Phonak Listeners – Neck loop and FM versions explained.
There are three versions. A telecoil setting is needed on the hearing aid (not for the FM version – see later)
This is the most simple. A simple transmitting microphone is placed near the sound source and a neck loop is worn as a receiver (T-setting on the HA). There is one single control – so ideal for those who do not want or need directional capability. I have not tested the instrument personally.
This version can be used with a neck loop (T-setting on HA) or, as an alternative, with the FM (ear level receiver). This version has a directional capability in the transmitter, though it lacks volume control.
The top of the range has the similar directional facility in the transmitter and is Bluetooth compatible as well. If worn with a neck loop the HA is switched to T-setting.
All three versions are available in association with a neck loop for (telecoil setting on HA is needed). The listener is then similar in some respects to the Contego.
For both the ZoomLink and the SmartLink there is an alternative to the neck loop which uses an FM receiver (called an ear level receiver). This is a little shoe which fits onto the bottom of the hearing aid. The system is available for Phonak behind the ear hearing aids. I am told that some other aids might be FM capable – one would need to enquire of the audiologist.. New technology is developing all the time. The advantages of the FM system are clear and this might therefore considered at the time of getting the hearing aid itself. The FM (ear level) receiver is costly but has the advantage that a neck loop is not required. Neck loops are obtrusive, ungainly and can be a nuisance.
The telecoil and the FM system are both turned on by means of a switch on the hearing aid. Both telecoil and FM can be accommodated together on the aid but they cannot be used at the same time. (Some systems are automatic). The system has to be discussed and set up by an audiologist. This system can be adapted to receive a direct input (wired) connection to other audio equipment such as MP3s, Bluetooth and using FM (ear level receiver wirelessly).
The Zoom link ear level listener can be fitted to hearing aids other than those made by Phonak, but one would need to enquire through the audiologist.
Therefore use of the Phonak ZoomLink with the FM receiver is a big advance. Unfortunately the cost is considerable and the supplying audiology department is involved. Phonak tell me that the sound received by the FM receiver is better than with the neck loop because the signal is received directly into the hearing aid. The other disadvantage is that the hearing aid battery does not last so long (in my experience about 7 -10 days rather than the usual 14).
At the time of writing some NHS aids are available for the ear level shoe. This would depend on the local availability and one would need to enquire.
The Phonak SmartLink plus listener
I used this device with an FM receiver. I also used it with a telecoil and neck loop.
This is a powerful listening device which has the advantage of adapting to many different listening situations. It is small, neat and easily carried around in a hand bag or can be worn around the neck when not in use. It can be brought out quickly whenever one finds oneself in a difficult hearing situation.
They were clear and concise.
Transmitter with levalier cord (aerial), bottom adaptor (has an aux input socket , a charge socket, audio cable and an external microphone input socket – microphone may be supplied as an accessory), charger, case.
Charge time 2 hours – Use for up to 12 hours on single charge. (My experience was that this was a slight exaggeration – particularly on an instrument after a year or two use.) Battery power tends to reduce over time. There was a low battery warning.
Quality of sound signal
Length of warranty
This is provided – enquire at point of purchase.
How does it perform in different settings?
Listening to TV
Use can be made of the audio lead, the scart lead or by simply placing the transmitter close to the TV speaker. The sound quality is good. The quality is arguably better with either audio input or via the scart lead, though beware in some older TV set use of a lead can cut the sound from the speaker.
In the car
The transmitter is given to the speaker to wear round the neck using the easily adjustable levalier cord. The quality of sound is very good. Bear in mind that there may be some interference from the car’s electronics. This would need checking before purchase. If the transmitter is placed near to the radio speaker the sound transmitted favours the radio speaker and therefore the engine and wind noise is reduced. This can be a great advantage when motoring long distances.
In a restaurant
The background noise can be a nuisance. If dining with one person wearing the transmitter round the neck then the background noise is much reduced. This is ideal. If there are several people on the table the background noise can still be a problem, but use of the directional facility of the transmitter is a great a help.
Conducted tour with a guide
Attending a lecture. The guide or lecturer wears the transmitter and one can hear him/her very well despite sitting at the back of the group. This is extremely useful
Attending a committee meeting
The transmitter is placed on the committee table. This works well. Speakers from the floor are more of a problem unless the transmitter is passed to them.
The transmitter is very useful to listen to those who do not speak clearly or have a quiet voice.
The coffee morning / or group gathering
This is certainly a useful device especially when the group is spread widely or the room has a high ceiling or is sparsely furnished or uncarpeted. Use can be made by holding the transmitter in the hand with the directional mode of the microphone, or by using the omni-directional mode with the transmitter in the middle of the group. It always a help to have the transmitter unencumbered and on a hard surface which well reflects the sound signal rather on a table covered by a cloth (which absorbs the sound). I would add that it is always easier to hear the discussion if only one person is talking at any one time!
At dinner parties at home the device has a slightly limited use as the clatter of dishes can be a nuisance. Howeverh I am told that the latest model has so called ‘soft landing’ technology which ‘reduces’this (not tested).
The charging was quick and straightforward and the charge lasted very well. However a tip I have found is to ‘double or treble charge’. When the charging indicator indicates a full battery switch it off and then on again. The battery charge then continues. It is advisable frequently to completely drain the battery power before recharging.
I found that with the small FM shoe on my hearing aid the batteries of the hearing aid did not last as long as they normally did. (Sometimes no more than 4 days rather than 14 days). The Phonak listening device is a most useful supplement to the hearing aid. It has improved the quality of my life very considerably. I recommend the Phonak Zoom.
Used with the FM (ear level receiver) the ZoomLink or SmartLink would be, for me, the top of the range in terms of quality and ease of use. Despite the battery drain I prefer to use the FM version rather than the neck loop though the neck loop version worked perfectly well in the different settings. I would not be without it.
I have not used the SmartLink in Bluetooth mode.