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ND Assistive | Assistive Technology Blog

UPDATED: Be Heard with Voice Amplification

Communication and being understood is extremely important for an individual’s overall well being. We all have feelings, needs, and information we want to express and share with the people around us. When an individual feels misunderstood or ignored because they have difficulty communicating effectively, feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, or even depression follow.

Recently, I and another Assistive Technology (AT) Consultant worked with Priscilla, an elderly woman with Multiple sclerosis (MS) who has difficulty being heard because of voice fatigue throughout the day. Over time, Priscilla’s voice has progressively weakened to the point where, at best, it is no louder than a whisper. Consequently, she experiences difficulties easily communicating with friends, staff who aid her, and – most importantly, family. Furthermore, her family lives in another country and every weekend she enjoys keeping in touch through telephone conversations. Priscilla is immobile from the neck down and prefers using her phone’s speakerphone feature, but is sometimes too quiet to be heard. Fortunately, we were able to visit Priscilla to help her find solutions to better be heard on the phone. After demonstrating several different options, Priscilla decided to rent a voice amplifier through ND ASSISTIVE’s Equipment Rental Program. Her eyes lit-up the first moment she heard her voice amplified loud enough to be heard across the room. We called her friend in another building to see if Priscilla’s voice could be heard using the speakerphone — and it worked! She was understood without the need to repeat herself over and over. Priscilla felt heard, understood, and valued!

Below are descriptions and reviews of the four voice amplifiers currently in the ND ASSISTIVE Equipment Loan Library. Each device has different strengths – but they ALL are products that could ease communication for an individual who needs voice amplification to be heard clearly and effectively. 

ChatterVox

What I Love:

  • Enough amplification to boost the volume of a whisper as loud as normal conversation
  • Easy-to-use dial knob to adjust the amplification
  • The lumbar pack is simple and easily adjustable
  • The included headset is sturdy and easily adjustable

Needs Improvement

If the volume knob is adjusted too rapidly, the user can experience very unpleasant feedback. This isn’t a huge issue, only something to be aware of. The user wants to be heard – they don’t want to make a scene! Also, at a higher amplification, you experience some background humming, reducing the clarity of the user’s voice. The included NiMH rechargeable AA batteries require a 24 hr charge to provide 14 hrs of operating time. Rechargeable batteries last longer if they are charged completely, so for the individual who wants the included rechargeable batteries to last as long as possible, a 24-hour charge will leave them without an amplified voice for a day. Lastly, the unit is relatively large and unattractive looking compared to other speech amplifiers. Now, I know apperance has nothing to do with the product’s ability to do what is supposed to do, but if this voice amplifier is something an individual is going to be using a large portion of their day, its weight and appearance can play a factor in an individual’s overall satisfaction with the device.

Key Features:

  • Amplification: Up to 18 dB
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs
  • Microphone jack: 3.5 mm
  • Battery: NiMH AA rechargeable batteries
  • Operating time: Up to 14 hrs
  • Charging time: 24 hrs
  • Accessories: Headset microphone, AC Adapter, NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, and lumbar pack
  • Cost: $200.00

What I Love:

  • The loudest of the four voice amplifiers – 22 dB of vocal boost provides an opportunity to be heard in most every environment
  • Easy-to-use dial knob to adjust the sound
  • The included headset is sturdy and easily adjustable
  • 8 hrs of charging time with 10 hrs of use – very accommodating for most individuals
  • Included carrier and belt is high quality, comfortable, and easily adjustable

Needs Improvement

Again, if the volume knob is adjusted too rapidly, the user might experience feedback. Also, there is some white noise near the loudest amplification, but from what I’ve experienced, it doesn’t seem to affect the ability to understand the individual. Keep in mind most users will only need 22 dB of voice amplification in busy places or outdoors. This unit is the largest of the four, coming in just barely under 2 lbs. Like I said, this doesn’t have anything to do with the voice amplifier’s ability to do its job – but it does play a part in the user’s overall satisfaction with the device.

Key Features

  • Amplification: Up to 22 dB
  • Weight: 1.8 lbs
  • Microphone jack: 3.5 mm
  • Battery: NiMH AA rechargeable batteries
  • Operating time: Up to 10 hrs
  • Charging time: 8 hrs
  • Accessories: Speaker unit, headset microphone, AC Adapter, NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, sport pack, and storage case
  • Cost: $280.00

 Zygo Voice Amplifier 

 

 

What I Love:

  • Very clear sound – no white noise or feedback
  • LIGHTWEIGHT and aesthetically pleasing
  • Easy-to-use dial to control amplification
  • The headset microphone that comes with the unit is lightweight and comfortable
  • 8 hrs of charging time with 10 hrs of use – very accommodating for most individuals

Needs Improvement

Although I love the lightweight headset, I wish it could be better adjusted to fit the user’s head. When trying out the headset, there was a 3-inch gap between the back of my head and the headset. It not only looked funny but for an individual that might use a headrest or be in bed for most of the day, the headset could easily be moved out of place. Also, this voice amplifier isn’t as loud as either of the ChatterVox devices – but boy, it provides crisp clear sound!

Key Features:

  • Amplification: Not reported, however – it uses a 12-watt speaker
  • Weight:  10 oz
  • Microphone jack: 3.5 mm
  • Battery: Rechargeable
  • Operating time: Up to 20 hrs
  • Charging time: 8 hrs
  • Accessories: Speaker unit, headset microphone, AC Adapter, rechargeable battery, and waistband belt
  • Cost: $200.00

Zygo Wireless Voice Amplifier

What I Love:

  • Wireless use – an individual has the freedom to place the speaker wherever they choose
  • The headset is sturdy and easily adjusted
  • Lightweight and aesthetically pleasing

Needs Improvement

The overall ease of operating this device really lacks. First off, both the speaker and lapel mic have buttons instead of dials to adjust the volume. Users do not know if they have reached the maximum voice amplification of the device as easily as they would with a dial. Also, there is a constant high pitched buzzing sound from the speaker. It doesn’t affect the ability to understand the user’s voice, but it is really annoying. To minimize this buzzing, users must do the following when turning on the device:

  1. Make sure the speaker and lapel mic are both off and fully charged.
  2. Turn the speaker on and press the volume down button 10 times.
  3. Turn the lapel mic on and press the volume down button 10 times.
  4. Press the volume up button twice on the speaker.
  5. Adjust the volume accordingly.

This is a lot of work just to reduce an annoying buzzing noise. Moreover, when adjusting the voice amplification, the device has to “hear” a voice in order to control the volume. At a whispering level, I was not able to adjust the volume at all. As soon as I started talking in a regular voice, the device “heard” me and I was able to turn the voice amplification up or down. A user whose voice is always the level of a whisper would need assistance to give them the ability to adjust the volume after turning the device on.

Keep in mind, this device isn’t perfect. However, at the end of the day, it does do its job. So for the person who, for whatever reason, needs the freedom of a cordless voice amplifier – this unit is perfect.

Key Features

  • Amplification: Not reported, however – it uses a 12-watt speaker
  • Weight:  10 oz
  • Microphone jack: 3.5 mm
  • Battery: Rechargeable
  • Speaker operating time: Up to 8 hrs
  • Speaker charging time: 6 – 8 Hrs
  • Lapel mic operating time: Up to 6 hrs
  • Lapel mic charging time: 4 – 5 Hrs
  • Accessories: Speaker unit, lapel microphone, belt clip, headset microphone, neck strap, AC adapter, and USB cable
  • Cost: $450.00

If you, or someone you know, might benefit from the use of a voice amplifier feel free to contact ND ASSISTIVE to speak with an AT Consultant, set-up a demonstration, or rent a device. 

This article was updated on May 31, 2018.

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