Widex’ Historic Commitment to Pure Sound
AudiologyOnline: Widex is known for “the Widex Sound.” How would you describe it?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: Widex is known for its pure, clear sound. Most people who fit hearing aids—even if they fit other brands than Widex—know that if a patient really wants good sound quality, they should be fit with Widex. Some hearing care professionals think of Widex as a musician’s hearing aid, but we think every patient deserves the best sound possible.
So from day one, our goal has been to produce technology that gives individuals the ability to hear as well as they did before they experienced any hearing loss. If you think about that goal, a hearing aid needs to deliver three distinct things: audibility, or access to sounds; intelligibility, or the ability to comprehend those sounds; and comfort, or amplification appropriate to the nature of the sounds.
AudiologyOnline: How do those three goals translate into the design and manufacture of Widex hearing aids?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: Audibility is the first, most basic requirement. You can’t understand what you can’t hear. First and foremost, a good hearing aid delivers as much of the existing sound environment to its wearer as possible. It starts with sound capture—specifically accurately capturing speech sounds.
Every device has system limits within which it works. Those system limits can either improve or reduce its overall quality. Since hearing aids were initially developed to help people hear conversational speech, traditional hearing aid designs focus on the speech range, from 45 dB SPL to 65 - 70 dB SPL. Traditional hearing aids didn’t give a lot of attention to soft sounds or louder sounds.
But 95% of what we need as humans to really understand language comes from the consonants, which tend to be softer sounds. Therefore, hearing aids should give wearers access to soft sounds. And that leads to one of the first pillars of Widex’ philosophy and technology. We lowered our kneepoint to preserve those sounds for our wearers. If their hearing aid leaves out soft sounds, patients will miss cues that are critical for language acquisition and intelligibility.
AudiologyOnline: How does Widex’ technology transition from capturing sound to processing it?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: Once the sound is captured by the microphone, it goes through an analog to digital (A/D) converter. It’s the doorway through which sound enters the hearing aid. If a hearing aid’s doorway is too small, not all of the sound present can get in to be processed and made useful to the wearer.
Widex understood the importance of this step and took five years to build its own A/D converter with an extended range, from 5 dB SPL up to 113 dB SPL. That A/D converter gives Widex hearing aids a larger doorway for natural sound to enter.
In terms of converting entering sound into a digital signal, Widex has an 18-bit signal depth, which translates into a 108 dB SPL dynamic range—one of the largest in the industry. The A/D converter replicates natural sound more accurately, with better resolution, in the digital realm than other hearing aids do. So when it gets processed by the technologies inside the hearing aid, there’s more detail and nuance available.
Taken collectively, these two elements are what Widex calls True Input Technology.
AudiologyOnline: Once the sound is captured, how does Widex technology facilitate intelligibility?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: Once sound gets into the hearing aid from the A/D converter, we separate it into 15 frequency-specific channels, which hearing care professionals can use to customize the device to the patient’s needs. But rather than doing this in the realm purely of digital models in the fitting software, Widex instead takes in-situ measurements using Sensogram.
Sensogram measures the patient's hearing thresholds with the device fitted inside the ear. It accounts for physical attributes that directly impact sound quality, like how close the hearing aid is to the eardrum, ear cavity volume, and the shape of the ear canal.
With Sensogram, the sound the patient hears is custom-made for their ear. It fits the wearer like a suit tailored specifically for them, compared to one they would have bought off the rack at the local mall. There’s nothing wrong with an off-the-rack suit, but it’s not made specifically for the individual wearer. It’s not going to fit as well as one made to wearer’s specific measurements.
Finally, Widex include the Variable Speed Compressor, which combines both fast- and slow-acting compression, at all levels of our hearing aid technology. For many other manufacturers, this is a premium feature. For people with cognitive struggles, variable speed compression helps shape the sound in a way that maximizes intelligibility—that second pillar of hearing. It preserves the qualities of the sound without adding distortion on the processing side.
AudiologyOnline: Widex also has several “real-world” hearing features. How do those contribute to the Widex Sound?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: We use the term “real-life hearing” to describe a number of features that make it easy to hear in the real world. For example, SMARTWIND Manager™ helps patients outdoors—jogging, golfing, on a boat, wherever you find wind noise—by removing wind sounds based on calculations from the two microphone inputs.
My personal favorite is Speech Enhancer. It works across all 15 channels, looking at sound waves, deciding, “Is that signal speech? Is that not speech?” Wherever it finds speech patterns, it enhances their audibility to ensure the patient can understand what is being said. It’s a very active noise management system that accentuates speech and takes out disruptive noise in real time.
And then there’s Fluid Sound Technology, or Sound Classes, as we call them. Widex engineers went out into the real world and measured a lot of the environments our patients find themselves in: a house with hardwood floors or with carpets, a restaurant with no one talking and one with lots of talking, inside a car. The engineers sampled the environments, learned the acoustics, and built a variety of sound profiles, so hearing aids could apply appropriate fine tunings to deliver whatever a patient wants in that environment—more audibility, more comfort, or a balance between the two.
However, we don’t want the patient to notice when the hearing aid is making these changes, so it changes these settings smoothly and seamlessly—hence the word “Fluid” in its name.
AudiologyOnline: You touched on it in your last statement, but it’s worth noting that patients’ goals change from moment to moment. How does Widex account for that variability of patients’ hearing intentions?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: The most powerful tool in our hearing aids is a real-time machine learning algorithm called SoundSense Learn. If a patient is listening in an environment where they’re struggling, now they don’t have to master the parameters to improve their experience. They don't have to remember what button to push or which switch to move. They just use their smartphone to listen to two different sound profiles and decide which is better, A or B, for their immediate needs. Then they just move a slider over towards the one they prefer.
Afterwards, they can show those settings to their clinician—and actually, they don’t even have to do that actively. If they consent to data-sharing, Real-Life Insights delivers all that information to the clinician. The clinician can fine-tune settings to deliver what the patient wants, when they want it. The funny thing is, data has revealed that in practice it’s really hard to predict what settings a patient will prefer.
In many cases, the clinician thinks, “I would never have thought to go there. Maybe 20 appointments down the road, I would've. Maybe.” But by that time, the patient's frustrated, the clinician's frustrated, and you might end up with that patient giving up on hearing technology, which isn’t a good outcome.
SoundSense Learn addresses that problem directly by empowering Widex wearers in the moments that matter to them.
AudiologyOnline: Where can providers learn more about Widex’ commitment to sound quality?
James W. Martin, Jr., AuD: For more information about Widex, visit widexpro.com/en-us/why-widex/.