Designing hearing aids with the goal of offering brilliant sound performance and high client satisfaction from the first fit is a big challenge. Our DSP and Hearing System Engineering teams live this challenge every day. 

So, we asked a few of them to give us an insider’s view of what it takes to passionately focus on hearing aid sound performance. Special thanks to Chief Scientist DSP, Henry Luo; Hearing Scientist and Lead System Architect and Manager, Hearing System Engineering, Leonard Cornelisse; and Senior Hearing Performance Audiologist Jesse Sinclair for sharing the unique perspectives that brought this article to life. 

Our success in delivering sound performance that keeps hearing aids on wearers ears comes down to a foundational philosophy. We believe every hearing aid should deliver a fantastic out-of-the-box experience. There are three important approaches that help to achieve this goal: 

  1. We invest a lot of effort into finding a first-fit response that is comfortable for first-time wearers. Then we rely on our Automatic Adaptation Manager to seamlessly adjust the hearing aids to full target over time for optimal performance.

  2. We focus on making sure the automatic program provides a listening experience that requires very few (if any) adjustments from hearing care professionals or their clients.
  3. We know some clients want to make in-the-moment adjustments to their hearing experience, so we also give them the ability to customize their sound performance using optional app programs.

These three principles are complemented by our long-term mission to develop technologies that address the everyday listening challenges of people with hearing loss. 

“When we’re developing new features, we always keep in mind a real-life difficulty facing someone with hearing impairment,” says Cornelisse. “It’s bred into our DNA.”

This mindset has led to the creation of a long list of features that address real-world listening problems. While some of the features were similar and common across manufacturers, like feedback cancellation, many others were industry firsts. 

AntiShock was one such innovation, released in 2006. This feature directly tackled the common issue of discomfort caused by sudden, loud noises, while preserving speech comfort and clarity. In 2013, Henry Luo received the Manning Innovation Award for this technology, which is used in more than 20 million hearing aids today.

Other important performance innovations over the years include noise reduction, which reduces competing background noise. “A lot of manufacturers were thinking about the noise problem at the time,” says Luo. “But nobody else was solving it.” 

We also put a lot of effort into helping make speech easier to hear: 

  • Speech enhancement increases the volume of the talker’s speech during conversations. 

  • SpeechZone was designed to help the hearing aids intelligently respond to speech from different directions, even in the most challenging listening environments. This technology evolved into AutoFocus 360, which was first released on our Blu platform and is available today in Vivante™.

  • In Vivante, HyperFocus uses our intelligent binaural beamformer to help wearers hear speech coming from the front of them in very loud background noise. “We integrated HyperFocus with AutoFocus 360 to make it even more intelligent,” says Luo. “We were able to advance this technology to make sure the binaural beamformer only activates when it should.” 

The technologies in our hearing aids continually build on one another to advance overall sound performance over time. “It’s not a single project or technology,” says Luo, “It's a philosophy for continuing to innovate to help real people.”

A great example of this comes in the form of our user controls. All the way back in 2010, SmartFocus™ was introduced with the Era platform and provided users with a range of adjustments, from comfort to clarity. 

In a clinical research setting, SmartFocus achieved a 16% improvement in speech intelligibility beyond the benefits realized with directionality for speech in noise situations. This proven technology formed the foundation of our efforts to help make speech easier to hear in noisy listening environments. 

  • The next-generation of the technology — SmartFocus 2 — included noise reduction with level dependency and speech enhancement+, in addition to the other features offered by the original SmartFocus.

  • This technology paved the way for the introduction of Sound Conductor on the Tempus platform, which was responsible for dynamically balancing multiple adaptive features that enhance speech and reduce distracting background noise. 

The advancements continued to gain momentum. “Learnings from Sound Conductor fed into the changes that we now offer in the automatic program,” says Cornelisse. “We keep evolving and adapting to provide the experience wearers want most.” 

Our automatic program is intended to work seamlessly. However, we also recognize that some wearers like to be a little more hands on. That’s where our optional app programs come in.

Clients can use our Remote Plus app to add up to eight optional manual programs. They can change the frequency response using an equalizer, as well as adjust some of the adaptive features, like noise reduction and speech enhancement. Any changes a hearing aid wearer makes in the manual programs are preserved, even if they reboot their hearing aid. However, these changes don’t impact the performance of the automatic program. 

“We put control of the automatic program in the hands of the hearing care professional,” says Sinclair. “That’s their domain, so it was an intentional decision.” 

Our Log It All data shows a wide variability in the listening environments different clients encounter throughout the day. This provides hearing care professionals with greater visibility to help each client fine-tune their listening needs. 

“It can be hard for people to remember all the specific listening experiences they encountered once they’re back in a provider’s office,” says Cornelisse. “Giving hearing care professionals those insights through Log It All is huge. The variability in the data also supports the approach of giving clients some control over their own experience in the moment. I think we're only beginning to get an understanding of what all of this means for how we fit hearing aids in the future and how we develop new features.” 

Despite big changes in our sound performance with each new platform release, our user-first philosophy and many of the technologies underpinning the advancements haven’t shifted. Take artificial intelligence (AI), for example. Back in the early 2000s our teams used AI to train the classifier to distinguish between four different acoustic scenes. 

“We were using AI for intelligent processing before everyone was talking about it,” says Luo. “Discovering what’s in the environment related to the target can’t be done just by thinking. You need to use machine learning.” 

“There’s no doubt that more substantial AI is coming,” says Cornelisse. “This applies to AI in the hearing aids and likely the fitting software as well, including the analysis of data accessed through the fitting software.”

In an AI-enhanced future, the needs of the user will stay front and center for Unitron’s DSP and Hearing System Engineering teams. Their input will be critical, too. “A complicating factor around all the data a hearing aid can collect is context,” says Sinclair. “We need user input to understand their intention in a particular situation.”

The other thing that will never waver is our people’s passion for continuing to build an elegant system where everything works seamlessly together. 

“We keep advancing the technology to make hearing aids more powerful and help people live better lives,” says Luo. “It’s so rewarding to hear the stories of people with hearing loss benefitting from the technology we develop. Without the passion of our people, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”


For 60 years we’ve been solving meaningful challenges for the people who wear hearing aids and the hearing care professionals who help them along their hearing journey. This article is one in a series featuring insights from our internal experts who spend their days making sure you and your clients always love the experience. Easy to wear, easy to hear and easy for you – that’s the Unitron way.

1. Hayes, D. (2010). “SmartFocus impact on speech in noise” (White paper). Unitron hearing.