VitaSound recently launched the Personal Audio Enhancer 300 (PAE-300), a multi-function audio device for individuals with situational hearing problems. The PAE-300 is not intended for those that require a hearing aid, but instead for those who might need help holding a conversation in a noisy room or watching television without raising the volume to a level that will make a spouse or neighbor complain. VitaSound provided Medgadget with a PAE-300 to review, and we have.
Device Specifications: The PAE-300 handset is a sleek and well made device that is about the size of a deck of cards (4 x 2.4 x 0.75 in / 100.2 x 60 x 19.1 mm) and is fairly lightweight (3.3 oz / 94.6 g). The front has four buttons for each of the sound modes (discussed below), an LED power light and numerous lights that shine through the casing to indicate volume and mode selections. The right edge has an 8-level volume control rocker and a lock button, while the left edge has EQ selection and wireless pairing buttons. The power button and a headphone jack are on the top edge, while the bottom has a second headphone jack, a mini-USB port and two metal contact strips for docking base charging.
The PAE-300 is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion, 2000 mAh internal battery and VitaSound’s patented Neuro-Compensator technology that the company claims enforces an optimal firing pattern from the root of the auditory nerve to the brain. The battery takes 4-5 hours to charge, and the device operates for 12-14 hours on a full charge, except for in TV mode, where it operates for 6-8 hours. Testing indicated these times are reasonably accurate.
The PAE-300 comes with bud-type earphones that are equipped with a microphone on one of the headphone cables, and it can use your own headset if you prefer. The provided earphones are of quality construction and come with medium sized silicone tips, though the box includes multiple size options.
The PAE-300 has four modes: Relax, Talk, Listen and Watch (TV). Relax mode offers the sounds of crashing waves, a brook, chirping birds and a thunderstorm, with the user toggling through the options via the EQ button. The sound is clear, but the relax mode appears thrown in for design symmetry, as it is not really targeted to the needs of the hard of hearing. Still, the mode is somewhat useful and does work well.
Talk mode is designed for communicating. The sensitive microphone does a good job of enhancing face-to-face communication, but has difficulties with larger groups, where the speaker may be far from or not directly facing the user. Additionally, talk tests conducted in busy and noisy locations such as New York City streets, subways and buses found the device incapable of adequately suppressing external noises. Further, in those noisy situations, the surrounding sounds were received and amplified in a mono-nature that was annoying and made distinguishing where sounds are coming from nearly impossible. Nonetheless, the device did well in face-to-face communication testing at a busy restaurant, the type of situation it was developed for.
Another issue within talk mode is that the device picks up and plays back the user’s voice, which may be disturbing for some. The provided earphones do have a mute button, which can be used to temporarily turn off the device while the wearer is speaking, but this may result in the user missing out on others’ speech.
Listen mode allows the user to amplify sound from another device, such as a mobile phone, MP3 player, or anything else with a headphone jack. The PAE-300 did amplify sound coming out of a tested iPhone 5 and Motorola RAXR MAXX mobile phones, but did slightly distort sound on extremely low volume calls, and there is a bit of a delay in the PAE-300’s delivery of the amplified sound. On MP3 and sound system tests, the device did not appear to substantially increase the volume potential, or only did so minimally, with standard hissing distortion occurring at its highest levels. Additionally, the device seemed to enhance certain sounds within songs while diminishing others, resulting in a less rich audio experience, but one that may suit people with certain types of hearing loss.
The watch (TV) mode is likely the most impressive of the PAE-300’s modes, and possibly its most useful one. The watch mode allows a user to watch TV without disturbing anyone else in reasonably close proximity. The base of the device can receive sound through either audio cables or an optical audio connection, and is easy to set up. The quality of audio received was excellent, and the reception remained strong in tests where the wearer walked around the room, but the device lost the signal when going into another room that was separated from the source by a concrete wall.
All in all, the PAE-300 works quite well, is of sound and sleek construction, and is easy to use. For the hard of hearing that are not quite ready for a hearing aid, this device may provide some needed assistance.
Product page: Personal Audio Enhancer 300 (PAE-300)…