The OTC Hearing Aid Act allows retailers to sell hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss without a prescription. In the past few months we’ve written about several companies such as Nuheara, Eargo, and Jabra that launched new OTC hearing aids for the retail market. Manufacturers that sell hearing aids via medical professionals haven’t been sitting on the sidelines, however. Instead of marking time, traditional hearing aid manufacturers have developed an array of new hearing technologies for their more costly products. To mention just two examples, we wrote about the Phonak Audeo Paradise and Widex Moment prescription hearing aids with new features such as wireless battery charging, ambient noise cancellation, multifunction connectivity to support phone calls and streaming media, user configurable listening modes, direction-focusing, remote support capabilities, and more.

Signia is another established hearing aid manufacturer that has introduced new hearing aid capabilities in recent years. Last year the Consumer Trade Association named Signia a CES 2022 Innovation Awards honoree for the Augmented Xperience (AX) hearing aid platform. This past Fall, Signia announced the launch of the Signia Styletto AX hearing aids that implement this AX technology.

Signia’s AX platform employs two independent processors in a technology called Augmented Focus. Augmented Focus helps users understand speech in all settings. One processor works on speech sounds and the other handles background sounds and ambient noise. The two processors work in concert to separate the sound types to enhance the wearer’s ability to participate in conversations, even in the busiest, noisiest settings. Signia’s AX platform includes additional advanced features including acoustic motion sensing to adjust sounds as users move about. Own voice processing (OVP) controls the user’s experience of their own voice during conversations with others. Face Mask Mode compensates for the muting that occurs when listening to someone who is wearing a mask.

Signia sent me a pair of Styletto AX hearing aids to try out so I could experience the Augmented Focus technology and other new features. The Styletto AX are SliM-RiC devices, which translates to skinny receiver-in-canal hearing aids. They are quite narrow and less noticeable than larger hearing aid formats. Signia also sent a portable charging case and a larger combination drying and charging case. An additional accessory for the Styletto is a Streamline Mic that connects wirelessly to the hearing aids to send audio from a TV or other streaming source. Another person could also carry the Streamline Mic to have clear voice communications with the hearing aids wearer when either person moves around a location or event. In order that my experience was optimal, Signia arranged for a meeting with a local audiologist at a HearUSA location to be sure the Styletto AX hearing aids were fitted professionally for my moderately severe symmetrical hearing loss.

Once the Styletto AX hearing aids were professionally adjusted, the Augmented Focus feature worked well. I never had to adjust the settings in the mobile app except to change the volume setting a couple of times. I definitely appreciated the own voice processing feature because I’ve worn other devices, especially less sophisticated models, where I found I intentionally talked at lower volume so my voice wouldn’t boom in my head. You can control directionality front, rear, left, or right with the mobile app, but I left it set to Auto mode and never had issues hearing others, at least not related to 360 degree direction. Mask mode sharpened others’ voices somewhat, but I rarely felt a need to use that feature even though I was in several settings where everyone wore masks.

The Styletto AX mobile app has a unique section titled My Wellness. When you open that section you can see statistics for My Steps, My Activity, My WearTime, and My Conversations. The first two measures are common to many smart wearables, though not often found in the hearables that I’ve tried. According to Signia, My WearTime is a measure of how well and how quickly user will get the most from the hearing aids. Your brain needs to get used to the way specific hearing aids handle sound; the more you wear them the better they work. Tracking the amount of time you spend in conversations also matters for your health in general, the company says. Conversation duration correlates with lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and depression. Frequent conversations can also strengthen your immune system and help prevent strokes, again according to the manufacturer.

People with greater than mild to moderate hearing impairment should see an audiologist or other medical professional for proper assessment, fitting, and hearing aid adjustment. Whether you work with an audiologist or purchase OTC hearing aids, it’s heartening that manufacturers and brands are developing new technologies to lessen the impact of hearing impairment.