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A special button in the latest version of the Signia app revolutionizes people’s hearing experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
12-08-2020

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Signia unveils new Face Mask Mode feature to help hearing aid users understand people wearing a face mask

A special button in the Signia app revolutionizes people’s hearing experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and shows how we continuously translate new insights into technological innovations that enhance hearing performance.

As of December 8, 2020, the latest version of Face Mask Mode in the Signia app is available, enabling hearing aid wearers to better understand what people wearing face masks are saying. This ground-breaking feature first launched in July, 2020, with Signia being the first hearing aid manufacturer to offer such functionality. Face Mask Mode is available at the tap of a button for wearers of all Signia Xperience hearing aids with Bluetooth™ connectivity. It will be available for the entire duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

You might be wondering why such a specific feature is important right now. The answer is that while face masks and physical distancing fulfill an important role in protecting public health, they also pose a serious challenge to speech intelligibility for anyone with even mild hearing loss.

The adverse effects of face masks on speech understanding

Face masks not only cover the mouth, restricting any visual speech cues that we might usually rely on, from a simple smile to full lip-reading. They also affect the acoustic properties of the speech signal. Masks can reduce frequencies in the 2000-8000 Hz range by between 3 to 12 dB* depending on the type of mask being used by the person talking. The latest research shows that the main dampening occurs around 4000 Hz with the most commonly used masks, so a gain increase of around 6 dB has been introduced in the critical range from 4000 to 8000 Hz. This is because even someone with normal hearing could experience a decrease in audibility of about 30%, further exacerbated by the lack of visual cues, which are proven to help improve hearing, even in noise. This Mask Mode update demonstrates how Signia continuously translates new insights into technological innovations that enhance our hearing performance.

Thanks to the Face Mask Mode in the Signia app, hearing aid wearers have a custom-made solution to the problem of understanding people who wear a face mask. It is available in the Universal hearing program and appears on the screen as a button with a face mask icon at the top right next to the volume slider. Face Mask Mode is activated by tapping the button, which then turns from grey to red. When the hearing aid wearer has finished talking to the person wearing a mask, they can deactivate Face Mask Mode by simply tapping the button again, and it turns back to grey. It also deactivates when you reset the hearing aids, change program, or change the Spatial Configurator.

How Face Mask Mode compensates for muffled speech signals

In terms of the audiological solutions offered by the new Face Mask Mode, it tackles specific parameters of the hearing aid’s settings that are crucial for optimal speech understanding. These include gain to enhance the spectrum most relevant to speech intelligibility, effectively compensating for the adverse acoustic effects of the face mask. It also includes adjusting noise reduction as well as microphone beamforming to the ideal settings for speech signals. In combination, these automatic adjustments offer the best possible sound impression to help the hearing aid wearer understand what is being said.

The Face Mask Mode button is visible to all users of the Signia app with a Signia Xperience hearing aid with Bluetooth connectivity and an Android 6.0 or iOS 11 operating system or higher.

It is the latest innovation offered by Signia to help you support hearing aid wearers to continue to communicate safely and effectively in these unprecedented times. An audiology research paper in our online Signia Library, Removing the Masking without Removing the Mask: Improving communication with face masks, outlines just how effectively Signia hearing aids have mastered this new challenge. It includes full details of the steps you and your clients can take to tackle the audiological challenges of the coronavirus crisis.

*Llamas C, Harrison P, Donnelly D, Watt D. Effects of different types of face coverings on speech acoustics and intelligibility. York Papers in Linguistics, 2(9): 80-104.

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