I was born profoundly deaf. I wear a cochlear implant in one ear and a hearing aid in the other. As a bimodal user, my hearing aid and cochlear implant have been separate devices. Now, with the introduction of the Phonak Naida Link M, they can be linked.
In August 2021, I upgraded my cochlear implant processor to the Advanced Bionics Naida CI M (M for the Marvel platform). I also switched out my Phonak Naida to the Link M so I could benefit from the “surround sound.” This is my review.
Immediate Impressions of the Phonak Naida Link M
Both the AB Naida CI M and Phonak Link M devices are smaller, thinner, and more ergonomic. My CI battery is also more durable. Instead of changing my battery at least once a day, now I go the whole day without needing to touch it. Gone are the days of being out of the house and forgetting a backup battery. My hearing aid battery, on the other hand, went from a Zinc-air size 675 to a smaller 13 battery. I used to go weeks with the same battery. Now it only lasts a week – a factor related to the Bluetooth option and streaming power.
When wearing both devices, the sound seems louder and crisper. And the Bluetooth – that’s my favorite part! Before, I used the Phonak ComPilot when streaming onto my iPad, which was a pain. I had to make sure it was charged, loop it around my neck, and plug it in. The flashing light was distracting, and if I paused my show for any reason, the disconnect was jarring.
“When wearing both devices, the sound seems louder and crisper. And the Bluetooth – that’s my favorite part!”
Now Bluetooth is wireless! Sure, I might have to take my CI off and put it back on to connect to Bluetooth (because I have multiple devices), but it’s worth it. No extra accessories are needed. I can even answer my phone right from my CI if I want. I can connect to the TV or any other Bluetooth device.
As I was using my new hearing technology, I noticed my sound seemed to power off and then come back on at inconsistent times, in different environments. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I contacted my audiologist. Turns out this was the “automatic” feature, in which the CI adapts to various environments automatically. Some people love it, and some hate it because their brain isn’t used to experiencing the sensation. You can guess which camp I fall into! My audiologist turned it off and I’ve been much happier. If I want to emphasize, say, speech in noise, I can do that manually (either on my device or through the app).
After a while, I realized something else. Was I even noticing the new “surround sound” feature? I experimented by streaming with my HA on and then off. The only difference was that it was obviously a little louder with it on.
“Was I even noticing the ‘surround sound?'”
I had a virtual rehab session with an audiologist friend who’s also deaf. She, too, was curious. We tried different permutations: Listening with just my CI, just my HA (both old and new), with my CI and old HA, and again with the new one. My husband spoke to me from several feet away on my HA side. We compared this to him being closer on that side vs. being on my CI side.
The results were negligible.
Adjusting to New Hearing Technology
Testing this hearing technology resulted in a theory: because I was born profoundly deaf, perhaps some features like linking aren’t noticeable. It could very well be that I’m just too deaf for this feature. In an Advanced Bionics Facebook group, I asked if anyone else was bimodal with the same background. Crickets.
Hearing Like Me put me in touch with someone at Phonak who connected me with two Phonak audiologists. We traded emails as they asked if I’d tried various things. Then we set up a virtual call, during which I shared the recent exploration I’d done in trying to assess the situation. I told them about my background, and they asked me various questions.
What it boils down to is this: My theory may indeed be correct. I’m used to power aids, so the Link M may not be strong enough for me. Or maybe I’ve reached the limits of what technology can do for me short of getting a CI in that ear.
They suggested playing around with the volume while streaming. That didn’t make the linking any more noticeable. The next step: Trying the Naida P-UP to see if a high powered aid like I’m used to might be more beneficial. I’m enjoying being a guinea pig!
Lisa A. Goldstein has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley, a digital hearing aid, a cochlear implant, and plenty of deaf-friendly communication equipment. She spends her days juggling life as a freelance journalist, wife, and mother of two in Pittsburgh, PA.
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