About Audioscan

A Long History of Innovation

Based in Southern Ontario, Audioscan has a rich history of audiological innovation. Founded in 1983 as Etymonic Design, the parent company of Audioscan quickly became a significant supplier of advanced research and development to hearing aid manufacturers in North America. In its first five years several significant innovations were developed including the world's first programmable hearing aid.

 

The First Programmable Hearing Aid

In October 1985, at the NHAS meeting in Atlanta, the world’s first digitally programmable hearing aid was demonstrated by Miracle Ear, then owned by Dahlberg. As a result of a design contract with Etymonic Design, Dahlberg was able to show a fully functional programmable hearing aid system for both ITE and BTE form factors.

The founding company of Audioscan is the one that developed the concept, the architecture and also did the full system design. They did the electronics, including a silicon chip, the system software, full mechanicals for the programmer, the interface and cable, and both an ITE and a BTE hearing aid. (The BTE was an afterthought. The primary motivation for the project was to eliminate trim pots which were then the only means to adjust the amplification characteristics of the hearing aid. By providing what was essentially an “electronic screwdriver”, the system allowed small form-factor devices to be programmed with the equivalent of many trim pots. The first programmable system provided 5 steps of selection for each of gain, MPO, low-cut and high-cut.)

At the same time as developing the programmable hearing aid, Etymonic Design was also developing the first head worn version of a cochlear implant stimulator. The House Ear, single channel device, had been abandoned by 3M so we took on the job of putting the pocket sized electronics into a head-worn device.

Other projects included developing an advanced dual-time constant compression circuit for Telex. At the same time the company was producing a range of custom control panels as well as an innovative agricultural scale for weighing animals and feed – a.k.a. the piggy scale.

After demonstrating talent for the design of innovative products, the management of Etymonic Design decided it was time to develop a breakout product it could call its own. No further design contracts were pursued and the focus was fully on developing the first Audioscan.

 

Audioscan emerges

In 1987, a full time engineer was hired and Etymonic Design embarked on the development of a portable, affordable and easy-to-use analyzer for performing both Real Ear Measurement and Hearing Aid tests. By January of 1990, the portable RM500 was in production and becoming known by users as the “Audioscan”, the brand name that Etymonic Design has been doing business as ever since.

All of the creative energies that were previously devoted to contracted development were now focused on the development of Audioscan and the flagship RM500. The product itself was innovative because it was field programmable. Not such a big deal today, but back then it would cost between $500 and $1000 to have a unit upgraded to the latest software. There were chips to be changed and calibrations required that made for a fairly costly process. As a radical alternative, Audioscan offered easy software updates included in the purchase price of the RM500. In other words, free software easily updated for the life of the product. Early adopters had more than 15 years of software upgrades, some of which added significant functionality. As an example, Speechmap was a free upgrade.

The RM500 user interface was another big innovation and much effort was devoted to ensuring that the user experience was as intuitive as possible. Portability was all about constraining the weight while still providing functionality. And to make it affordable, only one very manufacturable model was offered. Henry Ford was the inspiration and the fact that the RM500 was black drew that analogy even closer. The end result was a product that became an industry workhorse, and some are working even today.

The RM500 delivered an ANSI test box and a Real Ear System all in a 15 lb portable package. It became a big success in the market and as sales ramped up rapidly it allowed Audioscan by 1995 to displace the competition and become the leading supplier of fitting systems in North America, a position it still enjoys today.

 

Speechmap®

In 1992, Audioscan released the first commercial implementation the auditory mapping work of Skinner and Pascoe and called it Speechmap®. It included the pioneering coupler-based pediatric fitting protocol known as the Desired Sensation Level, (aka DSL®) which was developed by Richard Seewald and his collaborators at the nearby Western University in London, Ontario. The close proximity to Audioscan was a stroke of luck and surely a factor in the fruitful collaboration that produced the defacto standard for pediatric fitting, Speechmap/DSL on Audioscan.

Speechmap has evolved considerably since1992 but it remains the core element of every Audioscan fitting system. The software update program allowed for improvements to be released on a continual basis with enhancements to the fitting targets, the coupler transforms, hearing aid types supported and most importantly, the stimuli. In 1998 the first speech simulator was released. It modelled the dynamics of speech by hopping a tone around the extremities of the speech envelope. It was crude compared to today’s real speech stimuli but at the time it was a breakthrough, and certainly innovative.

Speechmap continues to be fruitful ground for Audioscan as new tools are developed to face the challenge of ensuring an optimal fit and thus client satisfaction. As an example, the latest Verifit2 extends Speechmap to include real-time binaural displays and the measurement bandwidth has been extended out to 12.5 kHz to give a first-ever glimpse of the extended output offered by some modern hearing instruments.

 

The Verifit

In 2001, the Verifit was introduced and brought another round of innovation to address the special needs of digital hearing aids which had started to emerge in 1998. These devices were smart enough to tell the difference between pure tones and speech and processed them differently. Only real speech would predict how speech behaved so it was clear what was needed and so the Verifit became the first calibrated real-speech fitting system.

The Verifit also introduced other innovations like a large test chamber with two speakers so that directional microphone devices could be verified for the first time. Dual probes were new and so was the large color LCD display which made the results so much easier to see and interpret.

The software update process was simplified even further via the user being able to simply replace the CD. Over the 14 years of product life many significant updates were provided with new tests for noise reduction, feedback suppression, occlusion effect, upgrades to fitting protocols, speech-based telecoil verification and a novel sensory loss simulator based on the work of Moore and Glasberg.

 

The innovation continues…

The innovation story also includes the Axiom, our small-office model introduced in 2010 as well as the next generation portable, the RM500SL, in 2005. Both brought innovations although on a smaller scale than the Verifit.

It takes innovation to create the best tools and we enjoy the challenge of designing the tools that help fitting professionals do the best job possible. Your clients will notice!

We encourage your input. You are the customer and you know what you need to do a good job. We invite you tell us your story so that you can become part of our story. Take the following anonymous survey so that we can find out what you do and how you do it.