Oticon Holding A/S encouraged investors - and enticed the
world's 300 million hearing-impaired people - with an announcement
that it has built a digital hearing aid that could revolutionize
Shares in the Danish maker of hearing aids jumped after the
company announced the device, which uses two fingernail-sized
microchips to harness digital audio technology in a hearing aid for
the first time.
"We're putting the power of a laptop computer in your ear,"
said Lars Kolind, the company's president.
Oticon, which holds about 15 percent of the $1 billion world
hearing-aid market, hopes to introduce the product in the first
half of 1996.
The Danish company's technology is the first major breakthrough
in a global race among hearing-aid makers to improve the quality of
their products, analysts said.
Most hearing aids, by the companies' own admission, are
surprisingly low-tech contraptions - squawk boxes in age of
mellifluous, digitized audio.
Oticon's product is intended to supersede the analog hearing
aid, replacing it with a digital device capable of millions, rather
than hundreds, of calculations. Eventually, analysts said, hearing
aids may be tailored to individual requirements, giving the
hearing-impaired a more nuanced impression of sounds.
Oticon claims that its product begins to do just that, giving
people the possibility of 100 different adjustments, compared with
10 in a typical analog hearing aid.
"It's like going from a radio with just bass and treble to a
digital recording studio," Kolind said.
It comes at a premium price. He said the product would cost
"substantially more" than $2,000, the price of the company's
highest-priced analog hearing aid, but less than $4,000.
Analysts said it's too early to say how much of an advance over
analog hearing aids the Oticon product, called DigiFocus, actually
"The features are similar in some ways to what is in some
currently available hearing aids, but implemented slightly
differently and probably better," said Brian Moore, a professor of
auditory perception at Cambridge University.
The company's own field testing showed that 20 percent of a
random sample of hearing-impaired people preferred its top analog
hearing aid, the MultiFocus, to the DigiFocus.
Even if the DigiFocus isn't the answer, analysts said, its
solutions to the problems that have beset the industry's research
should prove beneficial. …