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Throughout my career as an audiologist, I've had the opportunity to work directly with several manufacturers and distributors. Getting to know a company “behind the curtain” can provide a nice perspective on their inner workings. In 2008, I had the opportunity to work directly with Miracle-Ear to develop a standard protocol for fitting hearing aids using Probe Microphone Measurements (also called Real Ear). This method of verification is recommended by both the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and the American Speech-Language Hearing Association but is only really done by about 30% of audiologists.1
Miracle-Ear recognized that doing this was not only “best practice” but also improved their bottom line, increasing closing and referral rates, and reducing returns for credit. I modified the AAA guideline to align with their software and hearing aid configurations and trained several hundred owners and dispensers, which I believe in turn improved the results for many thousands of end-users.
Based on a very careful examination of the pictures Miracle-Ear's website, I thought their current product line was made by Signia. A few emails with corporate staff confirmed this. This is very good news for potential customers, as these are very well-designed hearing aids with a feature set that has met the needs of most of my patients. Besides, Miracle-Ear excels in local service and customer relationships, which are all very important parts of hearing care.
Why would you buy from Miracle-Ear if the hardware is made by Signia? I can think of several reasons. First, there may be a Miracle-Ear location very close to you. After all, there are more than 1,400 franchise locations in the United States (as well as several in Canada). For many people with hearing loss, particularly those with more severe losses, being “off the air” is terrifying. Having your provider close by is usually a great comfort. Second, many folks are long time Miracle-Ear customers. For them, it's less about the hearing aid itself and more about the service they get and the relationship they have with their provider. Third, even though the BTE products are made elsewhere, the company and the custom products are American which is important to a lot of folks. For this review, I'll explain the Miracle-Ear product line and my experience with the devices.
Miracle-Ear offers many different styles of hearing aids, each with its own technology. While the exact price of each hearing aid is not listed on its website, hearing aids can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000.
As of the writing of this review, the Miracle-Ear line up is as follows:
Built on a 2.4 GHz Bluetooth LE platform these devices can connect to and stream audio and phone calls directly to iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod).
This technology is available in both a Receiver In Canal (RIC) and Behind The Ear (BTE) form factor. The BTE uses a #13 Zinc Air battery. The RIC is available with either a #312 or #13 Zinc Air battery.
Both provide coverage for a wide range of hearing loss configurations from mild to severe. Telecoil is available on some models.
While they all provide some degree of automatic processing and directional microphones, there are differences across the price range in terms of the number of adjustment channels and how the hearing aids processing background noise.
If you have difficulty with small Zinc Air batteries, or just don't want to hassle with changing power cells every week, Miracle-Ear offers the same styles and technology in a Lithium-Ion rechargeable. Signia, the tech under the hood has been a leader in this technology, so Miracle Ear's partnership provides extra benefits for customers who want to “plug and play” their hearing aids.
Included in this group of devices is the “iRIC R” hearing aid which has a really unique size and shape. It's identical to the Signia Styletto which I compared to early body-worn hearing aids that were cleverly disguised as jewelry. The ENERGY iRIC links more like a True Wireless headset than a hearing aid which I believe will appeal to younger users who want not only high tech connectivity but also a device that doesn't look like their grandfather's hearing aid.
If you want an in-the-ear solution, Miracle-Ear offers an “Invisible In the Canal (IIC) called the Mirage IIC, and a Completely In the Canal (CIC) called they Mirage CIC, both of which use a #10 Zinc Air battery. These have the same amplification technology as the above products across the price range. For those who need a lower price point, the MeMINI Audiotone Pro CIC provides a more entry-level feature set that still should cover folks with mild to moderate losses. As the name implies, the circuit is made for Miracle-Ear by Audiotone and assembled by Miracle-Ear in Minnesota.
Custom hearing aids need to be made to order, The shells are 3D printed from a casting of your ear (called an ear impression) and take several days to a couple of weeks to fabricate. If you want a CIC but don't have time to wait, hearing Miracle-Ear offers a “Ready Fit” version of the MEMINI. The electronics are the same as the MEMINI CIC but it uses a series of silicone sleeves to obtain a seal to your ear. If you have an “average” ear canal in terms of size and shape, this may be a good option.
One caveat on CIC hearing aids from all manufacturers. Because of the small size, these devices almost always have one microphone as opposed to two on the BTE and RIC models. Even though the placement deep in the ear provides some natural directionality, the ability to separate speech from background noise, particularly when the speech is in front, is limited. Because of this, I recommend that all patients considering a CIC ask for a speech in noise test like the Quick SIN prior to finalizing the deal. If you have a mild “SNR Loss” on that test the CIC will likely be a great solution. If, however, your difficulty in noise is moderate to severe, you'll do much better with a discreet RIC like the CONNECT 312 or ENERGY iRIC.
Even the best hearing aids cannot completely overcome the negative effects of distance, reverberation and background noise. To assist with these, Miracle Ear offers several accessories.
This compact and portable charger offers a quick charge or full charge for rechargeable hearing aids. For these on the go, they also offer a travel charger that can store several charges worth of power for unplugged charging. This is also very helpful for patients who live in areas like Florida where hurricane season makes power outages a common occurrence.
This device, about the size of a Zippo lighter, is a combination remote microphone and Bluetooth rebroadcaster. The remote microphone captures a speakers voice (ideally used clipped on their shirt or lapel) and wirelessly sends the signal to your hearing aids. In Bluetooth mode, it allows your hearing aids to stream audio and phone calls from Android devices like cell phones and tablets.
When connected to the audio output (analog or digital) of your TV or cable box, this streams the sound directly to your hearing aids allowing others to adjust the TV volume to their comfort. This also allows for silent (mute) listening if you and your partner have different TV tastes.
The App allows patients to adjust volume, set programs and even request appointments with their provider. iOS users will pair their hearing aids using the Apple “MFI Hearing Devices” accessibility feature. Android users will use a set of ultra high frequency “chirps” to tell the hearing aids what is begin adjusted on the app.
As one of the most well-recognized brands of hearing aids, Miracle-Ear has a long history of providing quality products to folks with hearing loss. One of their most famous customers was Ronald Reagan, who was one of the first celebrities to go public about his use of hearing aids. They offer a wide range of very high-quality hearing aids and accessories. They have established themselves as an American company with longevity and a commitment to being part of the communities they serve. Their current tech is all made by Signia and Audiotone, but the service is all Miracle-Ear. For those looking to hear well and establish a local relationship with their provider, Miracle-Ear is certainly worth a look. My only reservation is that because of the proprietary nature of the line if you move, you may have a bit of a challenge finding someone to adjust and service instruments purchased at another franchise location.
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Mueller GH. Probe-mic measures: Hearing aid fitting's most neglected element. Hear J 2005;58(10):21–30. doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000285782.37749.fc
As a practicing audiologist since the 1990’s, Brad Ingrao, AuD has fitted thousands of hearing aids to seniors and people of all ages. Brad is the Official Audiologist for the International Committee on Sports for the Deaf and a well-known speaker. Dr…. Learn More About Brad Ingrao