Daniel Pistritto reviews Phonak’s Roger Pen

Roger, Roger!

Ask anyone with a hearing loss what the number one problem they face is and the majority will say ‘understanding speech when there is background noise’.

It’s a situation a little like those Where’s Wally? books except you’re trying to isolate a single conversation amongst a jumbled sea of gibberish.

Many hearing aids today are designed to try reduce the effect of background noise and enhance speech comprehension. 

But in some situations that’s just not enough.

At previous jobs, I found team meetings to be a struggle. I would to try to position myself close to whoever was running the meeting or else somewhere in the middle of the table — basically anything to try to be able to understand what was being discussed.

Sometimes I was lucky, which basically meant:

  • I was in a good position
  • There wasn’t any background noise
  • The person speaking had a strong voice, enunciated well and didn’t speak too fast
  • I able to see the person speaking well enough to be able to lipread
  • I didn’t have a cold at the time

There are more things working against you than for you when you’re in this situation so more often than not I would miss things that were discussed. As a result, if I ever tried to participate in team discussions I would often find that something I had said was either already discussed or irrelevant to the topic.

Needless to say it was safer to just sit there quietly.

I tried various remote microphones but, while they were good in some situations, they really didn’t work that well in a group environment.

Enter the Roger Pen

Phonak’s Roger Pen is kind of like the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ for hearing aid users. Not an actual pen but rather a ‘cutting-edge wireless microphone that enables people with hearing loss to hear and understand more speech in loud noise and over distance.’

The Roger Pen can be used to:Roger_Pen_Family

  • understand several people speaking in noise and over distance; such as meetings, conferences, lunches or the family Christmas get together.
  • understand a single person speaking softly and over distance
  • understand a single person in noise and over distance; such as discussions in a car or a cafe
  • listen to multimedia; whether it be a TV program, movie or music
  • make and receive mobile phone calls via Bluetooth

The Roger Pen acts as a standalone microphone which can be used in different ways to help you hear better

Held or worn vertically, the microphone goes into a narrow beam mode to focus on a source close by

  • You can hold it in front of you like a microphone and point it at the sound you want to hear. As the Roger Pen is transmitting this sound directly to your hearing aids you will experience a much better signal to noise ratio than the hearing aids alone.
  • The Roger Pen can be worn around the neck of someone giving a presentation or your dining partner in a noisy restaurant (it can even be placed in a shirt pocket), which will allow you to pick up their voice much clearer. This would be a perfect solution for a hearing impaired student who struggles to understand their teacher in a classroom.

The Roger Pen also has a “conference mode” which can be automatically activated by placing the Pen on the table in the middle of the group of people.

It can be used by by people who have In-the-canal or Behind-the-ear hearing aids and also those with Cochlear Implants.

“All that hype sounds fantastic but does it actually work?” you ask

Let me answer that question by telling you about the difference it has made for me.

Team meetings are now a breeze. I place the Roger Pen down on our boardroom table and can confidently sit anywhere and be able to hear the details of the meeting as if the speaker was speaking to me privately. Because I don’t have to rely on lipreading I can now concentrate on the presentation and taking notes.

The Roger Pen is able to zero in on who is speaking, so if there is conversation amongst several people I can hear them all equally. I have the confidence to participate in discussions now, and feel like a valued team member.

It’s not all about meetings at work though. I think back on how much easier the Roger Pen would have made life for me if I’d had it during high school, university, job interviews or even just enjoying drinks at the bar with friends.

Are you having trouble understanding the TV?

The charging stand of the Roger Pen can connect into the audio output of your TV sending the sound from the TV directly to you.

Are you unable to enjoy music while exercising or commuting via train?

Connect the Roger Pen to your mobile phone or ipod via the supplied cable and the music can be wirelessly delivered to you. Or you can enjoy hands-free mobile phone calls via the Roger Pen by pairing it to your mobile phone via bluetooth.

You probably want to know if it will work with your hearing aids

roger roger
The Roger MyLink

If you’re wearing a compatible Phonak hearing aid, you might need to purchase a Roger Receiver to enable the Roger Pen to wirelessly send directly to your hearing aids.

Non-Phonak users might need to purchase a Roger-X receiver which fits to your hearing aid via a specialised attachment. 

The alternative is the Roger MyLink which is a neckloop receiver that transmits the signal received to a hearing aid via telecoil; making it a universal option. 

Now for the cost…

A complete setup of Roger Pen and a compatible receiver will cost well over $1,000 which means it may be outside the budget of some. However, if you frequently find yourself in situations where not even your hearing aids can help, it will likely be an invaluable tool.

Check with your hearing care professional to see if they can arrange a demonstration.

Blamey Saunders hears stocks the Roger Pen. 

Come and see me at the East Melbourne clinic and I’ll demonstrate how the Roger Pen can transform the way you participate in group listening situations.

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16 Comments

  1. Hello Daniel,
    I have to agree with your article. I purchase a Roger and two Phonak hearing aids over one year ago and it does makes life a lot better. The only downplay I have notice is where you are joining a telephone conference call via the internet (i.e. cisco or skype) and you use your mobile phone/Roger when joining call. Some of the receivers are finding it hard to hear me talking (even though I have the Roger very close to my mouth when talking).

    Dermot

    Dermot
    1. Hi Dermot.

      So glad to hear that the Roger Pen is making life a lot easier for you. It has made the world of difference for me and works really well with my Blamey Saunders aids. With the problem you are having when joining a Skype conference call, it’s hard to say why the other parties are finding it difficult to hear you. Try adjusting the microphone sensitivity settings in Skype perhaps.

      admin
  2. I agree – I’ve now used the pen in some lengthy & important business sessions, and the pen made a big difference. I could follow what was said at the other end of the table. Anybody who’s been in this situation, will know what it feels like to be unsure what someone just said.

    They are expensive, and I also needed the TLoop adaptor (another $1,000). However because this affects my employment, I was able to have them subsidised through jobaccess.gov.au (who were extremely helpful).

    Some other observations:
    . they change the tone somewhat (though that relates to my HA program)
    . you lose the sense of direction (localisation) because sound is beamed from the pen into your HAs

    And if you want some fun with your workmates, tell them you can hear them after you leave the room. But I do NOT recommend doing that.

    Meetings are still very tiring, and I still miss bits, especially when many people talk.
    Now an essential part of my kit.

    Rod
    1. Update: I’ve now had the pen for a few months with my B&S aids which don’t have bluetooth. This requires the neck loop wich has the unfortunate side effect of being sensitive to position. When I move my head, the levels change significantly. I can cope with this but think a bluetooth link would be better.
      A topic from one of your writers on bluetooth vs T-Loops would be helpful.

      Rod Taylor
  3. The Roger Pen was bought for me via action on hearing loss and access to work via my employer. It is transforming my life. There are downfalls of course. I found adapting to it a bit strange…. it sort of messes with your brain as you start to reuse bits of your brain that shut down sort of if that makes sense. Also agree on the loss of direction, but I have struggled with that for years anyhow really. Downsides to the pen… turning it on and off when you have been using bluetooth especially is a pain as the buttons are so close together. Battery life… I start work at about 8am and if I finish late, say up to 6pm, it starts to die and certain functions won’t work, like connecting to mobile phone. Biggest problem is the flimsy plastic integral clip…. if it breaks you are stuffed I guess…. and the strange levalier is not at all secure. I cannot hold any trust in it at all. It fell off more than once so I had to have a friend make me a pouch on a neck cord so I can feel safe that if it drops off it will only fall into the pouch. Its also really high up with no opportunity to lengthen it. My job is very mobile but when I dash to the desk its fiddly getting the pen from my neck to the docking station to connect to the phone. Whoever decided on the almost illegible writing and tiny arrow to indicate where you put it into the docking station on a silver pen was nuts. My eyesight isnt great so I had to put an ugly neon sticker on but at least I can see which way to dock it now. Lots more to like about the pen than dislike though. The quality of sound is absolutely superb and being able to hear customers is great. Still learning how to use it better when in a crowd though. Overall a huge thank you to the Roger Pen creators!

    Val
  4. Hi there. I am considering getting the pen for my mother and father. Both wear hearing aids and currently use sennheisser wireless earphones for the telly. Will one pen connect to different hearing aids for both parents at once? They are not Phonak branded. Also if we plug the pen into the TV as you suggest above, can both parents hear the audio or just one? Thanks so much

    1. Hi Cat, One of the great things about the Roger Pen is that one Pen is able to transmit to multiple receivers. In the case of your parents, they would only require the one Roger Pen to be connected to the television, they would however require a MyLink receiver each. As long as their individual hearing aids have a telecoil program, they will both be able to hear the broadcast from the television at the same time. With a MyLink receiver each, they can even adjust the volume of that they hear the television broadcast individually.

      admin
  5. “Pair the Roger Pen to your mobile phone or ipod via bluetooth and the music can be wirelessly delivered to you.”

    This is wrong. I’m surprised to see this from a review coming from a user of the device. Bluetooth can only be used for calls on the roger pen, not streaming music or any other audio. (Well you’re phone can talk to you through it.) There older stuff like the smartlink did. Maybe the battery wouldn’t last long. (You don’t stream audio for a short period of time after all.)

    Cook
    1. Hi Cook, thanks for your response. You are quite correct, the bluetooth functionality of the Roger Pen is only for streaming of phone calls, it can’t be used for music or audio streaming. This is something I discovered later when I actually tried to do. I have amended the original post to correct this error.

      admin
  6. I’ve had my Pen for a few days now and used it in a meeting.
    Its not good, I’ve tried different settings as well as automatic mode and it picks up to much back ground conversations and noise.
    The Bluetooth is even worse with callers asking to repeat what I’m saying as its echoing.

    The sound is like I’m listening in a tin can on both Bluetooth and other modes.

    The consequence is that I’m waiting a call from the technical department as I’m now considering sending it back.

    I would advise people to try first before paying such a large amount of money .
    So So disappointed.

    Wes Challinor
    1. Hi Wes, this is Daniel.
      I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience. I’ll do my best to address your concerns, one by one:

      “I’ve had my Pen for a few days now and used it in a meeting. I’ve tried different settings as well as automatic mode and it picks up too much back ground conversations and noise”

      The Roger Pen is good for meetings of 4 to 6 people, if there are more people than that then it’s recommended to either use a 2nd pen or else use a Roger Table Mic as well. You should not need to change microphone modes, laying it horizontal on the table, in a central position away from protectors and noisy equipment should be all you need to do.

      I wonder which hearing aid and Roger receiver you are using because, given how profound my hearing loss is, even before the cochlear implant I found the Roger Pen to be fantastic at our team meetings.

      “The Bluetooth is even worse with callers asking to repeat what I’m saying as its echoing.”

      Are you using the lapel? Is the volume on your phone set too high?

      “The sound is like I’m listening in a tin can on both Bluetooth and other modes.”

      Sounds like you might be using the Mylink Neckloop so I wonder if your telecoil is set up correctly.

      “The consequence is that I’m waiting a call from the technical department as I’m now considering sending it back.”

      Have you spoken to your hearing aid provider? The solution might come with fine tuning your hearing aids.

      I wish you all the best! Please let me know how things go!

      admin
    1. Daniel’s comment is; “It depends on what Roger Receiver is being used
      If the receiver is the Roger MyLink then the hearing aid requires a telecoil program which can be put onto any program slot
      If using an integrated Roger Receiver then by default the hearing aid is usually configured to pick up the Roger stream once the pen is turned on however it can be configured so that you need to select a program slot to receive the stream from the Roger Pen. Either method has its pros and cons. ”
      Hope that helps
      Elaine

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