CIPODS: Earbuds for Cochlear Implants

If you wear cochlear implants, sound doesn’t enter through your ear, but rather from microphones above your ears. That means earbuds are useless and you have to resort to large and clumsy over the ear headphones. [Mjcraig23] wanted the convenience of earbuds and set out to do what we all do: hack it.

The result is handily portable as you can see in the video, below. The trick is that he used replacement battery covers and then grafted earbud holders (called EARBUDi) to them using one of our favorite fasteners, zip ties. Apparently, you can wire a cable directly into the device, but then you lose the ability to hear what’s going on around you, which would not be a good idea for catching some tunes while walking your dog or other common earbud use cases.

In addition to zip ties, there’s some heat shrink involved. Of course, the design only works with one specific unit, the MED-EL Sonnet, but the same ideas could apply to other devices, as well, with some tuning. We couldn’t help but think that a 3D printed piece could have cut down on the assembly as you could have the holders directly integrated with the battery covers (and not have to pay $40 for the covers, too).

However, people have been hacking things together way before we all had 3D printers and there’s nothing wrong with the method used here. It blends in well with the existing device, fits great, and reportedly the battery covers with the mounts will fit in a pocket when not in use.

Many people don’t sleep with the external unit attached, which makes conventional alarm clocks and smoke alarms useless. We covered a device meant to solve that problem. Of course, even people who don’t have an implant can block out the outside world with earbuds. For those people, there’s always this cheeky Hackaday Prize entry.

20 thoughts on “CIPODS: Earbuds for Cochlear Implants

  1. I work for Cochlear.
    I know the majority of sound processors (the external component) have either an FM transmitter or in our case the newest sound process has bluetooth for streaming audio from accessories and direct from iphones (I believe android is in the works). From memory medel’s neckloop would do the trick in this situation but I’m not sure how it works.
    we also have a consumer insights group and the number of weird and wonderful hacks recipients use to make things better is amazing. often they show us what people want/need in terms of accessories or improvements so keep them up.

      1. I think for the new cochlear speech processors there is no option to use cables. For the device in the article (MED-EL Sonnet), there is the option to use a DAI cable (direct audio input).

    1. I’m sure you’re a nice dude… but the Cochlear BAHA 5 is a terrible product, both in function and design. I hated it so much that I gave it back with no refund. Wanted it out of my sight. It is that terrible.

      What’s with Cochlear deciding to shut off their customer forum? Did they want to stop customers from getting information and opinions from other users before they buy? When you search the web for info most of what we find is research paid for by Cochlear, Oticon, etc. and little resource to hear from actual customers.

      I’ve had great experiences with every human being I’ve ever spoken to at Cochlear. Far as the products I’ve sampled? Garbage.

        1. The BAHA line is a bone anchored hearing aid, either an abutment or magnet is placed in the skull and a transducer and mic/amp/processor attaches to it. Picks up sound and then uses your skull as a soundbox, bone conduction. Often used to treat single sided deafness.

          Sound quality is poor. The way I describe it is make a call with a cheap cordless phone, have the party your calling place their phone down on a table about 5-6 feet away and have them continue to talk in their normal voice. That’s what it’s like to me. Tinny, faint and hollow sound. I’d struggle to even tell it was working at all when I’d plug my good ear with my finger, could hear *something* but couldn’t make out what people were saying.

          With the BAHA 5 construction, it’s battery is door is very fragile. I went through a dozen of them as you have to change out the batteries almost every day. Plus you turn the processor on and off via that battery cover, having to handle it that much it wasn’t designed to be robust. Initially it was a huge PITA as they didn’t sell the battery door separately, so you’d have to ship them the whole unit. Later they sold the battery cover separately, but they’re not inexpensive.

          The processor itself felt cheap and flimsy, this is something you wear on your head and it’s always being bumped throughout the day. Headrest of your car, chairs, couches, pillows, doorways, ya name it. Knocks off your head and personally destroyed one with the doorway example. Bumped it on a door, it dropped to the floor and broke spectacularly. I don’t feel it’s built well enough to survive daily use.

          User interface was just flat out dumb. Previous and later models had buttons, you’d use them to turn the processor on/off, volume up and down, set presets. But the BAHA 5 had no buttons, it relied on using an iPhone. If you wanted to use an Android phone or no phone, you’d have to buy a wireless remote for around $250 (if I remember correctly). I had an iPhone, it’d lose connection all the time, difficult to make it connect again. This was very annoying cause there’s a lot of times you don’t want the processor on at all, or that you want to raise/lower the volume. So you’d be driving or having a conversation, pull out your phone, unlock, go to the app, etc… just to do something that used to be just touch a button and your done. Instead you’re fussing with all these extra steps and your phone, only to be faced with it not being synced or would be unresponsive. Previous models they had buttons and it was easier and more reliable, just reach up and touch it and it worked. No fuss, no gimmick, not socially awkward to pull out your phone in the middle of a conversation to manipulate it. Buttons are good, app based only is bad.

          This thing cost me $5K, more than miffed on the experience. Do better!

      1. I’m a cochlear implant user. This means I have no experience with the BAHA devices. I just have to say I can’t confirm that my oticon implant and speech processor is bad by design or function.

        Also I don’t see the point in using the microphones of the speech processor to connect it to an audio source. All (recent) models have the option to either directly connect an audio device via cable (DAI), use the telecoil or use rf based connections. I’m sure the audio quality would be better.

        E.g. for the MED-EL Sonnet there is the possibility to connect an external audio source via a DAI cable (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFSbnr8KOpk)

      2. I’m sorry to hear that Eric, I haven’t worked on any of the current BAHA products.
        I’m also not familiar with the customer forums (again engineer not involved in the customer care side of things)

        I will however pass this post onto the team there.

  2. Interesting hack. Has anyone worked with bone conducting headphones to tap into the auditory nerve? Basically, microphone amplify environmental sounds maybe tapped from the ear to a transducer above the auditory nerve region?

    1. Looks like the bone conduction headphones are down to ~$20 US. Wow, that’s $10 less than when I looked last. I wonder what the limit of amplification is on these to have effective hearing and not cause any other adverse effects. I also wonder about relocation of the transducers over the auditory nerve for more optimal function. Seems a directional microphone can be used also if wanted, though will need a headphone mic splitter cable and for the amplifier like one of these things (JOYO JA-03 SUPER LEAD Mini Guitar AMP Pocket Amplifier) though betting there are more cost effective methods.

  3. Advanced Bionics Naida Cochlear Implant Processors have the T-mics, which are microphones which extend down to the ear canal. This enables users of these CI processors to use regular headphones – as the headphones cover the t-mics.

  4. I have a friend who is deaf and really wants a Cochlear Implant. Is there a place on the web you can point me to that I can point him to that goes over the features of what is out there? I just sent him a link to this thread…

    1. see http://www.cochlearimplantbasics.com It will explain the differences between hearing aids, cochlear implants and BAHA.
      Just FYI I was totally deaf for 35 years before receiving bilateral Cochlear N6s in December 2015 and I have fully restored hearing. I upgraded to N7 in September 2017 and the direct streaming is INCREDIBLE. Sorry if your experience with Cochlear was poor but hundreds of thousands of satisfied recipients feel otherwise.

  5. I have a Nucleus Cochlear Implant which allows me to hear speech despite being totally deaf without it. I became deaf overnight and went from good hearing to no hearing. The CI changed my life.
    I now have lots of new friends with Implants. There are several makes and all work. Some better than others due to how long they were deaf
    There are lots of Charities that support CI users and can be found on the Web.

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