A hearing aid’s ability to process sound is determined by its circuit’s core computing power and on-board programming. The sophistication of a circuit’s on-board programming defines its ability to help in difficult listening situations like windy days or noisy restaurants.
Manufacturers add-to or take-way from on-board programming as they create different “performance levels” – resulting in different versions and price points. As stated earlier, circuit designs are not standardized among the Big Six. This, and the fact that no definitive research proves the superiority of any given circuit, makes it impossible to confidently say that one design is better than any other. However, it is possible to say which performance levels you should own.
Performance levels are classified as follows within the industry:
All current-programming features
Deletion of one current-programming feature or All current-programming features with minor reductions in feature performance
Deletion of multiple current-programming features and/or Significant reductions in feature performance
Economy (or Essential) Level
Most current-programming features deleted
Historically the price of premium level RICs has never been justified (often $7 to $9 thousand per pair), and the advanced level was the only way to go. But Costco’s entry has radically dropped the price of premium technology, thereby creating a benchmark price the industry must react to. (See Appendix D, “Costco’s Deal to Sell Premium Circuits Jolts the Industry”). In response to this price pressure, many dealers will try to sell you the inferior standard or economy levels as a way to maintain their profits. Don’t fall for this tactic. Only consider RICs with premium or advanced level performance.
If the dealer says that the price of advanced or premium RICs isn’t justified by the improved sound quality – consider that effective March of 2014, Costco began selling Phonak’s one-back premium level RIC for $2,600/pair at its 500 locations across the U.S.
Hearing Found continuously monitors Costco’s current price for a pair of Premium Big Six RICs. Check that price before entering the market and use it as a benchmark comparison price against whichever RIC a dealer wants you to buy. If the dealer wants $2,600 or more for a pair of Standard or Economy RICs when the same money will buy Premium RICs from Costco, you should ask yourself: “Why not go to Costco?”