https://www.wired.co.uk/article/signia-active-review

Signia Active are hearing aids in a smart disguise

Hearing aids have gone from assistive tech to lifestyle tech. But is the Signia Active’s added subtlety a good thing?

Signia Active are hearing aids in a smart disguise

Rating: 7/10 | Price: from £999 | Signia


WIRED

Impressive sound quality; straightforward app; fantastic battery life; music streamingTIRED

Ear domes can cause discomfort; disorientating auto situation detection on Pros; small changes can require full reprogrammingADVERTISING


The distinction between wireless earphones and hearing aids are becoming ever smaller – much like the devices themselves. Even in their own promotional video for their Active Pro hearing aids, manufacturers Signia blur the words ‘hearing aid’ and ‘hearing bud’. Hearing aids have moved from assistive technology to customisable lifestyle devices, and with that comes minimalism and discretion.

By minimalism, I mean that newer hearing aids tend to limit the involvement of other people such as medical professionals. Bose recently launched its first-ever hearing aids in May, with the unique benefit that they don’t require any hearing tests or fitting appointments with audiologists. The SoundControl is direct-to-consumer, with all the sound adjustments left in the hands of the user. 

This doesn’t extend to streaming music or taking phone calls, however – weird for a device reliant on Bluetooth – and this is where the £2,400 Active Pros and their ‘budget’ siblings, the £999 Active, have an advantage.

The discretion comes as more and more hearing aids style themselves as wireless, in-ear earphones rather than the standard, over-ear models. For the deaf person tired of their ears doing a lot of heavy-lifting in a pandemic, with glasses, face masks and over-ear hearing aids, Active Pros offer some respite. And for the self-conscious deafie in favour of subtlety, they are easily dismissible as your typical earpiece.ADVERTISING

All of this raises an interesting balance to strike when it comes to the future of hearing aids: how much responsibility should be in the hands of one individual, the user? Can there ever be too much customisation?Setup

If you’ve never had to do the audiology ‘beep test’ before, then you haven’t lived, and that’s what Signia’s Active hearing aids require. A simple ‘yes’ whenever you hear a tone is necessary to help with customisation, and the notches at my audiologist’s disposal certainly appeared extensive. If particular adjustments are needed, though – such as the changing of the plastic domes covering the end of the hearing aids, which I had to do almost a week into trying them – then this process needs to be repeated.

What’s clever, however, is how the Active Pros allow for multiple set-ups on the hearing aids, meaning tinnitus sufferers such as myself can switch to a more calming mode if necessary. Sounds such as ocean waves and white noise are among those offered as distractions. While none of the modes were suitable for my kettle-like whining, the setting certainly offers benefits for others when the hearing aid isn’t enough to mask their tinnitus. Everyone’s deafness is different, of course.

As a device reliant on Bluetooth, pairing it with your mobile phone is simple enough. It works particularly well as a ‘Made for iPhone’ hearing aid, and much like Apple’s AirPods, Live Listen is available, which lets an iPhone’s microphone stream your surroundings to your earpieces. 

Why anyone would favour Live Listen over the Active’s in-built microphone, however, I do not know. In fact, together, the iPhone’s accessibility section and Signia’s settings feel confusing and overwhelming. You certainly can have too much customisation, and usability suffers for it. It works better when users focus only on the Signia app itself.

The two devices use lithium-ion rechargeable batteries for the power, and it’s impressive. I’ve worn the hearing aids for a little over a week now and their charging pod (also portable) is still going strong. Despite a low-charge warning light appearing a few days ago, I’ve woken up to two fully charged batteries every day since I was given them. If you do it right, you’ll never hear a ‘low battery’ chime in your ear at all.  Sound quality

Signia Active are hearing aids in a smart disguise

With the volume controls customised to each user’s hearing profile, it’s hard to comment on the sound quality as a whole. In my case, as a deaf person identified by the audiology as being moderate-to-severely deaf, my amplification would no doubt be higher than a mildly deaf person. This may explain why, whenever I was to clap my hands, or place an object on a table, the sound felt like it came with an extra layer of buzz – almost like the vibration of a snare drum.

Up until this point, my hearing aids have been from Oticon (thanks, NHS) and there is a noticeable difference in distance perception. Sound feels more pronounced in terms of how far it is away from the individual. NHS hearing aids, meanwhile, like most hearing devices, pick up everyone and everything with no distinction. That usually comes down to the individual to process, which can be exhausting. But this isn’t an issue here, thankfully.

Alongside capturing speech, the ‘Made for iPhone’ hearing aids allow for music and streaming via Bluetooth, and it’s one of the Actives strongest features. Songs come through in immersive audio akin to my Bose wireless headphones, layers to a track I otherwise wouldn’t have heard or acknowledged are there for me to explore, and I can still hear speech over the top of it, unlike most headphones and earphones, which require them to be removed first.Most Popular

ADVERTISEMENT

As an audio experience, the Actives offer something which, for the most part, you can get used to, and, at times, even enjoy. If you can handle the automatic situation detection on the Active Pros, that is.

As soon as I opened the front door to exit the audiologist, the sound dipped. The Pros adjust sound levels automatically to suit a new environment. But if you’re just getting used to two large bits of plastic in your ear, the occasional sound adjustment doesn’t always help matters.

Neither does the odd connectivity issue when listening to music. Sometimes it’ll come through distorted, or just through one earpiece, the other silent and a deadweight in your ear canal. With most hearing aids, sound quality is closely partnered with comfort, for the former helps eliminate the latter when it comes to the ‘bunged up’ sensation inside the ear. Unfortunately, with the Active Pros, sound quality and comfort cannot necessarily coexist.Comfort

Signia Active are hearing aids in a smart disguise

As mentioned previously, changes had to be made just short of a week into trying these. The theory was that a high amount of pressure in the ear canal was causing the blocked sensation, and that a dome with two openings would help. It certainly did, at the expense of understanding what the audiologist was saying. 

Unlike other hearing aids, which can allow for impressions to be taken of a person’s inner ear, Signia’s Active Pro hearing aids are about finding the right mould for you. Even then, there can be a little bit of irritation when removing them.App

A fairly simplistic app accompanies the hearing aids to allow for a customisable experience away from the audiologist. Changes can be made to the volume, treble and bass via the in-app assistant. Directional hearing is also available for situations where focus may need to be shifted to one side, though it’s completely unremarkable. The sound does not feel homed in; in fact, it’s better when it’s circular.

There’s also a face-mask setting, which is Signia’s much-welcomed solution to a problem which has been the bane of our lives during this pandemic. A subtle boost to the sound quality helps to remove the typical muffling we often experience. Verdict

It should be noted that subtlety isn’t for every deaf person. Some will choose hearing aids with vibrant colours and other ways of making the technology (which many consider representative of their deaf identity) stand out. However, if someone is looking for something that can easily be perceived as Bluetooth earphones, then both Signia’s Active hearing aids have that covered.

A device with the primary goal of decent sound quality, the music streaming capabilities are good, and their skill in capturing the small details of a sound extends to distance perception with speech. It’s a standard which doesn’t falter as its battery depletes, and if a quick fix is needed in a specific scenario, the mobile app’s customisation settings offer a simple solution which isn’t overwhelming for the user. Most Popular

ADVERTISEMENT

One thing worth considering is the significant £1,400 cost difference between the Pros and the standard Actives. While the £999 outlay for the vanilla Actives can certainly be justified (high-end Resound hearing aid prices range between £1,400 to £2,150, after all), you should think long and hard if you really need the extra features of the Pros. Tinnitus options might not be required by all, and I didn’t really get on with the auto situation detection too well.

One let down common to both models is in their physicality. Ear moulds which cause the occasional irritation and lack of personalisation mean they can take a pretty long time to get used to. The feeling in your ear that everything is underwater is hard to ignore, which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to focus on what someone is saying.

Inevitably, it becomes a toss-up between audio quality and comfort, and while I am willing to have the former and put up with the latter (for the simple fact they’re hearing aids), not everyone may feel the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s