The Starkey Hearing Foundation gives the gift of hearing so that the world may hear. Their hearing mission is phenomenal. They’ve help in so many ways, and there are a multitude of stories to tell.
The hearing aid manufacturer Starkey believes that “Life is made up of sharing ideas, dreams and goals. It’s imperative for hearing.” The founder goes on to say, “Giving one person the gift of hearing may seem like a small act of kindness, but it has a compounding effect on the future of our world.”
Starkey has provided more than 30 years of giving. They bring the gift of hearing to those who live in a silent world. Their core philosophy is that hearing is a vehicle to reflect caring to improve the lives of individuals, their families, and communities.
Their story starts with William F. Austin, founder of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. He wanted to help people hear and change the world. Having started the Starkey Hearing foundation in 1984, Austin says, “Alone we can’t do much. Together we can change the world.” This statement is his premise for the mission. He began the Foundation’s reach in Minnesota, then across the United States to around the world. He accomplished this with the help of thousands of volunteers and supporters. His purpose is to give the gift of hearing to those in need, empowering them to achieve their potential.
Starkey Hearing Foundation pledged a promise in 2010 to give one million hearing aids this decade. They have given the gift of hearing in more than 100 countries. They change lives through hearing.
Their initiatives include preventing hearing loss through their Listen Carefully campaign, which helps low-income Americans get the hearing aids needed. For instance, their Hear Now program gives new life to hearing aids through their recycling program.
Starkey’s Hearing Foundation blog has touched the lives of millions around the world with the stories they have to tell.
If you have hearing loss, please contact your hearing instrument specialist at Pure Sound Hearing Aids.
To amplify sound, imagine putting a horn in your ear or even hauling around clunky batteries for your hearing aids. Well, those options were once the only ones for hearing better. But hearing aids have gone through dramatic transformations over the last century. Features, size, and battery power are stunningly revolutionary, now versus then. Now, wearers have many options, including devices that are hardly noticeable to virtually invisible.
Bigger does not mean better for hearing aids
In the pre-19th century, as early as the 13th century, people used cumbersome ear trumpets to channel sound waves to the eardrum. Made in a variety of sizes and shapes, they consisted of various materials, such as wood, animal horns, snail shells, silver, and sheet metal. Then, in the late 1800s, Miller Hutchison invented the Akoulallion, the first electric hearing aid. However, it was so big that it had to be placed on a table. The device decreased to the size of a briefcase over the next several years, becoming portable. Next, Louis Weber developed the first Siemens device in 1911 to improve hearing. This device was called the Esha-Phonophor (middle photo). It was much smaller than Hutchinson’s invention and easier for people on the move to carry. Then, in 1938, the first wearable hearing aid was invented, with hearing aids only becoming smaller. Finally, from the 2000s to now, hearing aids have become so small that they either fit behind the ear or are custom-made and nearly invisible in the ear.
Disappearing problems with batteries
In the 1800s through the 1900s, hearing aids and their batteries were quite sizable. Even Hutchinson’s Akoulallion battery, which was re-designed, still required a big, six-volt storage battery. Weber’s Esha-Phonophor battery, much smaller, could fit in a purse. However, with the introduction of the transistor in the 1950s, a much smaller battery could be used but had to be affixed to the body. Then, in the 1970s, the hearing aid industry latched onto zinc batteries for wearable hearing aids. Small and powerful, they are still used and have a good battery life. In the 2000s to the present, zinc air batteries, thankfully without the mercury, remain in the industry as the most common of batteries. Their sizes vary, depending upon the hearing aid type.
Even better, rechargeable batteries exist. Nickel metal hydride batteries were the first rechargeable hearing aid batteries, but they paled in comparison to the lithium battery. Lithium ion technology has revolutionized the industry.
Hearing clarity improves and features are revolutionized
In the pre-19th century, ear horns were designed to capture more sound. You would stick the narrow end into your ear to funnel the sound to the eardrum. The features were not extensive, but they did come in numerous styles and sizes. In the 1800s through the 1900s, Hutchinson’s Akoulallion was inspired by the creation of the telephone and used a carbon transmitter known for its portability. An electric current heightened the sound. Contrastingly, the Esha-Phonophor, invented by Weber, was called a “sound catcher with two microphones.” Tones could be amplified without interference. It was also smaller and less noticeable. However, hearing aids could be placed right behind the ears with the invention of the transistor in the 1950s, and they could also be turned on and off. Sound quality and size became much better but hearing aids still didn’t have the features wearers truly wanted.
However, in 1987, good things happened. The first commercial digital hearing aid became available and offered more exciting features. This new innovation created a race among hearing aid manufacturers to outdo each other.
In the present, companies strive to enhance convenience and comfort. Hearing aids vary, depending upon the severity of hearing loss. Different lifestyle needs are also highly considered in the manufacturing process of hearing aids. The range of variability includes wireless connectivity, directional microphones, rechargeability, and speech clarity--just to name a few changes.
Improvements to hearing clarity have been achieved by subduing background noise, echoing, and wind interference. Furthermore, connectivity to smartphone apps and the creation of wearable accessories have made hearing aids even better and more enjoyable. So, we have come a long, long way in the improvement process, and it is only more exciting to see where we will go in the future. To learn more about hearing aid innovations, please contact your hearing aid instrument specialist at Pure Sound Hearing Aids.
1954: Phonophor Epsilon
Lighter than a tennis ball, as small as a matchbox.
Shortly after the first pocket hearing aids were introduced, Siemens added a new model to its product range; one that was even smaller and only weighed about one-fourth as much. The Phonophor Epsilon weighed only about 50 grams (less than two ounces), including the batteries, and was the size of a matchbox. This was made possible by a discovery just a short time before that has gone on to become a fixture of our everyday lives — transistor technology. Along with reducing the size and weight of hearing aids, the shift from sub-miniature tubes to transistors brought many other advantages. These new developments helped push the Epsilon, which was designed especially for moderate hearing loss, into becoming the top-selling Siemens hearing aid in Germany and abroad within a short time.
Phonophor Epsilon, 1959
Sub-miniature tubes represented an important step towards ever-smaller hearing aids. But few years would go by before they were replaced by a revolutionary new technology: the transistor. Development began on the transistor in the 1920s by many different researchers, most of them working independently. Transistors were ready for series production in 1954. Used as amplifiers, transistors offered advantages similar to those of sub-miniature tubes, while outperforming them in many respects.
Siemens developed the Phonophor Epsilon, a fully transistor-based hearing aid distinct from others of its kind, starting with outward appearance. The Epsilon was much smaller than devices that used sub-miniature tubes. Its light weight was immediately apparent when held — it was lighter than a tennis ball and weighed noticeably less than earlier hearing aids. This leap was made possible primarily because of transistors’ low power needs. Older hearing aids had to devote about half their size to a battery, but the Phonophor Epsilon managed with just a button cell. Transistors not only made the Phonophor Epsilon compact and energy-efficient they also further enhanced sound quality, especially in the upper frequency range.
A newly-developed microphone contributed to this. Unlike older crystal microphones, the new model from Siemens was also based on a transistor, one that absorbed sound and converted it electromagnetically. The transistors brought with them a practically unlimited lifespan. They were impact-resistant and they did not have any cathodes that could age, or filaments that could burn out. The Epsilon even stood up to extreme temperature fluctuations — from high temperatures in the summer to bitter cold in the winter — better than older pocket hearing aids. For areas with especially hot climates, Siemens developed an even more rugged version, the Phonophor Epsilon Tropic, which delivered the same excellent performance at temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
The power of electrons – right in your vest pocket.
Better performance with lower use of power, less noise, and no distortion at high frequencies. As early as the 1920s, great strides were made in amplifier technology, and the many advantages electron tubes had over conventional electrical sound amplification became clear. Even with these advances, the engineers of the time had not yet invented a way to manufacture small, portable tubes that could be used for hearing aids. It was not until World War II and the postwar period that sub-miniature tubes were developed, allowing for lightweight, compact hearing aids that encapsulated the benefits of the new technology in a form small enough to fit in a vest pocket. Siemens made this giant leap in hearing aid technology with the Fortiphon and Phonophor Alpha pocket hearing aids.
Electric hearing aids based on telephone technology began to reach their limits, especially when greater amplification was needed. High frequencies are hugely important for voice transmission, but they presented particular limits for the existing technology. Higher amplification was especially an issue when conventional carbon microphones were used — voices sounded louder, but they were distorted. The combination of sub-miniature tubes and crystal microphones solved this problem while also making it possible to build smaller and more powerful hearing aids. In the late 1940s, Siemens was the distributor for the Fortiphon, a pocket hearing aid based on this technology. The company then developed the similarly designed but even more powerful Phonophor Alpha.
Before World War II, a company named Fortiphone was responsible for selling Siemens hearing aids in the UK. Starting in 1949, the roles were reversed for a short time. With Siemens selling the Fortiphon — a pocket hearing aid with sub-miniature tubes and a crystal microphone — on the German market. The sub-miniature tubes developed in the U.S. and in England were not yet available in postwar Germany. Not long afterward, in 1951, Siemens launched its own first hearing aid of this type: the Phonophor Alpha.
Both hearing aids benefited from the advantages of the new technology. The three powerful electron tubes used as amplifiers were each about half the length of a wooden matchstick. Equipped with a crystal microphone, these devices delivered significantly clearer sound quality. This was especially apparent at high frequencies, which are key to faithful reproduction of consonants and whole syllables. The Phonophor Alpha had more than 250 parts, but still weighed in at just 175 grams (a little over six ounces) including batteries, and it was almost as small as a pack of cigarettes. Dubbed “pocket hearing aids,” the Alpha and the similarly compact Fortiphon slipped easily into a vest pocket and could even be worn under clothing.
Another factor that helped make these hearing aids more discreet was their skin-tone earpieces, which were connected to the unit via a cord in the same color. Various sizes of earphones were available. If the wearer’s ear canal varied greatly from the average form, an impression could be taken in order to produce a custom-fitted earpiece. The Phonophor Alpha was also specifically designed to be easy to use. A tiny dial was used to turn the device on and off and adjust the volume, and a flat slider on the side of the housing could be used to adjust the two frequency responses to the desired tone.
Siemens expanded hearing aid production after the huge success of the first Phonophor models. The aids were produced at Berlin’s Wernerwerk plant. New speaker and microphone technology made the new instruments easier to use and sound better. The new Phonophor was also smaller and lighter. Demand increased beyond Germany and several thousand units were being sold annually in the U.S. alone.
“You don’t have to suffer from hearing problems anymore! Try our Phonophor electric hearing aid, approved for years by many hearing loss patients. Now with an earphone that has been significantly improved after extensive testing and research.”
In 1924, an optional microphone amplifier was launched for those with especially severe hearing impairments. Starting in 1928, the metal microphone casing was replaced with a new type of plastic, called Bakelite, that reduced the weight. Siemens hearing aid consultants of the time had many of the same responsibilities as today's hearing aid providers. They helped consumers choose the right model, get used to hearing well again, and explained how to use it.
Werner von Siemens built a telephone which dramatically improved voice quality in 1878. This telephone demonstrated that people with hearing loss could understand speech much better if signals were electrically amplified.
In 1911, Louis Weber used this improvement as the basis to design the first Siemens hearing device. It was named the the Esha-Phonophor. This product was made for a single person, but demand grew quickly, leading to full production in 1913.
The "Esha", as it came to be known, had several variations. One version included a special option for ladies, with the microphone and battery housed in a purse.
This marks the beginning of Siemens hearing aids long and successful history. Siemens hearing products have become the gold standard in the industry.
Pure Sound Hearing Aids is an Advanced Partner with Siemens Hearing Aids. We offer every level of technology (no more purse option though) and service them all. If you would like to try the latest version, please contact us today.