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Hear My Story

With ReSound ENZOs I can for the first time appreciate music

"They set up the Bluetooth connection and played the song. I literally burst into tears. It was a moment of joy I shall never forget."

Posted 06-10-2016 by sophieresound

10th June 2016
James Strachan

James Strachan was born severely deaf, gradually becoming profoundly deaf. A Cambridge graduate, a former MD and Board Member of Merrill Lynch’s international business, and a celebrated professional photographer, he was also CEO of the RNID (now Action on Hearing Loss) for 5 years. Connected to this latter role, he proposed and then led the Modernisation of NHS Audiology Services in the late 90s and early 2000s. This work was instrumental in enabling cutting-edge digital hearing aids to be provided free at the point of need to 2 million NHS patients. As a profoundly deaf person with a portfolio of directorships that have ranged from the Audit Commission through the Bank of England to many public and private companies, he now uses our super power ReSound ENZO hearing aids.

I was asked to create a short testimonial on my experience of the new ReSound ENZO hearing aids that I have been wearing for the last year. It is a personal perspective, primarily as a user of hearing aids, but also as someone who has been involved in the provision of hearing aids in this country. There are several key elements of the ReSound ENZOs which have created such a phenomenal experience for me:

First, I must start with the extraordinary power of these hearing aids. In practical terms the power is so great that I never need to be near full volume, especially with strong compression. Significantly, for music, it also means that the higher frequencies which had previously been seen as beyond my auditory cut-off point are eked upwards from below the line of a pure tone audiogram.



The power is such that if I had walked out of the consultation room without any further customisation of the hearing aids' settings I would have been very happy. There was an immediate and palpable benefit to my hearing.

But beyond simple power is the main focus of my testimonial. With these ReSound ENZOs I can for the first time appreciate music to an extent that I never thought possible.

Part of achieving this is through the second critical feature. Being one of GN ReSound’s Smart Hearing series of aids, they stream without interruption straight from an iPhone (or certain Android smartphones) into one's hearing aids and ears. GN ReSound’s ENZOs are the only super power aids in this group at the moment. The streamed audio of music is not at all tinny and indistinct as one might fear, but rather like having a full-blown orchestra suddenly implanted into your brain.

Additionally, using these hearing aids means that I can turn all ambient noise off and only listen to the music being streamed directly into my ears. This means I can experience ‘pure' music, with no background auditory distractions. This makes a huge difference and of course transforms my appreciation of music. The resonance of the music is mind blowing, when compared to live music or recordings heard from an external speaker.

Thirdly, the ReSound ENZO hearing aids possess a number of sophisticated frequency compression and transposition programmes which combine the significant power of the hearing aids with the option of different degrees of compression: broadly from 6k Hz to 2.5k (strong). 3.5k (moderate) and 4k (low) settings can significantly enhance the ability to register higher frequencies and, in turn, the richness of a piece of music.

All that said, because of both the power and the compression, the quality of my lipreading cues has also risen significantly to the point where I can almost lipread a newsreader on TV without subtitles. In the past, such a flat experience (versus lipreading someone in person) was nigh impossible.

Hearing speech is a binary phenomenon: either you understand or you do not. Whereas appreciating or enjoying music is a range phenomenon: just as I do not know how you see the colour red, I do not know exactly what you hear when you listen to Adele or Beethoven. However, with ReSound ENZO, I do know that I can now enjoy them hugely, even if my version is in some sense lesser than a hearing person’s (less rich, more timbre and so on).

But while speech perception has always remained a vital goal of hearing aids (one could rightly assume THE vital goal), music appreciation has remained a luxury. To have suddenly discovered it at 62 years old, then, is astonishing. Speech had always been something I could perceive via lip reading (visually), but music has always been quite ‘another country'.

When I was first introduced to the concept of a music programme on my ReSound ENZOs, I thought there was little point. For the last few decades music has had no place in my life, so my expectations were low. But GN ReSound were persistent and kept trying to introduce me to the music option. When I was a child I could manage to hear the beat of a few favourite songs, until my hearing deteriorated further. So GN ReSound chose “You’ve got a friend”, a song of which I had some vague auditory memory of the beat. They set up the Bluetooth connection and played the song. I literally burst into tears. It was a moment of joy I shall never forget.

The curious thing is that there is no existing rehabilitation for hearing aid users for music. If you have a cochlear implant there is a lot of rehab support for speech and music, but there are no such opportunities for those who wear hearing aids.

A question I have been asking myself is: is music just ‘auditory cheesecake’ or can it actively nurture and develop different parts of my brain and indeed consequently increase overall speech perception in turn?

So after getting over the tears of joy, I have continued my musical education. I figured I should concentrate on any music where I had some vague auditory memory of the beat (especially) or the melody. This meant late 60s/early 70s, deep soul, deep opera in particular. At first I wanted to fight against my reliance on the visual but quickly said to myself that is plain stupid. You should go with what you know and feel comfortable with. Having spent all my life operating visually, through my photography and lip reading, it seemed the best place to start.

I would therefore watch as many different versions as possible of a song on YouTube, with the lyrics in front of me. This helped me match text to sung lyric and, importantly, place the lyric within the music. The next phase was to repeat this process with ‘newer’ artists (Adele, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, George Ezra et al).

I tried to start with a ‘safe’ element, such as the beat, and then on each subsequent listening try to distinguish other elements, retaining that distinction in my auditory memory. What is certain is that going through these processes is honing my brain’s ability to hear/see/process music and, importantly, to deal with more and more complex sounds, which is incredibly exciting.

To put this in perspective I spent time the other day going back to the experience of listening to music with my old aids: high power, digitally-programmable analogue Phonak P4 Zooms and also the later pure digital Phonak Superos. In contrast to the pure joy I continue to experience with my GN Resound ENZOs, the experience was at best like comparing watered-down chalk to the finest mature cheese. Most of the time I simply could not hear much at all.

I feel I am just at the start of a long road with greater and greater enjoyment along the way. Already I have perhaps 650 songs and pieces of music on my iPhone as well as a nascent collection of operas on Blu-ray (you can stream off the TV too). I am now reading a number of musicology books to put in place some kind of background framework which will increase my ability to guess or deduce music - in short fill in the gaps. I am even thinking of buying a Yamaha keyboard to train my brain to distinguish a wider range of low and high notes, rather than just thinking crudely it’s low or high.

My overall reaction is that the technology inherent in cutting-edge, Bluetooth streaming Smart Hearing aids with sophisticated alternative compression programmes consummately demonstrates the potential of hearing aids to help deaf people enjoy music, as well as improving speech perception. I strongly feel that if with my loss I can have this experience, just think how many other profoundly but also severely deaf people could too.