Why can’t I wirelessly stream audio from my Android phone directly to my hearing aids?
Wireless audio streaming has become very popular for hearing aid wearers over the last couple of years. Hearing aid wearers can turn their hearing aids into virtual headsets and experience the convenience of wirelessly listening to music or taking phone calls from their mobile phone.
Direct audio-streaming is the ultimate in convenience, as wearers do not need to wear an additional accessory. Audio is wirelessly streamed from the audio device (e.g. mobile phone) directly into the wearer’s hearing aids. Currently most hearing aid models support “Made for iPhone” technology enabling direct audio-streaming (without an intermediary device) from Apple iPhones. However, unfortunately this direct audio-streaming technology has not been available broadly with Android phones. Most hearing aids support audio-streaming from Android phones using an intermediary (relay) device.
The following article provides a current overview of the status direct audio-streaming with Android phones.
Background and Challenge
Bluetooth is a wireless networking protocol designed to wirelessly connect devices together. Bluetooth is used to connect computer peripherals (like mice, keyboards, printers etc) to a computer, as well as connect accessories like headsets (for hands free operation) to mobile phones.
Most phones currently support Bluetooth 4.2 and its two variants: Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth Low energy. Unfortunately, neither type is suitable in their native state for allowing wireless audio-streaming to hearing aids
- Bluetooth Classic is ideal for connecting mobile phones to Bluetooth headsets for phone calls. Unfortunately, Classic Bluetooth’s power consumption is too high to support hearing aids1.
- Bluetooth Low energy (BLE) is an ultra-low power version of Bluetooth meant for low power sensors and accessories. Unfortunately, the standardized BLE, implemented in all modern phones, does not support audio streaming.
1 unless significant compromises are made
So how does Apple mobile phones support direct audio-streaming?
Apple’s iPhone was the first phone to offer direct wireless audio-streaming to hearing aids supporting their “Made of iPhone” standard. As mentioned, because Bluetooth Low Energy does not support audio streaming in its native state, Apple created its own (proprietary) Bluetooth Low Energy version that did (it’s called ABLE). Using this technology iPhones can stream audio directly to all “Made for iPhone” hearing aids.
Currently all major hearing aid manufacturers have models support this “Made for iPhone” standard. https://support.apple.com/en-au/HT201466
What about direct streaming with Android mobile phones?
We all know that most of the world’s mobile phones run Android (estimated at 85 percent). Consequently, there is certainly demand from hearing aid wearers for direct audio streaming from their Android devices. However, Android fragmentation has made it difficult for hearing aid manufacturers to provide support to Android devices.
As discussed above, the standard Bluetooth protocols used in Android phones (and many other audio consumer products) are not suitable to stream audio to hearing aids. However, recently one hearing aid manufacturer, Phonak, managed to offer direct wireless audio streaming from Android phones albeit with some compromises.
Phonak Marvel Hearing Aids Offering Direct and Android Audio-Streaming
Recently Phonak released a range of hearing aids on its latest Marvel platform. The new platform uses a new chip called SWORD (stands for Sonova Wireless One Radio Digital Chip). This proprietary radio chip supports direct audiostreaming using the Bluetooth Classic protocol. This ensures Phonak Marvel hearing aids are compatible with any mobile device supporting Bluetooth 4.2 (and the Hands-Free Profile).
It is important to note that due to some technical limitations the hearing aids do have some compromises. Firstly, compared to other wireless hearing aids, battery consumption is higher. In addition, some high-performance binaural audiology features are not available with Marvel hearing aids (e.g. being able to select the direction of directionality).
Will there ever be hearing aids that support wireless audio-streaming from Android phones without such compromises?
The good news is that recently Google released Android 10 that supports a new hearing aid protocol for Android phones called Audio Streaming for Hearing Aids (or ASHA). ASHA is currently supported by the Google Pixel 3 range of smartphones. The protocol aims to provide energy-efficient, high-quality audio streaming with low latency:
Currently two hearing aid models support this ASHA standard and offer direct streaming with compatible Android phones; ReSound LiNX Quattro and Starkey Livio. It is expected that given the new Android specification is open source, most hearing aid manufacturers will quickly follow suit during 2020 by releasing hearing aids that support this protocol.
About Sounds of Life
Sounds of Life audiology is a member of Audiology Australia and Independent Audiologist Australia. We adhere strictly to Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics. We pride ourselves on:
- Being fully independent – We are not owned or operated by a hearing aid manufacturer or large chain.
- Ethical Practices – We are focused on providing the highest level of care and do not pay commissions.
We also follow the Australian Government Hearing Services’ protocol for hearing services.
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