyOnline.