Since I live in Switzerland, I have learned to appreciate the things that Switzerland is famous for: cheese, chocolate, watches ... But the popular product of this wonderful country that has fascinated me the most is the Swiss army knife! Yes, that's right ... this fantastic tool, small and light, that helps in every kind of situation. And it is for this reason that with great enthusiasm I accepted to participate in the development of the SoundClip-A, the Swiss army knife for the hearing impaired.
Fig. 1: SoundClip-A, the Swiss army knife for the hearing impaired
Just like a Swiss army knife, the SoundClip-A is small and versatile, and lends itself to helping in different situations:
- Hand-free phone calls
- Hear speech at a distance or in difficult listening environments
- Use as a basic remote control
- Wirelessly stream music and video in stereo
- Use as a wireless headset to chat with VoIP software (e.g., Skype)
It is simply fantastic to have so many functionalities in such a small accessory! For more information about functionality, have a look at the Product Information sheets or our TiA on Connectivity with this link to the Download Center.
SoundClip-A is a fantastic product, as are all products in the Zerena universe. Nevertheless, sometimes it is challenging for the end user to understand the technicalities of these systems. As proof of this, I would like to tell you about the conversation I had a few weeks ago with a Zerena user. I was in Milan visiting one of our clients when, while enjoying our well-deserved post-lunch espresso, one of his customers came into the shop for a follow-up visit. After we were introduced to each other, Mario (this was his name), started asking me plenty of questions about Bluetooth® technology in the hearing aid industry. Here is our conversation (as far as I can remember):
Mario: You know Giuseppe, Zerena is a great product, but I still don’t understand why I can’t have phone calls streamed from my Android™ phone. Aren’t both Zerena and my Android phone Bluetooth enabled?
Giuseppe: Yes they are, but regarding reception of audio streaming, Zerena relies on two other Bluetooth protocols, which are not standardized. To receive audio from iPhone®, Zerena uses the Apple Bluetooth protocol (that why we say that Zerena is “made for iPhone”), and to receive audio from the SoundClip-A, Zerena uses a proprietary Bernafon Bluetooth protocol.
M: But why did Bernafon decide to focus on iPhone and not on Android phones? All in all, Android users are much greater in number!
G: : It is absolutely true that there are many more Android users, but the standard Bluetooth protocol used in all Android phones and many other audio consumer products, is not suitable to stream audio to hearing aids.
M: How so? My son listens to music from his smartphone using wireless headsets. If headset manufacturers can make products supporting direct streaming from Android phones via Bluetooth, why can’t hearing aids manufacturers do the same?
G: Basically there are two major Bluetooth standards (maintained and developed by Bluetooth SIG):
- Bluetooth BR/EDR (or Bluetooth classic), that is the standard we mostly know today;
- Bluetooth Low Energy, which is a low power version used to exchange data between BT peripherals, but not suitable for audio nowadays.
Your son’s headset gets audio streamed from the smartphone via the classic Bluetooth protocol. Zerena hearing aids do not support this protocol for audio streaming because it is too power consuming. And at Bernafon, we could not rely on the BLE standard protocol, because still today it does not support audio streaming.
M: Too power consuming? My son’s headset lasts a long time. He never takes them off!
G: Let me show you something…
We browsed the Internet and downloaded the headset datasheet.
G: Now let’s have a look at the specs for your son’s headset. As you can see, battery capacity is 100 mAh, which is a bit less than the capacity of a 312 battery, and he can listen to music for 6 hours (A2DP profile), and have hands-free phone calls for 8.5 hours (HFP profile). If your son is a great music fan, maybe he will have to charge his headset every night, but replacing the batteries every night is not acceptable for a hearing aid user. Would you agree?
M: Definitely. Battery life is a really big concern for me.
G: Yes, we are very much aware of that. That’s why we thought that to have direct streaming into Zerena hearing aids, we had to develop the SoundClip-A, a product able to stream audio to Zerena via a low energy Bluetooth protocol.
M: Wait…you said that Bluetooth Low Energy does not support audio streaming.
G: Correct. The standardized BLE, implemented in all modern phones, does not support audio streaming. That’s why we developed our own BLE protocol. Therefore, the SoundClip-A receives the audio from the phone via classic Bluetooth, and forwards it to Zerena using the Bernafon proprietary BLE protocol. So we can stream audio without shortening Zerena’s battery life.
M: And what about iPhones? Why can they stream directly to Zerena?
G: Because iPhones use an Apple BLE protocol. All hearing aids “made for iPhone” can exchange data and audio with iPhones using that protocol.
M: uhmm…just to be sure I understood correctly…To save battery life, we need a Bluetooth Low Energy protocol that can support audio streaming. The commonly used BLE does not support audio streaming, therefore Bernafon invented its own, which is used by the SoundClip-A to stream audio to Zerena. Apple also created its own BLE (called ABLE), so that iPhones can stream audio directly to all “Made for iPhone” hearing aids.
G: Exactly! You got it!
M: My wife is also hearing impaired, and she owns an iPhone. Then she does not need a SoundClip-A, right?
G: It depends. If her need is only for streaming music, then no, she does not need a SoundClip-A. But SoundClip-A is much more than a simple audio streamer. Without SoundClip-A, iPhone users cannot have hand-free calls, and they would not benefit from the convenience of having a small remote control in their pocket. Not to mention the remote microphone functionality. Honestly, regardless of the phone they use, every hearing-impaired person should get his little Swiss knife!
For more information about the SoundClip-A and compatibility, please visit www.bernafon.com/professionals/products/accessories.
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