Behind the schedule since 1989

Update on BioAid and my Hearing in General

This post was written about a year ago, but it has been lost among the drafts, as I haven’t been a frequent guest here lately. Now it’s time to finally publish this piece for good.

Some time ago I did a big, comprehensive review of the BioAid hearing app for iOS. A couple of months down the road, the situation has changed entirely. I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. Let’s start with the latter.

Bad News

I’ve joined the dark side and after several months of struggling, I’ve finally bought a commercial hearing aid. It is not a spontaneous decision though, I’ve been thoroughly thinking it over for a couple of weeks. Here is what made my mind up:

  • I’ve started to notice some discomfort while using BioAid, for the most part it was minor headache and mental fatigue. I’ve been taking some medications, that could have caused this effect too, but I do believe BioAid had its share of responsibility in driving me into this condition. As I’ve been using Gradual HF regime, it could be a little too high frequency in my case. Not high enough to notice that at once, but it had some profound effect on me in the long run. I was feeling ruined by the weekday evenings after the full day of continuous use of BioAid at work, and I was feeling OK on weekends, when I hardly used the app at all. I think it was natural fatugue, combined with the sound irritant of BioAid. I’m not saying that you’re sure to be feeling exactly the same way, but I strongly recommend you to stop using the app as soon as you feel any side effects. You should also consider starting using the app twice if you have any sort of rare medical condition. The creators of the app warn you about that themselves.
  • Annoying state of being unable to use my iPhone to its full potential throughout the day and implications of using it as a hearing aid in day-to-day situations made me feel quite miserable. If you’re interested in what I’m speaking about, I’ve been writing about all the limitations in the original post. However, it could be alright, if you really can’t afford a hearing aid, or want to use the app as a temporary solution.

As a result, I went to the same center, where I’ve refused to buy an aid in the first place and bought the same exact aid I had been offered back then. It is OK (Widex, by the way), but I’ve not changed my mind completely. I do think that devices like BioAid are the future of hearing aid market, which is really underdeveloped and monopolistic in this day and age.

Good News

Some time ago I got this letter in my inbox:

Dear Vsevolod,

You contacted me a couple of months back about the original BioAid app. I’d like to let you know that I’ve been looking at the hearing app idea again recently and have just released (yesterday) a rather more powerful and flexible piece of software. Check out aud1.com for more details and don’t hesitate to get back to me if you have any questions.

Best, Dr. Nick Clark

Dr. Nick Clark is one of the scientists behind the original BioAid project (the one who wrote most of ObjC code, actually) and Aud1 is his solo project. Yes, basically it’s BioAid 2.0 and it’s paid now. Actually, it’s not BioAid 2.0, but rather implementation of BioAid algorithm, as Nick Clark himself explained it:

I’d just like to clear up any confusion that I may have caused by my haphazardly typed original email! Aud1 is not the new name for BioAid. BioAid is the name of a biologically-inspired open-source gain model. The original BioAid app was a particular implementation of this algorithm (confusingly also named BioAid, but referred to in-house as “the BioAid app”). Aud1 is a much more flexible framework that has been developed independently by one of the original BioAid team (me), and currently runs an optimized version of the BioAid algorithm. However, there are plans to allow the user to switch between various algorithm designs in the future, potentially making Aud1 a useful research tool for field comparisons. Switching algorithms is not like changing the processing strategy on a hearing aid, but rather more like switching out an entire part of the hearing instrument.

Aud1 is a platform for the BioAid algorithm, and potentially other algorithms in the future, allowing it to behave more like the lab scale version that we used (providing features like linked stereo processing if the user has appropriate input hardware). Aud1 is no more a hearing aid than the original BioAid app can be considered a hearing aid, because they are just a software component restrained by the limitations of the devices on which they run. I prefer the deliberately vague term “assistive hearing technology”. Limitations aside, the the BioAid app really seemed to help a select group of people, and this motivated me to push the technology further, adding many features requested by BioAid-app users. Check it out if you like.

I installed the app and field-tested it right away. I was glad to see that some of the annoying issues of the original version were gone. The app features much cleaner interface and more flexible configuration with sliders instead of fixed presets. There are no more welcome popup screens appearing every time on startup and the app seems to preserve the configuration on relaunch.

It also has introduced some new features like an ability to choose bit rate of the output, support for stereo, latency test and input/output calibration. It also provides some basic session info and a logger for the tinkerers. The application now looks more mature and ready for commercial distribution. Although no essential improvement over the original app was introduced, it looks, feels and hears much better, which is enough for me to reach for my wallet. Still, there are issues, that were ignored, like returning to hearing aid mode after a call (as the stock music app does) and some other minor problems. Regimes are the same for the most part (albeit a tad more configurable), hence it haven’t solved my headache problem. Eventually, I’ve abandoned the concept of iPhone as the everyday hearing aid. Again, it doesn’t mean it would not work for you. Give it a try.

By the end of the day I do think that this version is worth every pence, even if you’re not particularly amazed with the new features and improvements. You may consider it a little contribution to an amazing project, especially if you have been using the original BioAid for some time already. After many months of extensive BioAid usage, I was glad to pay it back. Hopefully, you would be too. If you’re completely new to this kind of apps, my advice would be to try BioAid first and see, whether you’re not experiencing any of the side effects and it does help your hearing, then you could easily migrate to Aud1.

A little year-down-the-road update is due. As of now the projects seems a abandoned: last updates on BioAid and Aud1 Facebook pages date back to September 13, 2013. It is quite unfortunate as the project showed big promise. Hopefully, Nick Clark haven’t abandoned this idea completely and works on something new in the same vein. Time will tell.