It took longer than we hoped, but as of October the FDA finally create a frame for a new category of hearing aids that do not require a medical examination, prescription or adjustment by an audiologist. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing the first OTC products announced at CES. Sennheiser, a mainstay of the consumer audio world, is throwing its proverbial hat into the ring with the Conversation Clear Plus.
As the name suggests, the focus seems to be on dialogue (rather than a holistic listening experience). Sennheiser says the headphones will make it easier to understand conversations in noisy environments. This, according to the company, is achieved in several ways. At the heart of the device is a Sonova chip. Sonova is behind some of the legacy names in hearing aids such as Phonak and Unitron, and also bought Sennheiser’s consumer audio business about 18 months ago.
The Conversation Clear Plus looks a lot like a regular pair of true wireless headphones, which will go a long way to removing any stigma or association with conventional hearing aids. Not surprisingly, they share many features with regular headphones. This includes active noise cancellation, even if the application here is more focused on reducing background noise in relation to dialogue.
Like most wireless headphones, you’ll have the option to adjust the amount of noise reduction, and there’s a companion app to further fine-tune your listening experience. Sennheiser says it has three main presets: relaxation, communication and streaming. These are all pretty self-explanatory, but the last one marks a key difference between this category and legacy hearing aids – the ability to stream music and audio from your phone. Some hearing aids can do this, but it’s often a suboptimal experience, given that it’s not what they’re primarily designed for. Given Sennheiser’s credentials in the headphone world, it seems likely that streaming will be comparable to its consumer headphones.
On a more practical note, the Conversation Clear Plus offers nine hours of battery life on a single charge, with an additional 27 hours/three charges available through the box.
One of the big promises of OTC hearing aids was a significant reduction in cost. Normally a kit fitted by an audiologist would cost several thousand dollars, the Conversation Clear Plus will retail for $850. The experience between the two different product categories will obviously be somewhat different given the different form factor, but the modern, modern design will appeal to many people who might otherwise be put off by the clinical design of classic hearing aids.
Conversation Clear Plus will be available for pre-order from January 5th and will go on general sale on January 20th.
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