Six main companies produce prescription hearing aids in the United States: GN ReSound, Oticon, Phonak, Signia/Siemens, Starkey, and Widex. All of these companies have excellent products, and some professionals will offer all or most of these, while others will focus on just one or two. Much of this depends on the size of the practice and how many clinicians are dispensing hearing aids. Just like most people have preferences about brands of phones, laptops, or cars, audiologists, and hearing aid dispensers often find one or two manufacturers that they gravitate to in terms of product and software.
For this article, we’ll break down two companies: Starkey vs Phonak.
Histories of Starkey vs Phonak
Starkey Hearing Technology was founded in 1967 by William F. Austin and is based in Eden Prairie, MN. Though all of the companies have US-based headquarters, many clinicians and patients are drawn to Starkey as the only true “American” hearing aid brand. They employ over 5,000 individuals in over 100 markets worldwide. In addition to hearing aids and accessories, Starkey also has a charitable branch called the Starkey Hearing Foundation, with the slogan “So the world may hear.” This began as a program to recycle hearing aid batteries and has evolved into a large non-profit that includes global programs in over 100 countries.
They have opened the Starkey Hearing Institute in Zambia to educate local professionals as a way to contribute to the mission of creating sustainable community programs. The Hear Now program offering hearing aids to individuals who cannot afford them. Starkey also has a specialty all-make repair lab, which means they will service hearing aids from any year, make, or manufacturer.
Phonak is based in Naperville, IL, and is under the Sonova umbrella. Sonova is a Swiss hearing healthcare company based in Stafa, Switzerland, that also includes the cochlear implant manufacturer Advanced Bionics, the retail brand Connect Hearing, and the hearing aid brand Unitron, among others. Similar to Starkey, Sonova has a strong emphasis on providing equitable hearing healthcare worldwide and creating sustainable programs. Their charitable foundation, Hear the World, focuses on building hearing healthcare projects in underserved areas.
Phonak also has a strong focus on pediatrics and is one of the leading manufacturers of hearing aids for children. They are also the major manufacturer of FM/DM systems for school systems and personal use. Nearly all educational systems use Phonak products for children with hearing impairment and other listening needs, which necessitate an improved signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). This is in part because of the high quality of the products and because Phonak has made them universally compatible with major hearing aid and cochlear implant brands.
Comparing Starkey vs Phonak Features
Starkey’s newest line of hearing aids is called Genesis AI. They are available in receiver-in-canal (RIC) styles as well as custom in-the-ear (ITE) styles. The generation just before Genesis AI, Evolv AI, also includes behind-the-ear (BTE) styles in addition to RIC and custom designs. This device will accommodate anywhere from mild to severe hearing losses. The Genesis hearing aids can also be rechargeable, depending on the style, and are compatible with a range of accessories such as remote microphones and TV streamers.
This line of hearing aids also includes a health monitoring feature as part of the MyStarkey app and is the only hearing aid on the market to offer fall detection. Starkey was the first company to release a “Healthable” hearing aid with this kind of body and brain health tracking. Starkey also offers some remote support and remote programming through their proprietary Thrive app.
There are two new lines available from Phonak in a receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) style. The first is called Lumity, available in their Audeo RITE model. This is suitable for mild through profound hearing losses, and the hearing aids are fully rechargeable. There are a few different models, one of which is fully waterproof and another which includes a telecoil for users who want to make use of that technology.
This device is fully Bluetooth compatible with any Bluetooth device and is also compatible with their range of Roger devices. The Roger technology is digitally modulated (DM) and is particularly helpful when trying to hear over noise and/or over distance. The Lumity technology also builds upon previous directional microphone and noise reduction technologies to improve hearing in noise. They are available in eight different colors.
The other RITE option is the Phonak Slim, which incorporates universal connectivity, rechargeability, and the SmartSpeech technology but in a different form factor. For more severe hearing losses, the Naida Paradise behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are available with many of the same features, including rechargeability, Bluetooth and Roger connectivity, and advanced features to improve hearing in noise. For users who prefer a custom in-the-ear (ITE) style, the Virto Paradise line is available.
Phonak vs Starkey Pricing
Both Starkey and Phonak offer their hearing aids in a range of technology levels. The Starkey Evolv AI line is available in five levels, from entry-level to premium, and Genesis AI is currently available in four levels. Phonak offers most of its hearing aids (including the Audeo Lumity) in four technology levels, from entry-level (30) to premium (90). In comparison, the Phonak Slim is only available in Advanced and Premium (70 and 90 levels).
With the increase in technology level with both manufacturers, the cost of hearing aids increases. Hearing aid prices will vary based not only on the technology level but also on the setting in which they are purchased. The pricing structure for hearing aids dispensed by audiologists is usually a bundled model, which includes the services provided by the audiologist for fitting the hearing aids, continued reprogramming, and any repairs or modifications that are needed during the warranty period. The warranty period is usually dictated by performance level, as well, but is set by the manufacturer.
For example, an entry-level hearing aid may come with a standard one-year warranty from the manufacturer, which includes any repairs during that period as well as a one-time loss and damage coverage. The audiologist who fits the entry-level hearing aid(s) would also include their visits for re-programming during the first year with the cost of the hearing aids. There are usually options to extend the warranty during that initial in-warranty period. On the other hand, an advanced or premium-level hearing aid would have a longer warranty period (three or four years) from both the manufacturer and the dispensing provider.
It would be very typical for hearing aids of comparable technology levels to be the same price regardless of manufacturer, particularly at a clinic that offers several different manufacturers. A pair of entry-level hearing aids will be the same price regardless of manufacturer, and the same goes for premium-level devices. This can range from $2,500 to almost $7,000 for a pair of hearing aids. Therefore, price is unlikely to dictate the decision of the manufacturer.
Still, rather certain features or aesthetic preferences might draw a patient to one or the other, and then they would need to decide on the appropriate technical level. It is a good idea to talk to your provider about the specifics of what is included in the cost of the hearing aids as far as repairs, service, and warranty, and to be clear on your warranty end dates. A trial period is a requirement for all hearing aid fittings. At this point, you could try a different manufacturer or return the hearing aids altogether for a refund. However, you would forfeit the fitting fee to account for the audiologist’s time.
Which is better, Starkey vs Phonak?
Both Phonak and Starkey are excellent options for anyone in the market for hearing aids. They offer connectivity, rechargeability, health tracking, and user control via proprietary apps. The decision between the two manufacturers may come down more to the audiologist or hearing aid dispenser’s comfort level with the products and software. If you have found a provider you trust, it is a good idea to go with their recommendation for the brand because it is likely the one they feel most confident in programming. As for the technology level, your provider can help you decide what is most appropriate based on your lifestyle, hearing needs, expectations, and budget.
Starkey Vs Phonak Conclusion
If you are in a place where you are deciding which manufacturer to go with, congratulations! Making the decision to move forward with hearing aids in the first place is often the most difficult part. Starkey vs Phonak is a good battle to be in because both are excellent choices.
You may be swayed by the company philosophy, the connectivity options, or simply the color offerings. Any or all would be a good reason to choose one over the other because there is not wrong choice between the two. Trust in your provider’s judgment and expertise to help guide your decision, and commit yourself to wear whatever hearing aids you choose during all waking hours for the best opportunity for success with your new devices.
Erin Edwards received her Doctor of Audiology degree from Towson University in 2015 and her Ph.D. in Education and Leadership from Pacific University in 2022. She has worked with patients of all ages in a variety of settings and has a specific interest in cochlear implants, the relationship of hearing loss and dementia, and interdisciplinary healthcare.