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This smart hearing aid can turn up the volume on the real world, or your AC/DC

At this year’s IFA tech show in Berlin, we saw plenty of cool new televisions, smartwatches, and tablets — the bread and butter of consumer electronics. But walking the halls of any trade event often uncovers a new piece of tech which perhaps wasn’t getting the attention it deserved, and at IFA, it was the ReSound Linx. No, it’s not a new phone, tablet, or laptop.

It’s a hearing aid.

Next to Bluetooth earpieces, hearing aids must surely be the least sexy piece of wearable tech on the market. However, ReSound’s tiny device is easily the best looking hearing aid we’ve ever seen, plus because it connects to the iPhone, it’s way more technically exciting than those stereotypical big, beige, dull models.

Related: Check out all our coverage from this year’s IFA show

A rising concern for everyone

Hold on though, no matter how cool it looks, a hearing aid is only relevant to people who’re going, or are already deaf, right? Nope. Hearing loss is something an increasing number of us will have to deal with in the future, either directly or indirectly, according to ReSound’s Marketing Director Joachim Gast. Quoting World Health Organization figures, Gast claims there are 360 million people with hearing loss in the world at the moment, but that figure is expected to rise to 900 million in just over 10 years.

ReSound LiNX ear

Why the dramatic increase? Largely, we’re bringing it on ourselves in a dizzying variety of ways, from continuous, excessive ambient sound in the industrialized world — sound exposure, Gast called it — right down to Deadmau5 concerts, and spending years listening to loud music using devices with no volume restrictions at all. Deafness, should it arrive, is socially isolating, dangerous, and can quickly make working impossible. Hearing aids change all that.

However, there’s a stigma attached to them, and wearing one is associated with being old, decrepit, and moments away from slipping quietly into the night. Fine, if you’re 95, but not so good if you’re less than half that age. ReSound’s hearing aid expertly blends interesting science and cool mobile tech into a life-changing medical device. The body is almost unfeasibly small, and it sits nearly unnoticed behind an ear. It’s the hearing aid anyone who adores tech would choose.

Extensive, user-friendly smartphone controls

The ReSound Linx goes beyond good design, thanks to a close collaboration with Apple during its development, resulting in the hearing aid being the first to wear a “Made For iPhone” label. The hearing aid uses Bluetooth 4.0 to communicate with the iPhone, so it acts just like any Bluetooth headset, directly streaming mobile calls, FaceTime calls, music, and video soundtracks to each earpiece. However, because this could be rather confining, the Linx will intelligently filter ambient sound from your surroundings into the earpieces, keeping the world “open.” If you’d rather not hear this, the amplification can be turned off.

The ReSound Linx goes beyond good design, thanks to a close collaboration with Apple

It’s here where ReSound’s tech makes hearing with its aid better, or at least more customizable, than the real world. Directions from your iPhone-integrated car navigation system can be streamed to it, or the iPhone placed close to someone speaking at an event, and the audio picked up by the microphone sent wirelessly to the hearing aid. In the future, Bluetooth information systems could be widely used in public places, from museums to airports, and the ReSound will connect directly to these, too.

The hearing aids can be controlled in two ways. Yes, there is a dedicated app available for the Linx, but wearers can also use the iPhone’s own Accessibility controls. Accessed with a triple press of the Home button, a dedicated menu appears where volumes and modes can be adjusted, making the hearing aid an extension of the phone itself.

ReSound LiNX 9

Things get way more detailed when you open ReSound’s SmartApp. It’s well designed and easy to use, both essential components for an app of this nature. It provides complete control over the volume level of each hearing aid, plus bass and treble adjustments, so the wearer can tweak the audio depending on their environment. The app also has predefined modes, including those for restaurants, the car, and outdoor events, which tweak the sound specially for these locations.

The app makes use of geo-tagging, and will automatically switch modes when you arrive at the office, or a friend’s very echoey mansion. Geo-tagging also helps if you lose one of the tiny hearing aids, and once it has led you to their general location, an on-screen sliding scale appears when Bluetooth reconnects, helping guide you for the last few meters. The feature list goes on to include automatic pairing, real-time surround sound, and a splash-proof body.

Expensive, but worthy

That all of this is squeezed into such a small, stylish body, which is powered by a standard hearing aid battery that will last six months, and costs pence to replace, is impressive. But it’s the way it can change lives that makes it exciting, and it’s one of a growing number of worthy projects which use the amazing power of a modern smartphone to do this. The downside is the price. Hearing aids in general aren’t cheap, so we shouldn’t expect super techie ones to be any different. How much it’ll end up costing to use ReSound’s Linx hearing aids depends on many factors, but expect it to run to around 1,700 euros per unit ($2,200), hopefully with a hefty insurance discount.

To demonstrate how easy it is to be fitted for a hearing aid, a ReSound expert took a mould of my inner ear, right there in the booth. The process dulled my hearing for five minutes, and at first escaping the chaos of the IFA show floor for a few moments was pleasant, but the thought of life being like that all the time was frightening. By making a stylish hearing aid which takes advantage of the device most of us carry everyday, ReSound is helping to make them cool; and anything that makes more people happy to wear a hearing aid, or more accepting of those who do, can only be a good thing.