NPR Profiles the Sound World CS10: Part 1

– Tuesday, July 02, 2013

“To Make Hearing Aids Affordable, Firm Turns on Bluetooth” by John Ydstie

As many as 300 million people around the world need hearing aids. The vast majority of the 7 million people who get them annually are in the U.S. and Europe.

One big reason is cost. On average, a set of hearing aids rings up a tab of about $4,000. Most insurance policies don’t cover them.

A company called is trying to do something about the limited reach of hearing aids by creating a high-quality hearing device that costs less than a tenth the normal price.

Frank Lin, a professor of public health and an ear surgeon at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says this kind of device provides a good alternative for the millions of adults in the U.S. who have mild to moderate hearing loss.

“You can get it mailed to you, you put it in your ear, you program it yourself with your Android phone, and it’s going to be decent,” Lin says. “Never as good as the gold standard, of course, but a whole lot better than nothing.”

Lin’s research shows the hearing loss is not just an irritant — it’s a serious public health problem. That’s because hearing loss increases the likelihood of declining physical, emotional and mental health.

“The price point they’re talking about is something that makes it a much more affordable [device] — and more importantly, their approach toward it makes it a much more accessible device,” Lin says. He’s planning to use the Sound World Solutions device in his future research.

Lin says another problem with the current market for hearing aids is that the handful of companies that make them have a high-profit, low-volume strategy. That’s partly driven by the fact that each company uses its own proprietary technology that costs lots of money to develop. Sound World Solutions has taken another route — it uses mostly inexpensive off-the-shelf Bluetooth technology for its device.

Part 2 of the NPR Profile is found here

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