Friday, May 20, 2011

Bluetooth In Place of Standard FM Systems?

My Oticon kit, including Streamer (& old cellphone)
I've heard of FM transmitters before - awesome devices for meeting rooms, movie theaters, lecture halls and other spaces that allow people with hearing aids to listen more easily - but today I learned about Bluetooth transmitters. Bluetooth transmitters are a fraction of the price of an FM system, are manufactured by prominent brands like Sony, and are easy to set up. has a case study of the Harbert Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Ivey Jackson, an 80-year-old wearer of Bluetooth-equipped hearing aids, pushed for Harbert Center to install a Bluetooth transmitter.

Jackson has Oticon aids and uses the Streamer accessory to pair with the Bluetooth transmitter and his hearing aids. He can sit anywhere in Harbert Center's main meeting room to have the audio from the microphone broadcast to his ears. And, of course, with his Streamer he can use a multitude of other devices. The article touches upon the aging Baby Boomer market, a segment of the population who have been exposed to astounding technological leaps and bounds throughout their lifetime and expect the best tech no matter what they need it for. In this case this older generation is paving the way for younger people to be able to take advantage of accessibility options like this.

I can see one downside with a Bluetooth transmitter used as a replacement for FM systems. Not everyone has a Bluetooth-equipped hearing aid, so using one tech in place of the other can shut out some people. In that case I think the people in charge of a meeting area would do well to survey the population of attendees they receive and see what accommodations they would like, before spending money on something no one can use.

This article gave me the idea to look into a Bluetooth transmitter for use at home. I think it would be a cool addition to our home audio setup (which I'll admit is pretty much nonexistent at the moment). It would be pretty neat to be able to stream sound directly to my aids from our music collection or the TV. For those with Oticon hearing aids like me, Oticon also has a ConnectLine line of products that interact with the television and landline phones.


  1. You cannot compare Bluetooth with FM, because the transmission rang of a FM-System is much lager than the 1-10m of an BT-Unit. (The 100m range is very rare and needs a lot of more, much more than a FM-system).

  2. Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment.

    Of course it depends on the situation, whether or not Bluetooth would be useful vs. FM. Apparently, Bluetooth is working well for the case study I referenced, and it would depend on the size of the room, distance from the speaker, etc.

    I think there may be a word missing from your last sentence when you say "needs a lot of more, much more". Not sure what that word is.

    Looking around online, I see some "long range" Bluetooth transmitters that can handle up to 500 M (according to the advertisements, at least). I'm not sure what system the Harbert Center put in place.

  3. This happens, when I'm doing many things at the same time.

    The 100m range is very rare and needs a lot of power; much more power than a FM-system.

    This was my sentence in my mind ;-)

    And BT has a higher delay time or latency than FM systems. You will experience, if you use BT while watching TV (Of course, it depends of the BT system). BT war originally developed for wireless input methods like mice, keyboards and so on. Therfore BT was developed for transmitting data and not for transmitting audio.

  4. Anonymous - thanks for clarifying your comment. I have a couple of responses based on the points you've posted.

    Bluetooth was initially developed to handle data transmission. The important thing to remember here is that sound is data. As far as I know, Bluetooth was not developed solely for mice and keyboards. In fact, the first Bluetooth consumer device was a mobile headset.

    I have personal experience with using Bluetooth to transmit sound. I use it almost daily and only for sound. I have never experienced any latency or lag in Bluetooth transmission of sound. The person in the article uses the same device I do (the Oticon Streamer), so chances are he doesn't experience latency of sound, either. Again, it goes back to personal experience and the application Bluetooth would be used in. If latency is not annoying to people listening to a speaker (and my experience would be that a 1/2 second or so latency would not be annoying), then it is still useful in that situation.

    As for range, we, again, don't know what kind of device Harbert Center put into place. I can easily find a Class 2 Bluetooth device from Sony for around $50 online, while the price quoted in the article is around $250 - so my guess is they sprung for a higher quality or Class 1 transmitter. It's also possible they have another system in place or decided 10 meters was fine for their use. Just because Class 1 might be rare or difficult to acquire does not necessarily mean it puts Bluetooth out of the ring as a solution.

    In my article above, I'm not advocating Bluetooth as a replacement for FM transmitters. It seems like an option worth investigating if there is a need for it. FM transmitters can easily be used in conjunction with Bluetooth transmitters. For the relatively low cost, it seems like an interesting option to experiment with, and a nice way for companies/organizations/meeting halls to add another layer of accessibility.

  5. Megan, I just purchased an Oticon microphone that is compatible with my Streamer (for Epoq hearing aides). It doesn't replace an FM system but is intended for 1 speaker/1 listener situations. My Streamer had to be upgraded to pair with the microphone. I tried it in the car with my husband driving and me in the passenger seat - often difficult because not facing each other. It was great! But I have one issue to take up with Oticon - after my first use of the microphone (for an hour or so in the car), my hearing aide's receiver stopped working & I had to replace it. I haven't figured out yet whether it was just a coincidence or a cause - will let you know.

  6. Hi Suzy - that is cool. I didn't know they had a microphone like that, but it sounds useful. I hope you can find out what the problem was.

  7. So, the mfg does not think there is a connection between using the microphone and the receiver blowing out. I'll try it again and see what happens.

  8. I think it'll take time for bluetooth to replace the FM transmitters. Also from what I've seen bluetooth devices use up more battery power than FM devices. But perhaps over time as technology improves this will change.


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