Video calls for people with hearing loss can be exhausting, especially since Zoom, the most popular service, has yet to provide free ASR captions for people with hearing loss. But, I may have found an interesting device that can help people with hearing loss, not only with endless video calls, but also for watching TV and streaming video content on devices. It is a wearable speaker from Sony which they have strangely named WS1 — Immersive Wearable Speaker. It was designed for the gaming crowd so it includes haptics that help you feel the sound (they can be turned off), but it may also be useful for people with hearing loss, or anyone that needs a little help hearing when screens are involved. Thank you to HHTM for the opportunity to try one out this summer.
Wearable Speaker Brings the Sound Closer to Your Ears
I tried the device over several days this summer and found it helpful for video conference calls and for streaming video content on my computer. I could not get it to pair with my television set, but perhaps that was because of the complexity of my setup. The wearable speaker rests on your shoulders leaving your ears uncovered. This allows you to hear ambient sound and continue to wear your hearing devices.
The sound quality was good, and the fact that it moved the speaker closer to my ears made it easier for me to hear difficult-to-follow media, like news programs which often have poor captions. The device also made it easier to follow dialogue on un-captioned Zoom calls. On one of my test days, I had four hours of consecutive video conference calls. By the last one, I was exhausted, but listening effort was reduced because of the speaker.
The major drawback was the difficulty in getting the speaker to work reliably on my devices. It never connected to my TV set, and sometimes required several re-pairings with my computer. Another problem was using it around other people. My husband needed to shout for me to hear him over the speaker, making the device better suited to independent use than when watching something with other people.
Many Positives for Sony’s Wearable Speaker
- Good sound quality. The connection is not bluetooth, so the sound synced well with whatever device I was watching. The haptics (vibrations to indicate sound intensity) worked well, but I found them distracting. They were easy to turn off or lower in intensity. Volume control was simple.
- Sound closer to the ears. Having the sound closer to my ears made it easier to hear difficult programs, like the TV news or un-captioned Zoom calls.
- Easy to use with my hearing aids. There was no interference with my hearing aids since the speaker rested on my shoulders rather than my ears.
- Ambient sound. The speaker’s location allowed me to hear both the program dialogue and ambient sound. This was pleasant for me when watching programs with others, but difficult for them since my companions had to speak very loudly for me to hear them over the speaker.
- Untethered sound. The speaker connects wirelessly so if I needed to quickly step into another room, I could still follow the program on the device’s speaker.
Some Drawbacks for Sony’s WS1 Device
- Tricky to get working. The device never worked on my TV despite multiple attempts to connect using the various methods detailed in the user guide. Attaching to the computer the first time was easy, but the next time, I had to repeatedly re-pair the device to the transmitter before it worked. Reliable pairing is critical if it is to be truly useful.
- A bit heavy on the shoulders. I found the device uncomfortable at first, but soon grew used to its weight and forgot about it.
- Computer connection via headphone jack. When using the device with the computer, any viewing companions will need to use the Sony speakers for sound as well since the transmitter plugs into the headphone jack. All computer sound is rerouted to the device.
- Sound is heard by all. Having the sound closer to my ears meant that my viewing companions had to speak very loudly for me to hear them making it a challenge for group viewing of TV programs or movies.
- The price: At $299, the device is not cheap, but much less expensive than hearing aids if television and media watching are your primary hearing needs.
Overall, I found the speaker helpful, especially for difficult listening situations online. If your hearing devices connect via bluetooth to TV sets, computers and the like, you may not need a wearable speaker like this one. The device is probably best suited to individuals who may not yet require hearing aids for other situations, but still need help for TV watching, streaming video or video conference calls.
Readers, would you try a device like this for watching TV or streaming video?