This review serves as the latest and hopefully final thing in my quest to deal with my ailing hearing. I previously reviewed NuHeara's IQbuds Max to see if they would help. They didn't, so I booked an appointment with an audiologist and have ended up with Starkey Livio Edge 2400 AI Rechargeable ITC hearing aids, which I'm reviewing here.
Starkey are a well-known supplier of high-end hearing aids, and the Livio Edge models are the latest hearing aids in their line-up. Their range comes in four different types:
- Behind The Ear (BTH), which are what you might call the traditional hearing aids of the past. This is the sort you usually get via the NHS if you're in the UK. Most of the gadgetry sits behind the ear and a rubber grommet runs from the hearing aid into your ear.
- Receiver In Canal (RIC), which have a smaller, less obtrusive behind-the-ear unit containing the battery and most of the electronics. The receiver itself is in the grommet that sits in your ear.
- In The Ear (ITE), which have no behind-the-ear unit. The battery and all the electronics are in the ear, and you're looking at something with the profile of a large set of earbuds such as you might use to listen to music.
- In The Canal (ITC), which are similar to ITE hearing aids (above) but they're smaller again. They are still visible, but more discretely so — they look like a small set of earbuds.
If you want Starkey's Livio Edge hearing aids, you'll be looking at one of the above styles, although there are a couple of additional styles you can get from other manufacturers (or indeed different models of hearing aid from Starkey):
- Completely In Canal (CIC), which are smaller again than any of the above. These are more or less invisible unless someone looked very closely and from the right angle.
- Invisible In Canal (IIC), which are, as the name implies, invisible to an outside viewer. Or almost invisible, anyway. If someone inspected your ear very closely they might still detect them, or at least the 'prong' that sticks out a little to allow you to remove them. Although you'd probably have something to say about anyone who was inspecting your ear that closely uninvited.
There are tradeoffs whichever way you go. The discreet ones are better from the point of view of vanity, but they require more dexterity to insert or remove, and they tend to have smaller batteries and fewer controls on the hearing aid itself.
Hearing aids need power and there are two choices for that: battery-operated or rechargeable. The advantage of batteries is that you can carry spares to replace them if they should run down when you're out, and you're instantly up and running again. With rechargeable hearing aids you'll be without your hearing aids while they charge, and you may need to find a socket to charge them from.
My suggestion is that if you don't need the on-the-go convenience of batteries, then go for rechargeable. I say that because changing batteries soon gets old (and expensive over time), and I've found hearing aid battery compartments to be a point of failure. Admittedly I discovered that point of failure with lesser hearing aids than Starkey's, but it's a factor for consideration.
What I bought where In The Canal (ITC) rechargeable hearing aids.
In the UK it's impossible — or at least extremely difficult — to buy 'proper' hearing aids as a consumer. You'll need to buy them through an audiologist, and there are many reasons why you should do that anyway.
You can buy plenty hearing aids online, but they'll be lower quality ones. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Such hearing aids will usually come with a set of grommets you can use to try and find the right fit. If you're buying high-end hearing aids from an audiologist they'll instead take moulds of your ears and you'll get a pair of hearing aids customised to fit your own ears.
This is a huge advantage. If you've ever suffered from whistling hearing aids this will be almost entirely down to the fit. With a customised set of hearing aids the whistling problem is completely gone. It's as simple as that.
It's not just the fit the audiologist will customise. You'll take an extensive hearing test and the electronics of the hearing aids will be adjusted to your particular hearing deficiencies. Cheaper hearing aids often give you a volume button, but that's a blunt instrument on its own. So much more is down to tones, frequencies and situations, and that's the sort of fine tuning and control you'll get from a high-end set of hearing aids, customised by an experienced audiologist.
I didn't think this would be the case at the outset, but my audiologist was a huge source of help and information.
What do you get?
If you buy a pair of Starkey Livio Edge 2400 AI Rechargeable hearing aids, you'll get two hearing aids, a charging case, a power lead for the charging case, an instruction manual, and maybe a box of wax guards. I say 'maybe' for the latter item because I'm not sure whether you get those as standard or my audiologist threw them in as a bonus.
All these things will come inside an outer display box.
My audiologist also provided his own, condensed set of instructions, although I didn't refer to any instructions much. I have used (cheap) hearing aids for a few years now and I'm quite familiar with things. Basic operation is very simple.
Stick them in your ears!
Really, it's that simple. Removing the hearing aids from the charging case turns them on in 'normal' mode (and I'll come to the modes later). I've found 'normal' mode is where I am for 99% of the time, so you really do just stick them in your ears.
The first things I noticed was how much of a step up they were from anything I'd tried before. If you've used high-end hearing aids before, the step up might be less noticeable, but for me it was significant.
I can now hear the whole the conversation I'm part of, whether it's one-to-one somewhere quiet or in an environment with a noisy background hum such as a pub.
It sounds very grandiose but these hearing aids have changed my life. I've struggled for 25+ years with failing hearing. It's isolating in the sense that you don't feel like you're an active participant in conversations. The cheaper, bought-online hearing aids I used definitely did something to help, but not enough. I still missed parts of conversations, and the devices themselves were relatively high maintenance compared to the Starkeys.
There are tap controls on the hearing aid. These can be customised to switch modes, answer the phone or whatever. I can't tell you how your tap modes will be set because I think it's down to the personal preference of audiologists.
Starkey provide a good selection of help videos, including how to use tap mode controls.
One mode worth mentioning is Edge Mode. This mode is for situations where hearing is tricky due to the environment; lots of background noise, wind etc. Once you've switched it on a tap on one of the hearing aids will activate it. The intelligence in the hearing aids will then go to work, analyse the background noise and try and improve your hearing. I have rarely needed to use it, but there's a room where I live that has an echo that makes hearing difficult even for people with perfect ears, and I found it helps in this room.
Starkey Livio Edge 2400 AI hearing aids can connect to your iPhone or Android phone. There's a list of compatible devices on Starkey's website.
The protocols the hearing aids use are Made For iPhone (MFi) and Made For Android (MFA), which are low energy protocols that sit on top of Bluetooth. I have an iPhone, so I'll be talking about MFi here — things may or may not work in a similar way for Android.
In iOS you access your hearing aids via Settings -> Accessibility -> Hearing Devices.
The first time you use this you'll need to give iOS permission to pair with your hearing aids and you'll be guided through that on your phone. Once you've done that, the hearing aids will appear at the top of the Hearing Devices menu and clicking on that option will bring up iOS's control panel for the hearing aids.
What you'll see are volume controls and a subset of the configuration options for the hearing aids. There are more detailed options in Starkey's own Thrive app, which I'll come to in a minute, although iOS natively gives me everything I need for 99% of the time.
Now that you're connected to your phone you can take calls through your hearing aids. You'll still need to hold the phone up to your mouth so the person on the other end can hear you, but the caller's voice will go directly to your hearing aids.
You can also stream music and other audio directly from your iPhone to your hearing aids. You don't have to do anything as long as your hearing aids are paired and switched on; music will automatically stream to them.
It's worth pointing out that MFi isn't pure Bluetooth, it's an extension of it. If you want to talk directly to a pure Bluetooth device you'll need an intermediary device. Starkey have a range of these, but I haven't used any of them yet.
The hearing aids will also connect directly to your iPad via iPadOS. They can only connect to one device at a time, so if they're connected to your iPad they'll disconnect from your iPhone. You can force the hearing aids to swap devices by playing audio. If the hearing aids are connected to your iPad and you want them connected to your iPhone, just open your iPhone, bring up the Music app and play a few seconds of any song.
Starkey have their own app you can use to tinker with your hearing aids. It's called Thrive and it can be downloaded for free from the app store.
Your hearing aids can have different profiles for different situations, and mine came with Normal, Crowd and Outdoors. You can set up custom profiles and configure which frequencies of sound they favour, how they deal with various background noises, and the direction of sound you want to give priority to.
I did play around with the Thrive app a little bit — and you can hear the differences it makes — but I spend 99% of the time in Normal mode, and that's what I want. I just want to be able to put them in and get on with things. If you feel you need additional profiles you can play around with Thrive at your leisure.
The app has all sorts of other health-related features too, such as 'wellness scores' and 'brain health', but I didn't pay any attention to those. My brain is too far gone to start worrying about its health now.
You charge the charging case by plugging it into a power outlet, and the charging case holds an entire charge for the hearing aids itself. So if you go out with both hearing aids and charging case fully charged, you have two complete charges on tap before you need to find electricity.
Starkey claim you can get 24 hours use of the hearing aids from a single charge, although that drops if you use them for steaming during the period. If you do four hours of streaming they estimate that might drop down to 22 hours.
I can't confirm those figures, but what I can say is I get 18 hours without any trouble. I use them during the day and put them in the charging case overnight, and I've never tried to go longer than 18 hours.
You might find Starkey's Quick Start Guide for Rechargeable Hearing Aids useful.
As I previously mentioned, these hearing aids are excellent and they have had a significant effect on the quality of my life. I run in Normal mode for virtually everything and they cope admirably.
What has impressed me most is how they cope when there's a lot of background noise. That situation has been the killer with all the cheap hearing aids I've bought in the past, but the Starkeys just seem to work. I've no idea what sort of magic they're performing to achieve that.
That doesn't mean there aren't areas where I've encountered difficulties.
Very windy conditions can be challenging and I struggled a little bit even when I set them to Outdoors mode and used the Thrive app to minimise wind noise. That's not to say I couldn't hear at all, just that it was trickier. I had to look directly at the person speaking to me and do some of the instinctive lip reading that all people with hearing problems seem to develop.
The worst area of all is the television. Turning up the volume of the hearing aids doesn't help me distinguish speech. I pick up more speech from the telly than I used to but it's still not enough to properly follow things. I think the telly is partly to blame. I went to the cinema last weekend and heard everything fine on their sound system. That in itself was a revelation because I haven't been to a cinema in 15+ years, mainly because my hearing wasn't good enough.
I don't think modern, flat-screen televisions throw the sound into the room very well. I messed with the Thrive app — increasing high frequencies and decreasing the low ones — and achieved a slight improvement, but still not enough to be totally comfortable.
I'm not that bothered. I have used subtitles for a couple of decades now and would continue to use them even if I could hear the telly perfectly. I'm used to them. I do have options, though. My TV has Bluetooth (but not MFi, even on Apple TV, which is disappointing) and I could get an intermediary Bluetooth streaming device from Starkey and try that out. I may do so at some point, but I'm not in any rush.
Brace yourselves: a pair of Starkey Livio Edge 2400 AI Rechargeable ITC hearing aids cost me £3,495.00. You'll look at the tiny items you received and wonder how it's possible that something so small costs so much.
Hearing aid suppliers have some sort of deal with audiologists such that what you pay for the hearing aids also covers their consultation fees. Or at least that was the case with my audiologist. There was nothing to pay either for the initial consultation of the follow-up ones.
They're guaranteed for five years, and so they should be at that price. They reckon the lifespan of the hearing aids is five to seven years. I live alone and don't need to wear them all day every day, which I'm hoping will mean mine will last closer to seven years than five.
I think all high-quality, 'professional' hearing aids are overpriced. The devices consist of receivers and transmitters with a clever bit of computing in the middle. When you compare them to the cost of a new Apple iPad Pro or even a MacBook Pro it's hard not to think they're expensive.
There aren't a huge number of suppliers of high-end hearing aids and you can't just buy them off the shelf. There's a closed system you gain access to only via an audiologist (at least in the UK) and I believe that acts to inflate prices.
So are they worth it? Given how they have improved my life and assuming they last for the stated five to seven years, then yes, they're worth it to me. You'll have to decide based on your own situation.
The way one rates things is always subjective. I'll take nothing off for the extortionate price because that's the market we're in. To me, these are worth 4.5 stars, with a half star being deducted for the TV problems, although I accept the TV itself is part of the problem.
If you're coming from cheaper ('non-professional') hearing aids — or no hearing aids at all — you will probably find the improvement quite dramatic. Your mileage may differ if you're moving to Starkeys from another brand of high-quality hearing aids.
I hope this review helps someone. I noticed there were very few detailed consumer reviews about these particular hearing aids.