Interview with Thomas Powers, Ph.D. - Siemens BestSound Technology and Other New Innovations
CAROLYN SMAKA: I'm here with Dr. Tom Powers from Siemens. Dr. Powers, always good to speak with you.
DR. TOM POWERS: Likewise Carolyn.
SMAKA: I had the opportunity to learn about Siemens BestSound™ Technology at AudiologyNOW! Can you give us an overview?
POWERS: Sure. BestSound is the next generation of our algorithms and it really consists of three main features: SpeechFocus™, a directional microphone algorithm;FeedbackStopper™, which is obviously a feedback algorithm;and SoundLearning® 2.0, our next generation of learning that we have taken to a new level. BestSound is available in Pure®, Siemens Life™ and Motion®.
SMAKA: Let's start with SpeechFocus™ since directional microphone technology is a pretty important part of many fittings today. You mentioned it's a directional microphone algorithm - what's unique about it?
POWERS: As you know, directional microphone technology is the only hearing aid feature proven to enhance speech intelligibility in difficult listening environments. As you mentioned, that's the reason it's an important consideration for many fittings today.
Directional microphone technology usually assumes that the desired speech comes from the front of the wearer. But in real life, this is not always the case. SpeechFocus continuously analyzes where speech is coming from, and selects the microphone mode that offers the best speech intelligibility automatically, regardless of the direction of the speech. In fact, SpeechFocus improves SRT by up to 4 dB in challenging situations where speech does not come from the front. In addition, the level of directionality is adjusted depending on the loudness of the environmental noise, which means that it is effective even in low noise environments. This is in contrast to other systems that may require poorer signal-to-noise ratios before selecting a directional mode.
SMAKA: I can think of many real-world situations where you need to hear speech coming from behind you.
POWERS: Yes, there are many.
At AudiologyNOW, we demonstrated SpeechFocus where the listener was a parent driving a car and wearing Siemens Pure hearing aids. There was road noise, engine noise and other car noises and there was a child in the back seat speaking to the parent at about a 0 signal-to-noise ratio.
In that situation, SpeechFocus would detect speech from the back and automatically switch to what we're calling an anti-cardioid pattern because it's the reverse of a typical cardioid pattern. The signal-to-noise ratio would improve so that the parent could hear the child speaking over the noise.
SMAKA: What was the feedback from audiologists who experienced that demo at AudiologyNOW?
POWERS: Very positive. When you get to listen to it and understand how it works it's easy to get really excited about it. It's like the saying, "A picture is worth 1,000 words" except in this case it's the audio demonstration. Until you can experience it, your understanding is just based on words on a page or a slide, and the demo makes the benefit clear.
SMAKA: Another use case for SpeechFocus just occurred to me. A child wearing instruments with SpeechFocus who needs to hear a parent or teacher speaking to him or her from behind, above whatever noise is in the environment.
POWERS: Exactly. There are a lot of other real-world situations, too. Imagine being in a noisy, reverberant public place, like a ticket counter in a train station or airport. You purchase a ticket, and while you're walking away the ticket agent says, "Excuse me, you forgot your wallet." With SpeechFocus, the instruments would focus on that speech coming from behind you, while otherwise you may not have heard it.
SMAKA: In addition to directional mics, we know that feedback cancellation is an important feature to consider in fittings. What does FeedbackStopper offer?
POWERS: FeedbackStopper dramatically improves wearer comfort by suppressing feedback without introducing artifacts, even in challenging acoustic environments. Conventional feedback management systems are able to account for individual ear and fitting differences, and can counteract the static feedback path. Rapidly changing feedback paths, such as during jaw movement, present challenges. FeedbackStopper uses our patented Acoustic Fingerprint Technology to distinguish between feedback and signals that mimic feedback. This technology marks the amplified signal that leaves the instrument receiver, when that marked signal is detected again in the incoming signal, it can be easily identified as feedback. FeedbackStopper has extremely fast adaptation as it uses a frequency shift of 25 Hz to break the feedback loop within milliseconds. This means that feedback is eliminated before it becomes noticeable. The frequency shift also helps to avoid artifacts during the fast adaptation of the phase cancellation filter.
SMAKA: And the third component of BestSound is SoundLearning® 2.0. How is this different from the earlier version of SoundLearning?
POWERS: SoundLearning 2.0 learns the wearer's hearing preferences for volume and SoundBalance in a specific situation and automatically adjusts itself when a similar sound environment recurs. This leads to a dedicated frequency response as well as an individualized compression setting for speech, noise and music. These settings are then automatically selected when the system detects these listening situations again.
SMAKA: Which products feature BestSound?
POWERS: BestSound is featured in Pure, Siemens Life and Motion.
The other main thing that we introduced at AudiologyNOW! is part of our CONNEXX® Software. We're the first manufacturer to integrate the NAL-NL2 algorithm and there are some very interesting features. For example, according to NAL's research, males prefer more gain than females, so the new prescription takes that into account in the fitting. Also, in regard to tonal languages there are some programming changes that help listeners take into account some of the nuances and features of those languages.
SMAKA: Which languages are considered tonal languages?
POWERS: All the Asian languages, including Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and many other tonal languages as well around the world. In tonal languages, tone or frequency is used to distinguish or inflect words. So in addition to distinctions between voiced and voiceless sounds, for example, there is another category of feature distinction based on tone.
In terms of programming, you can check a box in CONNEXX if your client is a native speaker of a tonal language, and there will be some changes to optimize the programming.
SMAKA: I was just talking to someone at AudiologyNOW who is doing research into hearing aid programming for users of multiple languages, and he was saying that in some cases you could have two programs, one optimized for each language.
POWERS: Sure, our products and the CONNEXX Software would certainly allow the professional that flexibility.
In addition to integrating NAL-NL2 in CONNEXX, we demonstrated our Real-Time Display at AudiologyNOW. Real-Time Display enables you to demonstrate technology features to your patients and their families. This not only allows them to understand how these features work, but also how they help.
One of the features you can display is the adaptive directionality. For example, you could actually take a hair dryer, and move it around, and the directionality will trace and follow that noise and you can see some of the directionality patterns. It's a great patient counseling tool.
CONNEXX Real Time Display of adaptive directionality supports patient education and counseling
SMAKA: It's the picture is worth 1,000 words principle again.
POWERS: Exactly. These new features and more are detailed in our online course,
CONNEXX 6.4 Programming Software from Siemens: What's New in CONNEXX?
In addition to BestSound and the CONNEXX Software features I mentioned, we also introduced some new accessories for our Tek™ wireless enhancement device. These include a landline adaptor, so Tek can be used with landline phones in the home, as well as a car charger.
SMAKA: Seems like car chargers are essential for all electronic devices today - cell phones, MP3 players, etc.
Did I hear about a new hearing aid charging system as well?
POWERS: Yes, we have a new eCharger for our rechargeable hearing aids.
We've changed the charging cycle, which helps extend the battery life on the rechargeable batteries. We've also made it even a bit easier operationally, taking extra care that people can't put the batteries in backward since they're small and we know older people may have dexterity issues. We also made the charger modular, with an outer case and an insert. The insert is different based on the battery size. So professionals can now stock a base and a few inserts so that it can accommodate whatever instruments they may be fitting.
SMAKA: Makes logistics so much simpler for professionals. Dr. Powers, many thanks for taking the time to discuss all the latest technology, software and accessories from Siemens.
POWERS: You're welcome, it's been my pleasure.
For more information about Siemens, visit www.Siemens.com or the Siemens web channel on AudiologyOnline.