Widex Unique 440 Review
In my role at ZipHearing, dozens of hearing aids cross my desk each week. Every once in a while, I like to unbox a set and “play” with them. It helps me stay up to date on the technology and capabilities of the hearing aids we sell- and it’s also a nice change of pace!
So when I got a brand new extra set of Widex Unique 440 Fusion RICs 2 weeks ago, I decided to give ’em a go and get them all set up. I also like my gadgets, so I went ahead an ordered a COM-DEX and TV-DEX; more on those accessories here. I ordered the COM-DEX so I could stream music and phone calls from my iPhone and use the COM-DEX smartphone app, and the TV-DEX, so I could stream the TV direct to the hearing aids.
For the benefit of our readers, I decided to commit to wearing these hearing aids full time for a week so I could report back on my experience. Although I don’t have a hearing loss, there is plenty to test on the units themselves, and being a hearing instrument specialist, I think I have a good handle on how our customers may perceive the hearing aids.
For 7 days I wore the Unique 440 Fusion RICs full time at low amplification levels, from sunup to sundown. Whether I was relaxing after hours with the hearing aids in “Zen mode”, at a restaurant or bar, or sailing on the bay, they were in.
While wearing these hearing aids, I was testing them for their comfort, durability, battery life, usability, tinnitus therapy, accessories, and more. Of particular interest to me was their wind noise reduction and environmental classifier, as these are both areas that Widex really emphasizes in their marketing as Unique’s strong points.
A bit of background on the Widex Unique
The Widex Unique hearing aids were released in October 2015 and have quickly become one of our best selling hearing aids. The hearing aids are available in a range of custom-molded in-the-ear styles and discreet behind-the-ear styles. The most popular style that we sell is called the Fusion, which is a discreet RIC (receiver-in-canal) hearing aid which sits behind the ear.
The Unique hearing aids are also available in 4 different technology levels: 110, 220, 330, and 440. The 440 is the most advanced model, and it’s the model we sell the most of. I would estimate that 80% of our customers select the 440 model. 15% select the 330 model, and we seldom sell the 110 and 220 models.
Our customers tend to be younger than the average hearing aid wearer and have very active lifestyles, so the premium 440 model is the natural choice.
What sets the Fusion model apart from Widex’s other RIC model, the Passion?
The Fusion is Widex’s best selling RIC for 2 reasons- it has an onboard push-button, and a better battery life than the Passion model. For more on these differences, read this post: Widex Unique Fusion vs. Passion.
The Fusion model is what 95% of our customers order, it’s what most hearing providers recommend, and it’s suitable for all hearing losses. In short, regardless of your lifestyle, hearing loss, dexterity, or cosmetic preferences, the Fusion is likely to be the best Widex hearing aid for you.
Here are the exact hearing aids I tested
The color of the hearing aids (above) is summer gold, but they come in a wide range of colors. The little wires that you see above are called “receivers”, and they come in a number of sizes which your hearing provider will order to ensure a great fit.
What you’ll also see in the picture above is little black rubber “domes” or “earbuds.” The dome protects the speaker (where the sound comes out) and ensures the hearing aids sound right and stay put. I chose the extra small, open style dome, as my ear canals are very narrow, and my hearing is such that open domes are most suitable to me. Every order of Unique Fusion RICs comes with an assortment of easily interchangeable domes, so you can mix and match and see what works best for you.
Finally, the hearing aid on the left has the battery door open, so you can see the size 312 battery. I would expect these batteries to last about 10-12 days with regular usage, but we’ll see how they hold up!
My Review of the Unique 440 Fusions
There is a lot to review, but I’ll do my best to walk you through an orderly and chronological overview of my experience with the aids.
Build quality: Some hearing aids are poorly constructed, and it seems as if design and durability was an afterthought. I’ve seen many hearing aids with battery doors that don’t securely fasten, wobbly volume controls and push-buttons, mysterious gaps in the casing, and receivers that don’t stay put. The Widex Unique is plagued by none of the above. This is a premium hearing instrument that while I wouldn’t want to test it, looks and feels like it can take a beating.
Comfort: Widex hearing aids have always fit my ears better than any other brand. They just seem to hug my ears, and give me a more discreet fit than any other hearing aid. The reason for this? Widex receivers (where the sound comes out), have a bend in them that’s more aggressive than any other manufacturer’s hearing aids. This bend (at least on my ears), ensures the receiver points directly at my eardrum, and also allows for a snug fit.
Cosmetics: The Unique Fusion is a super discreet hearing aid. Amidst running all my errands this week, I never felt like the hearing aids were conspicuous or felt self-conscious wearing them. I know this is a biggie for a lot of our customers- having discreet hearing aids, so I paid particular attention to people’s eyes in all of my interactions, and not even once did I see anyone’s eyes drift to my ears. The hearing aids are so small and so discreet that I think it would have been unusual for someone to notice them. My own wife didn’t even notice I was wearing the hearing aids until about 2 days into my trial.
These hearing aids are almost completely invisible when worn.
I don’t believe hearing aids need to be hidden, but I know this is a concern for many people. If you’re concerned about cosmetics and have ruled out this style of hearing aid, you should really reconsider and give them a shot- people are always surprised how discreet these hearing aids end up being.
Usability: These hearing aids stay put when I’m wearing them, I never once had the sensation they were going to fall out. Changing the volume and program via the onboard push-button is a breeze and is never something that could be accidentally done when putting on or removing the aids, as is the case with many hearing aids.
The hearing aids can be programmed so the push-button will operate however you’d like. If you don’t want to hassle with buttons or adjustments, it can be deactivated. Alternatively it can be set up as a volume control, program control, both, or as a mute button. Anytime you push the button, you’ll get a tone or speech indicator letting you know what you’ve done, which keeps everything easy to understand. If you ever get confused about how the hearing aids are set (or how they should be set) opening and closing the battery door will reset them to their default as your hearing provider programmed them- so you can never mess things up too much 🙂
Both hearing aids have a tiny color indicator on each of them, either red or blue, letting you know which hearing aid is for the right ear and left ear respectively. The little black domes stay put firmly on the end of the receiver, and would never fall off in the ear canal as some do. One thing that’s interesting about these receivers is they can be easily fitted with what’s called a “retention lock”, so they stay in place a little better. I didn’t need them, but if they don’t fit securely in your ears, it takes your hearing provider 10 seconds to add those locks on.
Battery life: I wore the hearing aids for 12-14 hours a day, with about 3 hours of streaming a day (between music, phone calls, and TV). About half the day I had the hearing aids in “Zen mode” (I’ll talk about below), and the rest of the time, I had them amplifying at a low level. My batteries didn’t die during my trial period, but I didn’t expect them to. I would anticipate 8-12 days of battery life if I continued to use them as I’d been.
Noise reduction: Widex’s noise reduction is something I was impressed with from the get-go. When sailing, about 5 seconds after starting up the outboard motor to navigate our way out of the marina, the Uniques significantly reduced the motor noise. I had the same experience all week- whether standing next to a microwave, or directly under an incoming 747 (our office is in the flight path), or driving with the windows down. These hearing aids are excellent at identifying noises that may interfere with speech understanding and quickly adjusting themselves.
Tinnitus therapy AKA Zen mode: By far my favorite thing about these hearing aids, “zen mode” is a program in the hearing aid which plays soothing tones aimed a reducing the sensation of tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Whether you have tinnitus or not, I would strongly recommend getting a zen program added to your Uniques. The tones have a profound calming effect, and after a few minutes you completely forget they are even playing.
Here is an audio clip of my preferred zen melodie- Aqua.
The data log on the hearing aids I wore showed that I wore these aids in zen mode about half of the time they were in use. I programmed the hearing aids to turn off the microphones when zen mode was in use, which has the effect of “turning off the room”, so the zen melody is all you hear. If you have a hearing loss and tinnitus and you want the hearing aids amplifying while zen mode is running, that is possible as well. You can set up multiple zen modes (with and without the microphones on), so whatever configuration is right for you is possible.
I like this so much that I am considering getting myself the less expensive Unique 110’s just for this feature alone. I had to share my enthusiasm with zen mode with my wife, who agreed she would gladly wear these hearing aids while relaxing, reading, or studying.
Phone +: If you use a landline phone regularly I would strongly recommend getting this feature programmed in to your hearing aids. This feature makes it much easier to hear on the phone. When you answer the phone, simply tap the push-button on the hearing aid and you’ll hear the caller’s voice in both ears. It actually sounds like their voice is coming from the middle of your head, which is an unusual sensation, but it certainly makes it much easier to hear the person on the other line.
This feature will work for cell phones too, but it requires holding the phone a bit higher up on your ear, which I found to be unusual. If you use a landline phone regularly and don’t want to purchase any accessories to improve your hearing on the phone, this is an easy way to hear better on the phone for no extra cost.
Partner Monitor: Only available in the 440 technology level, this feature could be a lifesaver for many patients. When these hearing aids are in use they share a wireless connection to each other. When that connection is broken, for example, a hearing aid falls out of your ear, the remaining hearing aid gives an alert that says “check partner.”
Within seconds of the hearing aids separating from each other (falling out) the alert starts playing, about every 5 seconds, so you know that a hearing aid is missing and to stop and search for it. These hearing aids fit very snug and secure, and I never felt like they were ever going to fall out, but since you can’t feel them when you wear them, it’d be tough to notice if a hearing aid fell out without this alert.
Taking the Unique 440s sailing- a look at wind noise reduction
Widex really advertises the Unique’s wind noise reduction feature, so I thought I’d put it to the test in what is often (hopefully) a very windy environment- sailing! When sailing, the wind is my guide. By listening to the wind and comparing the wind noise between each ear, I can quickly determine the direction it’s blowing, the intensity, and my position with respect to the wind.
Because the wind is such a valuable tool, hearing aids that simply reduce all wind noise wouldn’t be a good fit for me. I would need hearing aids that reduce the wind noise a bit, but still accurately represent (in each ear) the intensity of the wind. I found the Uniques to do just that.
On this sail, we had winds of just over 8 knots or 10 MPH. Although that is considered gentle wind for sailing, that’s above the average wind speed of most cities on a typical day- so I think I had enough wind to see what the Uniques were capable of.
I sat facing 90 degrees to the wind most of the time, with the wind blowing directly into my right ear, with my left ear free to hear my wife. In this position, the wind wasn’t being amplified at all. The hearing aid microphones sit in a bit of a protected position behind the ear, and the wind doesn’t really get a chance to blow over the microphones.
However, when jibing and sailing downwind, with the wind coming from directly behind me, the hearing aids quickly and aggressively went to work reducing the wind’s amplification. For those of you who have worn hearing aids in windy situations, you’ll be familiar with the awful static-like sound hearing aids make in wind. I still heard some of that, I don’t know if there is any way to get rid of it entirely, but what I also heard was the hearing aids responding to it within seconds.
What I particularly enjoyed was hearing the hearing aids adjust themselves individually to the wind. As the winds shifted, if one hearing aid became overwhelmed with wind, that ear would quickly adjust on it’s own, while the opposing ear would remain unchanged so as not to affect my hearing on that ear.
After this test, I can strongly endorse Widex Unique’s wind noise reduction capabilities, and feel confident that whether it’s riding bikes or playing golf, for most folks, the Uniques will do an excellent job outdoors.
Environmental classifier- how well the hearing aids auto-adapt to the environment
Widex’s environmental classifier is really the brain of the hearing aid. This is the feature which does all the heavy lifting to ensure the hearing aids are optimized in every different listening environment. As you move from one environment to the next, for instance, from a noisy restaurant, to the windy outdoors, the hearing aids quickly adjust and change their amplification strategy to ensure comfort and clarity for the listener.
One of the key reasons that folks with active lifestyle purchase this 440 version is because this sound classification works more aggressively on this model than any other model. In other words, this hearing aid can identify a wider range of environments than any other Widex hearing aid, and can then automatically adjust itself to that environment.
It’s been neat to wear these hearing aids in so many different environments for the past week and see this sound classification working. These hearing aids are very smart, and always changed their settings automatically to suit me best- here’s a good example.
I spend most of my day in the office. My left ear is facing the interior of the office, which is very quiet, but my right ear is close to a window, which picks up all the sounds of downtown San Diego. When sitting at my desk, the hearing aids can pick this up and reduce sound on my right ear, while keeping the left ear unchanged.
What’s neat is you can actually view the data log on the hearing aids within the fitting software and see how the hearing aids are classifying your environments. After my first day of wearing them, I checked the data log to see how the hearing aids had classified my environment, and it was accurate.
The snap shot below taken from Widex’s fitting software shows that the hearing aids knew my left ear was in quiet, while my right ear exposed to some urban noise.
Once you move into a new sound environment, it does take a few seconds for the hearing aids to analyze everything, but they’ll then quickly adjust their settings to the new environment. Hearing this switch was really neat for me- knowing the hearing aids were actively scanning the environment. In my opinion, getting this most aggressive environmental classifier technology is a great reason (probably the best reason), to invest in the 440 model.
My Review of the COM-DEX and TV-DEX Accessories
While usually an afterthought, accessories can be a great fit for some people. I really enjoyed the two accessories that I tried, and I’m not typically a fan of accessories. I’m a phone-keys-wallet guy and I really don’t like the idea of having to lug around anything extra with me anywhere I go. I think most of our customers agree with this sentiment and don’t want to purchase anything that might further complicate their lives.
However, for the right people, the right lifestyles, and the right environments, accessories can sometimes really make sense. We don’t sell a whole lot of accessories, but the 2 accessories I’ve chosen to review are the ones we sell the most of, and the ones most customers ask about.
I purchased the champagne-colored COM-DEX pictured above so that I could stream phone calls and music from my iPhone. I also wanted to try out the COM-DEX iPhone app, which requires the COM-DEX to work.
Setting up the COM-DEX was a breeze. It took me 10 seconds to register it to the hearing aids in the software (something your hearing provider will do), and 10 seconds to pair it to my iPhone via Bluetooth. It’s a really easy device to use. Simply use the accompanying neck-loop to wear it around your neck while paired to your phone, and you’re all set.
- Streaming music: I stream music pretty much all day from Pandora, so this was important to me. I’m sorry to say that streaming music comes through in mono (vs stereo), when using the COM-DEX. For this reason, there is no comparison to my Apple headphones. This wasn’t a surprise- I’ve never been thrilled with the sound quality of music streamed through hearing aids. However, I suspect that if I wore custom ear molds with these hearing aids, I would have gotten more bass and music would have sounded better. I did notice that when I push the mute button on the streamer (the small button on the side) and turned off the hearing aid mics, the quality of music greatly improved. My final verdict on streaming music is this- if all you plan on doing with the COM-DEX is streaming music, don’t buy it- you will be let down.
- Streaming phone calls: Love it. Works flawlessly. With my iPhone in my pocket and the COM-DEX around my neck, I can answer calls and hang up with just the push of the button on the COM-DEX. Because the COM-DEX has a microphone on it, it’s a hands free experience, which means I don’t need to bring the phone to my ear to speak- it can stay in my pocket. The sound quality is perfect, there is no delay, the caller’s voice comes through clear, as does mine. At the time I was testing the COM-DEX, I had a customer email me inquiring about the performance of COM-DEX outside, in noise, so I took it for a spin downtown and was impressed. I walked along one of the busiest streets downtown with all kinds of traffic noise, planes above, etc, and my wife on the other end could not hear that noise at all. Even if you want to tuck the COM-DEX under your shirt so it’s completely hidden, your callers will still hear you perfectly. I was so impressed with the sound quality and performance that I would strongly consider taking these hearing aids on my next road trip- it’s better than using Apple headphones (because they have wires) or a Bluetooth earpiece which you only hear in one ear.
The COM-DEX app, available in the Apple App store and Google Play store, is a free app by Widex which you can use to control any Widex hearing aids. However, the app can only communicate with the hearing aids via the COM-DEX streamer, so that accessory is a necessity if you wish to use this app.
The app lets you adjust the hearing aid program, volume, and directionality of the microphones. These are all nice features to have, though I’m not sure I’d ever use them. The reason? With this Fusion model, because there is a push-button, I can already control the volume and program. And as far as controlling directionality of the microphones, I think it’s a cool feature that will be very beneficial for some people, but the hearing aids already do a great job of automatically adjusting themselves.
However, there are undoubtedly situations where being able to control the direction of the microphones is helpful. For instance, if you are driving and have a passenger on your right side, you may want the hearing aids to focus as much attention as they can to the right of you. This could also be handy in restaurants, or other settings where you really want the hearing aid microphones to focus in a particular direction.
Initially a let down, I had connectivity issues with my brand new TV-DEX. Although everything was set up properly, I just couldn’t get audio streaming from the TV. After a couple calls to tech support, we made the decision to send my TV-DEX back to Widex for inspection. Sure enough, there was an issue with that particular unit, so a new one was promptly shipped out at no cost.
The new TV-DEX worked flawlessly and took about 2 minutes to set up. Simply plug the base (charging station) into a power outlet, and the audio jacks into the back of the TV and you’re all set.
Here’s how it works:
The remote (which I’m holding in the picture above), is the part that you want to wear on a neckloop. The remote always needs to be within 1-2 feet of the hearing aids when streaming, so I found the neckloop that Widex provides to be the easiest way to ensure that was always the case. The base is what plugs in to the back of the TV and sends the signal to the remote. The base also acts as a charging station for the remote when not in use. If you have multiple TV’s in the house that you want to stream from, you’ll need to purchase a base charging station for each TV, and then the remote can float from one TV to the next and use the associated base station for each TV.
I was pleased to hear audio in stereo sound, which made the quality much better than streaming music. Sound quality, while still not as rich or full as I’d like, was acceptable and I think most people would find the sound quality good enough to use it regularly.
A neat feature of the TV-DEX is you can adjust the volume of the sound in the hearing aids independently from the volume of TV that everyone else hears. For instance, you could have the TV on volume zero so no one in the room could hear it, yet you could have it as loud as you want coming through the hearing aids.
One question I’m often asked about the TV-DEX is, “what happens if I want to talk to someone else in the room while streaming TV?” While streaming, you have the option of keeping the hearing aid microphones on (so they amplify as they normally do), or, you can effectively turn the room off by pushing the black button at the bottom of the remote and turning off the microphones. Just as with streaming music, I noticed that the sound quality was much better when I turned the mics off.
The fact that I don’t even have a hearing loss, yet I want to purchase the less expensive 110 hearing aids just for the zen mode feature and hands-free talking on the phone, I think speaks volumes to the quality product Widex has built. I can only imagine that if I had a hearing loss I would be just as impressed with their performance in that area too- and from tinkering with the fitting software, watching the accuracy of the data log, and hearing the aids automatically adapt to my environment this past week, I have every reason to believe that would be the case.
Feedback from our customers suggests the same. In the last year, we have had fewer returns on the Widex Unique 440 than any other hearing aid we carry. Most people just do terrific with this hearing aid and take to it almost immediately.
If you have any experience with these hearing aids, or questions or comments, please feel free to chime in below!