President's Message
March 2006

Reprint from 0405

A hearing aid costs $2,200 on average. Meade Killion, a hearing aid pioneer, thinks that's crazy. An effective aid for mild-to-moderate hearing loss could be sold over the counter for around $100. The high cost is due to regulations introduced in the 70s to protect people from unregulated sellers, requiring them to see a physician before getting an aid. Licensed audiologists oppose the change, saying it could bring a return to the bad old days, when fly-by-night operators took advantage of the elderly by selling useless devices. Others say if the FDA doesn't require the public to see a doctor to rule out glaucoma or other diseases before getting reading glasses, why does it do so for hearing aids?

The FDA has rejected his petition. Killion says many stores already sell "listening devices" for people with normal hearing that differ little from hearing aids For example, sporting goods stores sell ear devices for hunters that muffle the sound of gun shots that also amplify quiet sounds, such as animals rustling in vegetation. He says the hunters' device is actually quite effective for people who have trouble hearing and illustrates his point that there's no technological barrier to an inexpensive over-the-counter hearing aid. To prove his point he recently played two recordings before an audience of 50 audiologists. One was of a person speaking in cafeteria noise, amplified by a $l49 sporting-goods device. The other was of the same speech amplified through a popular $2000 digital hearing aid. The audience rated the $149 device as having clearer sound. WSJ

1. The DVD of Offenbach's La Belle Helene conducted by Marc Minkowski is a lot of fun to watch. It's in a contemporary setting, beginning with a bored Helen watching television while her hubbie sleeps away. The chorus line of airline stewardesses is a gas. What is interesting about the audio is that it was recorded in stereo (for the voices). This is a first in my knowlege for opera on video. Usually all the vocals are in mono and the orchestra is in stereo. From what I can see, the stage action is picked up by 4 center mikes and a pair on each side. One gets the sense of live production happening in front of you; only occasionally is the pickup a little distant. For comparison I bought the Harnoncourt version and that is the old bad way. The singers are always in front and center, in your lap, with no sense of stage action. I spotted what looked like a miniature mike above the ear of one performer--maybe it was all radio mikes plus dubbing later. Harnoncourt's performance seems harsh and emphatic and not at all light hearted (this IS a comic opera after all). I bought the Harnoncourt on eBay and it arrived with Chinese characters on the jacket, a paper sleeve, and various misspellings on the back cover. It seems to be authentic, has English subtitles, and is PAL with region 2,5. I noticed some horizontal lines occurring with fast motion which is an artifact of the PAL to NTSC conversion (on a Yamakawa player). On another player it looked fine.

President, Boston Audio Society

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updated 8/6/06