Roger Pen

(Reviewed October 2014) roger pen with lanyard

This is the latest listener from Phonak.  It is available with a neck loop receiver (telecoil setting is needed on the hearing aid).  It is also available to use with an ear level receiver (audiology fitted).  It was tested with the ear level receiver.

The Instructions

These were clear and concise.  Battery charge was 1-2 hours. The charge lasted about 7 hours. There is a low battery warning.

The equipment This consists of a docking station – used for charging and as a stand when it is used for audio connected listening.  The Pen has a convenient lanyard which is used for hanging the pen around the neck.  The lanyard has a neat magnetic fastener which means placing it around the neck is easier.  There are cables for connecting to equipment (audio and scart and a RCA/Cinch adapter).  There is also a storage pouch and a smart zippable case to contain everything.

How does it perform?

For TV watching

When used with the audio leads and the scart the reception was very good.  It can of course be used simply to pick up the sound from the speaker, without any leads, and again the signal was excellent.  It is useful to use the Pen sitting in the docking station, connected to the mains, – then there is never any problem with battery draining.   When set up close to the TV set there was some interference on the screen.  This cleared immediately the docking station and pen were moved about a metre away.  On subsequent use there was not always a problem. It was variable.  This something to bear in mind, but Phonak whom I contacted about this, say that TV interference is not normally a problem with the Pen.  Check it out if you buy.

In the car

The Pen is very useful.  On long journeys I would not be without it.  My companion wears the lanyard and Pen and I can hear him/her above the traffic/wind noise.  When the Pen is placed near to the loud speaker I can listen to the car radio if I happen to be travelling on my own.  In my car the speaker is at the bottom of the car door.  I simply tuck the Pen into my sock and then gt good reception.

With an ear level receiver there is no electronic hum which is often present when a neck loop is used in the car.  The electronic hum can be a nuisance more especially in some modern cars.

For lectures

The lecturer wears the Pen and one can then sit at the back.  On one occasion there was a telecoil fitted in the room and the speaker was wearing the (telecoil) microphone.  I could hear much more effectively with the Pen microphone rather than with the telecoil loop.  The Pen can also be placed in a suitable position on the dais/lectern in front of the speaker(s).

In group gatherings

The Pen improves the sound quality.  When more than one person is speaking at any one time then things can get difficult!  The general improvement of the sound received is something I have found worth going for.  The Pen can be placed in the middle of the group.  For this purpose there is a ‘conference’  setting on the Pen.  When hand held and pointed in the direction of the speaker (with directional setting of the Pen) it is also effective.  As is common with all directional microphones, the directional capability is not exclusive.

Going round a building with a guide

I have not tested this exact situation but I have no doubt the Pen would prove invaluable with the guide wearing the Pen on the lanyard.  One can then be at the back of the group but still hear the guide.

Hearing those who mumble  The Pen is very useful.  It is small and unobtrusive and can be held in the hand, close to the speaker’s mouth.  One can then hear well even when there is background noise.

General

The use of an ear level receiver rather than a neck loop is an enormous advantage.  Neck loops are a nuisance – they get in the way, are unsightly and need adjusting.  They have batteries which run down and need recharging and the telecoil signal is prone to an electronic hum at times.

The only disadvantage of the ear level receiver is the drain on the hearing aid battery and of course the cost.  The batteries only last 4-5 days and sometimes even fewer.  I find this only a slight disadvantage, but always carry spare batteries. Then of course another disadvantage is the cost of the ear level receiver which has to be set up by an audiologist.

Most recently I have bought a ‘clip-on’ mike which is an additional microphone – so that one can listen at two points.  The clip-on mike is very small and convenient.  It is useful to carry both at the same time and there is the advantage that if the battery of the Pen runs out then I now have the clip-on micas well.  When they are used individually they each need connecting to the receiver (neck loop or ear level).  Switching from one mike to the other the connection with the first mike is automatically shut down.

A word of warning – although the clip on mic and pen can work together, when set up to do so the sound volume of the clip-on mike is not as loud as that coming from the pen.

I had some difficulty setting up to listen to both mikes at the same time and had to phone for help which was provided by my supplier  (Action on Hearing Loss).

I now use the clip on mike regularly for listening to the TV and it is very good for that purpose.  However there is some TV interference when the mike is close to the set.  The lead is just long enough to avoid this problem – but this should be tested – I have found the interference is eliminated when the mic is placed very close to the wall rather than free standing in the room.  I will enquire of Phonak why this should be.

Summary

What price can you put on the ability to hear and therefore communicate?   The Roger Pen is a most useful addition to the range of devices available for hearing beyond the hearing aid.  When used with an ear level receiver it is most convenient. The neck loop version is fine but neck loops are unsightly and obtrusive.  The ear level receiver costs more and uses more batteries but in my opinion is well worth the extra.  The only problem I have had relates to the lavalier cord.  The small magnet became dislodged and the rubber retaining ring was cracked.  I simply ordered a new cord.  Phonak told me that they have since improved this.

The Pen, in my opinion, is the best of the bunch.  Simple to use and without a lot of controls which need attention, neat and unobtrusive – but dare I day it – expensive.  The ability to remain in communication with the outside world makes it worth every penny.

The Roger Pen is reliable, charging is quick and the battery power lasts very well.  It also has a Bluetooth facility (not tested).

One word of warning.  This applies to all the listening devices described on this website.  When considering getting one please first read A word of caution.  In particular note that in severe hearing loss simple amplification of the sound is ineffective – clarity may not be improved because the hair cells are not working

In comparison with others

For ease of use and for convenience the Roger Pen and ear level receiver have no serious rivals.  The controls are simple and the device is reliable.  It is ideal for those who don’t want to fiddle with controls.  Used with the ear level receiver is best.

Can other, less expensive devices work as well?  The answer is probably yes.  However the lack of complicated controls on the Pen which allow the Pen to be used without adjustment to different settings and make the Pen stand out and be useful without adjustments for the elderly.  It is good value for money.   Although there is no volume control the volume is adjusted automatically – this works well.

In comparison with the Contego (neck loop) from a hearing point of view there is not much to choose.  The Contego has a sound volume control which the Pen does not.  The Pen automatically monitors the ambient noise and will adjust the receiver loop or ear level receiver. The ear level receiver will have a greater range of control but the loop has a manual control built in to the neck worn receiver.  The Contego has a microphone on the neck loop receiver – for hearing someone sitting close.  Personally I usually keep it switched off as my hearing aid provides this for me.  Both microphones on the Contego have directional facility.  Bluetooth is not available on the Contego.

In comparison with the Phonak smart link the Pen is less obtrusive but in terms of quality there is little to choose.  It has a sound volume and directional control and is Bluetooth compatible.  The ear level receiver for the Smart link is not compatible with the Roger Pen.  Both the Smart link and the Roger Pen are individually most valuable additions to one’s life in terms of keeping in touch.  One might add Bluetooth for the telephone if needed.

In comparison with the FM Genie the sound quality of the Genie is good.  The Genie is certainly bigger to carry but is an excellent quality instrument and reliable.  It is ideal when communicating with one person.  There is a ‘conference’ setting microphone for use with group gatherings.

In comparison with the Bellman Domino the sound quality is comparable. It has volume control and (directional) microphones on the receiver and transmitter.  I personally found the Domino had drawbacks.  The leads were very long and got in the way.  With TV hearing there was interference.  (Have the manufacturers now sorted that out?)

Above all my advice is to try new equipment out before finalizing the purchase.  Always be prepared to return it if it does not do what you expect.