The Buzz On A Disposable Hearing Aid

Rock and rap are taking their toll. Audiologists figure some 30 million Americans suffer some hearing loss. Most are in their 40s and 50s--some even younger. While these baby boomers know they can't hear as well as before, "they'll tell you it's just not bad enough to bother with a hearing aid," says Frederick J. Fritz, president of Songbird Medical Inc. in Cranbury, N.J., a spin-off from Sarnoff Corp., the Princeton birthplace of color TV. No more than 6 million Americans use a hearing aid.

In May, Songbird will launch a new hearing aid aimed squarely at baby boomers. It's disposable--and costs only $39--yet delivers better sound than permanent hearing aids costing many times as much, Fritz claims. "Disposability allows us to use design features and materials that wouldn't work in a long-life product," he explains.

For example, the microphone is much larger than those in conventional hearing aids. That's because the device doesn't need an opening to replace the battery. Instead, after 40 days, users replace the entire unit. "Also, we can use a very soft and comfortable material that wouldn't do in a product designed to last for years," he adds. So it can penetrate deeper and deliver sound closer to the eardrum. "Finally, disposability generates very high volumes, which generates low cost--and may persuade a lot more people to try a hearing aid." And beyond Songbird's initial U.S. market, there are 300 million people worldwide who have trouble hearing birds sing.