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My Lyric Beta Ended… Seems like I need to Wait for 2.0

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

More on My Lyric Hearing Trial

Last Monday was day 25 of my trial of the Lyric hearing devices that I previously detailed here and here.  Sadly, in the short-term, I will go forward without the devices. As I will explain below, I already had to remove the Lyric in my left ear roughly two weeks into the trial. Upon inspection of the right, the team at my Lyric provider and I agreed we should remove the second one as well.

In spite of issues that I’ve had, I remain impressed with the product and am hopeful that we can try again at some future point, perhaps when the newer Lyric devices hit the market (see this story on the swim proof version being tested. For the days when the devices were working and properly in place, it was truly a revelation to hear better. Although my hearing loss is not truly severe, it was amazing to realize how much I’d been missing.

All of this didn’t really hit home until I no longer had the devices.

For those of you considering Lyric, I share my experience as it may be useful to you as you evaluate this technology.

The Devices Initially Worked Great
The devices initially fit and worked properly even though the ENT folks that are seeing me had some concerns regarding the depth of my ear canals. Fairly quickly I noticed that my left ear seemed a bit clogged. I had a scheduled (and unrelated appointment) with the ENT office and while I was there I shared my experience. My nose seemed to showing some signs of a sinus infection, so they put me on antibiotics. After about 5 days with no real improvement, I went back and we decided to pull the device from my left ear.

Upon inspection of my left canal, the PA indicated that there was “ulceration,” and we agreed to medicate it topically (to calm it down) and that I would come back in 10 days or so to determine next steps. Her suspicion based on looking at the pulled device was that some internal movement (e.g. chewing, etc…) likely dislodged the device enough so that it began to irritate/inflame the canal enough for me to get the plugged up sensation.

For those you considering this technology, it’s important to understand that the devices are really disposable. Once you pull a device it can’t be reused or reinserted again, so providers are going to be understandable reluctant to wantonly remove devices unless absolutely necessary, especially during a free trial period.

After that visit, I retained the right Lyric device only, and I suspected all along that my right ear was going through something similar. It still seemed inserted, but I could kind of feel some movements of the device, especially when chewing or moving my eye brows.

When I returned for my next visit, the audiologist and physician’s assistant immediately noticed an abnormal waxy buildup in my right ear, and given what I described regarding the movement and the plugged up feeling, we decided to pull the second device as well.

Be Very Careful to Set Your Expectations Properly
Based on my discussion with my providers, I suspect that what I’m experiencing is fairly common. Indeed the practice I’m seeing has indicated that in spite of great interest, they have been experiencing very mixed results with as much as 60% of their trial customers bailing. From the very beginning they were very careful to set the expectations properly… and I always looked at this as an experiment.

I know that there are new Lyric devices on the horizon and am hoping that I might be able to get access to the new models sooner rather than later, and wondered where they were at in your development cycle. My local provider is admittedly in the dark regarding what’s coming, so they have been unable to shed any light on what to expect.

Meanwhile, although the audiologist was keen to get me to try alternatives to Lyric, I’m not quite ready to do that yet. So for now, I’m back to being a bit hearing challenged.


Note: For those of you watching this space from a business perspective, InSound Medical, which created and markets Lyric announced today it has been acquired by Sonova Holding AG, of Switzerland, the folks behind Phonak hearing aids. Sonova’s latest deal comes just days after it completed its acquisition of cochlear implant maker Advanced Bionics. Clearly they are seeing a lot of potential growth in this market. The acquisition is likely good news for customers, as the infusion of Sonova’s smarts and resources is likely to accelerate Lyric’s development. Find out more about this deal here.

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Connecting to the Niche Market Customer…My Continuing Lyric Hearing Experiment

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

The web has made shopping for specialized products so much easier than it once was. If you are resourceful, and information is available (alas sometimes it is not), some patient googling will often lead you to what you need to know (good or bad). In my last post, I introduced InSound’s Lyric hearing devices, which are still relatively new to the market. Due to the niche nature of this product customers considering these are at a bit of disadvantage. Unfortunately, outside of news stories and company sanctioned testimonials there’s just not a lot of deep background information available. While I found the marketing to be enticing, acquiring this type of product was not going to be like getting a smartphone and sanitized tributes were just not doing it for me. I was hungry for real information.

Current, Real time, Independent, and Authentic

Actual Size of a Device

Kudos to Dane Ashworth for chronicling his experience over the last 18 months with the devices on his blog. Dane’s generous detailed blow-by-blow account of his experience is absolutely what I needed as a shopper. His view is current, real time, independent, and authentic. It was precisely the credibility I needed to begin my own process. While social media is opening some of this for mainstream marketers (e.g. Lyric has a Facebook page), this has not evolved to where it needs to be for big ticket or complex personal items. Facebook has its place, but as I do my due diligence do want to sign up to be a fan of manufacturer?

In our increasingly open marketplace manufacturers and service providers are challenged to find ways to get more personal with their audience, especially in the early stages of the relationship. I can speak from experience in saying that it’s challenging for small businesses to pay enough attention to such niceties, but I would argue as a buyer that it’s essential.

My local Lyric providers are very nice and supportive, but by their own admission they are flying a bit blind and can only speak from their own limited experience. Also in spite of all appearances of being a well-run traditional medical practice, they certainly have not embraced the online world (e.g. good luck finding their website and email correspondence is not necessarily encouraged or built in to their way of doing business).

After a few days of wearing the devices, I found that I needed some support that didn’t neatly fit into the doctors office variety. I fortunately was able to hook directly up with Dane who agreed to answer some of my questions. Because I have good facility with online tools and am persistent, I was able to find Dane. I’m sure others would have a much harder time getting the information they need.

With Dane’s spirit as my guide, I offer up the following dialogue culled from our email correspondence for those interested in getting the skinny on Lyric’s hearing devices.


Schiff/Ashworth Lyric Hearing Q & A

Mr. Schiff: I never wore hearing aids, so this is an entirely new experience for me. Like you I’m a gearhead, so I’m good with the experimentation, but this is the first time I’ve done something like this to my body. The idea of having this device stuck in my ears that I can’t take out at will is definitely a pretty strange experience. My loss is in the high end, and I’ve done a pretty good job compensating over the years, but while I can definitely get away without, I do have problems at the movies, parties, restaurants, theater, in meetings, etc…

Lyric Hearing Aid

Actual Device Prior to Insertion

So my experience so far…

The first couple of days I was pretty comfortable, albeit a bit itchy at times, but nothing unbearable. They told me to try not sleeping on my side, but very hard for me, so I’ve just not paid attention to that advice. I’ve worn the little ear condoms while showering which feels silly, but I understand that it’s better to not get them wet.

DANE: I’m a big side sleeper myself. I tried to stay off it a little for the first few days, but didn’t sleep well. I found it better to just sleep on my side and take a few ibuprofen in the morning than to not get any rest. I’m not sure what you’re using for the ear condoms, but I’ve never put anything over my ears when showering. I’m pretty careful to not take a full blast of water directly into them, but I haven’t had any issues with water when showering other than during the first month when I intentionally tried to get them wet just to see what would happen 🙂

Mr. Schiff: On Saturday I went to a party, and this would normally not be a great environment for me, but the devices absolutely worked. I also went to a noisy restaurant at lunch time, and that was fine too. I think by far the worst thing was walking by a Sal Army bell ringer at Walmart. There was a kind of slap back effect that was very weird. In general, I find the sound quality a bit harsh, metallic and squeezed. I know you’ve fine tuned yours, but I wonder how far you can go?

DANE: I will ask my audiologist to send me my settings I have right now. After several changes, they’ve made a big difference in the harshness of higher and lower sounds. I’ll let you know what she says. Hopefully that’ll make a difference. Your brain will also do a lot of adjustment naturally to those sounds. They will sound less harsh over time as your brain gets use to hearing them again.

Mr. Schiff: There’s a part of me that in some moments wants to rip them out so that I can hear things au natural again. I also somehow wish there was a way to inject more air into the sound and warm it up some.

DANE: I can totally relate to the desire to want to just take them out and breath/relax. It’s pretty powerful in the beginning, but you will get used to it. After being able to take my old ones out at night, I did miss that a little at first, but found the benefit of being able to hear at night was an excellent trade off. I too wanted to compare back to my original hearing again after my trial, so I ended up running on my trial set for about 60 days or so and once one of them ran out I took them both out for a day just to see what it was like. I had tried to memorized sound and perceptions in a few different scenarios with and without them and there wasn’t much of a comparison. I just heard much better in all situations with them in.

I’d be curious to hear your perceptions of audio quality. I had to draw a distinction between audio quality and audio familiarity if that makes sense. I found that certain sounds, certain voices and especially music sounded pretty different to me via the Lyrics. I had been using a digital hearing aid for 10 years when I switched, so things sounded very different to me. After doing several comparisons between Lyric fittings and my old hearing aids and then no hearing aids I found that the Lyrics provided me with the best range and clarity. My digital aids cut out the very high and low frequencies because they weren’t speech oriented. They also cut out the louder sounds and started “clipping” around when I cranked it up. Of course my naked ears left out much of the sound leaving it very difficult to hear or understand the words. While the Lyrics did sound the best, a lot of the music I listened to sounded pretty different. It wasn’t bad, but it was noticeably different. I stressed out over it for a while as music is very important to me. I stuck with it and over the period of a few months my brain adjusted and everything sounds totally normal to me now. The range of the music is great across the frequency spectrum and I hear the words much better than before, (that’s not always a good thing though with today’s music being so mindless, oh well). One of the reasons I persisted in this regard was due to some stories I had read about those that received the older cochlea implants.

In the past, and maybe still now, people that lost their hearing and had an implant basically would have all of their remaining natural hearing cut off in place of this new digital device. This is pretty similar to how the Lyric works as there really is no vent or natural sound reaching your ear. It’s all processed by the device. Cochlea implant users have to go through a pretty major transition learning to hear all over again to re-train their brain how to recognize the sounds that used to be familiar and tie them back what the Cochlea device delivers. Again, I don’t think the sound is bad from those devices, but I guess everyone hears things differently. Kind of like trying to describe the taste of salt I guess.

Mr. Schiff: My audiologist discouraged the use of any kind of ear plugs at all. I see that you mentioned Doc’s Pro Plugs. Do you still use these, and do you use these in the shower? Also, would you swim with these alone, or do you need the headband thingy?

DANE: Yes, I use the Doc’s Pro Plugs found here.  I think they are pretty much officially recommended by InSound Medical at this point. They are a great way to keep water out of your ears when swimming. As I mentioned before though, I don’t use anything in the shower and don’t have any issues. It’s kind of hard to explain, but when in the shower, I do tend to slick my hands over my head after getting my hair wet to kind of squeegee a lot of the excess water out to keep a bunch of it from just running into my ears. I’m sure every head and ear shape is different, but it seems to be very effective for me. Also, my canals are pretty deep which helps keep the direct spray out, but once water runs in, I can feel it fill up the canal and get wet. Like I said though, so far it hasn’t been much of an issue. After I get out I’ll use a tissue to sop up any excess moisture out of each ear just to keep things clean and dry. On the few occasions where it has muffled the sound, it’s usually just taken a few hours to dry out and then back to normal. That’s only been 3 or 4 times over the period of a year and a half though.

Mr. Schiff: Did you have a plugged up feeling in your ears, and did you get over it?

DANE: Yes. More at times. When I’m congested at all, I notice it the most. I’ve found the biggest solution to this has been in the placement of the device. I’ve found that immediately after my fitting, the devices have been installed correctly and are situated the right distance from my ear drum. At that point I have virtually no plugged feeling at all. I’ve found though that gradually over time my devices tend to work their way out just a tiny bit and they start to give me that drum beat sound when I walk around on a hard floor like when I have ear plugs in. After a month or so I’ll just use a q-tip or something and push them back in a little bit into place and it really helps. My audiologist has recommended that I try out the next size up to see if that keeps them in a little bit better. It’s not much though and probably not more than a hundredth of an inch or something that seems to make the difference. Other than that, the basic occlusion or plugged up feeling is just another thing I thing your brain gets used too. It’s probably one of the bigger downsides of hearing aids in general, but it really hasn’t bothered me too much.


Thanks Dane for sharing with me, and also allowing me to share this via this blog. More on this experiment as it further develops.

The Ultimate Beta Test Subject: Me

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Friends, family, colleagues, and business associates know me to be an inveterate tinkerer with those things technological. When it comes to electronics and software (and food), I like to play. I’m always looking for the plugin or application that will just make whatever it is I’m doing a little bit smarter, a little bit more efficient, a little better. I’m willing to take risks, and of course, sometimes spend lots of hours recovering from my experiments. Most of the time, I discover some great stuff along the way (which I am happy to share, which is kind of the point of this blog).

The latest experimental subject in Mr. Schiff’s Laboratory is me, specifically my hearing (or ever decreasing lack there of). We discovered my hearing loss when I was a teenager, but at the time it wasn’t considered severe enough to worry much about, just something to be watched. Years of playing loud electric guitar in bands along with lots of rock-n-roll shows (e.g. Hot Tuna in the 70’s)  didn’t help the inevitable degradation of my hearing. When I last had my hearing checked 7 years ago the ENT believed I would need a very visible type hearing aid to cover the spectrum I needed augmented, and vanity got the better of me. I decided to live without until the technology improved.

Seven years is a long time in the technology world…

The October issue of Inc. Magazine ran a story that I came upon called “The Future of the Human Body,” which told of a continuous-wear hearing devices (as in you don’t take them out, and you can’t see them) from InSound Medical, Inc. marketed under the name Lyric. Given who I am and the business I am in, this was very intriguing to me. The healthcare entrepreneur in me was excited by their subscriptionized business model (you don’t buy these devices), as one would continually have access to upgrades (and of course the whoe recurring revenue thing). From a product and technology standpoint, this was definitely not your grandmother’s hearing aid. I was intrigued enough to do a bit of googling. In the process I discovered Dane Ashworth’s Blog where he details his trial (and experiments), along with excellent insights on this first 18 months with the devices. Soon I was off to make an appointment to see if a trial was doable for me.

My 30-day period started last Thursday (12/10/2009). I’m going to see how far the technology has come for those with hearing loss like mine (high end in both ears).

How Lyric Works

Technically these are hearing aids, but if any of you have seen me in the last week, you would not have noticed at all (except for the fact that I didn’t ask you to repeat yourself when there were competing sounds in the room). These remarkable little devices were placed in my ear canals by at a local ENT office and I’ve been wearing them 24-hours a day since. At night I put them to sleep via a small magnetic controller device (I also did this when the vacuuming from the cleaning crew got to me). Should I continue with these devices after the trial is over, I’m likely to not have them taken out until the devices get replaced for 3-4 months (that’s how long the batteries last).

What Lyric looks like from the outside

It’s one thing to play geek with my laptop, or a home-brew streaming music server, another when one starts experimenting with one’s own body (and I’m not talking piercing or tattoos here). In ways I didn’t expect, this is surprisingly a bigger leap than I imagined before doing it. They are by no means uncomfortable. I’m just hyper aware that I’m on technology assist mode and know that I have something artificial inside my body (I’ve been told that I will get over this soon).

In the medical device realm; Lyric Hearing is by no means bleeding edge, or frankly that experimental. Lyric was launched commercially in January 2007. Prior to commercialization, Lyric was used by hundreds of clinical research patients beginning in 2001. While I’m not sure where I will be after 30 days, my early read is that these folks have this thing pretty well nailed, and if not this generation, the next has the potential to break out.

The natural technology approach that InSound is taking is a phenomenal catapult forward, where technology is there, but is in the background. Pacemakers and contact lenses are part of this, as are artificial knees and hips. Those with more severe disabilities have been aided by prosthesis for a long time, but this generation of devices is part of a very rapid expansion of the horizons for assistive technologies into the mainstream that was previously not possible.

There’s lots more to say about all of this and I will write more about my experience in future posts.