erth64net (erth64net) wrote in hearingaidhacks,
erth64net
erth64net
hearingaidhacks

A brief review of Phonak's SmartLink SX and an FM transmitter question

UPDATE @ 03:00 (pacific) on 08DEC2008:
I greatly apologize for the delayed update that I originally promised. I'll work to get something out later this week, but in summary; Phonak did follow through and replace everything, with the exception that they swapped my SmartLink with the non-bluetooth model...their bluetooth support in the SmartLink is simply worthless.

UPDATE @ 17:00 (pacific) on 22AUG2008:

Apparently, a higher-up at Phonak got wind of this posting. Their regional rep contacted my local specialists, whom in turn called me just barely an hour ago. I've been told a shipment of all-new equipment is on the way. From the sounds of it, Phonak may turn out to be far more responsive than Starkey ever was...I'll post updates as they develop.

About one month ago, I began trying to use a Phonak SmartLink SX coupled with an integrated ML10i FM receiver on each of my nearly-new Phonak Naida V UP (UltraPower) BTE hearing aids.

The intent, was twofold:
1) To replace functionality originally found in my now-dead Starkey DaVinci PxP HAs, where I used an ELI+DAI boot for bluetooth needs, and a couple of DAI boots/cables for iPhone/iPod needs.

2) To strive for more moisture-resistant HAs, in an apparently vain attempt at finding HAs that would last more than 2-3 months between repairs.

To review major utilized features of the SmartLink SX:
a) Bluetooth:
The SmartLink has the ability to pair with other bluetooth audio sources, though in actual usage, I've found that even when the SmartLink and paired device are sitting on-top of one-another, audio often cuts-out, or is otherwise illegible - various other distances and positions where also attempted, but with little positive change. Tested devices were a MacBook, iMac, iPhone (1st and 2nd generation), Nokia 6230, Motorola SLVR, and a PC w/ a USB-based bluetooth dongle. With all devices, the results where consistently-poor audio quality, often to the point of uselessness.

b) Mic-in, line-in, and charging functions:
For any user of the SmartLink, my rationale for bundling all three of these functions together is clear; Phonak did not engineer these plugs into the primary device, they instead require the use of a flimsy and poorly-connecting adapter (pictured below). Aside from the generally-unnecessary bulkiness of the device, the adapter effectively eliminates the possibility of comfortably pocketing the device.


An argument towards waterproofing the device, by moving these plugs to an external device, falls flat. Simply because through the antenna area of the device (often referred to as the "top" of the unit), you can not only see the antenna's mounting jack, but easily make out individual components on the internal circuit boards - all easily exposed to raindrops and other forms of moisture:


In addition, the audio-out of both my computer, and iPhone, must be cranked to full volume. Otherwise, the SmartLink fades the audio in/out while feeding it to the hearing aids; making music extremely unpleasant, and speech indecipherable.

Further, the final nail in the coffin for me, was the fact that the connector often fails to make a sufficient electrical contact, often unless held in position (even after being "adjusted" by my hearing aid specialists). Meaning, not only does the SmartLink often not fully-charge, when resting inside a seat-bag in my bike (a recumbent, with a large and often half-empty bag), the subtle bouncing of riding down the road jars the device enough that the dongle connects/disconnects, making listening to an iPod/iPhone totally impossible.

c) Necklace/antenna:
To accommodate the inability to pocket this device, it was suggested that I wear the unit around my neck, using the included neckpiece w/ integrated FM antenna. Since I work in the "real world", the idea of wearing an awkward looking device on the outside of my clothes, which is in-turn connected to a flimsy dongle, and then finally plugged into my iPod...well...it's pretty ridiculous. Though I did try it for one day, and quickly grew tired of the ensuring comments and perplexed and sometimes almost fearful looks by strangers.

Further, being made of a ballistic nylon type material, its clear that the necklace would not break-free easily. So, if wearing the unit on the exterior of my clothes, and if snagged on/in something, I'd better pray I get free before being choking to death...or worse...

So, I tried wearing the unit under the clothes, only to realize that the ballistic nylon making up the neckpiece also irritates the skin of my neck; it's a very coarse material, which makes it blinding clear that no engineer actually considered wearing it in such a manner.

d) In general:
The device has an impressive feature-set, but Phonak's actual implementation of each feature is representative of the hearing aid industry as a whole; they clearly do not design their products for real-world usage patterns. Nor are their products very well tested with common personal electronics.


So, in light of it all, I've given up trying to use the device for iPod listening or for connecting to my mobile phone. Since both tasks could be easily accomplished with nothing more than a line-in --> FM transmitter running at the right frequency (ie: to interface with the integrated ML10i receivers)...does anyone know of a product that'd work for this purposes? Could one just assemble their own FM transmitter, tweak the frequency range, and use it instead? Maybe even doing so, without dropping $1,000 for something that amounts to $50 worth of electronics and slapdash engineering?
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